laugardagur, nóvember 25, 2006


Not braids: lichens. There are, apparently, about 710 varieties of lichen found in Iceland. They have very beautiful names. Here are some:

Alkrókar Álfabikar Álkumerla Bakkafleða Barkardoppa Barmbrydda Barmþekja Bikarkrókar Bikdumba Birkiskán Birkiskegg Birkiskóf Birkitarga Bjargstrý Bládrigla Blámara Bleðlanafli Blekþemba Blikudumba Blýtarga Brekabroddar Broddskilma Brúnkríma Brúnlurfa Brúnrengla Brúnsnurða Búldubreyskja Deiglugrotta Digurkrókar Dílaskóf Dílbreyskja Drýsilbreyskja Dvergkarta Dvergskilma Elgshyrna Engjaskóf Felumara Firnamara Fjallabikar Fjallagrös Fjallahnúta Fjallanafli Fjallaskóf Fjörukregða Fjörustúfa Fjörusverta Flagamóra Flagbreyskja Flannaskóf Flatþemba Flekkugláma Flókakræða Flúðaskorpa Fuglaglæða Fuglagráma Fölvakarta Gamburskilma Gálgaskegg Geitanafli Giljaskóf Gipsglompa Gígnæfra Glitrumara Gljúfraglypja Glóðargrýta Grábleðla Grábreyskja Grábrydda Grákarta Grákrókar Grákúpa Grjónabikar Grjótflíra Grænsverta Græntarga Gulkrókar Gullinvarp Gullmerla Gulstika Hellisglæða Herpitarga Hettuduðra Holtahverfa Hosuskóf Hosuslembra Hraufuskóf Hraunbreyskja Hraunglompa Hreindýrakrókar Hreisturbroddar Hreisturbrydda Hreisturslembra Hrímnafli Hrossanafli Hvítmæra Hæðakirna Jötunflikra Jötunskegg Klappagráma Klappaskilma Klappaslembra Klettadumba Klettaglæða Klettakræða Klettakrækla Klettaskóf Klettastrý Klórengla Korkríla Kóralskán Krónudofra Kryddmerla Krypplugrös Kvistagrös Körtustubbar Lambaskóf Landfræðiflikra Lappamerla Laufduðra Lautabikar Litunarskóf Ljósarða Ljósaskegg Loðbreyskja Loðhverfa Loðtjása Lundatarga Maríugrös Melakræða Melbreyskja Mjólkurskilma Moldarskjóma Mosafleða Mosafrikja Mosagroppa Mosanóra Mosarætla Móakrækla Móaþemba Móbrydda Mókrókar Mundagrös Mývatnsgrös Netjubikar Næfurskóf Ormagrös Perluvoð Pípuþemba Púðabreyskja Randþekja Reyniglæða Roðaslitra Ryðkarta Sáldnafli Seltulauf Setríla Seyrumerla Sinuskán Skarfamerla Skarlatbikar Skeggnafli Skeljaskóf Skollakræða Skorulauf Skútagrýta Sliturglæta Snepaskán Snepaskóf Snæbikar Snækarta Snæþemba Sótakarta Spaðabreyskja Sprekbroddar Spörvatarga Steinmerla Strandgráma Strandkrókar Strandmóra Stúfbikar Surtarkræða Svampgrýta Svarðpíra Svarðsnurða Syllubúlga Sylluslitra Sæmerla Takkafleða Tindanafli Toppaglæta Torfmæra Torfuhnýfla Tröllaskegg Törgudoppa Ullarskóf Vaxklúka Vaxtarga Veggjaglæða Vikurbreyskja Voðarskóf Vætutarga Vætulýja Völukúpa Vörðuflaga Þalmerla Þarmakorpa Þéluskóf Þúfubikar Þúfumerla Þyrpidoppa Æðaskóf

Also lovely is the Icelandic term for a symbiotic organism: sambýlisvera. It is a perfectly logical word for a living thing made up of two organisms living in a relationship of mutual benefit. But while the Greek-derived English word rings only of science, the Icelandic one is domestic, almost affectionate. Sambýli is cohabitation. As a bureaucratic term, it means domestic partnership. You can (indeed, I believe you are required to) register your sambýli with the authorities. That of itself does not sound very cosy, but remember that it assumes you have a sambýlismaður or a sambýliskona, a man or woman who has chosen to live with you in, ideally, a relationship of mutual benefit.

Consider these 710 kinds of lichen living in domestic harmony on the stones and mosses of Iceland, enduring cold and wet. Maybe the homonym fléttar - braids - is appropriate after all. Each one of them is two things wound around each other.

föstudagur, nóvember 24, 2006


Frost on the windshield two nights running. Not frostrósir, frost-roses, just frost. At most frostmosi, a tiny layer of white moss. Or some species of frost-lichen? Frostfléttur -- I like the shape of the word.

Lichen is not a plant, not even a single organism. It is a symbiosis between fungus and algæ or bacteria. The fungus alone cannot photosynthesize, while its symbiont can. Maybe in frostfléttar that part is played not by a photobiont but by something that synthesizes glucose from the cold itself. Imagine tiny cells with leukophyll and leukoplasts carrying out not Light Reactions and Dark Reactions but Cold Reactions.

It is a shame to have to scrape it away. It would wither away regardless as the glass warmed up. But it will grow back during the night.

sunnudagur, nóvember 19, 2006

svartar greinar

You always liked the finches. I always liked the corvids.

Today there were cardinals and blue jays in the tree next door. The cardinals looked like animate greeting card motifs, cheery red birds eating cheery red berries. It made me sad that cliché was the word that ran through my mind.

You never cared about such things. You liked the red birds and the red berries on the black branches, and it was never a cliché for you any more than it was for the birds.

mánudagur, nóvember 13, 2006


Modest little birds at the feeder in the next yard. They hop and flutter. Cardinals and sparrows. Finches. House finches. I haven't seen house finches in November in many years now. Their fluttering reminds me of the ruffling pages of a dictionary held in one hand; their little hestitant hops remind me of how I would skip from word to word:
O.E. finc
PGmc. *finkiz, *finkjon
cf. Du. vink, O.H.G. finco, Ger. Fink, Icel. finkur
cf. Breton pint "chaffinch," Rus. penka "wren"
Fine little birds, finches. When they spring along the top of the fence my November heart feels the weight and scratch of their tiny black feet.

sunnudagur, nóvember 12, 2006


An evening spent arranging objects in the kitchen:

A clove of garlic in a low, white, salt-fired bowl
A long-handled wrought-iron spoon
A silverplate sugarbowl (not a wedding gift but a bridesmaid's gift)
A blue-glazed bowl with Japanese proportions cradling three Bosch pears (not quite ripe)
A set of silver and cobalt glass salt and pepper shakers
A hand-thrown mug stamped with the leonine face of the Durham Cathedral doorknocker

It is pleasing to have them all in their proper places, to have assigned them proper places. Their harmony is so much more comforting than the forks and knives in the drawer, like set with like with regimented regularity.

No shred of disrespect meant to the forks and knives. There would be no kitchen without them. Only with them arrayed in their places, invisible below the counter but at the ready, can the frivolous but still necessary objects of beauty find their own places on the table, the top of the stove, the sunlit windowsills.

föstudagur, nóvember 10, 2006


Were you a pilgrim or an eater of doves? You were sitting unconcernedly on the copper roof across the way, five floors up. Dark back, dark head with the barest light ring almost all the way around. More a torc than a necklace. Wind ruffled the feathers of your breast - light-colored. Were you a peregrin? You might have been. You seemed too big to be a merlin, but your tail was long and barred, and the feathers on your legs were white, white. You were looking off to the southeast. No other birds dared anywhere near you.

I will think of you as a merlin, a dove-eater.

mánudagur, nóvember 06, 2006

ó minn kæri

Bara nóvember og mig dreymir vetur, mjöll, drífu, hafís, og svartar nætur. Heitt vatn, brennistein. Hláturinn í gömlum vin.

Mér finnur lykt af hávetrinum líka, og hann er klementínalykt.

fimmtudagur, nóvember 02, 2006


Evening. Even-ing. The day and night are evening out, the equal halves (not in length but in weight, I've liked to say) meeting and bleeding into each other over the line crassly called the terminator. They join hands and shake, seal some agreement the details of which are unknown to us.

Farið að rökkva, growing towards evening, towards twilight, like hausta, to get on towards autumn. In English it is two-light, and not just the usual two word but a twin-ness word, a two where the pair is the whole set. Tvennt. Twain. In Icelandic rökkur, the twilight of the twilight of the gods (see also Snorri, see Wagner). Strangely, no two-ness here, just encroaching darkness.

miðvikudagur, nóvember 01, 2006


Below my window a ginko glows acid autumn yellow. Its little fans glare against the gray. Such an ancient tree---not this one in particular but the species as a whole.

I sit here pondering the thirteenth century considering the ninth and tenth century, all recent past in comparison. Rowan is Þór's salvation, it says here. What long-forgotten god or power walked the earth when the ginko was young? Whose hand grabbed at its trunk to save himself being swept away?

(Was he swept away regardless. Is that why we do know know his name or even his story?)


She's been between. She thinks she's back now. She might be, at least. Aren't journeys always between? This one was.

There was an extra hour between two others. She was grateful for it during and after.

Now the days are between. They begin in the dark and they end in the dark. In the middle the glow of the screen, the scratch of the pen, the brush of paper.
Hvaðan þið eruð