Iceland (July/August 2018) #
As a young child with a lust for snow, there is no destination more mythical than Iceland. And for an Australian child in particular, there is no destination which seems less realistic and achievable. So needless to say I thought a lot about Iceland as a boy, and a teenager.
In fact, I wrote a song about Iceland when I was thirteen (my archive of songs and recordings is one of my most cherished possessions and somehow it has persisted in digital form to the present day even though I have lost many other things contemporaneous with the early songs):
It’s so cold in Iceland / It’s so cold I know / Everywhere there’s / Lots and lots of snow.
I loved Sigur Ròs and Björk (still do), the island’s two most famous musical exports, and spent many hours reading about the country’s strange culture and history.
I perhaps didn’t fully appreciate at the time just how lucky, but last July I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland with my wife and spend eleven days driving a campervan around the ring road which encircles the entire island. I wasn’t thinking like this when I was there, at least not most of the time. Much of the time I was driving, complaining of a sore back, even though I love driving in a foreign country and especially long distances and the freedom of thought that comes with it. I had a stress fracture in my foot which meant I couldn’t do anywhere near as much walking as I wanted, so I complained about that as well. Thinking back on it now I want to shake myself and turn myself around in these moments, force myself to put my phone in my pocket and look at the waterfalls, really look at them, look at the light reflecting from them as the water pounds like thunder onto the rocks. The waterfalls in Iceland are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and they fill you with awe of the terrifying power of moving water.
There were times when I was present, and I have very distinct and joyful memories from those times. I remember walking under another beautiful waterfall with my wife, one of the thousands of impromptu waterfalls which rain down off cliffs all around the island in summer when the snow melts. I was wearing a t-shirt, because it was one of the rare ten-minute visits we had from the sun while we were there. And then while we were behind the waterfall the wind changed and soaked me through and all I could do was laugh as I froze, involuntarily, that sort of intoxicating body laughter. I remember sitting on the bank of a river, whose waters were the bluest I have ever seen, eating this strange hotdog with crushed up Doritos in it.
As someone who has not always had success in being present and mindful, or even worse, as someone who has not always even known that this was a problem, I am beyond grateful and happy to have these moments.
I think this is an important distinction for anyone trying, like I am, to live just a little more simply in the present. My natural instinct is to look back on this trip and remember the hard parts, the times I suffered, the expense, the bad weather, or the fact that I failed in my impossible mission to be entirely present and embodied like some sort of Zen master. But if I try harder, I can remember how special the experience was for me. That for my wife it was a beautiful place, and she was just as enchanted as me by the landscapes, spewed out of the earth and hardened by the wind, grown over by moss. But for me there was another element to my wonder: that rare and wonderful moment when a child’s wish comes true.