By Jack Plumley
The following is a story about my adventures returning to Iceland for the Snorri Internship. This is shared in addition to the recent IR Podcast episode I recorded with Sierra Jenson, the other Snorri Intern, where we shared further insights from our time here in Iceland.
Listen to the episode on Spotify or Google Podcasts by searching “Icelandic Roots Podcast."
Here is a direct link on the Icelandic Roots Website.
My second journey to Iceland
I arrived to begin my Snorri Internship on July 3rd, 2023. Fresh from the cultural immersion of the Snorri program just one year ago, a sense of familiarity immediately struck me upon returning to Reykjavík that morning; it was like retracing my footsteps. But this time, my steps were more measured, I was now armed with an understanding of the country's physical and cultural geography.
During those initial days, my schedule was filled with various responsibilities for me to embrace the role of a Canadian-Icelandic cultural ambassador. From productive meetings with the Canadian Embassy to heartwarming reunions with newfound relatives and old friends, I hustled around the city, recorded several podcasts, and worked at the Snorri offices. But amidst the flurry of activity, I moved with ease, feeling a true sense of belonging rather than being a stranger in a foreign land.
Eventually, the time came to journey North, and I was fortunate to catch a ride with Kent Björnsson, a remarkable ambassador of Icelandic-Canadian connections in his own right. During our four-hour drive together, I eagerly absorbed the wealth of stories he had to share as we traversed the picturesque countryside.
Our discussions naturally veered into the Winnipeg connections, as Kent hails from Gimli. We discussed the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the New Iceland Settlement and pondered the curious dilemma that no airlines offer direct flights from Winnipeg to Iceland. Given the importance of the Gimli celebrations, offering dedicated Iceland flights could be a fantastic business opportunity and a meaningful way to honor the community, fostering more connections.
This conversation was reminiscent of the lengthy discussions I had at the Canadian Embassy, which illuminated within me a vision for the future of Icelandic-North American cultural opportunities. As a bridge between North America and Europe, Iceland offers profound historical and human interconnections that always leave me awe-inspired. I believe that we should all be motivated by the future potential of the interactions between our countries through a deeper embrace of our collective history and a shared vision for the future, uniting us together.
Approaching Blönduós, Kent suggested an unusual dining option: Ethiopian food , which made me chuckle at the unexpected but intriguing choice. Nonetheless, it turned out to be absolutely delightful and we relished the unique flavors. I am always surprised by the diverse dining options offered even in the most remote places in Iceland. And this experience further attested to Kent's worldly connections as he not only knew the restaurant owners but also had attended their wedding in Ethiopia!
As we departed from Blönduós, we made a spontaneous decision to pick up a hitchhiker. She was an Italian traveling to Akureyri for her summer job at a hotel. On the road together, we engaged in lively conversation. I offered her handfuls of cashews, and in return, she shared captivating stories of her world travels. Curious about Iceland, she asked me about my family connections here and the Icelandic Diaspora of North America. I seized this opportunity to introduce her to Icelandic Roots and to share insights about the Snorri program and its namesake, Snorri Þorfinnsson.
This naturally led to an intriguing discussion about the historical connection of the ancient Norse who discovered Vinland five centuries before Columbus. It proved to be a fascinating bit of information for her as she was well aware of Columbus and his "discovery" of the New World. Indeed; Columbus was born in Italy after all. However, she had not known about this even more ancient connection between North America and the Icelanders with their original New World discovery.
The time came to part ways with our hitchhiker as our roads diverged. We bid her farewell and from Varmahlíð we headed north to Hofsós. With the sun hanging low in the northwestern skies the massive cliffs of Þórðarhöfði loomed large in the distance while the clouds painted a soft pink hue on the horizon; a mesmerizing scene. The eternal sunsets of Icelandic summers never fail to amaze me with their heavenly beauty.
Finally, after an adventurous journey, we arrived in the tranquil village of Hofsós. We descended the hill towards the harbor and Kent kindly dropped me off at Brimnes, the house of author-poet-intellectual Bill Holm. It was here that Sierra Jenson, my American counterpart of the Snorri internship, had been living since June and would soon finish her stay, flying home in a few weeks. She warmly greeted me and gave me a tour. I was left stunned by its eclectic charm and coziness. The bookshelves were brimming with endless books, the upright piano and the little stereo with a vast array of Mozart and Bach CDs. This was to be my home base for the summer and it was perfect beyond belief.
In addition to my internship work, I had a personal mission: to complete my book. This travelogue intertwines my experiences from last summer in Iceland with historical lessons and future extrapolations. As the book expanded, it transformed into a contemplative and philosophical piece, making it increasingly challenging to maintain a coherent narrative. Writing a book, I discovered, is no easy task; it demands unwavering focus, akin to composing a symphony. Upon arriving at Brimnes, I sensed that this idyllic sanctuary offered the perfect environment to fully immerse myself in the project and bring it to fruition.
During the upcoming summer, as I work at the Emigration Centre, Vesturfarasetrið, I'll immerse myself in genealogy, the very heartbeat of Hofsós. Embracing the privilege of being on the inside, I'll find myself seated at the genealogy desk, fueled by copious kaffi, and each day will unfold with enlightening experiences at the museum. Under the mentorship of Valgeir Þorvaldsson and Mallory Swanson, I'll navigate my responsibilities at the museum. As tourists from all corners of the world grace us with their presence, engaging them in conversation expands my knowledge far beyond these walls.
From the window of Brimnes, where Bill Holm's legacy lives on, I find myself immersed in the embrace of Icelandic history surrounded by majestic fjords and awe-inspiring basalt columns. Returning to Iceland in this manner is a profound privilege, an opportunity to bridge the gap between North America and this captivating island nation, rekindling the ancient connections between the Norse and Vinland where our most profound ancestral ties intertwine.
In this dance of ancestry, nature, and spirit, I find myself forever intertwined with the rich heritage of this captivating land and its people. Through writing, speaking, reflecting, and wandering, my mission is to share the essence of my experiences and build bridges between generations and cultures.
As autumn calls me back to Canada, I shall return as a transformed soul, deeply rooted in my Icelandic roots, profoundly connected to nature, and embracing the essence of being human. Together, let us embrace our collective history, envision shared futures, and forge a world where humanity thrives as a unified and harmonious tapestry of diverse cultures and interconnected souls.
With each step, I humbly seek to contribute to this grand vision, leaving behind a trail of illuminated ideas in the pursuit of a more compassionate and understanding world. Together, united in our stories and dreams, we shall create a legacy of empathy, kindness, and respect for the generations to come.