Tracking the Sun, West Iceland

July 30 - August 6, 2013

Cloud blowing past Snæfellsjökull.

Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords.

After our first night car camping in a cloudy-foggy campground north of Blönduós, we decided to take Snorre's advice and follow the weather forecast in search of more sunshine. So back to the Westfjords we go. This region of deep glacier-cut bays is a bit off the beaten track, and reached by a series of roads that wind in and out of fjord after fjord, past many isolated farms (and sheep, sheep everywhere!)
Iceland Stats -- Pony population: 80,000 People population: 301,931 Sheep population: 500,000
Eventually we find a peaceful campsite next to the ocean and a long sandy beach, amid the stone wall ruins of ancient fishing huts. At the tip of this peninsula is the Bjargtangar lighthouse, the western-most point in Iceland (and Europe), and the start of the trail that winds up along the edge of the sheer Látrabjarg bird cliffs.

Since the sun won't set until 11, we start hiking at 8pm and wind our way up along the cliff edge which eventually rises over 200 meters with a dizzying view straight down to the surf crashing on the rocks below. These cliffs are home to massive numbers of nesting sea birds, including the largest razorbill population on the planet.

The birds naturally occupy different strata of the cliff face: on the bottom are the razorbills, then come the kittiwakes, guillemots, fulmar, and finally the tufted puffins who claim the top tier, digging their holes along the grassy cliff edge. Because hunting isn't allowed here, the puffins are fairly tolerant of us camera toting tourists, and it's possible to get rather close to these beautiful pelagic birds. At sunset, they come flapping in and take up their positions after a day's hunting in the surrounding ocean.

Where did they go...

Audio Recording: 11pm - Rush hour at the Látrabjarg bird cliffs.

"Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly." -- H.K. Laxness

Snæfellsjökull in the distance across the Breiðafjörður.


"Presence is the thing sensed, never known." -- R. Horn

"No matter the weather, let us play chess." -- G.L. Gretarsdóttir

We are obsessed with the weather -- "It is the expression of ourselves." -- Roni Horn, 2007

Yesterday, we crossed from the Westfjords to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, riding the ferry Bardur across the wide, shallow Breiðafjörður, one of Iceland's largest bays. The bracing wind gusted, piercing cold, sweeping across the shallow expanse, terns shrieked overhead.

We land in Stykkishólmur and discover Vatnasafn, Library of Water, a remarkable installation by the American artist, Roni Horn. She is a kindred spirit. Her words and art express exactly my feelings about Iceland: Its weather, landscapes, people and places. "I come to this island to get at the very centre of the world. Big enough to get lost on. Small enough to find myself. I come here to place myself in the world. Iceland is a verb, and its action is to center."

She has transformed the former town library, a small building perched on a promontory overlooking the harbor, and installed three related collections of water, words and weather reports. Water, Selected is a constellation of 24 clear columns, glass sculptures containing water from 24 glaciers in Iceland, including one that has melted away and no longer exists, another from Eyjafjallajokull -- aka E15 (E and 15 other letters) -- the volcano that erupted in 2010. We walk among the columns, floor to ceiling glass sculptures, mesmerized by the stunning views, distorted and made even more spectacular when viewed through the columns. We are fascinated by the reflected light creating prisms on the floor. And the guide. She is a wild, beautiful character, with dyed orange hair, flashing huge eyes, and a magnificent, operatic voice, which she uses to demonstrate the incredible acoustics in this light-filled space.

We walk on the vulcanized rubber floor in slippers (so reminiscent of our experiences in Japan) and immediately respect and revere this place. We discover single words embedded in the floor, an installation called You are the Weather (Iceland), with Icelandic and English words: ill, cruel, slænt, bad, stillt, tranquil, svalur, cool, hressandi, bracing, lygnt, still, glettið, frisky, vitlaust, crazy, napur, piercing cold, blautt, wet. The adjectives are poetry, a field of words, a drawing.

The third installation, Weather Reports You, is an on-going collection of stories about the weather in Iceland, as told by members of the Stykkishólmur community. Horn considers this project "a collective self-portrait." As she says, "Weather is a metaphor for the atmosphere of the world, for the atmosphere of one's life; weather is a metaphor for the physical, metaphysical, political, social, and moral energy of a person and a place."

We emerge an hour later, the warm sun still hovering low on the horizon, the wind whipping our faces. We are tranquil and reflective, excited and energized, like water, like weather.

Our "little red house" (far left) in the spiky lava field at Hellissandur.

Snæfellsjökull, starting point of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth".


When we arrived in Iceland, the day length was 20.5 hours. But after only two and a half weeks, the days are merely 18 hours long. It is changing fast, and we can feel the cooler evening temperatures and darkness creeping into the after sunset glow that permeates the short starless nights. This past weekend was the big end-of-summer holiday, where Icelanders clear out of the city and get together with family and friends to party and mark the end of the endless days.

We're vowing a return to these stupendous landscapes, maybe during the snowy icy shorter days with nights filled with northern lights...

This is a globe, its centre

rests beneath your feet

and shifts its ground and follows

you wherever you go.

-- E. M. Gudmundssur

I am made of

light and air

above me

a gliding sea bird

beneath me

a line from a poem

the sea

is shining bright.

-- L. Vilajolmsdóttir