Friday, September 28, 2007

Vestur islendingur

Saturday and Sunday, September 8 th and 9 th

It was a strange feeling - being in Iceland. Strangely I felt like I should belong. It was important to feel that this was my home. Yet I had no right to feel this feeling. I was born and raised in Canada. Until this trip I had never ventured beyond the North American borders.

Thankfully my hosts seems to understand. They understood without one word from me. They understood and went out of their way to make me feel welcome and included.

Case in point: the round-up.
Iceland is a largely rural country. The national population is just 306,000. Farms dot the land. Each are proudly named and these names appear on sign posts which grace the roadside.
During the spring and summer horses, cows and sheep are allowed to wander where they will. Come the fall, however, they must be rounded up. This "round-up" usually lasts only a couple of days. However, weeks before this event strategy meetings are held. During the meeting responsibilities are assigned. Some people go to the high ground. Others stay to the low ground. One person (think chair) is responsible for the unfolding of the whole round-up. Being appointed to this position is a honour. One of our hosts has been assigned to this position three years in a row. She enjoys the round-up.

Someone else who loves the round-up is this sweet Icelandic sheep dog. She works her tail off. And yet is always ready for action.

During the round-up people are assigned to wait in certain areas.
... and wait.
If you get hungry or thirty fresh water and blueberries are only a creek or bush away.
...but it is wise to remain ready.
All of a sudden comes a call. (This call is usually in Icelandic which makes it even more challenging for we Canadians). "Sheep headed your way."
A common expression heard during the round-up is, "Oh, those stupid sheep."
and yet I wonder how stupid they actually are?
In their natural surroundings it is the sheep that shine.
I watched as a string of sheep came merrily down the mountain. "Piece of cake", I thought. Bodies and voices had been employed to usher the sheep down the mountain. It was not without effort and yet here they came: ten little sheep headed down the mountain. And yet in a blink of an eye they escaped capture.
It takes a group of skilled shepherds to make it all work. Or is it a mixture of skill and luck?
A brief anecdote, Hubby was headed up the mountain. His goal simply to reach the top. Others where hearding a flock of sheep. All seemed well so Hubby paid little heed. However, then the head sheep made the move. Suddenly all seemed lost. Except that that Canadian guy (Hubby) was in the right place. ...but would he know what to do?
Well, Hubby is a chess player and so he used his hockey legs to gamely position himself in exactly the right place. Those around me said with smiles, "That's Byron." I felt so proud. He was the hero of the day - or at least in my eyes.
Spread throughout the rural Iceland countryside are round structures. These structures have a smaller round circle in the middle and then pie shaped structures lead off from this circle.
It is this structure that is the sheep's eventual destination. The sheep are then claimed by their respective farmer's and moved from the centre circle to the each triangle.
The round-up is an ancient tradition that has evolved over the years. Time was the shepherd would live with the sheep. This made things easier as the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd. Another thing that makes things harder now-a-days is that there are fewer sheep.
What makes things easier is modern technology instead of calling over the hills and valleys communication can now be done by cellphone. Also one participate can greatly help the round-up by observing from the road. He can then clearly see what others may miss. He makes one cellphone call and hours of work is saved.
The night after the round up all participants sleep like angels they count sheep?

("Vestur islendingur" is an expression used by Icelanders to describe Icelandic-Canadians. It means "Western Icelanders".)


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