The Importance of Sitting on a Rock.

Nanna Julsbo on her ongoing conversation with nature and hunger for slowness.


Birna: “What is the name of this mountain?”

Nanna: “I have no idea. I am sitting here, waiting for her to tell me.

This mountain here is Bjólfur, I think he is a he. It almost feels like I can read him like I can read a book. He is not telling me anything.  He just stands there, looking the way he does. It is up to me to figure out the rest. Why are these layers as they are? What patterns are in him? How does he smell? How is he shaped? Is he cold or warm? I wonder what is inside of him…

Being out here definitely feels like opening up to another channel. I am reminding myself of the importance of just sitting on a rock, looking at a mountain, and wondering.”

In between the mountains in the East of Iceland lives the writer and Kaospilot Nanna Juelsbo. Though she is originally from Denmark Nanna says she might be from Iceland. She is still figuring it out. I met Nanna during the Light Festival in Seyðisfjörður where the whole town celebrated the first days of light after months of complete darkness. Nanna and I had had a conversation the day before, talking about my third-year project; a film about witches in Iceland. We ping-ponged our own interpretations of the word ‘witch’ and wondered if they exist in our modern society. We came to the conclusion that a witch is a wise woman that holds a knowledge of nature. She is connected to herself, her spirit and is unafraid to lead her life according to her own beliefs.

Nanna: “Well, in that case, I know a lot of witches. Myself, for example. But I don’t like to put labels on myself. As soon as I call myself  a witch I feel like am closing down on other things I can be.”

One of the Icelandic words for a witch (I have found out they are quite many) is Seiðkona. I thought it was fitting for Nanna, as she is living in Seyðisfjörður. And even though she doesn’t like to be labeled I will from now on call her Nanna Seyðkona.

Nanna: “Moving here to Iceland feels like a poetic invasion into my life.”

Birna: “What do you mean by poetic invasion?”

Nanna: “By poetic I mean a slower life. A life that opens to more opportunities; more time for walks, being outside in these surroundings, more time to write. And to think. It is important to find new ways of living our lives, to question the way we live.

This is where I thrive. That is, in nature. I am not an indoor person. Nature is a huge interest of mine. It has always been, an inspiration as well. It is in everything I do, whatever I write about or think of is always centered around nature.”

Birna: “Why do you think people don’t spend as much time in nature as they used to?”

Nanna: “ I am from a generation where we are constantly on the run. Running towards something that we don’t really know what is. We have this idea of success where we have everything; money, power, and happiness. I am questioning where to find this happiness. Do I find it in work? In my family life? By being around people that I love? Do I find it in nature? I think there are so many different ways of finding that state of happiness than by defining yourself in a work situation.”

Birna: “Seyðisfjörður is celebrating the arrival of the light this week — how has it been to live in a place so dark?”

Nanna: “I really enjoyed it. Again, the slowness. I have a hunger for slowness. And you can find it here, all year long but especially at wintertime. I have never read or written as much, especially in January, where it was completely dark. It fitted me really well. Just as it fits me that now the light is coming back and then summer will come and after summer there will be autumn and there will be winter again. Seasons have always suited me. I would not be able to live a life of eternal summer or eternal winter, or eternal anything. I need change. The only thing I have missed during winter are things growing. I really enjoy finding edible things in nature like wild herbs, berries or yarrow. But even though I miss that in the winter it is okay.”

Birna: “Because you appreciate it more when it’s not there all year long?”

Nanna: “Definitely, and it’s also nature’s way of making perfect sense. Not being productive all year along. That is same with human beings, everybody needs a rest. Nature needs it’s rest right now, and I have to wait for it. It’s setting limits for me, and my way of using nature. It’s beautiful that I can’t decide. I am just a human being.”

Birna: You surrender to nature.

Nanna: Yeah, and I feel very small, sitting here.

Birna: How is it to feel small?

Nanna: Incredibly liberating. I have always felt very small in comparison to nature. There is definitely a hierarchy and I am way below. It feels wonderful.

We can’t tame or gain power over nature. We cannot decide and design everything around us, even though we try.“

Birna: How are people moved by your way of being a Seyðkona (e.witch)  witch?

Nanna: I think they are inspired to start questioning aspects of their own lives. “Do I need to work as much as I do? Do I need to spend money on the things I am spending money on? Maybe I should just go out, be quiet and try to live a little bit slower.”

My brother is visiting me from Denmark at the moment. We went up the mountain the other day and he said to me: “ Nanna, you really got it. You have it all figured out.” But I don’t feel like I do. It’s just here all the time, everybody can have it. It’s just a way of living life. It’s a choice. You decide what steps you take. I think it’s nice to be reminded of that once in a while.  I experience that people are living one life while actually wanting to live another one. Always looking at others thinking: “Oh she got it. I want to escape but I can’t do it. I’m just lost here in Copenhagen, too busy with my work.” For me there is no such thing, it is all about choices if you want to change, then change — move out of Copenhagen, do something different.

I like to be the devil’s advocate around it because I think people are trying to push responsibility for their own actions in life into something else. It is actually quite simple; If you always walk to the right, then for once try to take a step to the left. And see what happens.

Photography and text by Birna Ketilsdóttir Schram

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The Importance of Sitting on a Rock.

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