I Finally Climaxed

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story. To read the first chapter:

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story.

To read the first chapter of “Lords of the Night”: https://wordpress.com/page/theobsidianmirror.net/39

To purchase “Lords of the Night” on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3sZtqkY

Finally, the Climax! But It Needs a Cover.

It has been about three years since I submitted the third and final book of my “Gods of the New World” trilogy to my publisher. If you have followed this blog, you know that my publisher, Diversion Books, decided to publish only non-fiction going forward. My fantasy, no matter how climactic, did not qualify. Diversion’s first offering in non-fiction was a memoire by Corey Lewandowski, a man so vile that even Michael Cohen despises him. I felt that perhaps Diversion and I were never going to be really close. They are still making my first two books available, so I don’t want to make them mad.

But this did leave me in the middle of a trilogy without a climax. I felt bad for the few people who had read “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean,” who rightly expected a satisfying ending to Sierra and Chaco’s adventures—and relationship.

About a year and a half ago, I attended the World Fantasy Convention, held in Los Angeles that year. I went there with a short list of people I wanted to have a discussion with—an editor for a large publishing company, a publisher, and an agent. I told each of them the quandary I was in—third book in a trilogy, no publisher—and their answers were fairly uniform: I, a fairly obscure fantasy author, was not going to find a publisher to pick up the trilogy, much less the third book of a trilogy. My best bet was to publish on Kindle and move on.

Okay. Not the optimal solution, but I am not Neil Gaiman, either. I asked a dear friend, a graphic designer, to create a book cover for the third and final, climactic novel, “Lords of the Night.” Then I went to Iceland and started writing a completely unrelated fantasy about a slightly defective magician in ancient Iceland. That tale is in the throes of final polishing.

But my designer friend had a very tough year—tougher than for most of us, as horrible as 2020 was. She was unable to complete the artwork. I needed to move forward—I had a delayed climax on my hands, after all! I gave it some thought and then learned a new art program for the iPad called Procreate. I loved it so much that I decided to tackle the cover art myself.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I knew my friend’s graphic talents would result in an entirely gorgeous cover, perfectly in tune with the covers of the other books. I am an artist, but I have no design training, so I realized that the final product would not be as wonderful as the first two covers.

But all we do what we must. So I have produced two covers. I would very much like to hear your opinions on which version is closest in style to the first two covers. First, pleaze take a look at the covers for “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean”:

The first two covers for comparison. Now please take a gander at the next two and tell me what you think.
Cover 2

So which do you vote for? Cover 1 or Cover 2? Or are they both terrible? I can take the criticism—I’m a writer. Please leave a comment–much appreciated!

I Wanted Biden to Win. I Am Not Celebrating.

Today, Joe Biden was declared the next President of the United States. My husband and daughter are talking champagne. On Facebook and Twitter people are celebrating. My phone is dinging repeatedly with happy texts of victory. We won! We won!

I always thought when this day came—and I fervently hoped it would—that I would be dancing in the streets, waving my champagne glass and blowing a vuvuzela. 

I don’t feel like celebrating. Biden won by an incredibly narrow margin. That tells me that half of my fellow citizen are just fine with a Nazi dictator. 

They are fine with children kept in cages. They are fine with families being ripped apart. 

They are fine with massive corruption and incompetence. 

They are fine with taking civil rights away from women, people of color, immigrant, non-Christians, and anyone else who isn’t EXACTLY like them.

They are fine with murdering journalists.

They are fine with Russia interfering in our politics.

They are fine with the blatant feathering of the Trump family nest with our tax dollars.

They are fine with a president who talks like a senile wreck and calls everyone nasty names like a third-grade bully. They are fine with a president who lies every day, all day, to everyone.

They are fine with giving away their money to multi-multi-billionaires who pay their employees sub-living wages.

They are fine with destroying Medicare and Social Security.

They are fine with weakening our relationships with faithful allies and snuggling up to the worst dictators in the world.

They are fine with taking affordable medical care away from people in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years.

They are fine with destroying our environment and eradicating wildlife wholesale.

They are fine with a food supply chain that is unmonitored and unsafe.

They are fine with defunding education and letting the police run rampant with tanks and military weaponry agains unarmed, peaceful citizens.

They are fine with a quarter of a million Americans dying needlessly.

In short, half of the people with whom I share a country are horrible people. Evil, nasty, horrible people who would probably piss on you—or worse—if they knew you were a liberal. 

I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel victorious. I feel immense grief for the country I once thought was great, honorable, kind, and generous. That country—if it ever existed—is dead. Trump wasn’t the disease, he was just the pus oozing from the infection.

It’s Been a While, Hasn’t It?

I admit it—I have not been a consistent blogger. My last post went online Feb. 23. In my defense, it was Feb 23 of this year.

In fact, my last posting was right before the pandemic started—or at least right before we realized there was a pandemic going on, because it had reached our shores already.

It has been a very eventful time, but I had trouble coming up with a blog topic. I was consumed with politics (still am) but I wanted to keep my blog politics-free. I’m not, as I have heard other authors say, worried about offending conservative people, who might then never buy my books. Everything I stand for offends conservative people, so they won’t be reading my stuff anyway. I just wanted one place where I did NOT write about politics.

I could have blogged about the quarantine and its many adjustments to a new reality, but all of you went through that too—you’ve been there, done that. I’m sure I have little to add other than my frustration with the people who refuse to practice social distancing and wearing masks—and the politicians who encourage them not to. My only consolation has been the realization that many of them will get sick.

I could have blogged about writing my new novel, but I was hard-pressed to imagine why you would care until I had something to announce—and maybe not even then.

I could have blogged about having the third book of my trilogy go unpublished for two years after I finished it, but I already blogged about that. My publisher decided to publish only non-fiction going forward, which leaves a fantasy writer more or less up the creek without a paddle, especially with a third book in a trilogy. I will be publishing it on Kindle—but I need a cover first.

I could have blogged about my sister’s death, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic—of a heart attack. That certainly provided me with a great deal of blog-able fodder. I just didn’t want to write about it.

I could have blogged about getting a new dog after the death of my beloved Gigi. Poppy is a cutie with a lot of personality. But I didn’t want to.

I could have blogged about the horrific fires consuming California. We nearly had to evacuate, but today it looks like we won’t.

I could have blogged about inheriting my sister’s jewelry—hundreds of pieces of jewelry—and setting up an Etsy store to sell it because I couldn’t wear that much jewelry in several lifetimes. Building the Etsy store was actually one of the most enjoyable things I have done during the pandemic. In case you’re looking for jewelry. I have everything from Victorian antiques to Native American to hand-crafted silver to high-end costume jewelry and everything in between. Come on down: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SilverboughJewelry?ref=search_shop_redirect

I did finish the first draft of my current novel. It is entitled, “The Spell Book of Thorfinn Bare-Butt,” and it is set in Iceland’s Viking Settlement Age, 9th Century CE. The kernel of the story came to me while I was touring a lava cave in the Hauksdalur region of Iceland. The guide told us that archeologists had found signs of habitation in the cave that dated back to the settlement age. He explained that after the eruption, the rock would have stayed warm for a very long time, making it an ideal human habitation. (I can tell you by the time we visited, it was FREEZING.)

I had a vision of a young magician setting out to make a reputation for himself. He occupies the cave because it is both comfy and free, and attempts to summon a spirit to help him become more powerful. Unfortunately, our hero, Odd, is under a curse. This caused some—but not all—of his spells to go awry. Instead of a powerful spirit, Odd conjures up a 21st Century female kickboxer named Hekla. Now both Odd and Hekla have real problems, and the story goes on from there.

I hope to have a final draft in another few months. After that, I will try to find an agent because I am tired of publishers slithering out from under me. I’m hoping a good agent can find me a solid publisher with reasonable terms that specializes in fantasy or fantasy and science fiction. That will give me some confidence that they aren’t suddenly going to switch to the many tell-all books on the way from the Trump administration. Please wish me well!

Let Me Tell You About Gigi (written three years ago in preparation for this day)

Inca cuddled up with Gigi today, knowing her friend wasn’t feeling well.

I had a bit of a scare recently. My dog Gigi developed a fever, lost her appetite and began to act lethargic. She’s 12 years old, so I wasted no time taking her to her vet. Dr. Good, who rolls around in a mobile clinic, did a thorough exam, took blood and urine and an X-ray—and found nothing wrong other than the obvious presence of an infection. So Gigi went on antibiotics.

I’m happy to say Gigi recovered. But while she was sick, I began to dread the possibility of losing this amazing creature with whom I share my life and my home. I thought I would write an obituary about her now. Because when she dies—because she will die—I won’t be in any shape to write. At this stage, who knows how long she’s got? She’s a big dog, and the big ones don’t tend to live as long.

So I decided to write about Gigi now, while she’s still with me and I can discuss her unique characteristics without breaking down in floods of tears.

On the surface, Gigi is just a very doggy dog. She’s half Labrador and half German Shepherd, with maybe a dash of Doberman. She’s black-and-tan and shorthaired, with floppy ears. As much as I love her, I do not share my bed with her because she’s 75 pounds of elbows and she farts and groans all night.

I wasn’t looking for a dog when Gigi came to my attention. I had lost my dog, Ringo, a year previously and was still in mourning. My daughter Kerry saw an ad on Craig’s List that said, “Sweetest dog in the world needs a home.” I looked at the picture. This dog was much larger than I wanted. She was black-and-tan, which is not a color scheme I admire. And she lived about 65 miles away.

I called her owner. Apparently, they rescued her when she was about six months old, and loved her dearly. But the landlord of the house they had just moved into said the dog had to go. I asked question after question, because living with Ringo taught me the right questions to ask. (Loved that dog, but he was a hot mess when we first got him.) The answers seemed good, so my husband and I drove 65 miles to meet the dog.

The dog’s name was Gertie, a name I knew I couldn’t live with. She greeted us with kisses and a wildly wagging tail that slapped against our legs like a baseball bat. I observed her with a baby and with cats—completely calm. I did everything I could to elicit a dominant or aggressive response—grab her collar, squeeze her paws, roll her over, and so forth—all of which she responded to with kisses and wags.

I decided I wanted her, but we had five houseguests with a sixth on the way and I felt it was unfair to plop an adopted animal down in the midst of all this chaos, so I said I’d come get her when the house had cleared out. Her owner agreed, but later told me that the landlord had threatened to evict them if the dog wasn’t gone by a certain date. On that day, I drove back to collect her.

Gigi in her salad days. She almost always walked around with a stuffy toy in her mouth. I selected stuffies on the basis of how much they amused me.

In the interim, we had a lively family discussion about what to call the dog, as Gertie just wasn’t going to cut it. I thought we should pick a name that was similar to Gertie so she would adapt to it quickly. I suggested Gigi. My daughter said it sounded like a stripper. After a two-hour discussion, Gigi it was, though still over my daughter’s objections.

When I picked her up, her owner burst into tears and rushed us out the door, handing me a ceramic jar for dog treats. It was clearly a painful parting. I put Gigi in the back of my car and headed home. Gigi rested her chin on my shoulder for the entire trip home, which I thought was a good sign.

It turns out I needn’t have worried about the abundance of guests or about the name. Gigi walked into the house and acted as though she had lived with us her entire life. She also responded to her new name instantly. As a matter of fact, as the houseguests began to go back to their own lives, Gigi seemed to miss the party atmosphere of an overcrowded house. She still loves a good party.

Then we began to get to know her. First of all, Gigi is an extremely obedient dog— except when she isn’t. For example, if she needs to go outside to go to the bathroom or check out the gophers, she will go outside. If she doesn’t, she will wag her tail and refuse to move. I have learned to trust her on things like this and will only insist if there is some compelling reason. She has a stentorian bark that wakes the eldest grandchild from her nap, so I put Gigi out when Jessamyn is napping so if the doorbell rings or there is a package delivery, she won’t sound the alarm. Gigi goes reluctantly, but she goes if I really insist.

She can make friends with just about any other animal. I have seen her buddy up to:
At least two coyotes
A bunny (kisses were exchanged)
A feral cat
A cat that was so terrified of her that it refused to come into the house until Gigi performed her ambassadorial work
Innumerable other cats and dogs and humans

The feral cat is my rescue kitty, Inca. When I first acquired Inca from a rescue organization, they told me she was one of a litter of feral kittens. They were considered too old to domesticate, but they seemed to be adapting to humans, so the rescue decided to place them with families. Inca was okay with me as long as I kept her confined to a bathroom, but she was horrified by Gigi. When I let her out of the bathroom, Inca disappeared for two weeks, flitting about in our peripheral vision like a bat.

One day, I saw Inca and called to her. To my astonishment, she strolled over and climbed into my lap. After a bit, Gigi came into the room and lay down. Inca trotted down the length of the couch, mewing at Gigi. I had no idea what would happen, as I hadn’t had either of them for very long, but Gigi came over as though Inca had been calling her and proceeded to kiss her. Inca adores Gigi. It’s pretty funny to watch her try to give this enormous dog a bath with her tiny pink tongue.

I give Gigi a lot of credit for the rapidity to which Inca adjusted to domestic life and became an affectionate pet. She never used to let me pet her tummy, which I longed to do (best part of a cat). One day, I gave Gigi an extensive belly rub. Inca watched intently nearby as Gigi groaned with happiness. When I finished with Gigi, I turned to pet the cat. Inca flopped down and presented her own belly for a rub, and she has enjoyed it ever since.

Inca and Gigi have seldom been parted, but there was one weekend when I had to use a pet-sitting service. Gigi went to the sitter’s home, but the service had a large enclosed cat area for feline borders, so they were separated for about four days. When I went to pick them up, Inca was there, but the sitter had not returned Gigi. I told them to have the sitter bring Gigi directly to my house as soon as possible, and left with Inca.

When we got home, Inca shot out of her carrier and began searching the house. She went from room to room, mewing loudly, but of course, Gigi was nowhere to be found. When the sitter showed up with the dog about two hours later, Gigi made for her water dish immediately because it was a sizzling day. She put on the brakes when she saw her kitty friend, and the two of them checked each other out carefully, kissed, and then Gigi got her drink.

You might be wondering about the coyotes I mentioned earlier. I am familiar with the coyote trick of sending a fertile female to lure a male dog to its doom (the original femme fatale). That wasn’t what was happening here. The first time, I noticed Gigi making play bows along the fence enclosing our yard. Something was moving around vigorously in the tall grass and weeds on the other side of the fence. When I got closer, I saw it was a small, young coyote. The two animals were playing, each on one side of the fence, play-bowing and running, then bowing again. They seemed to be having a lot of fun.

In the second instance, my son-in-law Mike came home and saw Gigi in the back yard with what he thought was a fox, just hanging out together. He videoed it, calling Gigi in, so we were able to see it was a young female coyote that had found a way under the fence. Apparently, Gigi and the coyote had been chilling together in the back yard for quite a while. We don’t really want her socializing with coyotes, so we fixed the fence.

There is an exception to Gigi’s long list of friends. My daughter’s dog, Hendrix, is a Japanese Chin. He’s one of those fluffy, goggle-eyed little dogs. He annoyed Gigi at first acquaintance by biting her ankles. Gigi responded by squashing Hendrix flat with one big paw, but unfortunately, this triggered Hendrix’s bad back, requiring expensive meds. Although he has lived with Gigi now for four years, Hendrix has not improved his behavior and sometimes still bites her ankles. Gigi has learned to ignore/not squash him, but she cannot overlook it when he steals her chew toys.

Gigi loves to carry toys around in her mouth, usually a stuffed animal, but sometimes a chew toy. Hendrix isn’t allowed bones or chews because of major, life-threatening allergies, and he steals her toys out of jealousy. One night, Kerry took a bone away from Hendrix and returned it to Gigi. Gigi took it with her customary gentleness, but never stopped staring at Hendrix. Finally, she turned her back, walked away a few paces, turned around, and THREW the bone at Hendrix with a snort worthy of a teenaged girl.

Gigi has been wonderful with the grandkids, gentle and protective. She permitted all kinds of indignities, though we tried to spare her and teach the children to be gentle with animals—which they are. When Tom and I aren’t at home, Gigi sleeps in Lilah’s room, squeezing completely under the bed. She’s so big I’m not sure how she gets out again. Both the grandkids learned early to dodge Gigi’s lethal tail. It smarts when her tail connects with human flesh.

The kids loved Gigi. Gigi loved the kids.

While I don’t doubt that if anyone threatened us, Gigi would rip his throat out, I trust her 100% with children, guests and pets. She is one of the most utterly trustworthy personalities I have ever encountered. It’s not like having a dog around so much as having an odd-looking grandmother. A grandmother who might attack burglars.

Whenever I have had to treat Gigi for an ailment, she is the soul of cooperation. She will do anything the vet asks, patiently enduring indignities such as rectal thermometers and intrusive examinations. Once both her ears became infected. I had a bottle of liquid that I had to flood both ears with twice a day—something most dogs would strenuously resist. When Gigi saw me coming with the bottle, she would lie down on one side and present an ear. When I was done treating that ear, she would roll over and present the other one. She’s that way with every medical treatment—including acupuncture, which helps with her arthritis when it get bad—apparently understanding that we are trying to help her even if she doesn’t understand what we are doing. (Although I wouldn’t take any bets on her lack of comprehension.)

We live in a beach town. It’s also a dog town, and many people bring their dogs to play at the beach. I took Gigi frequently when we first moved here, but after a couple of years she started coming back limping and sore. Age, alas, is catching up with her, and her once-black muzzle and face are now frosty. She has arthritis and some old joint injuries that cause her problems. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t understand moderation. If I take her to the beach, she runs around and greets and plays with every other dog present, and most of the humans, too. We have had to curtail her beach visits, which is sad, because she used to have a blast.

It’s hard to express this without sounding kind of woo-woo, but this animal is enormously spiritual—more than most humans I know. She’s kind, gentle, intuitive and loving. I respect her as much as I would respect another human because she is her own creature. She knows who she is. She has a presence. Don’t get me wrong—she’s still a dog. She begs at the table. Sometimes she pees in the wrong place (but only if desperate). She barks at nothing and she barks at everything. But looking in her eyes, I see a kindred being who communicates clearly without words, who respects and loves me.

And when she goes (may it be many moons from today), I will be as grief-stricken as I would be for any family member. That’s why I’m telling you now, while I can, that I have in my keeping a great and beautiful soul. It’s a beautiful soul that farts and groans all night, that’s all.

Gigi died today (November 26, 2019) at the age of approximately 15. So I had three excellent years with her after I wrote this piece. She was going downhill fast, and I wanted to say goodbye before her life became a complete misery to her. She died at home with her family around her.

Random Thoughts About Iceland on Our Last Evening

One of the inescapable facts about Iceland; unless you possess an awesome camera with all the fixings and know how to use it, you simply will never capture the grandeur of the landscape. The mountains are so high, layered like chocolate layer cake and frosted with patches of snow in July. The glacial valleys are deep, most with endless streams meandering down from the higher glaciers, or tumbling down the steep mountainsides from the snow. Or wide rivers, heavy with alluvia from the glaciers, rush along to meet with the fjords.

A glacial valley with its inevitable stream. You can photograph something like this every five minutes.

Then there are the fjords, glittering in the sun or soft and sullen beneath the clouds. The lava mountains on the other side of every single fjord often have a necktie of white cloud resting midway between the ground and the peaks.

A necktie of clouds.

Then there are the waterfalls, which are everywhere, though of course, there are the faves like Gödafoss.

Gödafoss, the waterfall of the gods. (In this case, the discarded gods.)

The abundance and exuberance of wildflowers was overwhelming for a native Californian. Our brief wildflower season is lovely, but you have to go looking for them, and at the right time of year. The right time of year is critical here, too, but once the season is right, there are bushels of flowers almost everywhere you look.

The people here have been friendly and helpful without exception. Almost everyone speaks excellent English, and those that don’t speak it well speak it pretty well. People here love their country deeply. It shows in the way they talk about the beauty of winter, the knowledge of their past, respect for their environment.

Iceland is supposed to be the safest place in the world when it comes to crime. There are only 1.24 murders per year on average, none of them with guns, despite the fact that many people own guns. Largely, these are shotguns that farmers use if they have to put down an animal–there are no predators except for foxes. To qualify for gun ownership, you have to have a reason to own one, take a three-day safety course, and take a medical examination that presumably looks at mental as well as physical health. Sounds sensible to me. Even theft is uncommon, though not unheard of.

Iceland supports a permanent population of only 400,000. As the interior is uninhabitable, this population lives on the fringes of the island. Even so, it is kind of eerily devoid of people. Reykjavík, the capital city, is quiet and uncrowded outside of the tourist district. It’s kind of weird walking down deserted city streets in the middle of the day. Outside of the capitol, the habitations are mostly widely spaced farm houses, punctuated every hundred kilometers or so by small villages. VERY small villages. They usually have a gas station and maybe a tiny grocery store. The larger ones might have a hotel and/ or a restaurant–usually with great food. Food away from touristy spots was delicious, fresh, and healthy. Except for the potatoes, which are consistently incredibly good, if not good for you. The downside is that selection is often limited. Oh, well. Being limited to three choices isn’t so bad if all the choices are good.

On the drive from Akuréyri, we stopped for lunch at a random guesthouse in the middle of absofucking nowhere. Walking up, we were expecting a plain interior and a choice of salmon sandwich, chicken, and pizza. It was a real surprise. The interior was very Icelandic Modern with blond wood walls, abstract art, and hideous pottery lamp shades that looked like they were your child’s first clay project. It turned out all the plates, vases on the tables, the mugs, etc. had been lovingly created by the same unsteady hand (not thrown or cast), so that nothing sat square on the surface of the table, but wobbled slightly. The menu was presented as a clutch of loose sheets held together by a clipboard, which I suppose made it easy to change the menu quickly. Tom had salmon and I ordered shellfish soup. It was excellent, accompanied by home baked rye bread and butter.

The lamp shades look better in this photo than they did in person.

This restaurant kind of epitomized Iceland to me: isolated, an interest in esthetics and handiwork, focused on fresh, local foods well-prepared, and yet informal, eccentric and slightly makeshift.

There are sheep everywhere, often where they should not be. At Saudafell Guesthouse, which is a working sheep farm, our host Finboggi said he drives the sheep to the mountains every summer to graze, and leaves them there unattended. (In the old days, a dairymaid would have stayed with them.) I asked if he didn’t lose some of them every year, sheep being both stupid and unconcerned about their owners’ economic welfare. Finnboggi said yes, he did lose some every year, and shrugged in an unconcerned way. Just the cost of doing business, I guess.

Icelandic wool is different from your standard- issue wool. The sheep have evolved, as have the horses, to survive in this climate. Their wool consists of two types of fibers and the result is that their wool stays warm even when wet. You would think that Icelanders, who knit and crochet a lot, would prefer their home-grown product, but no. In most of the shops, the yarn I saw was imported. People are funny.

Mama and her babies, just chillin’ by the side of the road.

Iceland is volcanic, and the evidence is everywhere, from the great tongues of ancient lava quietly eroding into the valleys, to old cinder cones, to great fields of broken lava, to the occasional volcano that has blown its top, probably thousands of years ago like the one below. It must have been a hellish explosion when it went off.

It’s so easy to see how the mountain ripped itself open with a massive explosion. This is also a common sight in Iceland, which still has several active volcanoes.

I am sitting in Keflávik airport as I write, waiting for a flight to Copenhagen. Am I sorry to leave? Very. In a way, I feel as though I just scratched the surface of what Iceland has to offer.

“The Sun Voyager” by Jón Gunnár Árneson, sits on Reykjavík Harbor, commemorating Iceland’s Viking past. Please note the small children using it as a jungle gym. No one seems to mind.

Renfaire, Icelandic Style

The view from Gasír, looking across the Eyafjördur to the mountains beyond.

Today we went to Gasír, which was a site used only once a year like the Thingvellir, with no permanent habitations. Its purpose was trading with foreign ships that sailed down the fjord every year until the harbor silted up.

There was a two-day market fair re-enactment going on, as we had been told by Hannah at the Akyreyri Museum. While we were driving there, we made plans to go to Grimsey Island, where you can see puffins. It takes an entire day, but I really wanted to see puffins.

Another view from Gasír.

The Gàsir market fair is near the original site, overlooking the Eyafjordur with snow-splotched mountains beyond. A gorgeous spot. We walked down a grassy path through a meadow to get there, and were given small pottery tokens on a cord to indicate we had paid, which we could keep.

Rear view of the “booths,” which were used for sleeping while people were at the market. They are constructed in much the same manner in medieval times as during Viking times. The tents are pitched atop low turf walls, making for much cozier sleeping conditions.

The entire camp was tiny, especially compared to our Renaissance Faires. I expect the real thing had been much larger, given its economic importance. There was no fantasy cosplay going on either–everyone who worked there was dressed in authentic Medieval clothing in dull colors. The visitors who chose to dress in historical costume wore the same kind of garb. Icelanders of the period, being poor, had little in the way of expensive accessories. The jewelry was crude and handmade. The utensils and tools on display were hand-made of wood, iron, bone, leather, and stone. They had few ceramics that weren’t imported and were therefore precious, handed down from generation to generation. Hannah told me that archeologists had found remnants of broken pottery that had been stitched together to save it. I don’t know what they used for the stitching or how well that worked for them.

There were a number of crafts being demonstrated: rope-making, wood carving, sewing, fortune-telling, blacksmithing, and so forth. Some young people played a game of knattleikr, which is similar to lacrosse.

Blacksmithing, using an authentic portable forge.

Wood carving.

Young people playing knattleikr.

A fortune-teller sewing in front of her tent.

The market fair was well-attended by Icelanders. There were a few tourists, but not many. It was nice to be among the people who live here, people who were interested in their history and heritage.

I decided to have a fortune teller throw runes for me (not the fortune-teller pictured above.) After she told my fortune–and she was serious about it, not just pretending–I was, as usual, asking questions, and something she said made me ask her if she worked with the native plants–something that is very important to the book I am working on. I had been feeling rather overwhelmed about learning Icelandic herb lore because it seemed to me that it required such a vast amount of research. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do enough just via books and photos.

Sometimes things just work out. My fortune-teller turned out to be an herbalist. We exchanged emails and parted with a warm hug.

Sigridur Ásny Kettílsdottír, rune-caster and herbalist. And a lovely woman.

We were on the way out when one of the women in costume at the entry booth said, “We have talked before, at the museum!” It was Hanna, of course. She told me that an archeologist would be present later that day to talk about the archeology of the site. So we decided to get some lunch and went to a fish restaurant in Akuréyri, where the young man at the counter tried to talk me into eating fermented shark, claiming it was delicious.

I don’t recall if I have mentioned this before, but I would never eat fermented shark. It is prepared from the Greenland shark, which has poisonous flesh. The animal has developed a biological antifreeze, trimethaline oxide, which is a clever adaptation to its environment. But if you eat its unprocessed meat, you will die. Fermenting the meat destroys the poison and renders it edible. Note that I did not say “palatable.” While it is touted as an “Icelandic delicacy,” Anthony Bourdain said it was the most disgusting thing he ever put in his mouth, and that’s saying something.

But taste is not the issue. The Greenland shark grows slowly and reproduces slowly. It lives for 300 to 500 years, the longest known life span of any non-microscopic animal, and its status is near-threatened. Consider that the only reason for trying to eat this animal had to be extreme poverty and hunger, and that even after it is rendered safe to eat it still tastes horrible.

I think the guy in the restaurant just wanted to see my face when I tasted it. I had fish and chips.

We went back to Gasír to meet the archeologist. I didn’t understand a word he said, of course, but I got his name and email later, and he agreed to answer some questions.

So the Gasír market fair turned out brilliantly. And Tom realized that we are leaving tomorrow, not Monday, as we had thought. No Grimsey. No puffins. We have to drive back to Reykjavík to catch a plane. I suppose/hope that we will stop and see some sights on the way. I am betting on waterfalls, not puffins.

A tiny and very noisy Viking.

The One-Lane, Two-Way Tunnel, Creative Chairs, and Water

We decided to visit Siglufjordur, a small town at the tip of the Trollskaggi Peninsula, overlooking the Arctic Ocean. The northernmost town in Iceland, it is a mere 28 miles from the Arctic Circle.

It was cold. Rain has moved in and the temperatures dropped into the low fifties, along with wind. We had to go through three tunnels to get there. The first one was a doozy. Several km long, it was ONLY ONE LANE, BUT HAD TWO-WAY TRAFFIC, and accommodates semi trucks as well as more petite vehicles. The right hand lane, coming from Akuréyri, had turnouts, while the left did not. We were unfamiliar with the protocol of traversing a one-lane tunnel, never having encountered one before. It seemed to us the oncoming cars would often wait just prior to a turnout to allows us time to pull off. But that isn’t how it works, we discovered when we got to Siglurfjordur; the side with no turnouts has right of way and is not required to stop. The other lane is required to turn off as soon as they see oncoming traffic and stay there until it is clear.

The very short video above may give you some idea of how much fun the one-way tunnel was.

The town just before reaching Siglufjordur was Olafsfjordur, distinguished by a ski jump in the middle of town, next to the swimming pool. Sorry–no pictures.

Siglufjordur was the location for filming “Trapped,” a murder mystery series about a small town in Iceland that is cut off by a blizzard–and experiences more murders than the entire country does in four years. Since the murder rate here is 1.25 murders per year, that wasn’t hard. I highly recommend “Trapped.” You can find it on Amazon. The story, cinematography, and acting are all wonderful.

Siglufjordur appears to be unchanged by its brush with glory. It remains small and quiet. We had incredible hamburgers at TORGID Restaurant, along with the usual amazing potatoes. I told the owner honestly that it was the best burger I had ever had. He rewarded me with a shot of Jaegermeister—ack. Licorice. I hate the stuff, but it is such a popular flavor here that they have licorice-flavored sea salt.

After that, it was a visit to the Herring Museum or Frida’s Chocolates. We chose the latter, each getting two small but bursting-with-flavor chocolates and hot drinks. (It was very cold and rainy.)

The electric chair. Of course.

All of these are chair art at Frida’s.

If it had not been such bad weather, we probably would have explored more, but honestly, I think we gave Siglufjordur all we had to give today. We headed back to Akuréyri, now armed with the correct method of driving through the one-lane tunnel. Unfortunately, we encountered a semi truck that hadn’t gotten the memo, which forced us into a turnout on the wrong side of the road. But we survived.

Siglufjordur has a lot of art for a small town. These were just sitting in a field on the way out of town.

Water. It’s hard to communicate just how much water there is here, fresh and salt. Waterfalls cascade down cliffs wherever you look, and as you travel, there are creeks, rivers, lakes, glacial ponds, fjords, inlets. The lava mountains have great snow patches on the heights that leak waterfalls and rivulets everywhere, and the glaciers feed great rivers. Being a Californian, I am somewhat overwhelmed by all the wetness.

But travel into the interior (which we won’t do because the roads are terrible, there are no amenities, and it is dangerous), Iceland is a desert of volcanic rubble and glaciers. It cannot sustain agriculture. It’s a wasteland. In the old days, no one went there unless they were an outlaw, an outcast, or someone who could not travel to the Althingi by water and had to take the dangerous interior route. Life in Iceland exists at the edge.

This is actually at Dummborgír. I forgot to post it. Many, many stones in Iceland are supposed to be trolls that got caught by the morning light and turned to stone. This one looks like a troll roaring. I have no idea if it is a locally-sanctioned troll stone or not.

Food, Alcohol, and Flowers in Akuréyri

The guardian monster of the Akuréyri Museum.

I forgot to mention that at dinner last night, I tried the national liquor, Brennevín, also known as “Black Death.” It is essentially high-proof vodka flavored with caraway and cumin, often with other herbs and flavorings mixed in. I thought it was complex and interesting, with the caraway being the predominant flavor. I liked it, but it was obvious to me why it is nicknamed Black Death, and it isn’t for the color, which is clear–I think if you drank much of it, you would feel like you were were about to die.

Speaking of which, there is a popular rock band here called Brennevín, and another called Dunnuborgír (Black Fortress). Interesting that the Celtic for fortress is Dun, more evidence of how closely tied Iceland is to Scotland and Ireland.

Brennevín—the band, not the liquor.

Today we decided to stick close to Akuréyri, as in not leave the town. First we went to one of the world’s northernmost botanical gardens. We walked from our hotel, as it isn’t far. The garden is gorgeous and well-labeled in both Icelandic and English. Because of the way my story is developing (did I mention that I have the first, nascent beginnings of the story going?), I will need to know about the characteristics of Icelandic plants, so this was interesting to me. Besides, what’s not to like about beautiful flowers? The garden also housed the largest trees we have seen in Iceland. They must be extremely old, as trees grow slowly here.

Tom at the Akurėyri Botanical Garden, just a bit south of the Arctic Circle. Note how big the trees are. Most trees here are waist-high.

Then we decided to walk to a store I had read about, called “The Attic” in Icelandic. My tour book raved about how fun it was to comb through the junk for treasures. Tom discovered a steep, gravel path that took us right to where we wanted to go. I was not happy about the path. Gravel and steepness spell a broken hip to a woman my age. But I held onto Tom and got there–only to discover there was no such store.

Tibetan poppy.

Double rainbow seen from our hotel room.

So we continued down the street to the Akuréyri Museum. By this time, I was parched, wanting nothing more than a drink of water. As I was suggesting to Tom that we go find water and then come back to the museum, a lady at the front desk asked me to wait–she would get me some water. This was extremely kind of her, especially as she turned out to be the director of the museum. (I haven’t seen a single public water fountain in Iceland yet, but water is everywhere in fjords, lakes, rivers, streams, fountains.)

I explained what I was doing, and asked her a bunch of questions that she did her best to answer. But she said I should consult with experts in the time period I was researching (pre-Christian settlement). I said she was right, but I didn’t know any. She generously offered to send me some names. People have been so kind and helpful here. They have been kind and helpful everywhere I’ve gone to do research, to be honest. We went back later to get her card so that I can mention her name as a source in the book.

I want these so bad. They are clearly some kind of columbine, but variegated and so gorgeous!

As this was around lunchtime, Tom cheerfully suggested walking to a restaurant, Rub23, highly rated. By this time, my feet hurt, as did my arthritic knees. Tom appears not to have any arthritis, which is annoying. (But I am happy for him. Really.) I agreed to walk to the restaurant, and refused to walk from the restaurant back to the hotel, which I knew was Tom’s next move.

This is an Icelandic bumblebee rummaging around in what was labeled “Asiatic poppy,” but I am quite certain is an opium poppy.

We didn’t find out which band this belongs to, but this is their very long slogan

Rub23 specializes in sushi–and other things, but big on sushi. I can get sushi at home, so I ordered mussels, which were delicious. A lot of Icelandic restaurants offer hamburgers and pizza. The servers say the owners insist on it for the Americans, but Americans never order it. Why spend all the time and effort and money to go to the ends of the earth (literally) to eat the same stuff you can get at home? Of course, I can get mussels at home, but these are harvested locally in clean waters, which makes them different–at least in my mind.

In the botanical garden.

Tom ordered an entire bottle of wine at lunch. This completely did me in. He walked back to the hotel and got the car, which probably burned off some alcohol. I went straight to bed when we got back, and didn’t get up until it was time to go to dinner. So that was today in Akuréyri–not exciting, but hopefully productive if the museum director sends me some helpful contacts.

Also, flowers are good.

Volcanic Vacation

We are staying the in fourth largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, population 18,000. Of note: many of the red traffic lights in Akureyri are heart-shaped. No idea why, but it’s cute.

Red light district in Akureyri.

Today we visited Lake Myvatn (pronounced MEE-vah) to see the many attractions of that area. To get there, you have to register online to get a pass to go through the Vadisheidargong (I don’t even have the letters in my font set to write this properly) Tunnel, seven and a quarter kilometers long, cut through volcanic rock. It’s not the longest tunnel in the world, but I think it may be the longest tunnel I have ever traversed.

Most of the points of interest around Lake Myvatn are volcanic, one way or another, but we visited Gödafoss on the way, a beautiful waterfall. The story is that when the Althingi voted to accept Christianity in Iceland, Thorgeir Ljosvetningagödi, a chieftain, returned to his home in the Myrvatn area, gathered up all his Norse idols and threw them into the falls–hence, “waterfall of the gods.” He must have been pretty impressed by the new religion when Odin didn’t strike him dead on the spot.

Godafoss. Those are people standing on the rocks right above the river. They walked past the rope and the sign that says not to go there. There is a problem in Iceland with tourists doing stupid things. They might even start charging for rescue services because so many tourists act as if everything is perfectly safe—you know, Disneyland of the north.

Our first stop was a lava field called Dimmuborgir, the Black Fortress. It’s an area where lava flowed over water about 2300 years ago, which then became superheated and exploded through the cooling crust, creating fantastical shapes.

The Black Fortress.

Just a cute flower with a cute name: pearly knotwort.

After wandering around Dimmuborgir for a while (they have maps of the trails, but they never say where you actually are on the map), we decided to go to the Myrvatn Nature Baths. This consists of Blue Lagoon-style pools of warm, bright blue, silica-rich water. There is a long, shallow, rectangular hot pool as well. The pool is an infinity pool overlooking the lake.

Myvatn Nature Baths.

It’s very pretty, but I liked Krauma better. For one thing, tourists were showering in their bathing suits, which is repugnant to Icelanders, so they never go to these places. You’re supposed to shower nude and wash EVERYTHING to keep their chemical-free pools clean. The pool itself was warm, but not really warm enough for me. It felt slimy from the silica–I hope.

Fumerole at Myvatn Nature Baths, carefully fenced off from crazy tourists.

And lunch at the Nature Baths was the worst so far–not horrible, but not wonderful either. We both had smoked salmon on what we assumed was some sort of brown bread. It turned out to be “geyser bread,” rye bread baked at low temperatures (for baking) two feet underground near a geothermal heat source for many hours until the sugars caramalize. It had the color and almost the consistency of membrillo paste and tasted a lot like Boston brown bread. I had selected a delicious toasted porter with lunch that went well with it, but it had a quarrel with Tom’s red wine. We agreed it was interesting, but we have no desire to repeat the experience.

Then it was off to see the mud pots and fumeroles nearby at Namafjall, just a few minutes away. This was a desolate plain punctuated with clouds of steam coming up from vents in the ground, and some active, bubbling gray-blue mud pots. The ground was a patchwork of pink, white, brown, and gray. I walked carefully along between the ropes indicating safe ground, thinking about the hell that lay underneath this thin crust of earth. Unlike any such spot in the United States, it was free, unsupervised, and your safety is entirely up to you.

Bubbling mud pot.

Wild, uncaged fumerole.

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and we thought we should head back to Akureyri. As we hit the road, the rain began. It absolutely poured. So considerate of the weather to wait until we were done being tourists!