How was the driftwood situation here in the past?
Nowadays, we only receive very little driftwood here and mostly it’s lousy timber. But in the older days a lot of driftwood came ashore. We used to receive big trunks, both from timber logging and naturally eroded ones, with their roots intact. When driftwood washed ashore, it had to be moved from the ocean to the beach. Up until the time when people started to have jeeps, tractors and other equipment, this was done by manpower. People would take a rope, fasten it somewhere on the beach, tie it around both ends of the driftwood log and pull it ashore. Probably someone had to push it as well. Then they would still have to get it home to the farm or the place where it was worked. So they would roll the driftwood back into the sea, tie it together into a fleet of timber and would drag it by boat. The procedure was pretty much the same later on; as of course you can’t drive the tractor into the sea. When I grew up, we already used jeeps and tractors and we used to check the beach very often to see if something washed ashore.
Do you remember times when the influx of driftwood was especially high?
We received a lot of driftwood in the early sixties, I think it might have been 1963 or 1964. There were tons of driftwood in the ocean and we had a lot of polar ice in the north of Iceland, so I guess driftwood is connected to sea ice. My father and my brother went out many times and managed to gather about 10 logs in just one day. On another day, the weather changed when they were out at sea and it became really windy. The boat was shaking and they suddenly noticed a big driftwood log right next to them. The driftwood was upside down and really hard to see, so they were very lucky it didn’t sink the boat.
What did you use the driftwood for?
We mostly used it for fence poles. We would cut it to a certain length and then we used a wedge to split the wood. This was sometimes very difficult as the quality of the wood of course differs from log to log.
What’s your favorite story about driftwood?
I remember really vividly that once, I went out on our old timber boat and saw a big driftwood close to the island. The boat was in poor shape which I only realized out at sea, but I managed to get to the driftwood and put a rope around it. The engine would stop again and again and then wind started coming in. I somehow managed to get help, but I’m really lucky to be alive.
Björn Guðjónsson was born on the farm Bakkagerði near Drangsnes in 1950 and lived there until 1966. He is a musician and a poet and used to work at the car dealership Ingvar Helgason in Reykjavík. He moved back to Bakkagerði in 2002 and since then has been studying archaeology at the University of Iceland.