Jul 2, 2010 | Siglufjörður, Iceland
Jul 2, 2010

I walked outside, where Örlygur was building a wall to keep away the gawkers. There were two pigeons next to the wall.

"Pigeons," I said. "You don't see many pigeons around," I said.

"Yes," said Örlygur, "there are very few. Ever since 1995 there have been very few."

"1995?" I said.

"There was a man from Húsavík," said Örlygur, "and he started this company, this kind of company, and it had some impressive name and a logo and advertisements you would sometimes see. It seemed like this big company, but really it was just this man and his van. He would drive around Iceland, to all the small towns, and he would meet with the mayors to tell them what his company could do, which was to kill the small animals that eat the food of other animals. I think you call them pests."

"I think that's what we say," I said.

"So he would travel around in his car with poison and other kinds of weapons, I don't know which ones exactly, and he would kill the foxes, the minks, and the rats — and the rats of the heavens, too."

He threw some bread at the pigeons.

"He went all over Iceland and all of the mayors said yes, and he was very busy, and always very friendly, which is how you have to be when you have meetings with mayors, but there was one mayor who said 'No thanks, we will keep our pigeons,' and that was the mayor of Siglufjörður.

"Soon people in Iceland started to notice there were no more pigeons around. A theater group in Akureyri wanted to stage a show about the last pigeon, but they could not find a single one in Akureyri. They asked around — Húsavík, Ólafsfjörður, Sauðárkrókur — no pigeons. Only in Siglufjörður were there still pigeons. So the mayor of Siglufjörður had one of them caught and sent to Akureyri in a box to appear in the show."

"So is Siglufjörður some kind of Icelandic pigeon asylum?" I said.

"There are about 100 here. We control the population by removing some of the eggs. It is the only way. You know, to make life good for them. Otherwise there would be no food. And if there were too many then people would start to dislike them."

"Does word get around?" I said. "Do pigeons come from all over?"

"No, pigeons only know home," said Örlygur. "It is both beautiful and sad. That is why people use them as messengers. They bring them to faraway cities and release them, and the pigeons will go right back to the same place they were taken from. They really only know home."

"We call them 'homing pigeons'," I said.

"Homing pigeons," said Örlygur. "I will remember that."

He bent down a bit. "You know, it is a very modern view, to think these birds somehow have no right to live, that we should kill them to make our towns cleaner. It is a modern view, and it is a strange view. In Siglufjörður we pride ourselves on not having this kind of modern view. In this we have an old view, a traditional view, and it is good for the pigeons."

The pigeons kept eating the bread.

"There are two old men in town," said Örlygur, "who love to feed the pigeons, and the pigeons know it. The pigeons all live in the old gray shack on the pier across from the boathouse. You know the one — it is about to fall into the water because the sea has been rising. Anyway, these men go over to the shack and they tap three times on the wall — "BANG! BANG! BANG". He tapped on the wall of the house with his knuckle.

"And then you should see it," he said. "One by one, the pigeons come out of this little hole in the wall, like they were lining up to do it, and they fly up into the air and onto the arms of the men. The men stand there on the shore like scarecrows and dozens of pigeons are landing on their shoulders and their hands and their head, and swarming all around them, taking the food from the men."