When Gunnar wrote the shore of life in 1915 and noted the land is ringed with a deadly surf, that one must cross, either for fish or for the world and back home again for shelter, I think he had the eiðars in mind. Look at them here in Neskaupstaðir, fishing with their chicks in the swells. Some of the chicks get tossed a metre into the air, and then dragged down a metre under the waves.
And yet they must be here. If I’m right, this is Gunnar’s image of World War I. So much has gone into portrayals of its butchery and horror and senselessness for a century now. At the time, to deal with his own horror, Gunnar chose an image of life, and one at the heart of the Icelandic soul.
The Shore of Life.Gunnar wrote and published in Danish. Most copies, however, were in German.
The residency begins. Gunnar Gunnarson was there to greet me. The tree growing out of his head, that’s my wish for growth and spirit here. Gunnar Gunnarson at Skriðuklaustur
Gunnar came here when there was nowhere else to go but to go back home. It was 1939. The war he had dreaded was on the horizon, and some of its shadow stuck to him. He resolved to go back farming.
Skriðuklaustur Chicken Coop
The farming didn’t pan out all that well. My father and grandfather came to Canada from Germany with the same dream, and under very similar pressures, one after the first half of the Twentieth Century War and one after the second half of it. I am the dream they made, and so when I see things like this …
My Father’s and Grandfather’s Tools at the Top of the World
The remains of Gunnar’s dream, Skriðuklaustur
… I know it is time to roll up my sleeves and get back farming. Tomorrow my work at Skriðuklaustur begins. I intend to farm here, but in words, and at a very deep level. Look for my discussion of the life in rock, as the first words from this new and old ground. It feels great here. I am here to honour Gunnar and my own ancestors, and to bring their stories together in the living ground of words. As I came close to the Klaustur, this is who saw me first …