Iceland: Atlantic crossing

June 25

(No new photos this time–my camera battery really did die on the 24th!)

(Earlier photos here.)

(Earlier Iceland trip reports here.) (This is the last installment, so I’ll index everything all properly sometime soon. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who’s stayed with me for the year it took me to get this all down!)

After two weeks of unnaturally good weather, we woke to find our final night’s rain still with us– the hills across the harbor seemed hooded and faint, all the world muted with gray. We had breakfast in the hostel, surrounded by participants in the international youth sports festival, and their nervous energy seemed somehow at odds with that quiet mutedness.

As we headed to our shuttle bus and made our way to the airport, I still had the nagging feeling of something left undone. My journal is filled again with notes on things I wanted to remember, hang on to, take home with me:

– Green fields of yellow flowers
– The purple haze of lupines on a hillside
– The steel gray of the sea
– Black rocks, coarse sands
– The feel of cold, wet air against my arms
– The yellow sunsets, the long pink evenings
– The Icelandic language, to my American ears, full of swishes and whispers, of wind sounds

I also have a note I’d forgotten to write down before, about an American we met earlier in the trip, telling us how her Icelandic father, who left the country young and spoke only English, had a head injury during a visit, and suddenly was able to speak fluent Icelandic to his doctors. Fascinating, that.

And another note, from one of the books we brought home with us and started reading in the airport: In The Book Of Settlements, there’s another Hallgerður mentioned, also with hair long enough to touch the floor. When this Hallgerður refused to accompany her husband (my notes don’t say to where), he grabbed her by the hair and chopped off her head.

Given than, one can sort of see why the better-known Hallgerður might have been just a little possessive of her own hair.

In the airport gift shop, waiting for our flight, I found a black stone that seemed to be obsidian, and discovered that the Icelandic word for obsidian (if it is obsidian) is hrafntinna, which translates to … Raven stone? Raven flint? … which sets of interesting thoughts about the links between ravens and rocks.

A stray note a little further on says, “Sorcerers understand the language of ravens.” I can’t remember where I read this now.

We lifted off on schedule–I still wasn’t sure I was ready to go, though I was no longer quite sure I was not-ready, either. The island below us disappeared beneath a layer of low foggy cloud–for a few moments we were surrounded by misty gray, then brighter gray, and then we were flying through blue sky, with the gray stretched out beneath us.

At some point I dozed off, woke from a nap, looked out the window, and saw a strange patchwork of rivers, lakes, and cultivated fields below–no hint of black stone or green moss. We’d crossed the Atlantic, I was looking down over a different land, and after two weeks, that land seemed just a little strange.

It seemed to me, just then, that it wasn’t so long ago that this same crossing had been made in a one-sailed boat. And the seas might be rough, and you might fear for your life, and returning home safe again was by no means guaranteed. You hoped for a safe journey, a good landing, not knowing whether you would get them.

We had a safe crossing–light winds, no turbulence. Our landing, a short time later, was gentle as well. I found it harder to take these things for granted, after two weeks of reading stories, and learning about ships, and seeing all those memorials to drowned sailors–one man pulling another man from the sea.

As we taxied down the runway I saw that the runes for protection, on the stone Sigurður gave me back in Strandir, had faded. Perhaps magic can’t cross the waters–or perhaps it simply takes a great deal of protection–a great deal of sorcery–to see one safely across them.

We emerged into the hot, humid Boston air, caught a short flight to Newark, and then caught a longer one–across the country and away from the sea–to Tucson, which is nearly as far away from the northeastern United States as Reykjavík is.

On that last flight, as the sun set, I slept my best airplane sleep yet, waking occasionally to see the sky moving through deepening grays to black. I woke in the dark–the first true dark in more than two weeks–with my dreams forgotten, but with the deep sense that they’d been about Iceland and sorcery.

I thought then: Maybe I get to keep something of these travels, after all. Maybe it doesn’t all disappear when I leave the Atlantic behind.

Tucson was hotter than Boston–39C, 102F–but dryer. We caught a ride home with a friend we met, by chance, in the airport–an unexpected welcome home.

No midnight sun as we left the airport, but a bright, bright silver desert moon.

The habit of observing small details stayed with me for a time after I returned to Tucson, turning the details of my own home new and sharp, a sort of second journey that lasted through much of the rest of the summer.

At one point I wrote in my journal:

In Tucson, a sorcerer would not send fog, but wind or fire.
It’s too hot to leave a baby out by a boulder here, unless you did so for the shade.
But one might still decide the land was too lovely to leave.

But that was later, after a couple summer months during which Tucson and Iceland swam around together in my head. The morning after I returned I wrote simply this:

The hot desert air caresses my arms.
I blink in the brightness.
It is good to travel.
It is good to be home.

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