Monday, July 20, 2015

A Rhyming Dictionary "Álfhól", and other thoughts on Icelandic elves

Hello from the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska!  I kinda thought I would be writing posts about my travels as I am doing them but eh, unsurprisingly I become even more nonchalant about things like dates and times and schedules and aspirations in general while on holiday.  But then, would it be a vacation if you didn't let go a little bit??  Speaking of letting go, you might want to suspend belief for what's all about to happen because it is pretty unbelievably fantastical ;)

"Álfhól" is a waterfall cerulean blue awash with fine rainbow iridescent microflakie shimmer, and in particular a luminous golden gleam that glows like sunlight through falling turquoise waters.  The maker describes the flakies as "green, green-silver, gold, and yelow", though I also espy prismatic sparks of pale rose, sapphire, orchid and silver.  A finish that sparkles like an icicle-studded pool in the sun becomes a speckled sea flecked with metallic shards in the shade, the gold sheen haloed in a peridot nebula.

These swatches represent three coats of "Álfhól", though really the shimmer dazzles quite densely in two.  This polish dries moderately quickly and distributes with even opacity.  Such a dream!  So many thanks to my darling favorite Lacquer Slacker Liz for first alerting me to the promise of this collecion (and new-to-me brand!), and then also for reminding me to go get it once it had been released, which despite my supposed vigilance I had failed to track properly.  Not that I mind much now, though, now that I have half of this fabulous collection in my hoarding clutches, and the others in my sights!

"Álfhól" was released as part of the A Rhyming Dictionary Iceland-inspired collection of nine polishes this May 2015, and means "elf house" (generally of a small and wooden variety).  Elves have long played an essential role in Icelandic culture; at last
count, approximately 52% of Icelanders believe in húldufólk, or elfin peoples, of which there are a range of scales and species as taught at the Álfaskólinn (Elf School) in Rekjavik. This tends to strike a classically Western mindset as all a little silly, but the relationship between Icelanders and their elvish folklore is a genuine and beautiful one that has been sustained by a millenia surviving in a rugged, challenging, and primordial land. I myself visited- and dearly loved- Iceland several years ago, and I think I may have encountered the huldufolk myself, though I knew nothing of them at the time.

My mom, our tiny rental car, and I had just about bested the odds of a pitted and garbled gravel mountain path, stubbornly on our way up to see the Snæfellsjökull glacier. My mother's resolve had fizzled out by the first trail landing and so that is where we gave up and stopped, and though we were nowhere near the glacier I hopped out to see what was to be seen. I had only ambled a short way down the trail when it descended and opened out into a small mossy dell, with mist clinging to the ridge and the amphitheatre bowl ringed with specter-like boulders, hunched and huddled as if in audience. It was a hauntingly beautiful scene, and the moment I stepped into it I was beseiged by two sensations- one, of losing my breath in a physical manifestation of awe- and two, that instant and persistent feeling that I was being watched. It was not a menacing energy, per se, but the intuition that I had just stepped into a place beholden to a different Nature, to different powers and codes and forces, was a strong one, and one never steps lightly in such an unfamiliar territory. Into the eastern face of the tiny valley bore a cavern sheathed in basalt, and it was to this feature that of course I was drawn. With every step towards the cave, the concentration of ethereal energy seemed to increase, until at last my simple and fruitless attempt to peer into the unfathomable maw impressed me with such a thrill of foreboding that I turned and darted back to the mouth of the valley, turning my ankle in the process and yet delighting in the odd mischief of it all.

It was only when I returned to the trailhead that I bothered to read the signs there, and it was then that I learned the cave was not just any cave, but a singing cave- Songhellir, as it is called- and that it is referenced in the ancient Egils saga as a place where the hero spends a night, and hears the reverberating echoes of dwarves and other elfin folk singing deep within the earth (or so I do recall from that illuminating sign).  And it was not until days later that I first encountered the prevailing current of elvish affiliations still infused in modern Icelandic culture, when in an Akureyri bookshop we requested the most eccentric item on Iceland they might have, and were directed to a guide on the local energy concentrations and húldufólk settlements.  And it was still later, a year later to be precise, that I read up on Icelandic elf culture, and was finally able to summarily understand my holistic experience of wonderment and awe while visiting this primal land of fire and ice.  It is all very fascinating and certainly worth investigating further, though for me the long and short of it is this: the Icelandic belief in beings, energy spheres, and otherwise mythical worlds coincident with their own is part of what makes Icelanders such a conscientious people, for they are sensitive to the fact that they share this land with other creatures and so pay them great respect.  It is a beautiful way of thinking, and that the means is sweetly and quaintly rooted in ancient myth, folklore, and tradition, only makes it the more so.

The Hobbit House // Talkeetna, AK

I more or less wrote this entire post because I got to stay at this ^^^ adorable sod-roof log cabin in Talkeetna, Alaska, only a few days ago, and because of the way my mind works I knew that I *could not* stay at this place without wearing "Álfhól" for the occasion.  Known as the Hobbit House, it is definitely a unique and also surprisingly (relatively) inexpensive place to stay in the Denali region of Alaska.  While I would overall recommend it for its two outstanding qualities- price and personality- something that did surprise us was the fact that it is immediately bordered on one side by a strip parking lot leading right off from the highway, and on the front by the owner's flightseeing business, with a lawn where tourists tend to wander in from the highway from 7am to 11pm, checking out the information and looking at the beautiful lake and such, and also gawking at the cute little sod cabin where you are trying to have a nice (romantic) getaway.  Needless to say, not nearly as quaint, secluded, rustic, nor private as you might be led to believe from this cute picture I selectively took ;)

Well goodness, I do hope you love reminiscing because there was PLENTY of it to be had in this post!  I can only hope that you enjoyed my stories as much as I did reliving them.  I keep resolving to be less long-winded in my posts so that I can write more of them, and yet this was a little story that has been anxious to be given life for a long while now, so it does feel good to have finally recorded it.  And now, back to Alaska!

I mean, can you honestly blame me though?  :)

Have you ever had an otherwordly experience that nearly almost just maybe made you believe in (or at least seriously consider) the supernatural??

Marisa + Sprinklepuff

P.S. Apologies for incorrect (and by incorrect I mean nonexistent) punctuation on most of the Icelandic words in this post, including Alfhol itself, which should have an ascending accent over both vowels.  These words are of course spelled wrong entirely without their proper letters/punctuation, but my tablet apparently doesn't care about that at all, and since that is my tool of resort in this endeavor it makes the rules :(  Any strange or abnormal formatting I am also going to blame on this hapless tablet and my even more hapless un-ability to utilize it for on-the-road blogging purposes.  Oy.

UPDATE:  Now that I am laptop-equipped and punctuation-enabled, I have hopefully fixed most of the missing accents, so this post should read with a smidgen more accuracy!  Though considering that I speak maybe three words of Icelandic, take that with a grain of salt ;)


  1. Gosh, this polish is such a beautiful shade of blue! Marisa, have you ever heard of the Rio Celeste in Costa Rica? It's in the cloud forest of the Volcano Tenorio National Park in the northern part of the country, a small river with brilliant milky blue waters that your pics of this pretty polish remind me of exactly. The Rio Celeste's color happens when colliodal aluminuminosilicates react to the acidic waters of a tributary, forming light-scattering particles that are sizeable enough to produce a magical shade of bright blue. I'm not a big traveler any more, much less to hot and humid rainforests full of gazillions of creepy crawlies where you have to rid a bus up tiny mountain roads and then hike miles and miles to get where you want to go, but if I were the Rio Celeste is the sort of place I would want to go.

    What a wonderful story about the Singing Cave! You articulated the rarefied atmosphere of the scene so perfectIy that I got all goosebumpy when I was reading it! I've never had an experience in nature quite like that, but then I don't go much farther afield than Virginia. When I was little my best friend and I were obsessed with faeries and other wee folk and spent hours and hours creating little habitats by the stream that ran through her yard. To this day I can't see a stream without thinking about how absorbing and wonderful these kinds of beliefs are.

    I have, however, heard a ghost. In this very house. A baby girl was stillborn here in 1928, and from time to time when we first moved here I would hear the faint cries of an infant. A friend who visited during that time heard her too, so it wasn't just me. But I haven't heard her in a long time. When our peonies bloom in the spring, I take a bud and place it on her grave in Mount Sparrow Cemetary just down the road. I like to think that being remembered that way has soothed her tiny soul. Of course, it could just as easily be me soothing my own tiny soul that's responsible for the absence, but you never know!

    OMG! That cottage is just about the cutest thing I'VE EVER SEEN! I'm always happy to hear about your adventures, current and past, and I'm really happy that you're enjoying yourself in Alaska.

    1. The first time I attempted to reply to this (darn you, tablet!), I had just hiked along the Kenai River, and it's a good thing too because otherwise I would have been lonesome for this unbelievable Rio Celeste of which you speak! The Kenai's color is not so saturated but it's milky glacial runoff blue-green hue is equally as beautiful, I believe :) I know your description of the river's color mechanism is scientific but it sounds like poetry in my head- so entrancing, so magical!

      I love this hauntingly beautiful story of your sweet little ghost so much, and the thought that we are all just tiny little souls in need of a little love. Thank you so much for sharing, what a touching tale <3

      It really was such a cute cabin, and oh man, we had no trouble whatsoever enjoying ourselves, of THAT I can assure you :D