I walked along a broken fence that led down to the coast, battered by the elements. A harsh cold wind whipped at my face as the clouds raced across the sky. I climbed around, exploring like a child, hopping from rock to rock, splashing in puddles, skipping stones. Sitting down, my back against a column, staring out across the tumultuous ocean in front of me, I take in the scene around me. The rocks that that surround me have been battling the elements for millions of years, slowly wearing down over time. Like us, someday, this rock will be gone, ground down to dust, its molecules mixing with the earth. The difference is that the rock has no control over its immediate future. It might be able to fight the storm far longer than any of us ever could, but what’s the point of fighting, if you're unsure as to why you're doing it.
Occasionally when things get really stressful, the only thing I want more than anything is to get away and unplug. No phone, no computer, no internet. At night, I imagine the sound of the ocean moving before me, stars trailing out across the evening sky, and I’m the only person around for hundreds of miles. Even if I wasn’t, it’s the feeling that is nice. I have huge amounts of respect for those people that set out on this course, and am constantly looking for an out.
On a past adventure to Iceland, I saw this tiny old home while driving around. Walking up, I peered through windows and poked my head inside. The smell of decay was thick. It’s current inhabitants scurried about, while it’s past inhabitants were nothing more than a memory. That night, I slept in the remnants of an old stone foundation farther up the road. The wind was howling, and it was a nice respite from the incessant gale. After donning my earplugs and rolling onto my back, I stared up into the abyss and sank deeper into the infinite that is the mind.
Iceland- The lighthouse. A beacon on a stormy night. To those on land, it is a monument. A reminder of those who have perished on the waters. To those sailing out in the great and black expanse, it is a savior, A reminder that there is someone watching over them, keeping them safe, giving them hope.
Down near the pier, the sun is low on the horizon, its golden rays cut short by an approaching storm. Despite the inclement weather, the men working on the pier don’t hesitate. Father and son work together methodically prepping their boat to head out for the evening. They move about coiling ropes, shifting nets, transporting fuel, doing all that is necessary for their night on the ocean -- that great and dark expanse.
The father watches his son, correcting his mistakes as his father had done for him, hoping that his son will be able to do the same, knowing that a simple life can be a rewarding life, but like the evening sun on the horizon, the old ways are slowly setting. Light is disappearing, fading into the night as large commercial fishing vessels move in. Competition is fierce, overfishing is rampant, and savings are drying up.
Surly fishermen slowly walk along the docks, away from their boats after a cold night on the ocean. The sound of their heavy footsteps ring hollow on the old wooden planks.
The old way of life is dying. It is a shrinking culture, trying to stay relevant, grasping at the way things have always been, but failing to realize that they will never be. It’s a losing battle. As the years pass by, fishing villages become smaller. Boats sit on land, rotting. Fishing nets piled high lay stagnant, the smell of the ocean fading as the seasons wear on.
Lighthouses sit unused as stoic reminders of the past. The outsides kept clean and maintained for the photo opportunities of thousands of tourists, eager to depart the bus and stare from afar, but walking closer and peering inside, old desks can be seen gathering dust, while chipped and faded paint on the walls gives away its true age.
Meanwhile, the fishermen go on doing the only thing they know how to do. They put food on the table for their family and provide a roof over their head. Their happiness isn’t based on how much money they make, but on being able to provide the things in life that make them feel needed, loved.
As the sun rises the following morning, so do their hopes and dreams. The catch is fresh in their mind and as they return to rest in their beds, the mind takes over, wandering throughout time and space, thinking about the future and what it holds.
Days pass by, driving North around the fjords, through tunnels, over mountains – always driving, searching. Churches and cemeteries dot the countryside next to abandoned farmhouses, whose only inhabitants scurry about looking for food and shelter from the incessant storms that batter the well-weathered walls.
In the small towns that litter the countryside, church steeples rise up, stretching toward the sky. Every Sunday, town people fill the pews, solemnly giving thanks for the lives that are their own. One-by-one they file outside, walking past the old cemeteries filled with small wooden crosses. The grass is long and unkempt, still brown from the winter, but on the verge of change.
The earth rotates and warms the air. Iceland is waking up from its winter slumber.
Driving by country houses, mothers hang clothes in the yard while keeping an ever-watchful eye on their children who wrestle around close by. Animals, with their thick winter coats, plod through fields grazing on the spring foliage, perfectly content to lie about in the sun.
Endless expanses of color stretch out toward the horizon: Rich green valleys, carved smooth by receding glaciers follow crystal clear meandering rivers and streams. Rugged mountains, torn apart by years of volcanic abuse, shoot up from the ancient flood plains. Clouds race across the sky as shadows roll over the earth.
Sounds of nature are soon mixed with sounds of man. Tractors yawn and roll out of the barns. They lumber over the fields, tilling the earth, cracking the surface, allowing it to breathe. The farmers who toil under the sun day in and day out share a connection with the land. They’re in touch with every living thing, waiting, patiently listening, watching for signs that tell them it is time to start the process. From creation until death, all of Iceland belongs to the earth.
An uneasy feeling runs through the city like a thick fog. People waiting, not knowing, with no understanding of the future, or what it holds. They sit in their coffee shops, shielded by the glass as they look out in to the unkown, purposefully unaware of the struggle outside. Behind the façade of pristine waterfalls, and lush grassy fields lies a problem that nobody cares to see: A cave of uncertainty. Dark and lonely are the people inside.
Clouds fill the skies overhead as I walk down barren streets, peering down alleys and around corners, looking for any sign of life. I stand on the leeward side of a concrete column, a relic of a dying industry. The arctic breeze permeates the city, ever present and always near, chilling to the core. It's inescapable.
The sun rises further in the sky. City life quietly moves unseen around me. The hum of distant traffic is an undertone while melodic birds sit on the wires above. Occasionally the sound of conversation will float by; but it's rarely locatable, always somewhere off in the distance, as if just around the corner; a whisper on the wind.
I start to notice people scurrying around like rats in a maze, avoiding the bitter-cold wind outside. The empty streets become a canvas for life. I wait patiently for someone to walk by. My face and hands go numb from the cold. From down the street, a young man walks briskly uphill toward a nondescript building. Walking with intent, he passes in front of me. A brushstroke. One moment in time captured. His feelings and emotions are immortalized.
Spring is closing in. Walking further from the ocean, I notice that the beautiful architecture no longer towers above. Instead, drab government housing becomes commonplace. Garbage is littered about in the nooks and crevices of the city. Graffiti is plastered high up the walls of apartments.
Tucked in between worn houses, hidden from the wind, children line up along a wall as they listen to music and smoke cigarettes. Corrugated metal bounces the sun's rays as they bask in the afternoon light. Their talk is light hearted, youthful, but it inevitably shifts and the mood changes. Their park is going to be demolished and replaced with a senior citizen's center, one boy says. Sullen looks sweep across their faces. They quietly soak up their memories, taking in the sights; the street art, the trees, the shade, the anxiety of a youth struggling to make a place in the world.