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A few years ago I translated a book from Icelandic into English called 25 Beautiful Walks of the Greater Reykjavik Area. It was an absolute pleasure to work with because of everything I learned about the geologic and societal history of the capital region of Iceland.

One of the most interesting chapters was about Walk 4 through the Gálgahraun lava fields on the Álftanes peninsula. This lava field is the very last lick of a once-flowing river of magma that poured out of the Búrfell volcano around 7300 years ago and northwest out to meet the chilled Atlantic sea. Now there's plenty of lava in Iceland, and quite a lot from this particular eruption in the Reykjavik area. But what to me was most interesting, to start with, was the translation of Gálgahraun: Gallows Lava. I was immediately curious to know more. The author, Reynir Ingibjartarsson wrote the following:

Down by the Lambhúsatjörn lake is the Sakamannastígur, or Convicts' Way, a path that passes Hrauntaugar to Gálgaklettar. Near the lake was once the equivalent of an Icelandic royal palace with its magistrate, captains and county sheriff. On this path the unnamed guilty were led to execution and later buried at Gálgaflöt. Maybe a boat was sent out for them from the slave houses at Bessastaðir that landed at Gálgaklettur? One convict was said to have been convicted of stealing butter from Bessastaðir itself [the Icelandic "White House"] and another for stealing from a church. It's not long since a human bone was found at this site. (Translation mine)

 Today this area is witnessing a different kind of destruction: a road is being cut through the lava field, which was decreed protected in 2009. Environmental protestors are being arrested in a disturbingly aggressive fashion, including elderly women and one of Iceland's most famous sons: Ómar Ragnarsson, a self-styled historian, conservationist and entertainer. There is a seething fury in many hearts right now that, though gunless, our "protectors" in the police force would so easily resort to physicality - and on who's orders?

So much comes into consideration in this situation: who "owns" Iceland? How willing are we to devastate a landscape, cut it in two, that serves to cleanse and filter our water the way lava fields do? What about the spiritual elements...are there hidden people who live here in some parallel world to ours, as Icelanders love to profess they believe in, and are we still then willing to devastate what is theirs as well? And ultimately for me, what about the poor souls murdered by the upper class for acts of pure desperation, the stealing of basic foods to feed themselves and their families? Don't they deserve that their bones, still emerging from this haunted land, be at least left to rest and return, slowly, to their mother earth?

1 comment:

Stina said...

Great to have you back. Very thought provoking post.