Tradition: Icelandic Cairns, Stacks, and Balances

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Misleadingly fabled around the globe as a landscape of ice and fire, Iceland is also a countryside of farms and fields -- and rocks. It sits directly upon the mid-Atlantic ridge, and is one of the more volcanically active places on earth. Islands arise where once was only open ocean; lava erupts where once there were well-tilled croplands and grand houses. These changes are some times abrupt, yet held in memory for many centuries. And, as in numerous countries, otherwise un-marked sites can be found studded with stone cairns and stacks of rock like those at Krýsuvíkurkirkja (Krýsuví Church) near Seltún and at Kirkjubæjarklaustir.


For over a thousand years, Icelandic people have memorialized a specific farm destroyed by the first recorded eruption of the volcano Katla by leaving a stone "for luck" when first they pass the site. The resulting vast field of cairns called Laufskálavarþa is an astonishing reminder of the power of the earth, the passage of years, and the transmission of cultural legacy. Modern-day visitors continue the tradition, some with ambitious artistic intent. But whether stacked or balanced, fallen or fresh, the piles continue to grow. And no doubt will, until the volcano speaks again. Meanwhile, the Public Roads Administration regularly provides fresh material for 21st Century travellers to mark their visit.

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© Daliel Leite
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Rock on, Rock ON!

One of Bill's

Bill Dan,
Sausalito, CA
photo courtesy  • Rich Sharples