A Special Book

 

I have just finished The Stones Speak by the prolific, much-loved, 20th Century writer, Thórbergur Thórdarson, born in 1888, who grew up on a remote family farm named Hali in southeastern Iceland, very near to Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2119 metres.

I bought the book at the Þórbergssetur museum, where our tour group stopped on July 18th, two days into our 10 day bus tour. The centre was built in 2006 in Hali, (near Reynivellir in Southeast Iceland) and is dedicated to this unique man. He was largely self-educated, being too poor to attend high school or university.

The Stones Speak, translated in 2012 by Professor Julian Melton d’Arcy of the U. of Iceland, is Thórdarson’s only complete book that has been translated into English. Written when he was in his 60’s, this is an inspired, witty and sometimes caustic collection of his earliest memories – those of a precocious, hypersensitive visionary who lived very close to nature.

The book is, in my opinion, a must-read for folks who plan to visit Iceland and really want to work at understanding its recent (20th C.) history and its people. The introduction and notes by d’Arcy deserve to be read both before and after reading the book. They even contain the simplest, best guide to Icelandic pronunciation that I have found.

I went to Iceland because it was my wife’s choice and must confess that, uncharacteristically, my only research before the trip was to google the heck out of each place we were visiting on our Ring Road tour and look for things worth escaping from the pre-arranged options to see. And because we were arriving in Reykjavík (KEF) at 6 AM on the red-eye from Toronto on July 16th I was looking keenly for the most interesting places we might explore that day on our own. Our Grand Hotel was only a half-hour walk or a # 15 city bus from the centre of town. These were, for this dyed-in-the-wool self-directed traveler, the vital facts, since we were not due to meet our tour director at the hotel until 5:30 P.M.

Combined with the superb tour itself, reading The Stones Speak has given me wonderful, intensely personal insight/hindsight into the unique Icelandic people. It was, for me, not an easy read. It does not grab you like The DaVinci Code. I put it down and picked it up several times, as I have done with Proust, until realizing that, by making margin notes and studying maps and breaking down words in what is for the superbly gifted Daniel Tammet this oh-so-special language, I fell in love with Iceland and humanity in general, starting with the folks in 1890’s Suðursveit. 

If you have already visited Iceland, take the time to study The Stones Speak. You will, through it, reconnect with human nature and, perhaps, yourself.

P.S. If you have not gone yet, check out Guide To Iceland, a great website community to which my post travel research luckily led me. They justifiably claim to be an “unrivalled source of information.”

 

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Waiting For Winter? Not!

Sumac Confusion

Above is evidence of a serious debate between branches of Sumac near here as to whether fall has fallen. The majority Green Party seems to think not.

Sweet Peas
Sweet Peas still here October 8

Thought I’d reaped the last of the sweet peas on Sept 28 for a tiny bouquet to greet Anita when she came back from a family funeral in Trinidad, but there were more. The garden has never stayed so beautiful for so long.

I thought that overseeding parts of the lawns on September 19 was tempting fate, but there’s been no frost and above seasonal temperatures and the seedlings have done well.

My enthusiasm shown in this post is, in view of the extreme, human-caused suffering experienced by so many in the Caribbean, North America, and by all forms of life worldwide that depend on our Planet’s finely-tuned biosphere, a “tad” selfish. It’s just that, from time to time, we all need to focus on happy things like this and show appreciation for the love and hard work that people close to us have put into making things so much more beautiful.

The only winter I have really come to fear is a nuclear winter.

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That said, here are the photos taken on October 8 that made the cut:

 

 

 

 

Going By In A Bus

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Jöjullsárlon Glacial Lagoon – Iceland

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Literally “going by in a bus.”

We passed the above on our way to visit the author Thórdarson memorial site in nearby Hali. Our date with the above lagoon was later that afternoon. There were poles quickly and determinedly going by the window as I shot AVCHD video with my Sony Alpha A-6000 using Sony’s e-mount SEL18-55mm zoom lens that has internal stabilization.

This is a screenshot I took while editing the video. The stains on the baby icebergs are volcanic fallout probably from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in southern Iceland. The added colour in the ice enhances the photo.

Behind, and just below the Parasitic Jaeger in full flight, is the gloomy-faced glacier whose calving produces the ice in the lagoon. For me the image creates a very special mood. I am grateful to my A-6000 and to the photography djinns for my being on the correct side of the bus as we whisked by between posts on our way to tea and a tour at the Hali Farm.

We had paid days in advance for a large, yellow, amphibious duck boat tour of the lagoon. When we arrived from Hali it was raining and I had to leave my camera in the bus and don rain pants, etc. For someone who has seen the Rockies’ Columbia Ice Field close up, this wasn’t much ice and the hectic decision making and running around caused by the bad weather induced me to tune out. We were treated to what seemed like standard tourist jokes by the young, non-icelandic park guide on the boat.

We dutifully chomped on 1000 year old glacier ice that he used a pick to break off for us from an armful-sized chunk.  To his credit, he held it in his bare hand with long-suffering, smiling patience. The chunk must have been captured earlier and kept in a fridge because we never saw him collect it. I was relieved when it was thrown back. Maybe it was, too.

Pale blue or not, it tasted like… ice. No hint of blueberry. To my undiscerning palette, it didn’t seem to have gone bad during that thousand years. Whatever molecules, if any, it may have absorbed from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 were invisible and tasteless.

There were many similar craft chugging down into the water at regular intervals. Ours had a bullet hole in it. We learned that they were originally US Navy craft. The afternoon sailings should have been canceled and our $60 pp refunded. I would then have walked around in my rain suit shooting under an umbrella. My camera, always the third person on our holidays, sulked for a day or so. I told it it hadn’t missed much. That didn’t help.

I have only now told “A” that it helped me capture the above surprise that just may be my favourite of the whole trip. Was it my imagination, or did I hear a tiny, high pitched sob of relief?

I may just treat it to its first partial eclipse of the sun on Monday. I’ll protect its face and mine with a piece of #14 welders glass I used to shoot the Venus Transit on June 8, 2004 and the solar eclipse on December 25, 2000.

AVCHD video has been a recent possibility for me. My old movie program on my PC would not accept HD video, so I’ve only been using it for about 18 months – after upgrading to an iMac desktop. AVCHD has made producing decent images of unpredictable moving subjects so much easier.

Iceland on the whole has been wonderful. The people we met (mostly associated with the tourist industry) were generous with their attention and many spoke impeccable English.

Later on our 10 day ring road circuit we had a chance meeting and delightful conversation at breakfast in the Kia Hotel in Akureyri  with two brilliant Icelanders whose names are, I’m sure, household words there. More later on that.

 

Iceland

We visited Iceland for 10 days in July. Above are a few photos I selected to send to my granddaughter who is 3 going on 7 and intensely involved in our holiday. Did you see a volcano? A geyser? A waterfall? A glacier? Are there trolls there?

She asked her preschool teacher to show her where Iceland was on the globe. Think her mother put her up to that… My first encounter with a map happened at the front of a class of kids I didn’t know – 3rd grade in a new school… But that is to digress…

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Politics is pretty depressing these days. Envy that infectious child-like innocence.

O Canada – A 2017 Re-post

O Canada, terre si belle, si grande We pledge our love from cliffs to surging sand Car nos bras saient porter l’épée, nous savons protéger la paix Notre sagesse dès milliers d’années donne à tout ce qui vit respect Pure prairie skies, tundra and tree O Canada we stand on guard for Thee O Canada […]

Note today: As the 150th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation approaches, a re-post of the 2012 blog entry seems worthwhile. Canada’s House of Commons has approved a rather awkward-sounding tinkering with the English version to change “True patriot love in all our sons command” to “True patriot love in all of us command” but the senate hasn’t yet confirmed the change. Time we stopped tinkering… This version has been in my head and written down for almost a decade now. I think it deals with several genuine issues, including the above one about gender, but may be a little controversial. My vision is of a version such as this being sung everywhere, in verbal unison, by all people in Canada – including our First Nations.

We must remember, with respect and sensitivity, that this beautiful, shared land did not suddenly rise from the sea in the 16th century.

So here goes the original 2012 post:

O Canada, terre si belle, si grande

We pledge our love from cliffs to surging sand

Car nos bras saient porter l’épée, nous savons protéger la paix

Notre sagesse dès milliers d’années donne à tout ce qui vit respect

Pure prairie skies, tundra and tree

O Canada we stand on guard for Thee

O Canada we stand on guard for Thee.

 This single version, using both official languages, has been floating around in my mind  for a few years. For me it expresses my dream for a Canada that we can work towards building.

A Canada that believes in peace keeping and not in gratuitous wars that make the world less stable.

A Canada that respects, because of the influence of our native peoples, all forms of sentient life with whom we share the richness of our air, water and earth.

Your input is welcome.

Happy Canada Day!

Joyeuse Fête du Canada!

Ruby-Throat Enticement

Hummingbird at feeder
Proof from a few years ago… See my Birds ‘n Stuff page

Update July 27: We saw a hummingbird at the decorated feeder before leaving for Iceland on July 15, so I refilled it with fresh sugar water on the 15. Saw a hummingbird visit it on our return July 25!

Birding May 12-22

May 22: The black-throated green warbler still eludes us, but we’ve not been out every day.  Today we were treated to our first 2017 magnolia warbler and also the bay-breasted, the latter also having been identified on May 12, when I also saw a catbird. It was cool and had rained a lot yesterday – but warm enough to bring out lots of tiny, gnat-sized bugs that warblers love to feed on, so the woods were busy.

At our feeder a year-round downy woodpecker was gorging itself on sunflower seeds for a long while. They are usually more polite. Here are a few photos:

This morning we identified a wood thrush in tall trees, very leafy, trees… by its call. I recorded it  on my iPad and compared its song to the fluty calls of the orioles and other thrushes, easily accessible via the free Audubon Birds app. The wood thrushes like forested areas with tall trees. Hermit thrushes and veeries tend to be much lower down preferring brush and safe undergrowth.

I saw a broad-winged hawk in our back yard a couple of days ago. Hawks are always a treat. I wish them good squirrelling…

Watched our local great blue heron being chased south by red-winged blackbirds today over the lower ” lake” in “Our” Woods.