Risky behaviour, or what!
When Snaefellsjökull …
… rose from the sea, there was no land here, only water. None of it.
She is that old.
It’s good to remember that we’re all at sea.
So many photographs are posed in stillness, framed by contemplation, and drenched with light, yet light is not always about vision or seeing clearly, especially in an Icelandic winter, when it becomes a kind of water you swim through, an aether, the ancients would have called it. They meant the liquid eye that sees before the mind does and only lets the mind see a little of what touches it like a finger to a leaf.
This image of Eldborg on Snaefellsnes was made at 80 km/h on a late December dusk, out of the corner of my eye. There was no time to frame it, and before I registered it was there it was gone. What remains is the look it gave me, this drawing of my eye to it, that I had nothing to do with except trust. This watching haunts me.
The volcano was an island-volcano off the coast, before a completely separate volcanic event raised a ridge of volcanoes out to meet it and then past it into the Atlantic. It watched them come.
It watched humans come, too. Some go there now to watch it. Others go to be watched by it. It measures the distance between those two points of view.
Out on the hraun, you are living in the open universe. The Earth’s shadow was amazing, that we left, not towards the golden light shining from across Breidafjördur, but into the shadow, deeper and deeper. It was like swimming in the sky.
Man, the thought of having a wall of basalt and a cinder cone in my backyard, I tell you, nothing could be better.
If you don’t drive too quickly and get off Highway 1, you’ll find it. It’s a poor, poor farm, but, as Gunnar said, poverty is wealth, because everything the land gives comes straight from faith, as a gift, and gifts are not to be laughed away.
It used to lie on the main road to the East.
Now it’s out of the way and forgotten in a barren land.
But don’t drive past. It’s beautiful on Fire Mountain.
And comes to life.
Or life comes to it.
Hard to say which.
Both at once, perhaps. Note how just for a couple weeks, every glob of stone develops a body and lives.
It is a fantastical riot of life. Everything is alive.
And then the mountain goes back to solemnly watching the Grindavik Road.
All kinds of people.
All kinds of watching.
Thor’s Shield, the shield volcano after which all the rest are named, has been cross-stitched with pylons, in this highly-industrialized landscape off the beaten tourist path. That is “nature” in Iceland, and yet look at the ancient stone bird in the foreground. The old country is here, too, but not as a metaphor and not as a transfer of energy into modern forms.
Skaldbreið and Pylons from Uxahryggir
These are the old forms, continuous with forms yet unborn. I am waiting for the writers of Iceland to be the guides that the writers of the sagas were once, who gave us a completely new take on the world, an alternative to East or West. It’s not my place to say whether Iceland’s writers should walk down a path to the yarn-telling of crime literature or not (although most are), but it should give pause that Gunnar Gunnarsson ‘s The Black Cliffs was the first crime novel in Iceland, and it did not shy away from ambiguity, irony, contemporary themes or the deep, deep past in which they are embedded, just as the fallen angel-bird above is embedded in this mountain pass equally with Thor’s Shield or the power line from contentious dams to an American aluminum plant. In other words, the past is with us. It is not possible to forget it, only to silence it, and, thereby, to end the present.