The summer sky was covered with thinly spread gray clouds, like a light layer of butter on pale blue toast, which wasn’t unusual for Iceland’s Westfjords. I had taken the ferry from Stykkisholmur to Flatey Island, where the summer population of thirteen human inhabitants was outnumbered by the sheep five to one. I had ventured over to the island to see the puffins that allegedly populated the rocky shores, but had so far only sighted far too many Arctic Terns, a handful of Common Eider Ducks, and one very concerned-looking White Wagtail that sat in the middle of a dirt path and cheeped vehemently at anyone who dared approach, but refused to fly away. I found out later that the puffins had already migrated by late summer, and wouldn’t be around for a while longer.
Because Flatey is such a small island, it took less than half an hour to walk the only gravel road from the ferry landing to the far side of the island and back. A handful of historic buildings, including a small hotel, rested on the northwestern edge of the island, and a tiny, one-room cathedral perched on the highest point of the island, thus comprising the town of Flatey.
I had wandered away from my travel companion after she had shown me the shipwreck on the eastern shore of Flatey, and commenced following the perimeter of the island, tiptoeing over the slick, algae-covered rocks and trying to balance on the knobbly surface of the soft ground.
My first clue to turn around should have been the crab skeleton bleaching on a rock. “Bad day to be a crab,” I thought, and continued picking my way over the muddy, uneven ground.
Many things in Iceland made me stop and stare, entirely in awe of what my eyes were trying to process. This effigy, though, froze me in terror. In a small gulch between two hummocks, facing the ocean, stood a crudely carved wooden man. He was maybe five and a half or six feet tall with a disproportionately large head. Feathers had been sparsely nailed to the top of the head in a macabre sort of headdress. A beard and broad nose had been etched into the wood, and a malevolent grin leered at me, though whether the teeth were made of bones or white stones I didn’t get close enough to tell. The red-stone eyes glowered, burning, daring any foolhardy enough to test the wrath of this god. The branch between his legs served as an erect phallus, and boasted of raw, primal masculinity. At his feet lay all kinds of paraphernalia: bird wings, rotting rope, shells, bits of trash, small bones, seaweed and more, making it clear only offerings of death and decay would appease this deity.
I scurried back to the ferry landing, fear and morbid curiosity coursing through my veins. As soon I was within reach of an internet connection, I scoured the internet to investigate this terrifying godly likeness and found absolutely nothing. From my research, I can surmise the statue is a modern recreation of similar ancient Nordic poles, although I don’t know which immortal the statue represented, nor the symbolism of the decaying offerings. It’s possible the locals have some answers, but I didn’t have the opportunity to interview anyone that day.
I would like to return to Flatey, not only to ask around about the statue, but also to see some puffins and delight in the fearless sheep and vast open skies, reflected in the freezing ocean waves that lap against the rocky shores. But something powerful guards the island, and I, for one, am not about to cause ill to anyone who resides there.