Arts

Haunted

In Iceland, there is so much to remind a man indigenous to the Okanagan grasslands that English is not always a colonial culture at odds with place but holds deep indigenous thought of its own. Here in Iceland, the world is spoken by the oldest of words in the English language, ones that came before the language was ever spoken at all. It is a vision worth travelling for and worth bringing home. The word that I have been meditating on today in my room above the old cloister below Skriða in East Iceland is “haunt”. I am haunted by this landscape:

sheepsunThe Sheep of Eyrarland Farm, East Iceland

(Looking out over the Klausturtangi wetlands.)

Haunt is an old word. It means “home”, or “to be tied to one’s home” if one is using it as a form of energy rather than a place for that energy to centre. It is the way a sheep needs no fence on its mountain. Once it has been acclimatized to it, the mountain and the sheep are one. It is, as I noted in my journal yesterday morning ..

Horses move back and forth in the field, tethered by string and desire, always in tension, like beats on a drum.

Or, of course, like a heart, or the tide, or breaths. By “string” here, I mean the simple line of wire that represents a man’s will, that a horse will not cross, but which it will strain against, and which will gently push back, in the way of the lines of a poem. In the Cariboo region of central British Columbia, I once had a moose and her calf take up residence in my back yard. The cow could step easily over my barbed wire fence as if it were not there. The calf, even at one year old and taller than a horse, had to make a light hop to clear the fence, and clipped the top strand of wire with her back hoof. That action set the fences of half of the Borland Valley singing, as if she had plucked a guitar string and we were in an old Country and Western song among the lodgepole pines, aspens, foxes and muskrats. It is good to be home on this earth. I am pained that what passes for civilization often seeks to destroy it, but that is, I presume, also the way of things. I just don’t like it. It is to be remembered that tomorrow is Good Friday. This kind of anguish has been going on for a long time.

sunrise

The Sun Rises Over the Viðivallaskogur, East Iceland

The view from my window — earlier every day now.

Tomorrow the first exhibit of the year opens here at Skriðuklaustur: an exhibition of crosses of wood, bone, bark and metal by Jón Geir Ágüstsson. My favourites among them are those whose arms don’t cross at the intersection of the earth and the eternal, but touch gently at a single point receding into infinity, like the beaks of four ravens grasping, or letting go of, the sun. The same pattern can be found in the basalt outcropping above the old monastery ruins below this shelf of grass before the mountain really begins, frozen now in the opening part of the year. It struck me early this morning that a word close to “haunt” is “honour.” I am haunted by that.

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