Home, Independence, and Sheep

Posted on January 26th, 2020 by

The pull box over the river

It’s hard to find words to describe the Wilderness Center. When we first drove up, we were flooded with excitement as two dogs ran around the bus eager for us to get out and pet them, little did we know that the dogs were just the tip of the iceberg. We got a tour through the museum on the farm. It was hands down the best museum that I’ve ever been too. There were handmade audio guides that walked you through the different exhibits. The exhibits themselves were each a piece of art showing Icelandic history and the history of the place that we were at. I was lucky enough to be part of the group that got to sleep on top of the museum. Denni (the creator behind the Wilderness Center) recreated what it would be like to live in the Settlement Era. He built everything with his own hands, including handcrafting every nail. This intense attention to detail was present in every aspect of the Wilderness Center but was especially appreciated in the home-cooked meals. I never thought I would ever say this but the meals almost matched that of my mother. They were so good. My favorite was the lamb meatballs. Despite all the good food and comfortable beds, we all got much more out of the Wilderness Center.

Icelandic meat soup

Our discussion on the first night surrounded the idea that our mind was a house and different rooms had different purposes. For example, the basement represents our sub-conscience. This very reflective conversation really set the stage for our time at the Wilderness Center. We spent many hours sitting in silence thinking, writing, and reading Halldor Laxness’s Independent People. During this time I thought a lot about how Iceland has already impacted who I am. It has made me slow down, appreciate landscape as a character that plays a role in my life (not against the blizzard, but with the blizzard), and how I am an independent person. A lot of our discussion was spent thinking about what independent is and the unasked question: “are we independent”. Coming from the United States, we all are quick to say that we are independent and that independence is a good thing. But I think that Laxness wants us to look a little deeper at that idea of independence. Is our own stubbornness keeping us from the community that we deeply desire? Laxness might say yes. Or maybe sheep farmers are the only stubborn population.

During our time at this place, we were encouraged to be without our technology. It fit perfectly with the vibe of the Wilderness Center. Jeff and Kjerstin made it quite easy for us, by assigning us half a novel to read in 3 days. It was nice to be disconnected. The world went on without me, and I was just fine. When I turned my phone back on I was flooded with notifications from my people back in Minnesota, but being disconnected sometimes is a super good practice. I felt a lot like Bjartur, just the people around me for entertainment and not tuned in to the news from around the world.

The intro to Independent People claims that at its base it is a book about sheep. So it feels wrong to write this blog post without mentioning sheep. I grew up on a farm and have visited a lot of farms in my life, but the sheep farm we stopped at was one of the coolest farms I’ve ever been to. The sheep were kept in traditional sod barns. There were at least three sheepdogs. After leaving the sod barn I turned the corner and saw the farmer leaning up against his fence line smoking a pipe. He was truly an inspiration. I hope one day to return to Iceland, place my roots and become a sheep farmer. But for now, I will have to settle for being a student.


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