I can't seem to get the post to work, so if someone could fill me in, then I'll try again. Otherwise, photos are viewable at the following site:Drangey Photos - Northern Iceland
I would like to offer one photo as my favourite for 2004, but the story behind the photo needs at least two other photos, and two additional stories: Iceland is rich and influential in lore. I spent six weeks in Iceland this past summer, and, since I'm of Icelandic descent, it was an especially amazing experience: I got to meet family there, and it was really incredible to be in my great-grandparents’ homeland, not to mention seeing the places where the Icelandic sagas actually happened. I am also a Master’s student, studying medieval literature, specifically Old Icelandic and Old English. The sagas date back to the 9th century, when Iceland was settled. (They were not written down until 12-13th century.) Because I’m a literature person, I’m afraid I’m going to tell some rather lengthy stories, but I hope they’re worth the read!
In the Saga of Grettir the Strong, Grettir - a rather invincible “good” outlaw who regularly does battle with supernatural beings because he’s too strong for mere mortals - ends up taking refuge on Drangey Island, pictured in my photos, in Northern Iceland. He and his brother choose this location because it is very easy to defend, the only way up being by ladder, and, from experience, I can tell you that the ladders themselves are no easy ascent, and certainly not for people who don’t like heights! In Grettir’s saga, the locals are not happy with his presence because they leave their sheep on the island to eat the grass, and they collect eggs from the puffins there too. Food and livestock being very precious and hard to maintain in Iceland, Grettir’s consumptive and illegal presence is not well received: several unsuccessful attempts are made on his life. Yet another plot is hatched to kill him, this time involving a cunning, if rather simple, distraction tactic: one guy will talk to Grettir and his brother from the small shore down below the cliffs, while an exceptionally skilled climber will scale the cliffs at the opposite end of the island, surprise Grettir from behind, and hopefully inflict a fatal wound in the process. Things go well to begin with: Grettir is distracted, and the climber successfully mounts the island. The climber, who is named Hæringur, pulls out his axe and begins running quietly at Grettir and his brother from behind. Grettir’s brother, who is named Illugi, looks over his shoulder and sees Hæringur approaching quite aggressively. Illugi turns to Grettir, and says “Brother, there seems to be a rather disgruntled Icelander on our island: what would you like me to do about him?” Grettir looks over his shoulder at Hæringur, and he says “Would you please kill him.” Illugi arms himself and begins to run after Hæringur. Upon seeing that Illugi is coming after him, with arms, Hæringur promptly does an about face, and flees down a small hill towards one of the promontories on the island, where he jumps off the 140M cliff to his death. This promontory was then, and still is, called Hæringur’s Leap/Jump.
My friend Ainsley is sitting on the edge of Hæringur’s Leap: the white specks by her feet are seagulls, and you can also see the rocks below the surface of the water, over 140M down! Just four weeks earlier Ainsley and I were climbing a mountain outside of Reykjavík, and, during a particularly treacherous part, Ainsley swore that she’d never, ever do anything like this again: I guess she either lied, or changed a lot during our time in Iceland. When she heard the story of Grettir’s Saga, she said very plainly and conclusively “I’ve got to go sit there.” So she did!
I took all these photos on my sister’s Digital Pentax Optio WR – there was a flaw in the something called the CCD processor at the time, which is why there is a distortion in the upper left corner of some. (I’m not a digital person yet: still love my Pentax K-1000 and my MZ-5N.) I fixed it on photoshop, but I don’t have all my CDs with me right now, nor do I have my film shots with me, or I’d post some higher quality shots: I’m at home for the holidays, and left a lot of my stuff behind. Still, I was very impressed with how that little camera worked: the field depth in these shots is particularly amazing. In the close-up of Ainsley I was standing just beside her (a rather precarious situation) and holding the camera at arm’s length at about a 45 degree angle vertically: the camera couldn’t have been more than four feet from Ainsley’s face, and yet the focus on the birds and sub-surface rocks is quite good. I probably could have done that with my 20-35 on my SLR, but the instant feedback of the digicam was helpful, and in the wind I wasn’t even going to risk taking my SLRs out on the edge like that: I may fall to my death with Hæringur and my sister’s p&s digicam, but my film shots are bloody well going to survive!
Another story about Drangey: in the wider shots you can see “The Old Lady,” the rock pillar. There used to be another pillar, called the “Old Man,” but apparently older men have a hard time staying up . . . Anyways, the story is that two trolls, the married couple, were walking their cow, i.e. the island, across the sea to better pastures. The sun came up and turned them to stone, and so there they sit to this day, less the Old Man: guess there wasn’t Viagra available at the time. The locals would, and still do, hunt the puffins and their eggs on Drangey and on The Old Lady. The Old Lady is a particularly treacherous but wealthy place for getting eggs – very hard climb and very dangerous, as you might well imagine. Our guide told us that the Old Lady is, and I quote, “the oldest and biggest woman in all of Iceland, and the hardest to get on top of.”
Have a great Christmas! – Leif
p.s. if you’d like to see some of my favourite landscape shots of Iceland, check out my "Things Icelandic" 2005 Calendar