I have very slowly begun editing and uploading my old photos from Iceland to Flickr. So.
Digging through old photos from Iceland, I found a small set of pictures of a jug with which I had a brief love affair.
Iceland’s various occupations and harboring of both American and British troops since World War 2 means there’s a number of odd army artifacts still kicking around. One of these was this jug, found in a hut in the middle of nowhere, used to pour water from the large pots left constantly warming on the stove (one hot, one warm.) It was beautiful, hard-wearing, and previously owned by the US Marine Corp. It was also god knows how old. It remains one of the most wonderful, ‘common’ objects I think I’ve ever seen.
The Hub Of Reykjavik (by secretdark)
Autumn in Ásbyrgi (by secretdark)
The northern lights are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. It’s like watching someone paint the sky with watercolours.
(I’m kinda tired of these kinds of posts - lists of notes of things I’ve written down while I’ve been offline - but they’ll be ending soon, when the project ends and I leave the country. That’ll be in a few weeks.)
They broadcast a list of the people who died on the radio here, daily, after the news. Just a list of names and where they lived, announced by whoever read the news that day. I don’t know how I’d feel if I found out about someone’s death this way. I think I am going to write a story about it.
The universe is expanding but the amount of energy inside it remains the same.
The universe is slowly becoming a colder place.
“You’re so pretty it’s starting to rain.”
“kisses, lips, small and darting, like the plucking of some exquisite fruit”
“like living on a stage set that’s about to be dismantled”
One of the little things I like about this summer - about how my life has changed (albeit temporarily) - is the inventory of my pockets. Where once I’d step out of my house and out of habit double-check what was in my pockets (wallet in the front right, phone in the front left, keys in the back right), I have, for the last few months, stepped out of my tent and double-checked for a totally different set of things (penknife in the front-right, notebook/pen in the back-right). I like that. I like the simplification of it, the practicality of it, the dumb symbolism of it.
I was tasked by my last employer to build a specific software system. Another employee and I spent the majority of a year working on it. I estimate it cost in excess of £100 000 to create. It never launched and, for the most part, I have nothing to show for that year of my time.
A few weeks ago, over the period of a morning, I built a couple of stone steps that, with a bit of luck, will last 10 to 15 years.
It’s strange to hear people call what I’ve done this summer a “holiday.”
Portraits of shepherds (by secretdark)
“There aren’t any ants in Iceland, are there,” we say to the Ranger.
“…’ants’?” he says.
“So that’s a no.”
“What is ‘ants’?”
So we explain ants.
(He eventually remembers ants.)
(He wants a panther, he says. He’d let it roam the park and ride around with him in his huge truck. It would pad over the moss, its large soup-bowl paws leaving barely an impression, and maybe over time its colouring would change until its dark fur was dappled and grey, blending into the moss-covered rock around it - a moss Panther.
He’s never seen a panther in the flesh.)
I pitch my tent between a new couple and a volunteer with cerebral palsy (“Basically, the right-hand side of my brain is fucked.”). At night I hear talking from each side, two sets of low murmuring. The couple explain their days to one another, laugh a little, are happy. I’m envious of the intimacy and privacy they have - that they can share their private thoughts with one another. They are on a time-limit, each going their own way at the end of the project, but for now they have something. So they enjoy it.
The guy with cerebral palsy talks to himself - laughs and mutters as if conducting conversations with someone. He doesn’t do this when he’s around other people, just when he’s alone in his tent or in the bathroom. I remember reading once that a long time ago the human brain used to be wired differently - the lobes fused so that the right and left hand sides would communicate as if they were two separate objects, whole and entire. Instructions and conversations with yourself, or simply another part of you, all in your head, indistinguishable from a conversation with God. That’d be something.
A couple murmuring, fresh and new, and a guy who maybe, just maybe, talks to God.
I never build up the courage to eavesdrop on either.
The Icelandic government has a set up several councils and organisations to maintain linguistic purism and to prevent Icelanders from simply using English or Danish words instead of looking for Icelandic alternatives.
One result of this is that new Icelandic words are created and put on (amongst other things) milk cartons, alongside a cartoon explaining them, their meaning, and their etymology.
For some reason all the latest words on the milk cartons have been about relationships - ‘dump’, ‘sweetheart’ etc. For a while before I knew what the little cartoons were about I kinda thought that someone had simply forgotten about a sad cartoonist somewhere.
Later that night the smaller one walked into our hut unannounced, took a long pull from a bottle of peach schnapps, and told us he was one of the ones who could see the Hidden People.
It’s been a good summer.
As volunteers for the Icelandic Conservation Agency, we move, week to week, between national parks and protected areas. Most of the time we live in tents but sometimes we live in small huts the rangers look after. When we do, we have things like coffee mugs and dinner plates and mattresses again, and we live lives of quiet, welcome domesticity.
I’ve been offline for two weeks, working out in the middle of nowhere.
Our bright orange waterproofs are made of thick rubber. They are only vaguely the shape of a man. I’d guess the seams were stitched by an industrial machine with a large needle. They smell like bouncy castles.
Someone wrote ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ in the ash that covers the back windshield of the truck. I like to think of it as our Bokonism.
We stumbled across a Viking Rennaisance fair. One viking was smoking a Marlboro, another adjusting his hearing aid. They played the Macarena over the sound system. A tourist wandered by snapping photos wearing a t-shirt that said “Reykjavik Fucking City.”
There are always those people who believe that being a leader is being the guy who walks the fastest, talks the loudest, or is the last to put on sunscreen.
I turned 29 last week. I usually forget about my birthday right until it happens. It’s an odd feeling, realising you’re another year older - like feeling a gear slip in a mechanism of which you were only vaguely aware.
I saw an old couple eating ice-cream cones in a gas-station restaurant near Borganes. They ate them delicately, discussing the ice-creams together. They reminded me of tortoises eating lettuce.
There are golf courses everywhere here. It’s a very popular sport. Where once farmers bit deep into the cold ground, hoping to grow something, anything, to survive, men in plaid um and ah over which stick to use to hit a ball. (The wooden one, man. Always use the wooden one.)
The soil is either rocky and volcanic - hard and small - or like clay - slick and brown and rich and fertile. Steam rises from odd cracks in the ground. The wind howls and runs screaming around the little huts we stayed in like some terrible creature that had been turned loose. This country feels like a place that God hasn’t quite finished making yet.
We spent the last week building stone steps on the side of a mountain. We’d drive stakes into the ground and hit frozen soil a few feet down. We’d hit the stakes harder then, pushing them through, and from 6 feet away you could feel the force of each blow through your boots - like the land was resisting, or perhaps as if with each blow you were brushing up against some terrible power held in it.
“Are you happy?” said the Ranger, talking about some work we’d just finished.
“Is okay,” he said, looking down at our wooden steps before peering out into the distance. “Is okay to be happy.”
I like this photo I took because it both captures a moment and the essence of something unspoken (though I appreciate that maybe neither may be evident without the context.)