20 March 2013

in the wind

My father died a few weeks ago. In the surreal few days that followed his passing, I kept myself busy with the many logistical details that had to be handled, threw myself into cleaning and helping my family. In the back of my mind, the winds of Iceland swept through my head, holding me together until I could return to the solace of the wild winter nature.

Two nights before he died, I saw some of the most powerful northern lights I've ever witnessed from Reykjavik. The house opposite looked to be inhabited by aliens, alit with green fire from behind, and as the night progressed, the show spread across the sky with the leaping fingers of light reaching high above the city, the ribbons waving horizontally, the pulsing glow pulling energy skywards, celestial fireworks for my father. He passed less than 48 hours later. After I returned to the country, it was ten straight days of rain, the relentlessly gray skies matching my sorrow.

I knew I had to be strong for my family, for my mother in her shock at the sudden new circumstances she found herself, living alone for the first time in her life. There was no time for solace or sorrow when I was there; I had to save it for later.

When I returned to Iceland, walking from the bus in the dim morning light, I already felt readjusted as the wind sloughed off my grief and blew life into my nostrils. That weekend S took me all the way to Jökulsárlón, a 750 kilometer round trip through the rainstorm. We stopped to record videos of the wind blowing the streams of waterfalls off into mist, we paused to eat the essential road-trip-in-Iceland hamburger, we made bets over whether or not we'd be alone at the lagoon or not (I won a cake out of this bet).

At the lagoon, we paused on the glacier side briefly to inspect the floes there, then crossed quickly to the other side, where the real magic happens. The tide was coming in rapidly, furious roaring waves crashing around the crackling chunks of ice, turning Land Cruiser sized ice blocks on their side. Along the high tide mark, a neat trail of herring lay, a reminder of the recent and mysterious mass herring death. We walked out towards a long finger of sand that stretched back towards the channel, rapidly being consumed by furious tides from both sides. S braved the water to go to the end while I stayed and simply absorbed it all- the wetness of the rain, the surge of wind gusts, the sizz of sand grains rushing across the beach. I built a small cairn from the black stones that lay scattered on the beach, a beacon for my father's soul, all the while knowing that it would be soon consumed by the encroaching waters that came from both sides.

Iceland may not be where I was born or where I grew up, but it is certainly a place of healing, of cleansing, of sorrow and redemption, a place where my soul finds its center amid the chaos it may find elsewhere. In these times where my thoughts travel their darkest paths, knowing there is this place where the sea is a never ending palette of blue, where the wind is spiked with scents of lava, moss and promise has made all the difference.