Iceland is a vast amount of small land. That is right. Vast in its smallness, a land of contradictions. A land where people live in harmony, but not necessarily near any neighbors. It is rich in the soil from the volcanoes, yet also rich in empty and barren land. There are dark and murky waters and streams with lava flows near enormous lava fields which are overlooked by abundant rainbows. This land, rich in large and empty spaces, was the first to develop the small and traditional turf houses. Today, there are still numerous tiny houses everywhere. This is the land of fire. And the land of ice. A land of contradictions.
I took the Overseas Adventure Travel trip, Untamed Iceland in fall of 2016.The October whether afforded me the chance to walk through crunchy fall leaves in the areas where there were trees (more the northern town of Akureyri), and I was able to see the Northern Lights in Akureyri and the John Lennon Peace Tower in Reykjavik. But what really struck me more than anything, was the vastness of empty spaces, the basics of life overturned by heavy winds, and the Icelandic ability to thrive. High winds and empty spaces became a theme of the trip during this time of year.
While Iceland is teeming with tourists during the summer months, in the fall it is barren. Roads were empty except for our bus. And the huge swaths of land with roads that went on seemingly forever, dead ended into the sky empty, and reminded me of a Van Gogh painting. And I saw these empty roads to nowhere over and over again.
The barrenness of Iceland was underscored by the effects of the wind. Tall wild grass swaying in gusts of wind, beautiful in its own unique way. I saw chairs overturned while watching the famous five gaited Icelandic horses, the chairs a casualty of the high winds. And a broken gate sitting by the lake, another victim of the weather. Stand for too long in the high winds and they will knock you down. Walk in wind and rain with a light poncho not weighted down, and the wind will take you away, treating your poncho as a sail, you being a mere vessel. You are not in control during the wind gusts, but rather Mother Nature’s emissary. Even the many waterfalls were not exempt from the effect of wind. We actually saw a waterfall running upward, the wind changing its course as the gusts blew by. Even our trip leader had to take a photo of that (see above).
Traveling in these conditions, it is an amazing and unexpected experience to be reminded of how fragile we are in the face of nature’s elements. Maybe in the end we are just like leaves in a tree. Some of us floating around randomly, some of us not; some of life proceeding strictly by design, or maybe all a whim of nature. And maybe like nature’s own waterfall, we are due to have our natural courses changed at any time.
The Icelandic people have a strong will and a sturdy heart. The ones we met in Akureyri were not fooled by the 60 degree autumn weather they still referred to as summer, a temporary gift of Mother Nature. They know that the beauty and warmth of autumn will lead them into the abyss of winter, and they embrace and prepare for it all. The ones I met were telling me they know what is coming soon, and already look forward to the first blooms of spring. That kind of optimism and joy in life is a real gift, and a great takeaway from a trip to Iceland. We can enjoy the autumns that enter our lives, and like it or not, there will always be times that are horribly dreary. But in the end it’s all about sloshing through the tough times until we see that first bloom isn’t it? A great reminder about life, and no better place to receive these often stark reminders than Iceland.