Two weeks after Iceland, I’m still thinking about Iceland. The land is a mood that follows you. It lingers, like the scent of a campfire coming from your clothes days after the fire has died out. Describing its craggy lava fields, its velvety swaths of green moss, the silence of the mountains that watch over those who live there and visit wouldn’t capture things properly. During meetings and get-togethers this week I tried describing what I saw to others, how snow, rain, sun and a rainbow were all right there within my view, not competing for space, just hovering above, each heavy, gray cloud and patch of blue sky simply expressing its individuality. They shook their heads in wonder, trying to picture such a sky.
From the conversations I’ve had so far, my impression is that very few Americans know much about Iceland other than it’s cold and far (though not as far as they would think if you’re coming from the American Northeast), and what they do know is thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones where scenes are shot. The Iceland Writers Retreat did a fabulous job educating me. This retreat was the organizers’ love letter to Iceland. They bridged the island’s addiction to sagas and literature with opportunities to learn from an international team of established authors as well as opportunities to sample the landscape. I would strongly recommend this retreat, especially for beginner writers. My week there was an inspiring mix of craft and sightseeing. Talk about writing with writers, go out and look at Iceland’s beautiful countryside, repeat. Our Golden Circle bus tour was a brief buffet to Iceland, and the organizers of the Iceland Writers Retreat were brilliant in setting up this tease; you’ve tasted the wine, now buy the bottle. Consider me sold. Normally I don’t go for packaged bus tours, but this full-day bus tour was excellent, and was narrated by the organizer’s husband, Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson, who has a new book out about his homeland’s history. Thanks to Gudni, we now know where the hidden people hide, where ‘the women were drowned’ and that there’s hope for the Icelandic language to survive even as the digital age moves computer commands toward English.
A writer I met at the workshop, Kat Bernhardt from King Salmon, Alaska, put it best, “One of the things I’ve learned to like about travel: you can’t see everything, a place is not a check box, it is never “seen,” a reason to come back just makes the place that much richer.” We didn’t see everything. In fact, because of what we did see in Iceland, I’m now thinking of all that we didn’t see. It’s like that adage, “the more I learn, the less I know.” Well, the more I travel, the more I realize how much more there is to see, especially in Iceland where we only briefly ventured out beyond Reykjavik.
And there lies the fundamental problem with travel. Like any addiction, when or where will it stop? I didn’t get to see the glaciers or all the charming fishing villages along Iceland’s Ring Road. I hiked to Glymurfoss, one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls, and explored a cave my husband and daughter discovered, but I didn’t get to soak in any lagoons or hike elsewhere. Every trip ends this way: I tried this, but not that. I saw this, but wow, wouldn’t it have been cool to have also seen this, this, and this, too. Even while cocooned in hotel ballrooms attending writing workshops, vacation ideas bounced. A poet next to me described her visit to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan so now I’ve got Bhutan on the brain. Thanks to meeting Kat and her partner Dan, a photographer (who took some excellent photos of the retreat), I know I will make my way up to Alaska someday. I met so many Canadians, that I want to get to Nova Scotia and Alberta sooner rather than later. And, of course, I want to go back to Iceland, but the country deserves more than a week. I need a few weeks to drive around Ring Road, try all the different ways the locals prepare fiskisupa, hike somewhere where the horses roam, soak up some midnight sun.