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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

Snow blindness, hysteria and beauty

Updated: Mar 21

Monday March 16

Another morning of snow and wind. Then the weather suddenly clears, changing dramatically to become an afternoon of calm and sunlight. Accompanied by Sue, I take the opportunity to go out and collect the rest of my pinhole cameras, a walk that entails us climbing through snow up to the sea cliffs where I have a camera attached to a post overlooking the sea. Unusually there’s a warm mist coming in.

We stand for a while feeling the warmth of the sun, watching silver light reflecting off the surface of the sea and the big swell rolling in. Then clambering down discover large walls of snow covering the place where the road is supposed to be but is no longer visible. Undaunted we climb - we are invincible!

Below the mountain I spot a distant figure digging snow away from his house - he has a big job on his hands - it gives my photo a sense of scale to the landscape. What a place to have a house!

Reaching the last camera tin we spend some time chatting with a group of Icelandic ponies who look at us hopefully (they are so much more friendly than Shetland variety). Then we return, walking through the back roads of the town feeling warm and peaceful.


In the evening I take a stroll along the beach (I use the word 'stroll' lightly as strolling through ice and snow is not the usual saunter one would imagine). I take to opportunity to draw - the light is beautiful and it's staying light much later now.






Tuesday 17th

Not going anywhere outside of Skagaströnd today. We have another storm today. I was supposed to leave today but on the weather-warning map it’s all purple and it’s back to battling my way down to the studio with the wind pushing me around. I’m getting used to not being able to see much and doing the right-hand swerve to the studio just before ending up in the sea.

Just as well I’ve delayed leaving here until tomorrow when it is supposed to calm down and be ‘green’. I hope so as I’ve now booked my bus and a guesthouse close to Keflavík airport.


Lost

The storm rages all day. Leaving the studio late afternoon Mira and I attempt to reach the supermarket. Now I know what it must have been like for all those polar explorers who found themselves in the middle of a snow-storm unable to see anything. As soon as we leave the studio the wind hits us. Struggling our way up the road from the studio it is completely impossible to see, the snow blinding with its intensity, freezing ice driving into our eyes which stream with water. We stumble around into snowdrifts desperately trying to work out where we are. I have never experienced anything like this. We are blown backwards and battle to stay upright. We can’t see the supermarket, can’t see if any cars are driving on the road, can’t see any buildings, and almost lose sight of each other. We join hands and struggle on together although we’re not sure where we’re going. Now I can really understand what it was like for polar explorers like Shackleton and Scott. However we are in the middle of a town and they were out in the vastness of the Arctic and Antarctic. Somehow we manage to find a road to cross, climb over mounds of snow, and reach the wall of a building that has emerged in front of us and where we re-orientate ourselves. The best course of action is to get try to get to the house – and set off again into the whiteness. Finally we fall in through the front door gasping and slightly hysterical. (In case you're interested in what we eat as we don't reach the supermarket - we combine any food we have in the house and make a vegetable stew - it works fine!).


It’s now 22.00pm and the storm is still raging. No one is going to the studio tonight. I spend the night awake worrying… I am supposed to leave on Wednesday. There is a small circular opening looking out from my iced-up window - it's not looking too hopeful out there.


Wednesday 18th

Wind is still blowing this morning, snow still falling and whirling in clouds around the house. Not convinced this is a ‘green’ weather situation, but looking through the window ice hole it seems less wild out there - I can actually see across the street.

There go those snow-buntings; too fast to catch with my camera - never did manage to photograph them so I've stolen a couple of photographs so you can see what they look like

Will I leave or won’t I? At the supermarket the front of the building has vanished completely under a wall of snow (sorry forgot to take my camera); the way into the shop is through a snow passage cut to a side door. At the checkout I’m asked how I like Skagaströnd and I say that yesterday was interesting… she raises her eyebrows and smiles in assent. I tell her that I am leaving today if the weather permit and have mixed feelings; I feel safe here and am not sure what I will encounter when I leave the protection of the mountain. She says the road has been cleared. Apparently this is one of the worse winters they can remember.


My car to take me out of Skagaströnd arrives. I’m really sad to be going and leaving the other artists who all come to see me off. Lots of hugs; we’ve been here together for so long we can’t be infectious. I’m also annoyed because today I receive emails saying that the film and sound piece we were due to install at Irvine Maritime Museum is now cancelled/postponed to 2021 because of the bloody virus, plus another event and an exhibition I was taking part in is also cancelled. These were the reasons for my return before the end of the month; I am very fed up; I could have stayed.


The road between Skagaströnd and Blondoús is sort of clear, but all that’s visible is yellow markers sticking up on either side of the road and sometimes not even these show. It’s like being in a white tunnel – nothing either side of the road apart from the occasional faint traces of fences, or the vague shape of a barn suddenly appearing - where I’m told by my driver as it's her farm - that inside there are six hundred sheep kept overwinter. I wonder how the sheep feel about such close confinement, but maybe they are snug and happy to be out of the winter weather.


The Blondoús to Rykjavik bus is waiting; I sit the requisite two meters away from the other passengers and chat across the isle to another woman; we exchange experiences and thoughts about the world situation and how crazy it’s becoming. I feel vulnerable. Sleep a little, talk a little, drink coffee, watch snow drifting across the passing landscape making it vanish, draw out of the window when the mountains re-appear.





There is still magnificence around me.


In Mjódd bus station in Rykjavik the lovely person to whom I’ve been talking gives me a lift downtown to the next bus on my journey; the virus hasn’t prevented some from reaching out. I can’t believe how hot it is here in the city - I need to remove layers before I expire. And off with the crampons!


Now sitting on the floor in the guesthouse working on a few drawings I began during the bus journey. (Don’t tell them what I’m using to rinse my paint brushes).




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