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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

Lull before the storm.

Thursday Feb 13th - A day of brightness - sun and sparkling snow and little wind, still bitingly cold. I walk up over the hill above the harbour accompanied by another artist – this is the place where the elves hang out; the dark brown pitted rock look volcanic. The snow is pretty deep in places, at times we sink nearly up to our thighs. Determined we struggle on trying to keep to the rocks and frozen snow and following a trail of tiny indentations – maybe an Arctic fox passing this way earlier. We reach the old lighthouse, a tall smooth stone with an iron stake imbedded in the top, probably an old beacon at one time, long disused.

I’m told the local fishermen use it as a navigation guide when out at sea, lining it up with the other marker up at Hòlsef on the edge of the cliffs. In Shetland we call these meids, aligning pairs of onshore features - rocks, cliffs, the side of a house, a church spire (they use the church spire here) - to navigate back to land or out to the fishing grounds, avoiding what in Shetland are called ‘skerries’ and dangerous areas of sea with sunken reefs. On the other side I can see down into a large bay called Vækilvik that was, I learn, the first merchant settlement here.

Up on the Spákonfellshölôl sea cliffs – and it is such a clear day - we can see the whole of the town spread out below, across to the Spakonufell mountains encircling the town, and all the way to West-fjords and mountains on the far side of the sea. There is a story that in the 1930/40s rocks were taken from a quarry somewhere up here to build the harbour, disturbing the elves, who then angrily cast a spell of 20 years bad luck on Skagaströnd. The once plentiful herring disappeared causing families to leave.

Later, after working in the studio, I go to the hot tub with Sue and Alex, it’s free this month. Once I’ve showered thoroughly – an essential thing to do in Iceland before entering any pool – donning swimsuit I slip fast over the ice into the small pool to laze luxuriously in steaming water, breathing in both the cold night and warm condensing steam. Looking up and out at a dark frozen world, why would I want to be anywhere else at this moment? And they bring out free tea and coffee! The icing on the cake would be a display of the northern lights; the stars are out, but those capricious lights are not showing tonight.

We're warned of an impending storm coming in - a really big one this time and everything will be closed - no buses, no nothing and we won't be able to go out. We're all quite excited

The purple is really bad - an orange alert.

The human body is the measure of all we know of the world. Through its scale we make sense of everything around us. Standing small on the hillside above Skagaströnd looking over the sea continually flowing, walking on the black beaches watching cloud move over mountains appearing and disappearing, tide pushing in and out, sitting here in this pool the whole sky opening out above me, freezing air on skin, warm below, this is what I know now.

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