Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Leaving the roost

The natvie Icelander
Before settlement in Iceland in 874 the only mammal native to the country was the arctic fox. The occasional polar bear is known to take land but the country is not their natural habitat as it is too warm here despite the ice reference in the country’s name. With the Vikings came farm animals, horses, cows, sheep and goats as well as man’s best friend the dog and of course the cat’s best friend the cat. The animals that relocated here during settlement have not been mixed with external genetic material so their appearance is in line with what these animals looked like in Northern Europe twelve-hundred years ago. If tourists venture into the countryside these animals will be proudly pointed out as: the Viking cow, the Viking horse and so on. Well aside from the mice or in the unlikely appearance of a rat. No one would call them the Viking mouse or the Viking rat. You see mice and rats came here by accident. No one invited them, they just showed up as is their manner.

At present there are not many wild land mammals here, in total five types: foxes, minks, reindeer, mice and rats. Rats still arrive by ships but are regularly exterminated so they are not a continuing presence, despite recent local hysteria involving rats conspiring to attack Icelandic children. This occurred following a single rat sighting in Reykjavík and probably just goes to prove how unaccustomed we are to rats here. And how prone we are to rather ridiculous bouts of hysteria.

In my recollection past animal hysteria bouts have involved spiders on the south coast that supposedly grounded people in their summer cabins as they felt unsafe outside due to all the spiders – odd taking into account that we do not have any poisonous arachnids here. Foxes were said to be on the attack in Grímsnes and again summer cabin owners were involved and wanted to arm themselves in defence. Regularly cats cause epidemics of panic with various by-laws being passed to ban them from being outside as they might suffocate babies sleeping outside in prams – which incidentally is how babies nap here, all year round.
the Icelandic house cat (íslenskur húsköttur)

The cat scare is more common in towns in the countryside than in the Reykjavík area for some reason. But it is more than baby suffocation (of which there is not a single incident) that make cats the target of such frenzy. They believe kids’ sandboxes to be rather disproportionately sized litterboxes and the (gasp!) kill birds. It is hard to understand why people disapprove of the latter, seeing that the biggest bird killers in Iceland are the humans. Be it wild birds or framed poultry – there is no contests between people and cats.

Historically we have an odd relationship with animals and animals as pets are a pretty recent development at least when it comes to being a general arrangement. Dogs were forbidden in Reykjavík and most of its suburbs until the 80s and the import of dogs was also totally forbidden until that time. As a result the types of dogs in Iceland were very, very few. Growing up I remember the Icelandic sheepdog and Lassies. A golden retriever was highly exotic, even more so toy dogs that were unheard of.    

Things are changing however. Now Icelanders are for example allowed to keep chickens in their backyard within town and city limits. Most people opt for the Viking chickens or settlement chickens (landnámshænur) as they are called here. This is due to these birds being more colourful that the more modern version.

We can now also buy cherry trees to plant in our yards which might be a step up for us when it comes to our tree knowledge – limited to: leafy trees (all trees with leaves), Christmas trees (all trees with needles) and palm trees (the kind you see on desert islands).
As my backyard has finally been fixed up we planted three of these cherry trees to celebrate the improvement. The trees came with cherries yet to ripen. At the same time, a couple living further along our street decided to set up a chicken coop. This is all well and fine except that the rooster of said chicken coop is quite the loose cannon. He runs around the neighbourhood looking for things to eat in the various yards. Sometimes he is successful, for example last week when he ate all the cherries off our cherry trees – which are not very tall as you can imagine. A single cherry on the highest branch remains. It will be difficult to split it between the five family members coveting it.
But as many are negatively impacted, the adventurous rooster is the main topic of discussion whenever people from the street meet. Turns out everyone has similar experience of the bad mannered beast.

I think I see a bout of chicken hysteria looming.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Two words to settle the looming Icelandic hysteria: Roast Chicken.

    Once again, you had me laughing throughout, Yrsa mou.

    1. You and my grandson think the same. He has been running around with a butterfly net, intent on catching the rooster. He has placed candy along the sidewalk in the hopes of enticing the bird into a trap. When he catches the rooster (not if) he says he is going to take it to the grocery store and have them turn it into chicken. Once they have done that he is going to sell it to them. I guess there have been worse plans, I have just never heard of them.

  2. I think the rooster needs to say sorry by getting cozy with the hen and giving you eggs.

    1. Cara - you should be a negotiator. This is certainly a win-win suggestion :-)

  3. Yrsa, To my knowledge, my grandmother, who was born near Monte Casino--between Rome and Naples, never visited Iceland. She was brought to the USA at the age of three and remained in the country for the rest of her life. Yet she told me that cats will smother babies when they are sleeping and that they would come after me in particular if I did not do exactly as she told me. Given the disproportionate number of cat lovers among American mystery fans, I am loath to say what this upbringing did to my feeling about cats. Chicken and eggs, however, are among my favorites. As is this charming tale of wild life in Iceland!!!!

  4. We have a cat and I cannot tell you how happy I am that it has now in its advanced age finally stopped bringing home dead birds and mice - once one so big it could have been a rat. The rat/supersized mouse wasn't dead but paralyzed from the neck down and I would rather not have to type out the story of how me and my son put it out of its misery. It involved me telling him what to do - him trying to do the doing but not being able to because it was such an appalling task. I can tell you later over whale beer. But my cat has never smothered animals, much less babies. Maybe cats did this in the old days since it is a global belief. Here we are told it has to do with them seeking the warmth of the baby's breath. Rather creepy.

  5. Whale beer? I suppose Iceland eats fish corn, too, instead of popped corn.

    And I was thinking Chicken Soup rather than Roast Chicken, as roosters can be tough and chewy, you know...

    1. Chicken soup sounds good for the fall - regarding the whale beer, I have the last two bottles in the country waiting for Annamaria, Jeff, Stan and Michael in November. Maybe I can serve it with the soup.

  6. I do not know the answer to the growing epidemic of drug abuse in the United States. Having worked in a residential drug rehab (I ran the college program), I have seen so many families destroyed by their youngster's drug use. In a short period of time, six young people ran away from the program and had a last weekend fling before returning for treatment. I went to five wakes in a short period of time.

    I know people who have lost a child from recreational drug use. I know others who know someone. . . . Six granddaughters have brought back stories from college that for me are almost unbelievable.

    A recent edition of a medical-health newsletter from Berkeley spells out what is known about marijuana, what is only speculated about, what studies have been done and what they reveal, what studies need to be done. It seems a quite objective, but the bottom line seems to be "don't use it."

    But seeing the incidence of obesity among the young and not-so-young in the U.S., I do agree about sugar as a drug. And one the food companies sell actively to young people.

    So I guess I will stop quipping to my husband when I am tired and say, "I need a sugar fix."

    Sorry for the diatribe about marijuana. I do like chicken soup.

  7. I seem to have replied to the wrong blog. And to have mixed up two of them. And this morning I did not even have sugar much less any recreational drug. Sorry. My computer screen is jumping all over the place.

  8. What a story! Roast rooster for dinner. I concur. Either that or a good fence. Shouldn't he be cooped up with the chickens anyway?

    I'd be annoyed at being woken up at dawn by a cock-a-doodle do -- or is that different in Icelandic?

    By the way, "The Silence of the Sea," got a very good review at Crimepieces. Interesting discussion follows.