Here where the glaciers ground each other to a halt and ate down into the earth instead, the Apex volcanic complex meets the North Cascades.
After so many millions of years, they’re still talking it out.
Here where the glaciers ground each other to a halt and ate down into the earth instead, the Apex volcanic complex meets the North Cascades.
After so many millions of years, they’re still talking it out.
Peaches are scrubby little bushes from the Gobi Desert, that live to be fifteen years old, more or less, before they succumb to their many fragilities. Here’s one I’ve been caring for twenty years, after another man cared for her for nearly twenty before that. A quarter of her sisters have died, but a week ago she was the first one blooming this year. Her name is Glohaven.
Still gorgeous after all these years. Some fifty-five years ago I remember images of blossoms like this, with my father as the photographer, and it was a tree like this (her name was Vee), with just the right branch, who taught me how to climb trees. I worked at it for weeks. I have a whole lifetime to return the gift.
I am not angry.
I am sad.
My elders taught me that these were cat tails. They taught me that poetry was a fairy tale.
They taught me that these were swamp weeds. They taught me that words expressed thoughts.
I learned later that these rushes were the winter food of snow geese, who summer in Siberia, when it is like our winters here in this fjord lake valley. But that was not enough.
I learned later that the people who are this land that has brought me to the sky built their houses out of these reeds. Why did no one tell me this? Why were they separating me from my body like that? I am nothing but this body. These rushes are my thoughts. I am them walking. It was not enough.
I learned later that I have ancestors, far older than my elders. To them, these were not plants. There were no plants in their world. There was the sound of wind rattling the stems, calling them. It is all that I am.
It has not been enough. There is only the world of men, I was taught forty years ago. If you do not accept their way of speaking, and I promise you I was instructed in this, then you are an outlaw and can expect the laws to be used to suppress you. I am not speaking in metaphor. This was the point of philosophy forty years ago. Men wanted to build a world that consisted only of a social network.
And they did do that, but not for those of us who are the world, who are a rush brushing against a breast with the sound of geese leaving to overwinter on the seas of the moon. As if that were up in the sky, and not right here.
As I grew through adulthood into middle age and then past it and became a last remnant of a lost earth, under stars most men and women have never seen, younger people began to correct me.
They had learned well. They were very helpful. They told me that this was a wetland. Not the moon. I do not think that they were trying to kill me, the poet, the man of the rushes, but the effect was the same.
I am not angry.
The people who lived in books told me that my ancestors were simple people, who read themselves into the land, but “we” understood reality now.
They told me that what you see in these images weren’t the sound of the cold calling through the sun and the sun answering. They told me about reality. I think they thought I knew what this stuff was. But I am not sure.
In return they were very helpful. They told me that my languages, English and German, were not languages of the world but were very useful systems of social codes and abstractions.
They were even more helpful. They told me that mathematics was true, that cold-hardened steel was true, but that spirit was not one thing or another and so not “true” because it could not be cold or hardened.
They told me that Beauty was not a measuring device for the presence of life in a land and its people, or in a people and its land (if it’s useful to say one thing twice) but a pleasurable response designed by a force called evolution to create babies, which, to reason, which they understood, was a clever product of randomness and an elegant expression of it.
In their world, there were no men of the rushes. But there were reasonable things.
Where they saw wetlands, that could clean water for their cities of asphalt, steel, concrete and glass, I saw bows, arched, and water fields, and arched with them, and was arched, but it did not matter.
I did not see grazing grounds, or a lump of rock circling the earth, and that was that. They told me they did. Sometimes I suspected that they were looking at words, but I didn’t know that for sure. They did say that what I saw was “poetry,” though.
I saw the sky. I knew that much. Written in the earth.
I saw the geese were the moon flying. Written in me.
Who could I speak to of this? I live in a country in which such talk is called romance. It is not a complement. It is something to be corrected. It is also called poetry in this country. It is something to be corrected.
There are people in this country who are called people in authority: professors, city planners, property developers; it is all the same. They come from other countries to this one. They correct me. They don’t say, “We call this a wetland.” They say it is one. When I say, your city is in the middle of my valley, and I wish it would go away, they are shocked at what they call my naiveté. I think they think I live in books, but I’m not sure.
They use the word ‘we’. I don’t. I’m sorry about that. It has caused confusion.
We the rushes, I should have said, and not cared that they don’t think they have a language for the earth that accepts its personhood. I should have said, we the children of the moon, meaning the eye of a bird in the night, and if they insisted on a stone then a stone thrown into a pool, rippling.
I kept silent. I am sorry about that.
I did not know myself. I was deferent, as I learned from the water and the land, bending with the wind and the rain.
It’s not that I didn’t feel the energy within this body and world I am. It’s not that the rushes didn’t hold the answers to every question in the world. It did not matter.
I was well trained, and believed them when they said these things were all separate, and only the seeing of them had form, and this seeing was less than theirs and was called “poetry,” which I didn’t feel they liked much.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I, of course, wanted to live among them. Some of them I even loved. Some I still do, more than myself.
Some of them, though, told me that the stuff in the image below (for example) was Nature. They told me about the seriousness of literary committees, and that there was one way of doing things, and it could be taught, and they would run the committee now, because I was talking about rushes and land and they were busy people and needed to talk about important things. Serious things. Things they could say to each other, not to rushes. I suspect they didn’t know how to talk to rushes, but I’m not sure.
Of course they needed to talk to each other. They were young. I was too much a child of my ancestors and not enough a child of their books. I was a knot of tangled threads.
By their pride, they taught me how to untangle that. They tried to teach me that poetry was a thing made of words, set in metres and rhythms, and even that these things could be fixed, and that poetry was not snow geese and not the waiting for snow geese and not houses made of the body by plucking its hair the way a musician plucks the strings of a lute. They taught me that men — a kind of puppet that a soul can operate in the way a robin operates an apple tree — speak this way, and that women had other things to talk about. I’m happy for them, and though at times I have wished they would have said what that was, what they needed to say, one of my friends, a woman and a philosopher, has kindly explained to me that this kind of talk is just the puppet talking and it should just be ignored. I was excited. This sounded smart and new.
Caught in the spell of young professors of literature, one of whom even said, despite my protests, that all men hate the earth and want to destroy it, I forgot myself and tried to argue, and when I failed at that, predictably, forgot myself again and stopped writing poems for the world, even though I had had elders who taught me the old ways, even though they only cloaked them in the words of literary men, for their own protection.
They could not protect me from my misunderstanding.
I did not tell the important literary people, who know how things get done in their world that I cannot see, who know the traditions of how to train people, which looks like the training of horses to me, that the boat of my ribs is the lute, that I am singing with old Vaïnomoïnen, the smith of the Milky Way, here on the star road, as my people have sung since men found iron and struck it with a hammer instead of making war.
I am sorry. I should have told them. I should have said, “I do not want to make war.” I should have said, “I would like it if we loved each other.” Well, the last time I said “I do not want to make war” was the day, thirty years ago, on which I learned that many people, who call themselves poets, and I presume they know what they’re saying, want war. They delight in it, they told me.
I am repeatedly told that as a man who speaks the words of his ancestors, I am of their kind. A tribe, they call it. No.
I did not tell them about the mind that was a spark from the anvil of the world.
I should have, right then. I did not tell them about the darkness that is light, the matter that is time, in the little time I have in the world before I am the world again, without time. I didn’t expect that they would understand something that is beyond understanding, and so I was silent, partly out of deference and partly to protect myself, lest I be torn from the world into words and when I turned around again there would be no world at all.
I was afraid of that, and in my fear I failed them and myself.
But I am not sad. Sure, they would not have listened. They would not have heard. How could they? We did not share a language. But, even so, some things are not said for people. They are said for the rushes and the wind.
I should have forgiven them easily and at once. These were, after all, people like myself, who understood war too well, whose ancestors had been driven, as mine, into its throat and had been swallowed alive, as my people were.
After all, this land was captured by countries across the sea, not by love but by violence, and if I grew up in that violence and read it as love, and if they grew up in that violence and read it as my own, why should I be bitter? I am not.
I am joyful. I catch the sun. I am not sad because of that. I shake my stems in the wind. It is a small gesture, I know, but it follows the winds of time, just so. Just so.
I have found myself at last, just so. I am weaving the sun and the earth together, not because they are not already there, but because I love them.
Because I hear them speaking.
This speech is not in words.
(Well, unless you will accept that these are words, which is generous and bold of you.)
Is that too much to ask? I don’t know.
I don’t know how it is among you.
I think sometimes you do.
I think of the children, often. I think of the poets among the children. Those who have not found their voice in the world yet. Those few who run their fingers along a blade of a sound and feel the foundations of a house, the stretch of a thought, the music of a heart lifting as a snow goose on its way to the Siberia, where it speaks the language of ice with all that is.
With all that it is possible to be.
These are the wings.
Listeners, please, if you think I am making a poem, then I have not used my words well. Here, this is a poem:
Please read it again and again and again. Don’t look to me. I am just a rush speaking the wind. I am just the wind, speaking a rush. I do not mean poetry by that. That is something we were all taught.
That term is something I have lost. I don’t need to go looking for it. I do not need to put one word on top of another word on top of another word until they make an image of the world.
Nothing’s lost, but things are found. I am already here.
I have always been here. I don’t need science to do this for me, either. That was for people trying to escape a war, and that’s a fine thing.
There was a time I was a child in a school. I was being taught that one form of literature, science, is true in the world, and all others are entertainments, which can be studied by science and then, observed and classified, would be true, as they had not been before. I was not taught about the smith who sailed the boat of his ribs down the Milky Way. I found him on my own. I walked outside. I breathed.
Please, forgive me for reminding you here of what might sound strange to you. Breath means the world to me. This is not poetry, I should add. It is the world speaking. What goes by that name today — poetry — is a dark magic, but it is not the world, or me, or speech, or, I suspect, you, and the words it uses are not the words of my language, or, most likely, yours. They look the same, yes. These words I write here, and you read, though, are not the words of my language. If you sense any poetry here, perhaps I have managed to move myself just enough out of the way that you can feel the rushes brushing against your cheek, and … can you smell them, too?
I can. They smell of dry water. It’s hard to explain. But why shouldn’t it be. Explanation is a game of words and this is not words or a game. This is the world.
I love the body of you.
Don’t you? My brothers and sisters, the wind has been waking into the sound of rushes. That’s all. It has taken some time.
It has been growing into itself to find you. I was born knowing this. I have been remembering before it is so late that I am no I at all.
I apologize for the delay. I was born to people who made a hammer out of the language of my ancestors, that spoke the sound of a goose’s wing, that came from the lungs, and because I loved them I believed them. That is the right way to enter the world.
But now I am the elder. I can let those old stories go.
I can let them go to Siberia.
I can follow them.
I am the elder to no-one’s children, not even my own. I know that. I write for the rushes, as I always have, because that is what they have heard as they have written me. I dare not stop. Do you?
Whatever children may follow, they might have need of the language of the earth. They might find each other on its paths. I don’t know. I pray they will. I know only that night is coming. The machines are coming for us. They will live in our place. We the rushes will be the silent dead.
Young men write language for the machines now, while young women write the story of their bodies and measure the world to strip it of language and cast it naked on the sand for the sun to write upon. I do not profess to understand. It has to do with dreams, I think, but the young women aren’t saying. Many of them are quite angry, although they have difficulty saying about what. I understand. It’s a hard journey, life. It’s hard waking.
I hope the young men find them there, though. I hope the young women will have them, in their wordlessness. I hope there’s enough wordlessness to go around. It’s awkward, but it can’t be helped. There is no other way to see in the dark. I hope we will protect them.
The machines are merciless.
I speak out of turn, perhaps, but I do so because love is merciful.
I know it is an indulgence on my part, but what else? Every child must learn the old ways by touch alone, by breath and blood and bone, by skin and lip and teeth and tongue.
Only that way will they learn of us and live, and we will live on through them.
I went looking for light. In a grey world, it was all in the red osier dogwoods, stəktəkcxʷlɬp, the purifier, the beloved of moose. I spent some time with it as it turned into them.
It is the net of blood in the eye. Anything that passes through it will be guided by it, stroked, and shifted to follow its flows. You feel it all over your skin and over your chest and arms. You can step into it with purpose. You must step out of it with its flow.
Russian olive making an arc against gravity. Turkey vulture making an arc against gravity.
Human trail, making an arc around gravity at Palouse Falls. Red Osier Dogwood using a ladder of carbon to climb out of the well of gravity.
Human spiritual symbol, defying gravity, French Prairie, St. Paul, Oregon.
The primary human habitat: over water, from a height; a separation from gravity.
Human art, defying gravity (gravitas) by lifting matter into the spiritual realm of height seen in the previous image (Caetani House, Vernon, British Columbia.)
This is how this human attribute is viewed in the “natural” world.
None of these are the natural world. They are all artifice. The world is not in a photograph, a word or a concept. It can only be inferred, but, of course, what is inferred is us. The space where gravity is not.
Big lake, big fun!
Pshaw. 150 metres above that lake.
Rocks! Not just any rocks, either. Lake rocks, river rocks, and rocks that have fallen off a cliff, all together. We’re talking shores.
Glacial lakes the size of seas, rivers flowing beside glacial arms, and debris carried by the glacier and dropped here when it melted, on the ancient floor of the sea…
… which the ice rounded off nicely into waves. The image below would have been deep underwater 11,000 years ago.
The land looks dry. With red-tailed hawks doing lovely fly-bys.
But it’s water.
On the Coast, water flows.
Here it causes flowing.
Same thing. Same water. Same presence, just falling there as rain and lifting into the air here and carrying you with it.
Some call this land Cascadia. That’s only the half of it.
I left names off of the images here in the hope that it would help you see them all as one.
Rock (and marmots)…
… rock and water …
…the thing that makes them similar is you. Here, the same signature shows up again, in an old gold mine in Conconully.
Fascinating, isn’t it. Here it is again at Ozette. And here at La Push.
It’s comfortable to call these natural forces.
As soon as you do, you’ve made an unbridgeable separation, which makes your relationship to the earth …
…a matter of personal identity and emotion: forms of possession.
Let’s try honesty.
The priestesses of Dionysus frolicked with satyrs in the night, in processions lit by pine pitch torches. It’s still going on!
The old myth was not about people, or, better put, it was about people who took their identity from trees, and were, for all purposes, the trees that got up and danced. Which, by the way, pines can do very well on their own.
When Coyote trades his eyes for pebbles like Crow’s below, he can’t see a thing.
It’s very funny. Each pebble is the world.
Hard to choose! Each one really is the world.
In each, the world appears to a differing degree of purity, but each one is the world.
With an eye like that you can see the forces of the universe. Nebulas, star clusters, black holes, dark matter, that kind of thing.
But you might not see the audience.
Crow, who’s telling this joke is happy about that, because he’s having a bad hair day.
A really bad hair day.
And, really, he wants you to see him like this:
In my country on the north eastern Pacific shore, this is funny stuff. The world is a joke here. It’s not something to deflate human pretensions. That’s a human pretension. Best just to laugh. You can’t hide here.
So, which one is it?
A pair perhaps?
One note: you can’t tell this story, because you’re in it. Here’s its author.
As for human pretensions, they’re not funny. Oh, wait, yes they are.
Even when they get away from themselves they do it together. Now, that’s a joke worth sharing.
Bad hair or not.
Iceland was long isolated from the rest of Europe and maintained ancient, pre-industrial modes of creativity, economics and land use long after they had been rendered obsolete elsewhere. Many parts of Icelandic culture did not leave an indigenous sense of land until the Second World War, when occupation by American and British military forces completely transformed the economy.
Abandoned Turf House, North Iceland
The wind, I promise, is unforgiving here. The house is built directly in it, on the crest of a hill above the Greenland Sea, so that the wind will take the winter snow away. The rest of the year is scarcely warmer. I would have left, too. And I love the wind!
For one thing, in Iceland you’re always under the observant eyes of ravens, who range out to the left and right of the god Oðin, acting as the harbingers and scouts of all identity: thought and memory. Here’s one keeping an eye on me.
You Are Never Alone in Iceland, Hengifossá
One of the technologies that Iceland brought forward into the present is Nordic Mythology. It was preserved here, although lost everywhere else, and provides an alternate world view to all others. For one thing, it has humans dwelling on Middle Earth, between worlds of Fire and Ice. Middle earth is where they battle for dominance. The fire …
… and ice are never far, and come from beyond the world.
Snæfells, with Reindeer and Geese
This is a complex and deep heritage, which contains such creative technologies as haying …
Haying is the Art of Creating a Book out of the Sun
You can read it all winter long, or your sheep can. My book The Art of Haying explores these mysteries.
… the string …
Icelandic Horse Obeying The String That is a Human Will
… non-human personhood …
Icelandic Horse Scratching Its Head at the Mystery of It All
… the self living in the forms of the land…
Elf City, South Iceland
…in union with ancient story …
Raven Mountain, North East Iceland
… and creativity rising not from person but from space, in an ancient conception called the Tun.
Cow, Calf and Tun
All these technologies and many more meet in the culture of Iceland. The culture is their expression. Humans pass through this culture’s forms, in the same way they ride (or walk) across the land.
Golfing With Elves and the Dead, Too
In Iceland, nothing gets thrown away.
It’s the tun I’d like to talk about in terms of creativity today. A tun is something that you can observe (and take part in) everywhere in Iceland (and in the North). Here’s a tun in Denmark (the former colonizing power, grrr):
Den Fynske Landsby, Fyn, Danmark. The working courtyard in front follows the ancient Norse (and thereafter Icelandic) architectural model of a tun, an open air working room between buildings.
A tun is a building without walls or roof, where the money-making activity of the farm took place, and where the manure (the dung, a variant of the word “tun”) was stored, which could be spread on the fields to create future wealth. It is the source of economy.
Horse-drawn Wealth Spreader Waiting for Re-use
Hedge fund version 1.0.
The tun usually connected to the track to the next farm, or out to the world of trade. Here’s a variant on a tun, from East Iceland…
In this case, the tun is the road itself. It’s the architectural space (within the landscape rather than the farmyard) that carries forth the energy of the tun.
Icelandic Highway 1 in March, Mývatnssveit
Park your car here on the way back home from work.
The word “tun” is the German for “to do”. The English word is “doing.”
A nice triad!
It is a place of energy that creates the economy and trade and activity of a country (or a farm), or lets it efficiently take place. It is the place where the future is created. Without it, the activity of humans would not be as organized as it is, nor could it be efficiently packed up and exported from the farm (or the country.) Iceland, of course, is a sophisticated modern country, so we can expect this source of energy to take many forms today. Here are a few:
The pattern of tun-in-the-pasture is reversed to pasture-in-the-tun. (The tun is Reykjavik.) This pasture, though, is in the shape of a disused turf house. Clever stuff!
Note that this is a re-purposed building. In other words, not only is the movie theatre a contemporary tun, but the building acts as one as well.
A very useful tun for work with souls. In this case, the houses of the village take the place of the buildings of a farmyard.
The trees are part of a nation building program of the Icelandic government. They represent not only shelter and beauty, but future money in the bank. In this sense, they operate as a dung heap in a tun. The land itself has been separated from itself into a special tun space here. Here’s something different…
This tun represents a combined cognitive, social and bodily space. It moves around and around through Reykjavik, invading people’s dreams and re-shaping them into effervescent images of mineral water. Not into the dance scene? No problem…
Note the elf house in the foreground. It’s good to live close to your neighbours.
From the perspective of a capital economy, this capital has depreciated to the point of needing to be replaced with a new depreciation sequence paid for with interest. In a tun-based economy, the expense of taking wealth from the land in order to build structures upon it is a debt that will be erased only when the creative (tun-ish) potential given from the land and embodied in the building and the tractor are mined dry and these materials (dung-wise) rot back into the earth. They are, in other words, a fertilizer. You don’t paint fertilizer. You also don’t throw it away. Want something more adventuresome? Iceland has that too.
Svinafellsjokul, Skaftafell National Park
A glacier is part of the common wealth of a country, that which belongs to all of the people and brings water and energy to all. It’s not just the people, either. It also brings energy to the land itself. Here, you can see what that looks like, on the other side of the glaciers.
Aka glacier turning into light. Very good for the soul.
A glacier can attract tourists (and mine them for wealth), provide healthy recreation for the people (an idea of nature, imported from coal-smoke-choked industrial England), and even provide habitat for fish …
The Laugarfljót, with a view to Snæfells
These are both tun spaces. The mountain generates snow, which generates water. The lake collects the water, to provide habitat for fish. By concentrating energy in this way, mountain and lake make it available for human harvest. (Not that this is their plan.)
Unfortunately, capital-intensive economic systems can mess with that and simplify the idea of a tun almost to unrecognizability, like this:
Or art in the service of propaganda. Or a statue in the middle of a hydroelectric dam outflow channel that has diverted the water from Snæfells into the wrong fjord. Something like that. Here, here’s another look: See that? The ship steams upriver, loaded with generic manufactured goods, towards the economy created by turning Snæfells’ life-giving properties into cash, that can pay for electric toasters and Swedish toilet paper. It never, of course, arrives. Here’s its goal…
The Heart of the Mountain
The statue was erected on the notion of eternal wealth, just before the economic collapse made the whole notion questionable. Here’s a construction site (abandoned) in Reykjavik, based upon the economic version of this dam …
OK, So Maybe Not Such a Great Idea After All
If you get too abstract with your tun, you run the risk of running out of manure. Good to know.
Ah, perhaps you’re tired of farms by now? Well, here you go, way up in the north…
A Sea-Going Tun Space
Powered by human energy (doing). Any fish brought into the boat (the tun) are instantly converted into wealth. Well, as long as your arms are strong and the weather holds.
This particular moveable tun has been sitting on the shore for a long time, but the principle still holds. When you start powering that boat with diesel, then a good chunk of the fish you bring in are not wealth, but payment for an operating debt, and, if you bought the boat on credit, a capital debt as well. If you’re not careful, the whole thing becomes a debt. Instead of organizing the wealth of your labour on the sea (very wet common space) for delivery to social space, the tun organizes social relationships for delivery to you. You have, in other words, lost your tun (doing.) Here’s a solution:
The Akureyri Botanical Garden
This garden is planted in Iceland’s northern capital to see what plants will grow in a cold, northern climate. The concentration is on decorative plants. That is part of Icelandic nationalism, a way of dunging the country so that it brings forth wealth (in the sense of a tun economy, organized around human relationships to common space (land and water, mostly), beauty and fecundity are both forms of wealth.) So is this:
Hotel Edda, Akureyri
In the summer, the richly-endowed residential high schools of Iceland are converted into hotels, serving travellers. This doing (tun) allows for them to be sheltered and fed without capital-intensive infrastructure on the land, that would not turn a profit (dung) and would be a drain on the community (a kind of field.) In other words, without the Hotel Edda concept, travel in Iceland would be greatly reduced. That is pure tun! In the winter, the schools are tuns of a different kind, gathering Icelandic youth together for their common education. It would be best, however, not to think of these multi-use spaces as either schools or hotels, but as a space which allows for and serves both relationships to the land. See? Pure tun! Similarly…
N1 Gas Station in Blondüos
In sparcely-populated Iceland, a gas station is like a city in itself (Icelandic Staður, German Stadt [city] or Staat [country], English State, and in land terms a Stead, as in a farmstead. Here it’s a gas stead.) Everyone stops (where else?). Everyone eats (hamburgers, chicken, pizza and hot dogs, the national dishes of Iceland, and for the lucky soul a liquorice ice cream bar [available only in Iceland] if you root around long enough in the freezer.) The places so interrupt the roads in a tun-ish kind of way that even the police stop here. Rather than waiting at the side of the road trying to nab people of interest, they just hang out at the N1 and interrogate people while they’re filling up with gas.
Here’s a somewhat more esoteric tun from Kirkjubærjarklaustur:
A Window on the Tun …
… is part of the function of the tun, even when it’s a bit wonky from a stone cast up by a weed eater or, perhaps (judging from the repaired state of the wall) earthquake.
Similarly, a piece of propaganda-art (or is it art-propaganda?) in downtown Reykjavik provides an anchor point for tourists wandering down to the waterfront (very tun-ish, that)…
Leif the Lucky’s Aluminum Ship, with Modern Adventurers
If I was crossing the North Atlantic in a longboat, I’d want it to be a made out of aluminum, too.
… while reminding the Reykjavikers that the money that built their glittering waterfront…
Reykjavik: Iceland’s Tun
It interacts with other national tuns to create the worldwide tun network.
… came from the aluminum smelter (and glacial-melt electricity) across the mountain in Whale Fjord.
Aluminum Smelter with World War II Airstrip (aka bird sanctuary), Hvalfjörður
Leif’s ship points straight this way. This is a capital tun. That it needs space (Iceland) is rather incidental. It might have been British Columbia. Oh, wait, they’ve dammed rivers and diverted them through tunnels and extirpated salmon for an aluminum smelter in British Columbia, too! Like tuns, capital is everywhere. Sometimes it flows right through a tun and obliterates it.
Here’s Reykjavik’s most interesting tun, right on the waterfront …
The Reykjavik opera house and performance centre. It also houses a CD shop, a cafe, exhibition space, practice space for dancers, fashion shows and classical, folk and rock concerts. In other words, it provides a space for the concentration of cultural activity of all kinds in sufficient quantity and quality that it can be delivered to the people, the country, and the world. It’s also a beautiful piece of architecture that captures the sun light and casts it in coloured rectangles on the concrete plaza at its base, like sketchings made out of chalk. Tun all the way.
Not all tuns are so complex. Here’s one of the most basic (and powerful) of them all…
Right Between Church and House
Note the road that comes directly to it. The tithes that came to a church accrued to the landowner who had built the tun space for the people and were, as such, a major form of wealth for Icelandic farms. The byproduct was the dead, who were planted in the tun — a kind of social dung, fertilizing the future (Heaven) or the present (built as it is on human memory, the more the memory the richer the present.)
In this conception of wealth, capital (and money) aren’t exactly the goal, but a product of the tun space. The carefully-bounded space below, on the other hand, added to the tun space…
Without the line that bounds this field, there would be no inputs to a tun space. It would only be a potential space. Never underestimate a line, in Iceland or anywhere else.
Here, this image may illustrate that more dramatically. Here we are at Myvatn (you may recognize this image)…
Volcanic Slag, fenced and dunged = Field = Horse
If we lift the camera just a teensy bit, we get some perspective…
Volcanic Slag + Capital + Cleverness = Geothermal Power
Our horse is behind the rock.
You see how that works? The land has potential. It has a form of potential energy. The application of a particular technological approach towards defining it as space allows for different forms of energy to come out of it. A line gives us a field, gives us a horse. It will be brought into a tun, where this elementary relationship is retained. Capital gives us a geothermal power station. It will be brought into a city, where it’s own elementary relationships are retained. In the first case, the earth is full of life and living relationships. In the second, humans are separated from the earth, which is a field of energy, that can be harvested. The interrelationship between these two ways of being is complex, but at all times the elementary principle remains: creativity comes from the space that is outlined by technology; the outcomes are predetermined. In other words, we who are humans are not separate from technology and cannot just direct it to our will. All we can hope for is to create spaces, which create energy flows that lead to where we wish to go, but we should be very clear as to where they might lead. Here’s a kind of tun that got its start in Iceland over a thousand years ago:
The Thing Place in Þingvællir
The world’s first parliament convened on this spot at the confluence of the walking trails of Iceland in the year 930. All the people came and collectively decided their social arrangements, then followed the trails back to their home farms. This is the tun of tuns.
On the principle that space creates function and energy is latent in the land, some tuns are geographical spaces. Like this…
Arnarfjörður, from Hrafnseyrie
This was the view that Jon Sigurdson, father of Icelandic independence, took in as a child.
Here’s a slightly altered version:
Here’s an example of a common Icelandic tun: a ruin of a lost farm. The people of Reykjavik come from places like this that were no longer tenable in a capital-fueled society. They do, however, remain.
Ruined Farmhouse near Arnarstapi
The mistake should not be made, despite the astute and chilling observations of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate, Halldór Laxness, that such buildings were a betrayal of the debt of humans to their land, as they were too capital intensive and not constructed within the flow of seasons and fate. Instead, it’s better to think of them as graveyards and memory artefacts, that continue to bind people to the land, although only in potential, and offer the chance of return. The energy that was squandered (as Laxness saw it) on these buildings, remains in them, as it also remains in the land, and can be mined again. Only in the sense of capital is it lost.
Well, there are many other forms of doings in Iceland. Cataloguing them won’t add to that appreciably. But perhaps this image might sum it up:
Like the string that defines a field and allows for concentrated activity, a bridge is another technology both similar to a tun and connected to its energy. It allows for improved delivery of material to the tun, without the contamination of important water sources with the mud generated by foot traffic. In this case, perhaps not so well, but, hey, I used this bridge on my way to the Dwarf Church in Seyðisfjörður, and it did its thing. Oh, and as for bridges, here’s one…
Slowly, a people who have lost their connection to tun space are refinding it, in the golf course surrounding a church which was set up next to an elf city in the lava fields south of Reykjavik. Humans are like horses in a field. They really can’t wander that far.
Well, that’s the tun (our contemporary ton, or town), in many of its forms. It is in these spaces that Icelandic creativity takes place, because the tun (not the individual self, not God but focussed activity rising from location, here in Middle Earth, between cataclysmic forces) is where creativity takes place. In Iceland, it is Middle Earth, Miðgarðr, that is creative space. A similar set of illustrations can be worked out for the other technologies (string, etc) with which I introduced this post, but for now, I think you get the point: in Iceland there is a form of creativity and a corresponding land sense with little if any connection to American, French or German land senses. The culture, however, is more creative than those others. That’s worth sitting down in for awhile and getting to know. So, until next time when I will speak about Indigenous creativity on the Columbia Plateau, thank you for spending some quality time with me among the elves.
Harold Among the Elves on Miðgarðr