Back in March when I arrived in the Westfjords of Iceland, it was announced on the national evening radio that Vorið er að koma, þvi Loan er komin [Spring is here because the Loa (Golden Plover) has arrived]. I found it charming that this ‘fact’ was announced in such a way, and, though I never expected warm weather and daffodils the weather only a few days later told me a different story!
Spring, and Easter in particular, is marked by a coming together, coming home of families as ever more young folks leave their home towns and vilages to live in the capital Reykjavik. Easter is as important as Christmas and involves similar amounts of eating, gathering and playing games. And of course Easter Egg hunts. Orri’s mum went to some trouble to come up with THE most impossible hiding places you could imagine. We searched the house high and low and in the end all of them were in the same room, one of them embedded in the springs of an armchair!!! I’m not so into chocolate but I did love the duck eggs we were given by a family friend. I even painted some after they were expertly drained by Orri.
For the past few years in Isafjorður, the Easter weekend has also involved a plethora of music in the form of Aldrei fór ég suður [I Never Went South], a homegrown free music festival that is held in a cement factory and features a diverse range of acts, from bigger names such as Olof Arnalds and Mugison to some old boys in a brass band puffing away on very cold instruments! Here are people arriving through the second most snow all winter to hear the music. It was lovely to see all ages there, packed together in a warehouse trying to stay warm. The line up was scrawled on a bit of board propped up against a portaloo and there was not a whiff of corporateness about it. Just lots of people of all ages enjoying the music. It did get a little too packed for my liking though. It seems Icelanders get excited about being able to make a crowd, but I find it less exciting as what I like about this place is the sense of space. Each year more and more people are drawn to these remote shores in search of something more raw and authentic, and it seems to outgrow each building that hosts it. I’m not sure where it will go next…there’s only so many buildings in Isafjorður.
Spring in the Westfjords can be the falling of snow ( as can summer occasionally), but more often the melting of snow. We battled against this when we built our snow house….so much snow certainly makes you want to make things, but it can all be gone within a couple of days. As they say in Iceland, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait fifteen minutes!”. I like the way it makes you seize the moment and be spontaneous. That fits well with me. The snow and the melting and the strong wind blowing can create some very beautiful patterns and a variety of crunch-squelches underfoot.
The road out of Isafjorður has been blocked by snow for a few days and we took the opportunity of its clearing to take a trip to warm our cockles in a variety of hot springs that the Westfjords is blessed to have. Spring brings sun, and rain, and the dance between them, and on our way we were danced over by many rainbows which adds a touch of magic and bright colour to an already surreally beautiful landscape.
First stop was Heydalur, where a very sweet and particularly resourceful ex-farmer, Stella, had turned her barn into a wood lined restaurant with a chandelier made from many old glass floats, turned her sheep shed into rooms, and her green house into a green house-cum-hot swimming pool. I believe the hot water from the source first heats the buildings, then slightly cooled comes to the pools which are of various temperatures, both inside and outside. And finally the cooled water is used on the vegetables and herbs that she then uses in her kitchen. Mental note: this is a most excellent set up!
Some hot pools in Iceland can be disappointing in the sense that they seem sealed off from the landscape in which they sit. Stella has really thought through what the most beautiful experience would be, and so in the outdoor pools one is greeted by an expansive view down the valley. In the inside pool, as if being in a shed surrounded by trees and herbs was not pleasure enough, she has cut out a large window at breaststroke eye level, so one can still look out onto the mountains yonder and appreciate even more the warming of your core.
Next stop was a little way down the same fjord to a small pool, Horgshlið, which I had passed once in the dark and dipped a toe in, but as we were racing home for Christmas festivities in a storm we had not stopped for a proper dip. Being outside so late at night, I realised how quickly the light changes from Winter to Spring. By May it will be light nearly all the time and this is so soon after the months where darkness was still predominant. After our second hot bath we were very ready for a good night’s sleep in our wool lined van – the first of the year and toasty as toast even with snow still on the ground.
For breakfast was Nauteyri pool, which though very cute, was not quite hot enough. And there were a fair few flies in it. And when I saw maggots I got out. And so we moved homeward, stopping on our way back for a final dip in another pool, which, in its eerie algae lined form, furnished us with an idea.
Orri had got into pulling off bits of the algae from the walls of the pool and as he held them up to the light, I noticed what beautiful shades and patterns were within it. I often make paper lanterns and thought how beautiful a ‘paper’ this could be. And so I got a box. And we took lots home with us.
We experimented with making paper, by laying it out on a board covered with plastic. Over twenty four hours we would see it become a much smaller and warped piece of nature’s work with lovely shades, ripples and apertures, but also something too brittle to work with.
Then we experimented with making lanterns from twigs that had been gifted by the melting snow outside the school down the way.
I bound together my structure with wire, to make a series of arches, in which there would be a little doorway. I loved the delicate rows of buds that would look so striking within, and coming out of the lantern.
I gave it clay feet to stand on.
And started draping wet algae onto overlapping branches, creating a kind of forest themed natural stained glass window.
I kept adding more wet algae to the pre-existing algae as this seemed to create a more coherent bond. I also used the buds and rough edges of the branches as a means to ‘hook’ the algae in place. Now you can see the beautiful shades of green that so captivated me in the pool.
And finally it was ‘done’. A lovely thing somewhere between a small tree, a fat old lady and a wonky windmill. Just what I was going for (!). I pasted algae on the doorway opening side as well as I had a suspicion it would tighten into an arch, which it did, on all sides…oops!
And here it is, dry, but with a rather insufficient light source inside. I guess that is the problem with dark green. You need a very bright light for it to be a lantern. But who said a lantern needed to be functional. It is simply a beautiful thing with a light inside.
Finally I shall leave you with the layers of a paper lantern I made for Orri’s sister one Christmas: an old lady in a wintery forest (there seems to be a theme here), looking for we know not what…
Within the lantern I made, she holds a lantern, and the light from within the within, is the light for both of them.