Thursday, March 15, 2012

TÃmas's Meadow

Tungnafellsjökull (Icelandic for"tongue-fells glacier")
Photo from Wikipedia 
JÃnas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) is a dearly beloved poet in Iceland.  He wrote a poem  "TÃmas's Meadow":

Near towering Tonguehill Glacier
TÃmas's Meadow lies,
the only green oasis
under the desert skies.
Here my dear friend's horses
hurried once in their need;
never again will he graze them
on his grassy upland mead.
Wide is the Dancing Desert,
distant the weeping sea.
Where sands are sweeping northward
my soul is hurrying me.

The story behind this poem supports the Icelandic horse having a great deal of native "seek" drive--which helps in the survival of men and beasts in the extreme environment of Iceland.    Sprengisandur (or the  "Dancing Desert") is a vast expanse of sand located in the eastern central part of Iceland.  In 1810, Sir George Mackenzie, described this desert as:
"Numerous obstacles present themselves to any person who may think of entering this dreadful country, among which the want of food for horses is the principal. The rivers, lakes, streams of lava, all the horrors of nature combined, oppose every desire to penetrate into these unknown districts; and the superstitious dread in which they are held by the natives is readily excused, the instant they are even remotely beheld."
The poet  JÃnas's friend, TÃmas SÃmundsson, set out to cross this rarely explored dessert to fetch his new wife and her belongings from the north.  His Icelandic horses discovered a meadow of grass in this forbidding wasteland that helped in the crossing. 

Of course through the years, the circumstances of this crossing became much more difficult.  In TÃmas' biography written by his grandson, the crossing was greatly exagerated in  retelling as shown below:

"But when they reached a point some 40 kilometers south of the last farms in BárÃardalur, they ran into a blinding blizzard, and before TÃmas was fully aware of what was happening he had lost all sense of direction. He kept going, however, and it was not long before his horses suddenly --- and of their own accord --- started to crop grass here and there. They had found a meadow beneath the snow, though TÃmas had never known that one existed here in the eastern part of the desert. It is not unlikely that this discovery saved his life, since he was not prepared for an extended stay in the highlands, accompanied by so many horses. Now he could pitch his tent, free from anxiety about the horses, and wait until the storm had passed. The next morning the weather was so clear that they could see the mountains and it was a simple matter to ascertain the right direction and continue the journey without hazard. The meadow he had discovered lay up under Tonguehill Glacier and has been known ever since as TÃmas's Meadow. "

However, Icelandic folklore and history is full of tales of the Icelandic horse carrying its rider and finding its way through blizzard and storms to safety.

Source: University of Wisconsin Library System

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