Tag Archives: walking meditation

The Trolls’ Sheep and the Gods’ Horses

One of the attractive parts of being a human is the innocence that comes along with that. I like that. In the face of the truth (Trolls keep humans because humans keep sheep and trolls like sheep.), the myth still persists that humans keep sheep because it’s a human world. That’s sweet. Another bit of this truth thing is that humans build churches on top of elves, or, in Iceland, next door, because in Iceland things are never black and white.

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Black and White and Blue, too. Mývatnssveit.

Kodak went bust because they didn’t invent a film for this.

But I jest. The thing about the elves, though, and the churches, that matters. It’s not too many cultures that don’t see such a big problem with a strata title arrangement. Gunnar comes from that land-use plan. In a strong way, his writing is an attempt to put it down in black and white print. He, of course, missed this:

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Black and Blue

Not just a blind spot for Gunnar, but for Kodak, too.

But, again, I jest. This, however, is not a jest. This is serious. If you want to understand how humans can see elves in the world science, great grand daughter of the church, is positive contains no elves and never did, there are books you can buy for that in Iceland, and they will send you here (for example)…

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The View up to Tofúfoss and Jonsfoss from Melarett

Well, you didn’t need a guidebook for that. The thing is, the elves aren’t in the rock so much as in the human mind that is completely anchored to rock and that is an awfully hard thing to explain and shouldn’t be explained. Still, one can talk around the idea, because one consequence of it is that these elves are liable to show up anywhere, and, because people used to be really anchored to the rock, most likely around churches …

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Skriðuklaustur on the Day the Geese Chose to Come and Stay

… and pretty much twenty-four hours a day, everything that goes on between those churches and those rocks is under constant surveillance. These are the people who know the truth of the matter…

horse… but we’re not listening. So, that leaves a bit of time and wondering. Where are the elves? And, while we’re at it, the trolls? Well, here are some of the elves …

elf2Elves, Underneath the Monastery Viewing Deck

A nice new roof!

Lots of them …

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A Whole City of Elves

So, if you were going to build a monastery in the East of Iceland, and it had to be near here, where the trails to the north, south, east and west crossed, then beside the elves would probably be a good idea. Now, I’m not going to get into what I think has been done to these rocks or what their secrets are (give me a couple days), but I’d like to point out that down below the monastery, there are worse things than elves.

P1470106 Things like trolls, and … P1470121… elves under a troll enchantment. Now, to be clear: these are not Tolkein-style elves and trolls. These are some form of the human subconscious, seen through the things of the world. In this picture of psychology, however, trolls keep sheep …

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Lots of Sheep!

They are a flock that roams in a time inaccessible to human vision, but just on the edge of it. Sometimes that edge seems very close …

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Pride of the Flock

At any rate, they are beautiful sheep …

trollsheep5… with a faithful shepherd …

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… that just happens to actually be …

P1470439… more elves.  How can you take a photograph of such a story? Cameras are tools of a scientific world, and record it well, but they’re no good at the tenuous world of perceptions, mixed with emotions and a sense of place that come to people when the land and themselves meet in a physical place that is really a kind of fire. So… time to bring out the wool again, and see where it leads.

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I started in the flock, in the grass, with the idea of winding between the sheep and around the shepherd in a ring, but the wind kept me from that. Sometimes, my wool (and among the sheep, and worn from three times on and off the spindle of the world, it really was feeling like tiny lines of sheep wool now, wound and bound together as the birds were when they flew upriver and over me some 15 kilometres up the valley just a couple days ago) did go among the sheep, making a trail …

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… and wandered and wove between them in the same way that sheep wander and weave the hills…

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…but more often it seemed to want to hurry along over their backs …

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Looking back after all my careful stepping between the sheep, I was amazed to see this pure straight line, and so I followed it as I unwound it off the spindle of the world, followed the thousands of hairs wound into its strands, reading them off with my fingers, playing them out, in a kind of tension between me and the wool and the grass and the wind, and when I felt the spindle was thinning, and knew the wool was leading me somewhere, I thought, no, this is not a story of giving it the trolls, and giving it to the elves, where would that lead? More immobility. They were, after all, in thrall. I thought, again, of the birch trees, and headed for a couple five year old saplings on the hill. Before I got there, though, I was stopped by a raven …

P1470339… who took my wool and all its weaving into his beak. As you can see, he stands on the shoulders of a family of elves. So, I was amazed … my story that had started in the grass, and I thought would lead to a prayer for light, led to something quite different. It lead to Raven, my old friend, Odin’s memory and thought, carrying the fire away, and flying. Not only that, when I went back with my birch twig and wound my wool back on the spindle of the world, through the grass and the flock …

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… under the eyes of the trolls (I felt like I was walking between worlds and needed to exercise some care, but I had my line of blood) …

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No, Not One of Tolkein’s Trolls

This is the mind in it’s own earthen eye. Or a part of it.

… and under the eye of the horses, who see everything, and never go in, and walk along a different line of blood (or maybe the same one) …

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… and sometimes spook, for what I now feel is good reason …

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… wound my way slowly around the years of my spindle up to the rocks …

P1470474Killing Fields or What

… carefully …
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… and began to feel the line tug at me, as if I were a fish and the raven was reeling me in …

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… and our fate was blowing in the wind, bound together by a living thread of will and fire …

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… and yet free …

P1470488All the years were blowing in the wind. It wasn’t going anywhere. Like the birds in their flock, like the sheep in their meadow, like the elves in their stone, like the men in their church, like their prayers and the touch of their fingers to the natural crosses in the rock that wrote, I think, over time their story and now, it’s plain, writes them still…

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… I enjoyed this moment of energy, and didn’t want to let it go, but all this must be set loose into their life, and so just as I went to pull my wool from the stone raven’s mouth, it broke…

P1470508 … and he flew off with the end of it …P1470502

… or maybe its beginning. For four weeks now here, ravens have been following me and calling whenever they passed overhead, and I have called back in greeting, everytime. Here’s one, dealing a bit with the wind …

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Sure, it’s all poetry. Yeah, it is. Tomorrow morning, I leave the Klaustur, and go to Reykjavik, where there are far more humans than ravens and poems. This afternoon, I’m going out for a word with the horses, but in my heart, well, let’s just say this, if you come here and leave the viewing platform, and walk for a month through the cloister and down through the birches and over the hill, and a horse comes out to share a word with you …

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… it might be me. At any rate, enough sadness at leaving and enough joy at having been found, and think of this. When you go to those horses, and find they’ve come to you before you’ve arrived, remember, in your coming, you spoke, they heard, and in their coming, they answered.

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There, a little poetry for you. I’ll be summing up in the next few days. Next, I want to show you how the sun and time and a  human walking make a story out of stone. No, not one of Tolkein’s stories. Sorry. Those are written by reading books. Beautiful stories, and great for telling around a fire. Here I’ve found ones that I can walk through, and never stop walking. A fancy? There might be some fun in the telling, yes, but a fancy? No.  I’ve stepped right out of the world, and into it. A riddle, that’s what, but a beautiful one. And windy.

The Language of Birds

I was thinking of lines and circles and how all stories start there, when I noticed these circles of ice, each with a yolk, leading in a line to this little fall below a long-abandoned turf house at the end of the valley. Next stop the glacier.P1430219

 

I thought they were very nice indeed and stopped all my rushing around for a moment just to breathe in the same place as them, and then the whole world kind of stopped and fell into focus …

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Long stories of birds tracks, leading everywhere, even …

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… onto the ice floes! In this kind of talking, birds definitely have the advantage. For a while I followed the lines and sentences and song lines and line dancs of this story…

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The birds were writing a beautiful music. I felt I could almost read it …

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… and I knew it wasn’t random. There were too many stanzas and too much fine drawing work centred on stones, and I thought, well, isn’t that a beautiful thing: the delicate footsteps and the cold, hard stone …

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Somehow, it made the stone a lot more like air… really fascinating air. All this time, I was meditating on lines, of course, because Ken Blackburn, sculptor, put me up to that, and circles, so I thought, in my human way, that it would be a fine thing to follow those lines and learn the dance steps, so to speak. Who needed a mind. Let the body do the dancing, I thought. Well …

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… I could have paid more attention to this, I guess. But I was happy and out by the falls, with the water singing away, so I pulled my ball of wool out of my pocket, that I have been using as a very slow walking image-making tool — not a camera; something more physical and human than that, and I dipped it into the water …

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… and starting unwinding off of its bobbin. If you’ll remember, when I wound it there, I pulled the energy out of the Skriðuklaustur well, through the monastery garden, around and around the axle of the earth, through the church, and up to the carving of Mary (?) on the hill. Now I was unwinding that energy among the birds …

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… ah, yes, as you can see, the spiral of the first winding stayed with the wool. That made me realize I knew close to nothing. Then …

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… the wind demonstrated that I wasn’t going to follow the birds, no how, no when. The birds, for all their, I dunno, 90 grams of weight, could outgust the wind better than I. Maybe that randomness …

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… was a way of harnessing the wind. So, I thought, OK, I’ll be the human here, and let whatever lines I can make by pulling on the string, and whatever lines the wind teases out of it, lie against the lines of the birds and see what that’s all about. Well,

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… my line was awfully straight at times …

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… and retained a lot of memory at other times, and …

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… ooops!. But eventually my rather straight but colourful line seemed to frame the bird tracks nicely enough …

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… and sometimes even followed the birds …

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… even improvised …

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… and soared on flights of fancy …

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… in its own conversation with the rocks. Up into the rocks I led the string as it led me …

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… and when I looked back, I thought, well, I’m going quiet all over again, and I thought I had gone quiet before…

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Onward, up onto the sand …

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… and the grasses …

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… I went. Now, the thing about having 70 metres of Norwegian wool is that it has an end, and when you’re unwinding it off of the axle of the earth and get near that end, you start looking for a place to land, a place that has some physical meaning. The little birch trees, I thought, just like the spindle, but living, not dead! Well, I thought it, but the string ended here …

P1430290Wool, Spindle and Moss

at the end … or the beginning … of the line of blood and fire?

Yeah, which? Should I wind the spindle back from the water to the sky, or from the sky to the water, I wondered? Should I bring the well, through Mary, to the mountain stream, or the mountain stream, with Mary and the well, up to new life? Well, that was a no-brainer: to life! This story, I felt was not one that repeated itself three times to make a tight spell. It was going somewhere, although I did not know where. I had to trust it. So, I did, and I rolled that yarn up, slowly walking the path of the birds among the stones, over the thin ice, with the thinner creek below, and this time, I noticed this …

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… I didn’t make the first line in this place.

P1430388Or the second! Well, not counting the lines of the birds, but I think they were making more than a line, or a series of lines, but that’s skipping ahead in the story. For the moment…

P1430395Life! Richer than it was before.

The well in the Garden of Eden, the Monastery Church, the Baptismal Font, the Axle of the World, Mary (?) and now a flock of unseen birds, all right there, burning. 

The physicality of this method of slow photography charmed me: the wet wool on my fingers, the feel of the sheep’s hair on my fingertips, the cold, and the repetitive, meditative motion of winding it, and matching my footsteps to the winding had helped me to see this valley, and my place in it, intensely. And then, just when I thought I had been as quiet as I could be …

P1430418 … the birds came!

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They came by the hundreds, on and on, in a fast river, winding with the river upstream, weaving in the air, landing briefly, lifting, an tumbling on…

P1430425… and I went so silent that I just put my camera down and raised my arms into the stream of birds, as they came at me, materializing out of the water and the light, and laughed out loud. And then, as quickly as they came …

flyaway… they flew away over the fields. And that’s why it took me two days to get to the falls.

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Strutafoss, Iceland

And that’s partly why they left me wordless with wonder.

~

The story of the wool comes to a powerful climax tomorrow.