Tag Archives: winter

Mountains in the Sky

Gunnar said there were ships in the sky, meaning clouds, but if you go to Iceland in the winter, you will find whole mountain ranges in the sky, that appear and disappear, created by the mountains out of the wind off the Atlantic.

They’re not exactly shadows and not exactly mirrors. They are amazingly alive. I suspect that the medium (the wind) does that. The image above is near Arnarstapi, on Snæfellsnes. The glacier is just around the corner: one of these clouds that stayed.

Iceland in Winter

Lóndrangar looks out over the Atlantic at mid-day, in the dim light when the darkness shines as brightly as the sun. It is a time for  going inside things, for going in the deep intimacy of a human bodily connection with the Earth. Everything is hushed, and the world is full of memories and  future plans.

It is those you walk through, and they look like heather and rock and snow and they feel like wind and cold, and yet you are warm. You are a fire, cupped in a sheltered spot. You make yourself. When summer comes, you walk out into what you have made, and the fire is everywhere. It is now, too, but you must walk very softly. You are inside the sleep of the world.

Winter Dawn in Kolgrafarfjörður

On his reading tour through wartime Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1940, Gunnar Gunnarsson said that the darkness of Iceland was as much the soul of Icelanders as the long days of summer light. It was a statement meant for a Nazi audience and expressed what he saw as the one common point between Nazi culture (his main audience) and his own: a belief that people sprang from the land and represented its highest aspirations. In Iceland’s case, that also means (says Gunnar) from the darkness and the light, presumably in how they are caught by the land. It was a peculiarly pre-modern idea expressed at the height of the modernist period. Now that we all live in a post-modern era, in which everything is an image or a belief, Gunnar’s expression appears a little strange, if not repugnant, or it would, if the light and the darkness were not still there, however he expressed them in that troubled time. This is a troubled time, too, so it might be interesting to look at what he saw as an answer to these troubles: darkness and light, that are the same when viewed through a human eye.

Rather than being a Nazi view, that is, at heart, a profoundly Christian one, in a specifically Icelandic sense, for in Iceland Christianity made only a light break between Norse and Christian belief, uniting them through a common ethical ground. Ground like the image of Kolgrafarfjörður at first light on Christmas Eve Day above. Gunnar was buried in a Catholic cemetery on Viðey, to be with his wife, but the impulse within this ethical ground remains profoundly Lutheran. It represents a choice. It gives human nature as the ground in which this choice is made, ground that is formed by experience with scenes like the one above and so scarcely separable from them. Gunnar told the Germans that no-one but a child born to Iceland could act rightly in its landscape. It is the kind of statement most often made about language — that a native speaker of a language never makes a mistake in it, while a non-native speaker must always follow set rules, lest a mistake be made and nonsense result.  This then, is Gunnar’s language:

If you see mountains only, look again. Better yet, go there in the winter, when you are a body among other bodies (non-human ones) there, in a syntax in which you are but one word, one through which human language comes.

The Fun Winter Roads of Iceland

Fun for all! This is the kind of road that keeps the economy going by helping tourists to rip out the undercarriage of their rental car. This is not, really, a road. It is tourist made, because that’s fun.

Gerðaberg

Still, the one below, the old road to the church at Gerðaberg, although more traditionally Icelandic is, well, more traditionally Icelandic. It is not going to keep anyone’s economy going, but most fun for trudging.

And the harbour road at Hellissandur? Well, heck, the old icehouse, that you can see in the distance, is on the very bad road to the now-abandoned harbour, but does that stop Icelanders from getting there quickly on their own 4x4s on no road at all? No it does not. This is the kind of ghost road that shouldn’t be, but it is, because, well, that’s fun, too. The tracks are full of a sand-snow-ice-seaweed mixture. Very special!

A more useful road gently curves up to the abandoned farm Vaðstakkaheiði, and the waterfall behind it. Lovingly, the road is just called Foss, or “Waterfall”. It’s a great one for bringing the horses in and out, and for going up the hill to service the power lines running under the glacier, but all that is locked off in the winter, which means that you can get to the cliff, and then what? You can practice your confined-space three point turns to go back, or, to really ramp up the fun, reverse your way back to the farm, that’s what, which should keep you laughing all the long night through, when you think about it.

In comparison, the main roads go through tunnels, which is a very fine thing because the roads themselves are skating rinks. And the light is blue, which, yes, is also fun.

Siglufjörður

Thinking of an adventure on a private Icelandic road instead? Great idea! Here’s where you can put the 4×4 investment to good use, which is easier and more fun than plowing with the tractor. Only older farmers plow with the tractor, because they can’t afford a 4×4, but if you can afford one, very fun. (Don’t forget, though, that tractors are fun, too, so very fun that the old guys keep them to themselves. You’ll have to settle for a Nissan. Sorry.)

But  on Highway 829 at Littlaslétta, even at dusk (1:30 p.m.) on a winter day, it’s a good time to put the pedal to the metal and fly at her, taking the curves like a hawk after a sparrow. The mountains will do their best to distract you, as Icelandic mountains, the tricky dears, will, but that, too is good.

Now, get out there and have some good old Icelandic fun!

Fasten Your Seat Belts! The winds are here.

When the winds blow in the winter gales, even statues get strapped in for the ride!


Hellissandur

That’s the way it is in Hellissandur! But when the storm lifts, ah, then the whole world dances.

Above Hellissandur

Every day, the world shifts between gold and blue.

Looking East from Buðir in a Strong Gale

This is it’s great message in the wind.