Under the pretense of excusing myself to walk off lingering jet lag, I quickly slipped out of our hosts house into the chilling Icelandic night and rushed to defecate shamefully in the corner of an unfinished construction project. It was the red bull. The potent mix of chemical agents and scene kid hubris made horror of my intestinal tract, and in quick order the rapidness with which I had consumed not one but two of the vile beasts caught up with me. Truth be told I don't mind using the bathroom out of doors. I rather enjoy it. The calming sense of wide open areas and fresh air lulls you into a state of comfort from which it's easy to forget the worries of this world, and the filthy but necessary task which you're performing. It wasn't until a few minutes later, rising sweaty and labored from behind plywood-shuttered windows that I noticed it. Far to the distant North a strange light floated and twisted into existence inches above the mountainous horizon. For a brief moment I considered that perhaps this light, weak but growing stronger, might be a precursor to a stroke event brought on by my earlier strain. This consideration quickly left me as I remembered our host excitedly briefing us on a potential Aurora Borealis bloom projected to occur over the next few nights. I stood tacitly wrapped in the Arctic airflow pondering the greatness of the moment. Having arrived 3 days prior Noelle and I had driven most of the length of the southern coast of Iceland, from Reykjavik to Vik, multiple times. We had conversed with earthy smelling speckled ponies, ambled hand-and-knee through ancient cave dwellings, climbed high into the mountains in our sturdy, underpowered rental car blasting Ásgeir, stood mist-covered at the feet of multiple giant waterfalls, and soaked our bodies pruney in the thermal-fed waters of the Blue Lagoon. But of all the experiences I wished to have this close to the north pole, a glimpse of the northern lights dominated the list. I ran back to the house to collect Noelle and shoving on warm things haphazardly, we made our way back out into the night, walking silently down the road peering into the northern sky.
I'll remember 3 things very strongly from Iceland. The first is the sheer enormity of the Island and how quickly ancient volcanic mountains rise from the sea, sometimes leaving leagues and leagues of fertile volcanic ash-laced fields growing grass for the ponies between them and the sea, and other times allowing for just a slim finger of land on which to place a road. While driving across the island one gains a sense of appreciation for the immensity and grandness of the place. Breath-taking landscape followed by breath-taking landscape enflames in the adventure-hungry traveler a sense that theirs is a life of deep meaning, that there's a journey to be had, a way of doing things, and that they are doing it.
The second thing from Iceland that will never leave me is the strength and uniqueness of its people. When I first considered Iceland, it was in my mind a small and austere landscape, mostly glacier, and its people cracked their living into the ice with stark viking fortitude. It takes only a few hours to see that this is in no way the case. Yes, theirs is a population with strong genetically Scandinavian ties, but they are no less modern or comfortable on their northern island than I am in my home near Seattle. In many ways, the Icelandic people have achieved a greater level of competency in their renewable energy infrastructure, sustainable and efficient architecture, and progressive social policies than the United States could hope for in the next 30 years. I think maybe these are values that develop quickly when faced with the Austerity of the North Atlantic Ocean. At just over 320,000, values and beliefs trend homogeneously and change can happen overnight. They've had one death by police shooting. It happened last year, and in the aftermath, police joined citizens in the streets of the capital weeping over their collective loss of innocence.
The third and most memorable of my experiences here is of course the slow freezing burn of the Northern Lights moving by some unseen force along the expanse of the dark night sky. Noelle and I stood staring at the display and, growing tired in the frigid night air, made our way slowly back to our warm beds. As we passed the neatly piled boards and plywood banding of the construction site, I silently thanked God for life, and even more silently I asked the tall, blonde, grim-faced man who would surely find a pile of my frozen shit behind his project for forgiveness. But I rest assured. His is already a hard pitch, and if he can survive the volcanos, i'm sure my little gift is just a drop in the bucket.