The Bone Women of Iceland: Cairns

May 8, 2013

“Oh, the joys of travel!  To feel the excitement of sudden departure, not always knowing whither.  Surely you and I are in agreement about that.  How often did my life seem concentrated in that single moment of departure.  To travel far, far — and that first morning’s awakening under a new sky!  And to find oneself in it — no, to discover more of oneself there.  To experience there, too, where one has never been before, one’s own continuity of being and, at the same time, to feel that something in your heart, somehow indigenous to this new land, is coming to life from the moment of your arrival.  You feel your blood infused with some new intelligence, wondrously nourished by things you had no way of knowing.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

Iceland's rock cairns, bone women

Iceland’s rock cairns, bone women

“Throughout Iceland, cairns mark the way, over mountain passes, across the moonscape of the interior, through frequent lava wastes. . . . Cairns were sometimes called ‘bone women,’ or ‘beggar women.'”
— Charles Fergus, Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World

“From the sound of stone comes the silence of space.”
— Richard England

Seeing distant stone cairns from a bus window

Seeing distant stone cairns from a bus window

Cairn near a road, Keflavik

Cairn near a road, Keflavik

Bone women of Iceland

Bone women of Iceland

The Rilke quote opening today’s post captures for me the excitement and intoxication of travel.  I was certainly in the first thrills of my journey on my two-day stopover in Iceland.  I was still my old self, but in a foreign setting.  This “continuity of being” meant that it was extremely unlikely that I would suddenly turn into a new person, who hung out in nightclubs, for example.  No, I was still the same old me whose evenings were spent curled up in bed editing and uploading photos of the day.  And yet, I wanted to be broadened by my travels and open to new thoughts and ideas.  It remains to be seen how this trip will shape my future self.

My first taste of Iceland whetted my desire to return someday to explore more of this amazing country.  I think that next time I would like to return with my husband, rent a car for a week, and travel along the road that encircles this island.

I left Iceland with some of its iconic images burned in my memory, especially these rock cairns that so resemble people.  One of my regrets for this trip was that I found/made so little (almost none) time to sketch and paint.  Once again I carried my sketchbook and watercolors in my luggage, extra weight and bulk I could have left at home.  I was simply too busy every day to carve out the quiet time to paint.  But the one painting that I did manage was a watercolor sketch of Iceland’s bone women.  Here it is:

Preliminary pencil sketch for my painting

Preliminary pencil sketch for my painting

Watercolor sketch of Iceland's rock cairns, bone women

Watercolor sketch of Iceland’s rock cairns, bone women


7 Responses to “The Bone Women of Iceland: Cairns”

  1. Ladybug Says:

    Breath taking. Woman as guidepost, Woman as rock solid, Woman as rising out of the heart of the earth, so metaphoric and so anthropomorphic. I love your artistic rendering of that bigger than life bone women. So much more could be said, but………….. Bev

    • Rosemary Says:

      I love the way the images triggered your associations — rock solid, of the earth, so much fortitude and strength. Thank you!

  2. Lois Says:

    Good heavens!! They are amazing!! Wonderful! I love your watercolour too!

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you! I do wonder who built them and for how long they have been standing. And why were they placed where they were? So many unanswered questions.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    Did you happen to read the whole of Fergus’s book, or at least the full passage about the bone women? I found it on Google books, and had quite a laugh to go along with the amazement of the sight. It’s page 65, here.

    Someday I may come back and ask permission to use your photo(s) in a blog entry. I’ve been living with the title “Two Rocks A Cairn Don’t Make” for nearly two years. Maybe it’s time to move that one from the pantry to the back burner.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I did read all of the Ferguson book. I do love reading memoirs of people who find refuge, temporary or permanent, in a new setting. I copy into my notebook interesting passages, but obviously cannot copy everything! So thanks for the link to the full paragraph.

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