Living as we do, teetering on the edge of the Arctic Circle, it has struck me in this liminal phase of Winter-Spring how every few days there is a different rhythm to adjust to. It seems only days ago I was wading through the treacle-gloom of January, knowing it would end some day but not being able to imagine what that might look like. Now the low yellow sun wakes me at 6am and at 10pm it’s still not dark. Suddenly the darkness has become something to be cherished, as daylight nibbles at its edges.
There are many confusing aspects about ‘Spring’ in Iceland for an English woman. For me Spring has always been a time of buds bursting forth, eggs hatching, the greening. Here, we are a few days away from an unusually late Easter and there is still a thick layer of snow on the ground. It has teased us many times by melting – the last time almost completely – but no sooner do the green shoots dare to emerge from the sodden flattened yellow grasses of last year, it snows again.
And yet as the sun streams in our windows, reflected in manifold journeys by the snow’s sparkling crystals, it feels hot. Some days we have to open the windows! The long hours of daylight have brought with them a buzz of activity and creativity, and most happily, my man back from the sea.
As friends started talking about allotments and bluebells in England, and apparent rustlings of vegetable growing started here, our thoughts turned to the exciting prospect of having a vegetable garden. This is the first time I’ve had a garden big enough to dream those dreams, and it is all the more delicious a prospect here as the quality of vegetables available in the shop is often terrible.
We actually have a quite enormous (by our standards) bit of land that we can make use of out behind the house. It is not ours: it is earmarked for future house building which, thanks to the recession, will not happen any time soon. In the meantime it is a sort of every man’s land – children play there, our old neighbour mends things there, and hopefully with our growing efforts we can encourage the village to use it as a community garden.
Almost as if my imaginings were allowed to fill the space we can potentially use, my seed planting was perhaps a little overenthusiastic. I am not an experienced gardener, and I didn’t expect almost ALL the seeds to germinate! Now most of our horizontal surfaces are taken up with propagation operations and Orri has even had to build shelves in the window. It feels like we’re starting a small farm! Ironically, the growing experience I do have is from volunteering at farms or small holdings such as The Lammas Project in Wales and The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Centre in USA, so perhaps I could not visualise a small scale operation! Still, growing anything here is always going to be an experiment, and so the more seedlings we have the better. It is so exciting looking at them each morning to see how they are coming on. I can only imagine how much more significant a meal is when you know you have grown it yourself.
Perhaps a little late in the day, we realised that a compost bin would be a good thing. It is too late to have any compost for this year, but somehow last Autumn when we arrived, the many inches of snow did not make it the first thing to spring to mind! And so we set to making one from reclaimed bits of wood and I decided a Spring painting was in order – if not to reflect my current environs, at least what they shall be soon. And of course the ever present raven had to make an appearance. Icelandic wild flowers and plants featured (left to right are) Hrafnaklukka (literally The Raven’s Clock/ English = Lady Smock), Melasól (Arctic poppy), Geldingahnappur (literally Eunuch’s Button/ English = Sea Pink), Fífill (Dandelion), and Hvönn (Angelica).
The impulse to create has been infectious and I have been busy working on some films, photography and jewellery-making. I am currently putting the final touches to a film to accompany a live gig recording by my dear friend Orla Wren, and our delicious little bundle is intended for release in unique handmade fashion by the talented Dan and Jess of the beautiful FACTURE label. Here’s a sneak peek…
And some unexpected visitors to our small town were a story that had to be told, so a fellow film maker and I duly took up our cameras. Mohammed and Nael are two Red Crescent volunteers from Palestine, and happen also to have trained as professional clowns. Through their clownery they bring laughter to children in Palestine, who otherwise are lacking in many of the freedoms other children take for granted. In other countries, they are able to use their clown personas to make children laugh and make them aware at least that Palestine does exist, despite being erased from world maps. Travelling around the region with these two was a unique way to see it. Their generosity of spirit was inspiring and I hope to make a short film that does their story justice.
Orri has also been busy working his magic in wood. These characters all look as if they have so many stories inside them, as indeed the wood does. Orri’s working method is to sometimes have an idea in mind, but to let the wood tell him what the final result will be. I am always amazed at how full of personality his pieces are – often of the peripheral kind.
After a long slow winter, our remote hometown will soon become abuzz with tourists and Icelanders coming home for the summer and we hope to take the opportunity to sell our wares. We shall in the future have an online shop, but until then if you see anything you like here (my photography or Orri’s sculptures), please do get in touch via this blog.
In the meantime, there is a big trip coming up for me that involves equatorial adventure, weddings, births and 90th birthday parties which I shall tell of as it unfolds. And so it is back to the Spring business and a happy Easter and Springtime to all of you!