When I was seven Frosti stole my heart. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Big brown eyes. Long black eyelashes. Reddish brown and white coat that was wonderful to touch. A muzzle softer than silk. His kisses were so sweet. He loved it when I stroked his neck and he was a wonderful playmate.
Frosti was born in the spring of 1988 and was one of the first foals born on Selá, the farm that my father rented for his horses during the years he spent being a horse breeder and horse tamer in his spare time. The farm is located in the region of Árskógsströnd, just outside Dalvík by Eyjafjördur fjord.
Back then the farm was full of life. My aunt and uncle lived there with my cousin, who was one of my closest childhood friends, and during weekends and vacations our grandparents, other aunts and uncles and cousins dropped by to play with the horses and enjoy farm life. At one point we had a herd of more than 50 horses.
I hadn’t been to Selá for many years, but yesterday, in celebration of the First Day of Summer, I drove out there to observe the object of my childhood dreams.
Reykjavík is not exactly a big city, and I do like living there, but still, sometimes when I drive out to the countryside it feels like a load has been lifted from my chest and that I can finally take a deep breath of fresh air.
It is only now that I have come to realize how fortunate I was to have, to a certain extent, grown up on a farm. I wasn’t born or raised on Selá, but after the age of seven I spent most of my free time on that farm, playing with my cousin, helping my dad out in the stable or in the field, and riding.
Frosti in early summer 1988.
Foals were born every spring, which was the highlight of the year. These elegant beings were so adorable and they loved being patted and scratched. Especially Frosti. He was really special and my all-time favorite. From the moment he opened his eyes he was curious about everything around him, eager to explore every inch of land belonging to the farm. And play with the other foals and us kids.
Selá was a fairy-tale land for adventurous children. My cousin and I (and sometimes my younger brothers were given permission to join us) were constantly making up stories inspired by the nature around us and inventing new games. We let our imagination run free.
Fairies lived in every stone and hillock and in the frozen waterfall in the canyon. We imagined what their life was like and sometimes thought we caught a glimpse of them through the curtain that separates the hidden world from ours.
We regularly went treasure hunting on the black-sand beach. There was an endless variety of stones and pebbles of all shades of grey, smooth and round after spending decades in the ocean. Some were jet-black and shiny and others rusty-red, perfect for drawing on the pavement, and some had crystal formations inside when we cracked them open. The beach was littered with seashells, drift wood and other curious things which the waves washed ashore.
My two younger brothers caressing Frosti, who in return gives the older of the two a kiss.
In the dead of winter when the snow leveled with the roof of the stable we dug tunnels and made snow houses, or made snow men and snow horses and snow versions of every other type of animals we could think of. Then we would go on an imaginary ride through our fairy-tale kingdom.
Sometimes when frost followed thaw, a frozen pond would be created in a hollow in the hayfield, perfect for ice skating, and sliding down the ravine on sledges and toboggans was the adrenaline kick of a lifetime. If it was too cold to play outside we could always play inside the barn. Play Tarzan and Jane and swing by a rope tied to the rafter, let go and then go flying into the hay.
In summer we would run around in shorts and t-shirts—we were running too fast to feel the nip in the air—and sometimes we even felt it was hot enough to take a dip in the river or swim in the ocean.
Me, running among the horses on Selá in early summer 1988. My brother and father are in the background.
In the stable there were plenty of tools and leftovers of the wood my father made for making fences, so we borrowed hammers and nails and created miniature boats. Then we sailed them down the river on June 17th ever year, Iceland’s Independence Day. We made a competition out of it, so the owner of the boat that made it first down the waterfall by the beach, just before the river ran into the ocean, was the winner.
In late summer it was time for hay-making and then everyone, old and young, participated. With 12 I was allowed to drive the tractor for the first time to help out. I felt really proud—and a bit nervous, but everything went well. We worked all day, and only took a break to have lunch, which was a feast because my aunt had always baked something special for the occasion.
I loved riding the most. Sometimes my cousin and I took the horses for a short ride by ourselves, but usually the adults came with us. The best trips were when a whole group of us rode into Thorvaldsdalur valley, bringing sandwiches and hot chocolate. Those who didn’t have a horse followed on cars.
When I close my eyes I remember the hot summer sun on my face, the soft breeze in my hair, inhaling the fresh air, feeling revitalized by the smell of the grass, appreciating the soft feel of a horse’s mane between my fingers.
I remember the thrill of galloping, listening to the hooves beating the gravel and keeping my head down to prevent stones from hitting my face, and once we had slowed down watching Frosti, now a fully-grown horse, shifting from side to side, trying to prevent my granddad (who had gotten “a bit” tipsy from the whiskey in the flask stowed away in his pocket) from falling off his back.
I remember closing my eyes and feeling the special connection between man, horse and nature with all my senses.
My dad and granddad have similar childhood memories as I do about life on a farm—except their memories revolve more around working than playing. Not many Icelanders of my generation share our experiences. Farmers are a dying breed and children are rarely sent off to work on farms in summer anymore.
In my father’s, and especially in my grandfather’s, youth, child labor would probably be the right description of the work children as young as eight undertook on a farm. But when work and play is evenly distributed, I think it is very healthy for children to experience farm life.
Children should learn to respect animals and nature and understand the circle of life. They should be able to play in unspoiled territory where they have to make up their own games using their imagination instead of being fed on mindless computer games and television shows.
I for one am very grateful for the childhood I had. Now when I watch the pristine-blue Eyjafjördur fjord and the snow-capped mountains surrounding the farm of my youth, abandoned and quiet, envisioning two girls running around on the hayfields followed by a white and red skewbald foal named Frosti, I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic.
I decided I would pay Frosti a visit when I return to Reykjavík. He is getting old now, spending his final years in a stable outside the city with his younger brother Freyr. Frosti is still my grandfather’s saddle horse and his pride and joy, and he will always have a special place in my heart.
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