Jun 5, 2010 | Siglufjörður, Iceland
Jun 5, 2010

We were talking about history, and what will make it into books about now, and Virginia mentioned the oil spill, and the pictures of pelicans dying.

"I come from the east," said Ásta. "And when I was a girl, there was an avalanche in my town that smashed a factory into the sea. It was three days before Christmas, so not as many workers died, but the oil containers crashed into the fjord, and the harbor filled up with oil. I was only small then, but I remember the birds, covered in the black oil, climbing up to die in the white snow. In my mind it is always like that — the black and the white Christmas."

"Nature can be very cruel," said Hálfdán, "but we are the cruelest."

"Hálfdán is a hunter," said Ásta. "He will go into the mountains and shoot a few birds around Christmas — you know, for us to eat. But he is really very sensitive, and every time he has to finish off a bird, he gets very quiet. You have to break their neck at the end, and it is hard for him."

"It is true," said Hálfdán. "I don't like it, but I do it."

"Yes, and we all eat them," said Ásta.

"Many years ago I killed a dolphin," said Hálfdán. "My neighbor had given me a harpoon. It was a beautiful harpoon, made in the old style. One day I took my boat way out into the ocean. After some time, a family of dolphins came up next to the boat. There was one that was the perfect size — not too big, not too small, just medium. He was like a teenage dolphin — a wild teenager — and I speared him with the harpoon. But it was a bad shot that didn't kill him all the way, so he was just lying there, bleeding and moving up and down in the water, and I was thinking what should I do — but you will never believe what happened next.

"The other dolphins — instead of swimming away, they swam up under the one I harpooned, and they lifted him into the air, right there by the boat. They were holding him up so he could breathe, and I began to cry.

"I just kept standing there, and they just kept holding him, and it was the saddest thing."