Iceland Blog

June 25th, 2024

On my first day back from Iceland, I was greeted by the perfect 83-degree summer day with a gentle wind that demanded to open windows and doors. In contrast, the hottest day ever recorded in Iceland was in 1939, and it went all the way up to 86 degrees.  In the summer, a hot day is in the high 60’s.  On Wikipedia, instead of telling how many days a year there is the sun in Iceland, they measure the sunlight by the hour, averaging 1300 hours per year. (Denver, Colorado, hosts over 4,960 hours per year.) Our ten-day trip in Iceland had unusually good weather, with 8 of the days offering us hours upon hours of sun and weather that hoovered in the late 50’s early 60’s.  This bout of sunshine was all the locals could talk about.  A part of me felt guilty for taking too much of it as if I were eating off someone else’s plate.  But what the warm sun meant was that the snow and glaciers were melting, and because of this, waterfalls cascaded down mountains upon mountains almost everywhere you looked.  Our guide corrected us, saying that a waterfall is a river that does not stop running versus a runoff, which looks like a waterfall but only runs when ice is melting or rain is pouring. Because of this, he would never stop at a runoff but would be sure to stop at real waterfalls that often felt like kindred souls to the great Niagra in NY and Hanakāpi Falls in Kauai. Our first waterfall, Seljandsfoss, was the reason we were in Iceland in the first place.  One cold March night, Maya, after seeing this waterfall on Instagram, asked if we could plan our next family vacation to Iceland.   After taking a picture of her under the mists of the falls, she said, “I can’t believe that just a few months ago, my whole soul wanted to see this, and now I am standing here.  I am so lucky, Mom; who gets to have that happen?” Our guide encouraged us to walk beyond this main attraction, a little further down the path. Through a crack in the mountain, we hopped over slippery rocks to a second waterfall. This is where I realized we were in for a lot of surprises.  Cut out in the rocks, this waterfall fell from a hole in the sky where a stranger, without realizing it, took our next family Christmas card. When asked what one of my favorite places was, this surprise was on the top of my list.


Our ten-day trip took us around the entire island of Iceland, which allowed us to see many different terrains. Due to it being a volcanic island, it often reminded me of the fresh lava fields in Hawaii. The amazing coastal highways also felt like Big Sur and the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. In contrast, when crossing through higher valleys, I felt like I was on another planet entirely.  Our guide shared proudly that they used Iceland to train US astronauts to go to the moon.  It also seemed likely that they could use the harsh landscape to train them to go to Saturn and Mars as well.   A season without sun and a season with too much sun, both with extreme temperatures and wild wind, makes it hard to cultivate anything to grow.  To make up for it there are spots of bright purple lupines and moss for as far as the eye can see. One morning, I woke early, bundled up, and walked a trail of Lupines to my own private waterfall (or temporary water runoff).  The smell of lupine purple is like a grape with lavender and magnolia thrown in.  

After hiking as close as I felt comfortable, I perched myself on a high rock, looking down into the cascading pool of water falling. Here, an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the generosity of nature came over me.  Our guide said you can drink the water right from the waterfalls and from any faucet and it was true.  The water in Iceland is delicious.  And we, at times, filled our trusty hydro flasks with it in no need of ice cubes. Sitting there all alone, I felt like a flask filling up to the brim with beauty.  The endless creating and offering of water through a hole in a rock was a gift to behold and brought me deep into my heart.  During this meditation, the idea came to post and ask all of you to send me your heartfelt words so that I could offer something back to nature and this powerful vortex. I put it out there there, and over 150 of you responded.  From that point on, wherever I sat, the rocks beneath me and all around felt animated and alive, as if they were quietly considering me with their great-edged faces.  It is easy to see how their presence encouraged the great mythical storytelling of Giants and Trolls who fell into a deep slumber for centuries while nature cloaked and protected them while they rested. I often winked at these stoic creatures and said a quiet “hello” along the way, trying repeatedly to capture them with my camera.  Several times I wrapped my arms around and hugged them, often feeling how warm and alive they felt against my body, perhaps their way of winking back.

I found rock after rock that I wanted to take home.  The restaurants served soft salted butter at dinner on top of beautiful rocks.  On one hike, I found the perfect bowl-shaped rock.  I asked our guide if it was okay to take a rock or two, to which he laughed.  “We have plenty of rocks here and more water than you can imagine.  It’s ok.”  Looking out at the fields before me, I decided that a rock or two may enjoy the adventure of immigrating to my kitchen; making my bag and pockets on the way home all the more heavier. And then I met a glacier.

I have never met a glacier before. I have dived head-first into the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and Adriatic Seas. I have laid down and wept at the foot of the Andes, I even have dunked my head into the sacred Narmada river in India, but I have never met a glacier before, and it felt different. When you stand before a glacier, it feels as if you are standing before a slow and purposeful all-knowing God. We boarded a zodiac boat equipped with arctic gear to get close to this living, moving earth. Our Viking red-bearded guide navigated through a field of ice blocks. Some of these floating islands were recently severed from the great glacier and were blue, a product of the light playing tricks as it filtered through pure water and wisdom. At one point, and with a loud crack, a chunk of ice fell off the main glacier and tumbled into the lagoon. Our guide laughed heartily, happy for us to hear and see it. Then we grew quiet, watching as it disappeared into the dark water, knowing that yet another piece had slipped off into the sea to melt, never again to be a part of the whole.

Some believe that water is God. That water is the most conscious and powerful conductor of energy, wisdom and love have on the planet. Some believe even that ice is of an even higher frequency than water. That ice is a crystalized state of consciousness. Because of this, some of the most powerful temples are high up in the Himalayas and Andes. If this is true, I considered what we were floating on and wondered if somehow I had come to chip off a piece of something I would carry into the world. I took off my gloves and reached overboard as directly by our guide, grabbed hold of a perfectly clear piece of ice, put it in my mouth, and sucked the cold water into my body like communion. Feeling myself at this great altar, I bowed my head in thanks and held the clear crystal in my hands. There I let it burn into my skin what I was there to receive.


But something was missing. In Iceland, due to overforesting and sheep, there are very few trees, so few in fact that you can look out for miles and count the trees. Aware of my concern, our gentle guide promised that there was a country wide effort to plant more trees.  Often, while coming around a bend, he would slow down to point out what he considered a forest, which maybe consisted of about 100 small trees clumped together as if holding on to each other on the docks of a new land. Each time we saw one of these “forests”, some deep instinct in me called out to the patches of them, “Grow! Grow! Grow!  You can do it!”   One such forest was in dedication to Iceland’s first female president, Vigdis Finbogdottir, who served as president between 1980 and 1996.  During her time, she set in motion policies that have made Iceland one of the most highly educated populations in the world.  She also set out plans, still respected to this day, to plant trees and repair the soil, thus the lupines.


It is hard to grow anything on the edge of the Arctic because of the extremes in sunlight.  For ten days, we did not see the sky go dark.  Being that our trip was also during the summer solstice, the sun would dip under the horizon at around 2 am just for a moment, like a party girl dipping into a Red Bull. Then, at 2:30, it would pop back up, fresh and jacked, never leaving the sky dark enough to miss it or witness the northern lights, stars, or moon.  One night, Lucia and Maya, determined to watch the sunset, knocked on my door at 1 am. Not willing to miss a moment with my kids, I wrapped a blanket around my pajamas, walked barefoot down the hotel carpet hallway, and opened the fire exit door out to the rocky field. There I sat with my beautiful girls and son to watch the slow dip of the sun behind a foreign horizon. It occurred to me that this is what motherhood is: the generational passing of light through a slight shift in the morning sky.  The endless and constant rotation of love day in, day out.


This constant sun gave me the false impression that time had slowed down.  That maybe I would not have to say goodbye.  The 1000 miles drive around the Island gave us all time with each other to share and simply reset our breathing to our family rhythm again.  Enclosed in a warm van with big windows framing the landscape, we took turns saying, “Look!” “Wow!” and “I wonder?”  Lucia, our constant and considerate DJ, played song after song that brought us into singing softly, dipping in and out of the words we knew and did not know.  One day, while hiking along cliffs out on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we spotted a family of orca whales. Two large whales and three babies fed for 40 minutes before us while little white birds picked off the scapes. Sitting with my legs dangling off the side of the cliff, I wondered if they could feel our family up on the cliffs above them as we felt them. If the sonar of our synched family hearts reached them and touched them as they touched us. I imagine it did, as our love, awe, and joy for them were palpable. During a Whale Watching tour, we followed humpbacks with their unique flukes and were close enought to capture them on camera.

One night at dinner, I asked, “What have you learned about happiness.”  It was one of the best questions I ever asked them.  Jack said, “Happiness can be found in the simplest things, for me, mostly by being present with what I have.”  Maya said, “Happiness for me is being with all of you.”  This caused us all to tear up a bit and for Scott to grab my hand under the table.  Lucia said, practically, “Sometimes happiness is learning how to set a boundary and being brave enough to walk away.”  Scott said, “For a long time, I never thought about happiness. I only thought about making money.  Now I think about it all the time. I am the happiest I have ever been.” And he is and he worked just as hard at that as he did at his career. For me that moment defined happiness for me; asking the right question and watching how it opens and spills love and truth out all over the place.


All too soon, we stood in a busy airport saying our goodbyes at different gates, with Lucia and Jack heading to San Diego, and Colorado and Scott, Maya and I heading back to Baltimore.  After a 6 hour flight, we arrived to our long-term parked car to find the heat had killed the battery. A hard-working van driver helped us to jump-start it, saying over and over, “We’ve got this.. we will get you home now.” His kindness made me love Baltimore and the good people that live here. It made me proud of the everyday people that make up this country. (The whole country of Iceland could fit in the state of Kansas) We are complicated, varied, and confused, but we have 882 times more people in our country and are 95 times bigger than Iceland. Iceland does not have an Army because they have us and Europe to watch over them. Instead, they use the money for education, childcare and healthcare. That is amazing to consider.

Finally, after four attempts, we headed home. On our drive, we welcomed the setting sun, feeling our brains responding again to our natural circadian rhythm which gladly kicked in at last without darkened curtains, eye masks, and, I admit it, Advil PMs.  Unsurprisingly, on the way home from the airport, I was struck with the miles and miles of trees in full summer bloom.  And while my eyes welcomed the varied colors of green Iceland’s summers offered, it was no comparison to the deep and endless layers of green that trees upon trees pump so generously out to our Eastern seaboard world.   Instead of thousands of grape-flavored lupines tirelessly grabbing hold of lava rock dust to rebuild the soil and wave in the wind during 24 hours of sunlight, trusted bright orange birthday Day Lillies and rapidly growing hearty weeds and vines creeped out toward the road to welcome me home. For a moment, I wondered how overgrown my gardens would be.


Of course, the best part of home is opening the door to Walter, who celebrated us as if we were born again, resurrected back to life.  After jumping, clapping, and baby-talking him into a quiet and reassured wagging tail, I opened my garden gate to piles of cucumbers and thigh-size zucchini. Purple kale, untouched by rabbits, stood strong next to butter lettuce, with its arms draped over itself, bracing against the heat. This little patch of green promised me the salad I could not find on any menu in Iceland.  I noticed the mint had taken over the garden and brushed it with my hands, releasing the spice into the night air.  I thanked the basil for keeping company with my tiny yellow Tomato flowers and promised everyone I would water them first thing in the morning. As I walked around the house, I was greeted by 6-foot-tall mini sunflowers that opened into full bloom while I was gone.  My trusted Buddha, with one hand up, apologized for the deer who took advantage of my absence and ate all my deep, dark merlot Obsidian.  The next day and with bare feet, I harvested a huge basket of bounty, feeling strange that nothing like this can grow in Iceland without tireless geothermal efforts that fight hourly against natural forces.  While here, left on its own, without me doing a thing, my garden flourished to the point of being out of control.

So what is next?  Water the garden, walk Walter, clean the fridge, do the laundry, go to the farm stand, eat cherries, make kale salad, sautee the beet greens, take a swim, schedule clients, teach yoga, practice golf, and somehow try to write and capture what just happened. With the whole summer ahead, I have the great gift of seeing and feeling my life with new eyes, for traveling far from home does something special: it makes you come home.

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