I’m excited to say that at long last I have the product of a couple years of really enjoyable work just about ready to share. It’s my new book, called Out in the Cold (cover, left), and over the next few weeks I’ll share some photos and excerpts here on the blog. Out in the Cold is an exploration of points north: Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and maritime eastern Canada, including a curious artifact, the last remaining French colony in North America, a tiny pair of islands off Newfoundland called Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
Today I’d like to share an excerpt, about a tiny village on a tiny island in the tiny group of islands called the Faroes. Hope you enjoy it.
They built a tunnel to Gásadalur to keep the village from dying. They blasted it right through the rock and under the Atlantic Ocean in 2004. Up to then, Dagfinnur confessed, he had never seen Gásadalur’s famous waterfall to the sea.
And Gásadalur is beguiling, a captivating wind carved plateau of ten houses beside the waterfall overlooking the Mykinesfjøröur, with views to five basalt peaks, watchmen in the sea off Mykines, the westernmost Faroe island.
Walk to the viewpoint. Slosh down the ruts in front of Dagfinnur’s taxi. Breath air that slices like daggers. Sleet stings your cheeks. Biting whips of wind, nettles against your chest. The sun shines at the same time.
Like phonetics and Gaelic, weather and the Faroes don’t play by everybody else’s rules.
Stand at the viewpoint. Wind stirs the waterfall to a broad gauze, an aurora dancing between the peaks dusted white and the roiling seacaps. Past Mykines out there on the sea, it’s next stop, Iceland. Stand right here and you can just grasp that you are – almost – still in Europe.
It’s just beyond reach, Mykines is, and you can sail over to see the puffins and the kittiwakes and the king of all the Faroese birds, the gannett, on the ferry that runs from May through August as long as the weather cooperates, but lots of times it doesn’t. You should never sail to Mykines the day before you leave the Faroes because you may not be able to sail back.
Only a scattered few live over there now. Between the world wars 170 people lived on Mykines but now it’s the same as Gásadalur. Young people won’t stay. Houses and a couple dozen turf-roof sheds make like a village but only a few people stay year round. There is just no way to earn a living.
Mountains fend off the world from Gásadalur, each with its own snow chapeau. Before the tunnel you had to climb the postman’s walk over them, and they are some of the tallest in the Faroes (Behind Gásadalur, Árnafjall reaches up 722 meters), or arrive by sea, and peering down at the landing brings a jolt like jarring awake from the edge of sleep. Way down where sea smashes rocks, a handrail, rusted and twisting, leads up water-slick stones, a forlorn legacy of British occupation.
Gásadalur had a population of 18 the last Dagfinnur knew. The tunnel was meant to save it, or at least stall its dying.
The postman died three years ago. Before the tunnel he walked over the mountain three times a week, winter and summer. A man who knew him told me the postman had no neck. The postman was short and compact and carried the mail in a sack strapped around his head that over his career made his neck disappear.
The Waterfall at Gásadalur
Dagfinnur leads us to the viewpoint and no one is there because it hasn’t occurred to anyone to go there on a day like today and on the way, in grass slick as whale oil, the three of us make a mess of our shoes. When the sun isn’t shining, sleet gouges our faces.
Dagfinnur points down at the old British stairs over the edge (careful there!), hovers a moment in his city shoes, petitions for retreat and I can see him there now in his proper taxi vest, pushing hair back from his face, shirtsleeves flapping, doing a little keep-warm dance, just not flouncy enough to squish mud on his shoes. He waits using the taxi as a windbreak, smoking.
It is worth musing on the economics of a tunnel through rock to serve eighteen, but what are they going to do? You simply can’t have every single person up and move to Torshavn.
There are three new houses since that they built that tunnel.
The waterfall to the sea is magnificent.
Click the photo for a larger version on EarthPhotos.com. Out in the Cold will be ready for purchase this spring. My previous books are Common Sense and Whiskey, Modest Adventures Far from Home, and Visiting Chernobyl, A Considered Guide.