The long, bumpy dirt and gravel road off Iceland’s main highway, an hour or so east of the seafront village of Vík, seems to lead nowhere. Past the tiny Grafakirkja church, little farmhouses thin out into nothing but a green glacial landscape, riven with streams and flanked by the mountains of Iceland’s Southern Highlands.
But at the end of the road, in a simple bungalow, lives Iceland’s most celebrated sheep farmer. Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir, now 40, is a former fashion model and local policewoman, who took over the family farm at Ljótarstaðir when she was 23, when her late father could no longer manage the 6,464-hectare farm. Now she lives there with her mother and 500 or so sheep, which she manages by and large alone.
But she’s now best known as an environmental activist. When an Icelandic power company proposed plans in 2012 to build a hydroelectric station whose reservoir would cover much of her farm, she refused to sell her land and fought the proposal, despite fierce pressure from the company and other locals who wanted to sell for significant profit. Her passionate fight drew the attention of Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, a novelist and poet who had never written non-fiction before but decided to write the book
When Steinunn called me and asked, has anyone ever written a book about you? I said, ‘Er, no’,” Ásgeirsdóttir recalled. “The idea was way out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to draw attention to the fight I was in for my home – and also to the life of a sheep farmer. I didn’t realise, though, that so much of it would be about me.”
When the book was published in 2016, Ásgeirsdóttir was terrified. “I remember going to the publishing party and thinking I’d have a heart attack. There were all these people there for a book that was all about me. All I wanted to do was disappear, to be back on the farm with my sheep.”
But the response to the book has been hugely positive. “The other day, I opened my postbox and there was a bottle of Cognac with a message, saying ‘With love, your readers’. That’s happened a few times, and more and more people stop to talk about it. I’m getting used to it.”
And, for now, the plans for the hydroelectric plant are off. “But I don’t dare to say we’ve won,” Ásgeirsdóttir said. “I still want to fight for this beautiful place.
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