Friday, June 27, 2014

From Native America To Iceland

The sunrise behind Mount Hekla. 
From The Land Of Sky And Wind
To One Of Ice And Fire

By Dakota Wind
SELFOSS, ICELAND - The preconception of Iceland I have is probably much the same that some people have about North Dakota, which is to say, cold, snow, and wind. I had passed through Reykjavik once before ten years ago in January and found the thick powder covering the terrain somewhat resembled the rolling hills of western North Dakota in deep winter.

I arrived on a brisk early Sunday morning. A red sun kissed the eastern horizon before lift off and red golden light poured onto the land and ignited the frost. The land glistened with fire and ice, and my steamy breath glowed with a little rainbow of its own.

Thelma, an educator at Laugalandsskóli in Holt, greeted me at the airport and graciously took me into Reykjavik for breakfast, a walk around town, and to Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church and national landmark, for one of the most memorable services I can remember. My new friend then took me to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a modest hotdog stand known throughout the world for its hotdogs; and finally an early afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland before a drive on the lonely winding road to Holt.

Laugalandsskóli, the school I visited, lays quietly nestled along a clear bubbling stream. The surrounding hills roll into mountains, whose summits climb into the sky. Generations of hardy Icelandic farmers have gradually cleared fields, and ranchers have broken trails in the stony earth for their sturdy Icelandic horses.

My host, Sigurjón, the headmaster of Laugalandsskóli, offered me a bed for the duration of my visit. His ranch style home lay in the shadow of Mount Hekla, along a black sand creek of cold clear water. A few lonely trees stood out on his land, twisted and gnarled by the elements, but made beautiful because of it.

Icelanders refer to volcanoes as “she” and mountains as “he,” geysers as “he,” roads and fences as “he,” and rivers as “he” and lakes as “she.” They find humor in America’s fascination with Bigfoot, but many Icelanders hold to the lore of fairies, trolls, and elves, going so far as to build roads and other development around significant cultural resource properties. And like the Lakȟóta of the Great Plains, far removed from the land of ice and fire, they have many words for the wind.

I brought my winter count, a pictographic record of the history of the Lakȟóta people, and shared stories about life before and after the horse, of conflicts a world away to them, and tragic love stories and songs of the plains; I was introduced to the Saga of the Volsungs.

I shared stories of the Wanági, the Little People of the plains, of Wazíya, the giant of the north, of Uŋktéği, giant serpents of the waters; students shared stories of elves, giants, and dragons.

My most powerful experience came when we exchanged names. I gave my everyday “American” name, followed by my Lakȟóta name and interpreted my name to each class. For the Lakȟóta, names carry a story, a song, and a lineage. For the Icelanders, names also carry lineage. Everyone carries their last name as a marker indicating that he or she is the son or daughter of their fathers, sometimes their mothers. Students interpreted their names and meanings into English for me. Many names could easily have been heard on the Great Plains.

A tree that fights an ever present wind, grows in a fantastic swirl, like something out of a Tim Burton movie.

I made contact with students in grades four through ten most often. I interpreted the pictograph “language” of the Plains Indians through storytelling using my winter count as an example. Over the course of the week, we created pictograph narrative examples so that students could create their own winter count.

For homework, I assigned students to ask their parents about the year they were born and the first five to six years of their lives. One student got a late start on the creation of his pictograph narrative. I learned that he was born in Russia, adopted out of country, and was now in foster care. He didn’t remember much of his childhood and didn’t know his parents. I asked him how old he was, and then asked him if he liked Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which came out around the time he was born. From there we constructed a pictograph narrative of his life using pop culture to create his life story.

By the end of the school week, about forty-three students had created their picture stories from as few as ten stories (this would be the fourth grade) to as many as sixteen (tenth grade).

For the younger students, grades K-3, we constructed parfleche envelopes. Parfleche, in the Plains Indian tradition, is basically anything constructed out of rawhide, from boxes and cylinder cases to envelopes, to protect personal belongings or even food. At the end of the week, about twenty students had constructed their own parfleche envelopes.

During breaks I played chess, soccer, and ping-pong with students, and though I couldn’t speak Icelandic, many spoke English, and for those who didn’t, we had fun playing common games and laughed in our efforts at play.

After hours, my guide Thelma, took me to see Gulfoss, a roaring waterfall that drops into wild rapids. I saw Geyser, a privately owned and managed national Icelandic landmark. Beautiful. Lastly, I saw Þingvellir, where the Norsemen gathered annually to recount their laws. It’s also where Iceland is divided between the North American and European continent. There’s a stream of water several feet deep, that flows above the fault line, there passersby throughout the centuries offered coins to the elves, and many still do, in fact, my guide gave me a few coins to leave an offering.

Iceland is divided here at Þingvellir. On the right is the European continent, and on the left is North America. Coins from passersby lie aglitter beneath the icy water.

My visit to Iceland concluded. I left on a cloudy cool spring morning. Thelma drove me to Reykjavik. She bought me a Malt Extract, a non-alcoholic beverage that tasted something between a carbonated soft drink and a beer. I don't drink, I've a had a few long ago, but I tried this and I suggest that if one were to drink anything there on one's visit, one must have one of these.

I got airborne on Saturday afternoon. Security was really talkative when they discovered I was native. I saw Iceland from the window, then from the sky, and then just the ocean.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful opportunity you had!

    The Malt Extract sounds like what the Eastern Europeans call "kvas". It is something of an acquired taste. Many people don't like it, but if you do you are hooked.

    There are Slavic delicatessens in Denver that carry kvas;
    European Delicious
    10050 Ralston Road
    Arvada, CO 80004

    Ukraine Market
    10390 Ralston Rd
    Arvada, CO 80004