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Entries in Walking meditation (1)


Writing your own saga – in Ísland

Several of you have commented on the beauty of the Arctic light.

And it is certainly true of the peopled and unpeopled land of Ísland (Iceland)…

…where even in the capital of Reykjavik the mountains are near at hand…

…and rivers freeze midstream – apparently in the very act of seeing them.

Where lava pours from the volcano through snowfields to the sea…

…and then snowmelt returns the favor…

…in a landscape fire and glacier-carved…

…where the hardiest beings run free and wild.

And the rest of us stop to admire them.

I remember years ago one spring flying over Ísland. The island was a blue-green pearl far below trilling with snowmelt and running waters.

But this time we had the chance to land.

We stayed awhile in the fishing village of Stykkishólmur on the Snaefellsnes peninsula…

…where wonders…

…were right at hand.

This is Vatnasafn – “The Library of Water” – in Stykkishólmur. In Vatnasafn are 24 glass columns containing water collected from glaciers formed millennia ago.

In “The Library of Water” we can hold the glaciers – and their decline -- in mind again.

Outside of town, the road could seem like an open question.

Though there were moments when the question seemed like it could close again – in snowdrifts and icy crosswinds.

But we had found and rented a familiar friend with good snowtires, who could take us over those roads that hadn’t been closed by winter yet.

We’ve come to love this in-between season in which we’re traveling, this not-yet-winter in the north.

Not the idyll of a springtime.

But neither is the landscape unpeopled at other times. Fantastical shapes are all around you.

And at dusk – or any time the world is thin – you might catch those ijjigait once again, those fleeting glances out of the corner of your eye.

And you might find your own basalt and conglomerate world suddenly as peopled as any saga.

Perhaps by Nordic wanderers.

Or by fishermen who built their stone huts…

…between the volcano and the sea.

Or near at hand at Öndver∂arnes, it would’ve been Celtic monks who washed ashore in their curraich – their wicker-and-hide coracles – from across the sea. St. Brendan the Navigator had gone as far as Vineland in one of these.

At Öndver∂arnes, the Celtic monks built their stone huts as well and a cloister wall out of lava stone.

At the foot of the small mount of Helgafell is the grave of Gu∂rún Ósvifursdóttir from the Laxdaela saga. The mountain was sacred to the people of the age of the sagas, and many hoped to be buried here.

The story is that if you begin at the grave of Gu∂rún Ósvifursdóttir and walk up to the remains of the monastic chapel that was once on top of the mount, and if you don’t look back or speak a single word, you will be granted three wishes.

However, the three wishes must be pure-hearted, and you must not speak them to another soul.

You’ve already seen a view from the top of Helgafell – when the world was thin.

Or perhaps in crossing the lavafield – Beruvikurhraun…

…you’ll feel the glacier at your back -- Snæfellsjökull.

In Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Lidenbrock discovers this runic manuscript in a 12c Icelandic book. When his nephew Axel deciphers it, they read that there is a passage into the center of the earth by means of the crater of Snæfellsjökull.

And so if you’re walking along that same shore yourself…

…you might happen upon a labyrinth in the tundra of a little swale.

And discover that you can enter the center of your own life, too.

And people the landscape on your own.

(In order, the two paintings we’ve included are by Icelandic artists Louisa Matthiasdóttir and Johannes Kjarval.)