Dear Mom... (A letter from Iceland)
Countless times I stop and think to myself,
"Can you see this? ... I hope that you can see this too".
I do not know what happens after you die. I've given this much thought since I've lost my mother.. even rummaged through books and articles on the subject. My beliefs have oscillated over the years but one thought has made itself home in my mind.
That no matter what happens to your soul after you die, in the very least,
I hope, mom, that you can continue to see life through my eyes.
The idea to spend time in Iceland was met with both enthusiasm and skepticism. While most spoke well wishes, some held concerns that I was wandering or lost altogether. Quitting my job, forgoing my apartment, selling my things - it must have painted an unstable picture. It seemed unreasonable. It seemed rash. Yet I had difficulty coming to grips with their words. On the contrary, I felt that I was onto something, that I was tapping into thoughts and feelings and ideas that I have never had before. I spent two years in a fog of grief and numbness over the loss of my mother, I was ready to feel alive again.
Once the plane's wheels hit the landing strip, I had to get out. The cool Icelandic air filled my lungs and recharged my senses after being grounded in the airport for the previous 24 hours. A land so utterly foreign to me began to unveil itself, a land that felt strangely like coming home.
Harpa met the style of Nordic design that has always drawn me to Scandinavia. It is evident in its straight lines, concrete floors, and cool blues and greys. The structure alone alluring me back daily, despite the other remarkable cultural life that lives there. Harpa is situated directly on the sea with a small harbor nearby. After weeks of watching boats come in and out of harbor, I needed to be on one of those boats.
Viðey Island was just what I was looking for. Today it is completely uninhabited by people and the only access is by ferry. The brisk rushing air coupled by the splash of the cold sea water makes goosebumps form on my skin. I do not mind though, I can finally feel something. Tall grass covers the land with only a handful of buildings still present. Trails criss-cross the island and one is never too far from the breeze and smell of the sea.
As thoughts flashback to our family vacations by the sea together,
"Can you smell the sea now too?"
The sun refusing to retreat at night in the Icelandic summer leaves an eternal struggle with the body to sleep and the mind to see more. Eyes wide open as to not miss anything, I hit the open road. Reaching Jökulsárlón around 10 PM the sky settled for turning pink, perfectly complementing and contrasting the blues of the glacier lagoon. Moments after my arrival, I witnessed a large chunk of ice calve off the glacier and float out to sea in a ghostly fashion. The lagoon and its admirers kept quiet. The air brisk against our faces, the water keeping our eyes in a trance.
Can you feel the cold air? We both liked winter, didn't we?
I spent the evening sleeping in my rental car eating granola bar after granola bar.
The morning light and the black beaches of Vik made the sleepless night feel like a memory. The crashing waves drawing me closer, giving me energy for the day. The perfect color palette of blacks, greys, greens, and whites.
Poring over maps, I found the Sólheimasandur, the home of a downed US plane from 1973 whose presence still haunts the coast line. After two miles of seemingly aimless wandering, the plane appears in its lonesome on the barren shoreline, leaving you to wonder how you could not see it sooner. An intrusiveness blankets this plane, partly suggesting you should not be here but all the while drawing you towards it.
I knew I was soon to part with the south, but I had to go back one more time. To Solheimjokull. To its heart. Opening the car doors, the glacier's winds were already fierce against my body. After gearing up, I welcomed the familiar feeling of the crampons on the ice.
Can you hear that crunch-crunch on the glacier? I have come to love that sound.
Staring up at its beauty, we met again. A wash of emotions. Guilty. Amazed. Sad. Allured. How lucky I was to be here a second time, but how disheartening how much the glacier has retreated in a short amount of time. Wielding the icepick into the walls, unleashing more emotions than I knew my arms could hold.
I felt so accomplished climbing that wall of ice, just like how accomplished I felt when you came to my games as a child, do you remember?
I couldn't silence the desire to drive north. A magnetic pull tugged at my heart strings. With the addition of a sidekick and a road atlas, we turned our attention to the enchanting and desolate fjords. Sometimes we drove in a comfortable silence. Sometimes the car was filled with music and laughter. Stories of the past, sometimes tears, or a simple request for a sandwich. The time never mattered. The views nor the company never tiring. There were times I felt alone in the world, and to my surprise, this was very suiting. A freedom that I did not want to give up quickly. The pebble roads endlessly wind through the fjords unveiling incomprehensible views around each bend. Segments reached elevations so high that we found ourselves dancing with the clouds.
Can you feel that cool wind too?
Keep driving forward. Each mile brings me further and further away. There are no other humans here and the cold sends shivers down my spine, but this is where I am supposed to be. There is no doubt. There is a disconnect. The kind that allows you to hover in each moment and nothing more. In contemplation of these unknown landscapes, I think of you. I think of the loved ones who have passed. Somehow, I want to carry them all with me.
My time is running out. Along with the mountains, fjords, glaciers, and the wind, I take one last deep breath in its presence. With one last lingering stare, I wish,
Please, please tell me you can see this too.