Not Knowing


My father told me that I was less than one year old when he started dragging me around in a handbag on his weekend fishing trips. In that same bag I made my first trip to the farm that my mother grew up on. To get there my parents had to walk or have my mother's brother fetch them on the family's fishing boat. Every year until the summer I turned twelve we would make that trip. That summer a brave bulldozer owner decided, at his own risk, to connect this most isolated part of Iceland to the outer world. My father decided he wanted to be the first to drive that road, so he moved his car every other day as the bulldozer slowly made a narrow road by pushing soil and rocks into the sea below. To this day this road is known as the "The Most Dangerous Road in Iceland", for no other man except this bulldozer owner ever tries to re-open it. When its free of snow it gets hit by rocks or mud slides.

Shortly before the road opened my parents bought a piece of land that was situated in the valley closest to the beginning of the new road. The summer that the road was opened, streams of people we didn't know, besides our relatives and friends, started coming to our cottage on their way to try the new road. Our valley suddenly served a purpose again. It had once held 80 inhabits, but the only remains were swarms of overgrown turf houses and three lonely houses, two out of concrete and one ancient wooden church that now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland. Some of the people who came to try the new road would stop to look at the church, for they or their ancestors had lived in the valley. A number of people became curious to know who lived in that summerhouse, so they would wander over to us to swallow their curiosity. Most often that ended with an invitation from my mother to come in and have some coffee. That way I gathered bits and pieces of information about the history of the valley. It helped me to imagine how it must have been to live in a house whose walls were made out of turf and rocks and barely had any heating for there was no wood to be found around except occasional driftwood washed up on the beach. People in Iceland really didn't know what money was until around the Second World War when they start to sell fish to other nations.

The first summer we were in the summerhouse, a road was made to the house and I found fishing tools in the scar left behind in the ground. This find opened up a new way to see these long-gone people. For a number of summers after that, I would wander around for good places to dig and would come home with soil for my mother's saplings that she was stubbornly trying to grow in our part of the valley for few trees are in Iceland. The most interesting pieces that I found on one of those trips were heavily used tools that had been thrown away in something that looked like a trash pile of animal bones and some household stuff. This had been buried under a thick layer of turf and soil. It was obvious by the look of the tools that they had been used until no further use could be had of them. Some were so badly preserved that I couldn't make out their former function.

Some summers after the scar-road discovery, I made another find in a little stream near by one of the only two abandoned houses left in the valley. I found large amounts of broken china. Some of the broken pieces I dragged out of the icy cold stream had holes drilled through them. Later I learned that if peoples china didn't break too badly they would sew it together and use until it ended its life in the stream during some child's hand rinsing. All the main things I have found are still hanging inside the summerhouse and will often trigger a conversation, especially when the old farmer that sold us the land comes over. He used to live in one of the two main houses in the valley with his family and had seen most of the houses that had been built there. One of these conversations formed around an ax that I had found. He had lost it as a young man and could recognize it through the rusty steel and the wood handle leftovers. It was also he that explained to me the china with the holes, and the thin, flat stone that my father found with a rusted key stuck to it. It had been a hiding place for the key to a house that once stood on our land. The history behind the rest of my pieces remain a mystery.

My four years in this country have helped me understand the significance of what I have learned about the valley, for I have discovered that its history is repeated for the whole of Iceland, and its secrets will never be totally revealed to me or anybody else. It is sad in a way that this feeling of not knowing is in my heart because the past tends to hide its trace. After realizing this, I have made this feeling my main driving force and created art that is based on this "not knowing".


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