Eric Howden/raised by swans has visited Iceland many times over the past six years, and began writing the songs for Öxnadalur there in the winter of 2011, staying alone in a farmhouse close to Hraun, the birthplace of poet, author and naturalist Jónas Hallgrímsson. The first block of writing happened over six weeks in November and December of 2011, with Howden returning several times over the ensuing years to further work on the songs and disappear. In the liner notes for the album, he credits Iceland for saving his life, in a dedication translated by Guðrún Baldvina Sævarsdóttir. The album is dedicated also to Hallgrímsson.
In 2013 Howden was invited to design two signs (minus text) in support of the inhabitants of Öxnadalur’s wishes to keep overhead power lines out of the valley – specifically, Landsnet’s proposed Blöndulína 3 power line project. The signs currently stand in the valley alongside the main road; the smaller textless signs in grassy fields to the north and south, and the main sign on the periphery of a small turnoff of its own, in front of Hraun. This sign is referenced in Hraun í Öxnadal-Fólkvangur, a 2014 book by Bjarni Gudleifsson, who included its image in an epilogue detailing the protective actions being taken on behalf of the valley by its inhabitants and others.
In July 2012 Howden planted trees in Öxnadalur as part of a 10 year, 100,000 tree project that is being carried out by one of the land owners in the valley.
Öxnadalur is named not only for the valley which inspired its creation, but also as a deeply reverent tribute to Jónas Hallgrímsson, whose poems and life’s work continue to hold tremendous significance for Howden. The cover of Öxnadalur shows Hraundrangi, the gathering light in the sky above the mountains representing the formation of Hallgrímsson’s ‘Star of Love’, from his poem Journey’s End.
“/” drawing by antranik tchalekian