From Iceland — Words of Interest: Into the Woods

Words of Interest: Into the Woods

Published August 8, 2016

Words of Interest: Into the Woods
Photo by
Eunsan Huh

Hvað gerir þú ef þú villist í íslenskum skógi? (What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?)

Stendur upp! (Stand up!)

This is a tired old joke often told to tourists (it’s even made an appearance in an Icelandic textbook). The punch line is that there are barely any trees in Iceland and the ones that grow in these so-called “forests” are so young that you can easily see over them.

According to the Iceland Forest Service, an estimated 25-40% of the island was covered by trees during the time of first settlers. The need for grazing lands led to rapid deforestation; fast-forward 1100 years, and only a pitiful 1.5% of Iceland remains green.


Organized afforestation began in 1899 in Þingvellir, by three Danes. Since then, it’s been a diligent work in progress. Between 2007 and 2009, a record number of 6 million seedlings were planted around the country. The Icelandic Forest Service hopes to repopulate 12% of Iceland with trees by 2100. And perhaps by then, we’ll finally be able to retire that overused joke.

Every Single Word in Icelandic is a pictographic exploration of the Icelandic language. I find an interesting compound word, then deconstruct and illustrate it as icons. The goal is to express how Icelandic can be deadpan literal and unexpectedly poetic at the same time.

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