Hooked up to the grid, too.
No wonder Icelanders write so many novels. It appears to be a shepherd’s residence, in decay, for the sheepfold I showed you before:
Presumably, the boundary in the image below meant something once. I’m no expert, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to be a turf wall, laboriously cut and stacked, replaced by a wire fence, and replaced by nothing at all except memories of where a boundary once was.
This is not likely a sign of increasing wealth. Nor is this near-obsolete set of boundaries at Kirkjubærjarklaustur. There’s a stone wall, and a row of birches, for the graveyard, and then a mysterious fence, with one electrified strand, even, serving no purpose now except to mark a boundary for a summer student with a weed whacker.
Still, these other boundaries speak of something profoundly Icelandic. Here’s the churchyard again, with its wall…
Trees and stone: that’s two walls, one for those looking out and one for those looking in. The turf wall is no human barrier…
… and neither is the churchyard:
But it matters a lot whether you are looking in to life, from grass to stone to trees to grass, or looking out from grass to trees to stone to grass. Isn’t all of this the behaviour of people who have spent a long, long time with sheep?
And with the gentle ways of herding them?
I’ve been thinking about walls. What are they for? For shelter, yes, and seemingly to keep sheep in, or out, but into or out of what? I mean, look at the pastures under the Snaefells Glacier.
There’s precious little for sheep in the neighbouring pastures below, and any shepherd is likely to break a leg stomping after sheep in this stuff, and why? There’s as little grass on one side as on the other.
Assuming that in the past Icelandic farmers were as sensible and economical with their energy as any others, might there be a reasonable, but lost explanation? Could the walls be to direct sheep, not to make pasture but so that they herded themselves, a kind of large sheep fold, like the one at the edge of the lava (below)?
Driftwood helps. Is drifting the principle here? To reap the benefits of summer labour in the winter, when labour is just too exposed on the open earth?
Or is it to direct the snow, to bare some slopes for sheep and to bury others with snowdrifts, to provide fresh water in the spring and early summer? It could be. I don’t know.
It wasn’t a fence to guide human walkers in the fog and the dark. Cairns were used for that.
Might it have been to separate the fields by the shore from the fields by the mountain…
… to keep sheep from drifting away from survival food, winter’s seaweed…
Sheep Pasture at Dritvik
…into perilous holes in the lava?
Is it, in other words, about thinking with the land? Is this the wealth that Gunnar Gunnarsson said was at the heart of poverty? Is this an extension of the principle “when you run out of hay anything is hay, anything at all” to land itself, on the lines of “when you run out of pasture anything is pasture,” even if it is only an extension of the poverty of one man over another? Could this be love of land?
In a country in which only a landowner could wed and have children, the impetus to own any kind of land, in any kind of poverty whatsoever, must have been intense. Is that what we’re looking at here? Love?
The stubbornness not to disappear of a people from whom the benefits of community were continually removed, often by foreign traders?
Is drift a way of holding on by bending the way a path goes? I don’t know. Is it still going on?
Is this how 1,500,000 tourists are safely guided through the cold every year by a few hundred front line Icelanders?
I bet the sheep know.
“Nazi” — the word means so many things that it is close to meaningless, and that’s a problem, because the real Nazis were a group of vicious, dangerous thugs with an ideology that continues to attract a disturbing number of people worldwide. Nazism should be strenuously guarded against, because its outcome is misery and chaos. So, let’s use it accurately, as the first line of defence against its resurgence and the first act of understanding the complexity and diversity of what went on in Germany during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and what is still going on around the world. To set the record straight, Gunnar used this sheepfold …
to sort sheep as part of communal activity. In contrast, Nazis used this pen …
… to stage bear fights, as a lesson to new guards about the need to have no squeamishness about violence against Russian prisoners and communists, who, after all, were “Russian bears” and “beasts” were known in Nazi ideology to be politically self destructive, and used the electrified fences of the camp (right beside the zoo and visible in the upper left of the image) to herd people and spiritually and physically destroy them. Today I am writing an essay about the complicated relationship between Gunnar and the Nazis, but, ultimately it is as simple as the difference between these two types of fences and the uses to which they were put.