Ice.

Somehow leaving makes you love it more.

Late fall in the midwest: cold wind on tired oak trees. Sunday night dinner, soup and wine and chocolate.

The last year has been a flurry of daily airports, new jobs, big decisions. Weddings. Funerals. Moving out again, pulling up the tiny roots. Finding myself back in the MSP airport, getting ready for 30+ hours of travel, deploying to Antarctica via New Zealand.

It’s good to be back.

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Big Reds Walk to Iceberg

Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 4

I believe in slow-burn love. I believe in listening to that stewing, deep, under-the-surface yearning that you can’t always name. I believe that gravity can pull your ear down low to the ground, force you to listen to her heartbeat, telling secrets, speaking poetry. I believe in magical thinking, in asking for what you want, in looking the direction that you want to go.

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Do I have to know what I want in order to get it?

Something I like about traveling alone is that you get very in tune with what you want. The trouble with this is that if you don’t know what you want, things can get a little tricky.

I have recently been believing very deeply in the power of asking for what you want. You won’t always get it, but if you don’t know what you’re asking for, what your heart must be open to, I’m afraid you might miss it.

As I drove the last legs of my Iceland trip, I started to think more concretely about what exactly I needed from this voyage. I was in a mindset that I regretted letting still mark me when I no longer wanted it to. I started to imagine the crusty emotional shell that I had come to let define the edges of myself cracking apart and falling off in bits on the road I left behind me. It was meditative, and I listened to the quiet/loud road noise, driving back towards what I really hoped was my normal, grounded self.

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I spent an evening with three men (from France, Italy, and Colorado) who were all diligently writing by hand in their travel journals, which I secretly loved. I wrote in mine, quietly asking questions, wondering, feeling joyful and tired and just a tiny bit ready to think about going home.

~

Ice Queen.

I came around a bend in the highway one morning to what I thought might have been a wave crashing up against a bridge, and when it didn’t come down, my heart caught in my throat. It was ice. It was breathtaking. Even though I was expecting it, it gave me butterflies. Have you ever fallen in love with part of the earth?

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Jökulsárlón is a lagoon at the foot of a glacier, a tidal pool filled with icebergs that break off and crash into the water, that breathe and creak and heave with the ocean rising and falling underneath them, a live animal corralled by a bridge. Seals slipped in and out amongst the bergs. Everything was blue, luminous and glowing and milky despite the haze and the rain. Icebergs were streaked with centuries-old ash from volcanic eruptions, the water’s surface calm in the rain’s pause. I watched other tourists taking photos, popping bright umbrellas, putting their fingers in the clear glacial water.

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I bought a spot on a zodiac boat and motored out to the edge of the glacier, the air growing sharply cooler the closer we got. We were zipped up in waterproof coveralls, kneeling on the floor of the boat which was rubber like the sole of a shoe. Every now and then there was a sudden underboat jerk and a drag of ice along our kneecaps. The sun had come out and water was dripping off the ledges of vaulted ice, the spray salty, everything glittering and moving imperceptibly.

Jökulsárlón coveralls

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Frozen Landscapes

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Ice sure does draw me in.

I’m having trouble with the last installment(s) of the Field Notes posts; I’m stuck on the questions, yet again, of how much I want to share, how much I should share, who I’m writing for, and what people want to read. I normally prefer to write things consecutively but that tends to make writer’s block exponentially more insurmountable. I’d like to get better at posting things when the bloggy spirit moves me, so for now, I’m just going to set Iceland aside until the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip is ready to come out and play again.

~

The last few months in the Midwest have gifted us with one of the longest, most disgustingly cold winters I can remember. And with that long-lasting, seemingly never ending, brutal-stupid-cold came a lot of grey days and lonely nights and soul searching and journaling and trying to figure out the question that we can never answer fully: What Comes Next? (More on that later.) But there were some pretty great parts, too.

With that terrible cold came some terribly beautiful ice. Because of the weather, Lake Superior froze solid enough to allow visitors to walk to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves for the first time in a few years, and they were stunning. Red sandstone caves, striated arches, dangling exposed tree roots; they were all covered in ice whipped up by the bitter lake wind.

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Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves Adventure Buddy

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Field Notes: Part 3

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IMG_3952Smoked arctic char (trout) served with geysir bread, which is a graham rye that is buried under the ground as dough and comes out 24 hours later cooked by geothermal magic.

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Myvatn thermal baths + snow. Take off your clothes and hop in!

~

Isn’t it strange how time passes?

It’s been four months since I came home. I have so much to tell you, but let me start where I left off: Northern Iceland, September. Snow was falling heavily in a premature winter storm, and the sky was low and grey as I pulled up to a farmhouse, hoping for a place to stay.

A room of one’s own.

The house matron Ásta showed me to a single room with a gable window flanked by warm birchwood walls, lace curtains, no art, a small bed with white sheets, and a writing desk; unexpectedly perfect. I sat and wrote for two days as the storm groaned outside the window, breaking my scattered focus with great, loud gusts. Snowflakes stuck to the glass, drawn to the heat, melting on the way down. The roads were icy in one direction and closed in another, and the news was reporting people stuck in the mountains, farmers losing entire herds to the freeze.

After three days, the road reports weren’t getting any better, and the few other travelers staying with me checked conditions at breakfast, talking about the weather in the way that you do when you don’t have any control over it (which is always, but you feel a lot more powerless when you’re trapped).

We lost electricity and running water, and a man who spoke quiet French offered me a ride to the grocery store. I accepted, and from inside his car we watched the snow melting on the windshield. I bought a loaf of bread, a cucumber, a lump of cheese and some wool mittens. With two sets of lungs and very little common language between us we drove in silence, the heartbeat of the wipers thumping, left, right, left, right. 

Dimmuborgir.

That evening, emboldened by the grocery store outing, I cleaned the snow off my car with mittened fingers, determined to go on an adventure. Nearby were the Dimmuborgir lava fields, and dusk was creeping in as I parked in the vacant, snowy lot, a kilometer down a dead-end road, stubbornly convinced I might get a decent photo despite the weather and the waning light. I climbed down slush-ridden paths with black lava formations rising around me like galactic clouds, crows flying backward on the wind draped in gnat-like clouds of clotting snowflakes.

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Feet getting wetter with every step in the sloppy ice, I imagined slipping and falling and busting up a knee and not being able to walk (and no one finding me until at least the next day, dead and frozen, because no one knew I wasn’t in my room). I berated my imaginary broken-knee self. “Who do you think you are, National Fucking Geographic? What are you doing out here?”

I kept with it for a while, and drove home in the dark, slip-sliding along as the road zipped itself up against the wind.

~

Hallelujah, the great storm is over.

On the first day of calm skies, it was time to leave. I caravanned through flat open fields and mountain passes with a sweet Canadian couple. The roads were still quite icy, and the drive was beautiful but frightening. Lava formations encrusted in ice watched us drive like frosty prairie dogs waiting for the danger to pass.

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And then, like it had never happened, I was through the mountain passes, walking on a beach with kelp & bird bones & matted feathers & split mussel shells straddling the wet sand. Waves crashed up behind the break wall, and I was on my way.

~

Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 2

Envy.

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Sometimes I find myself comparing a trip to other travelers’ experiences. Meeting someone in a hostel some night who has biked a hundred miles and gotten back from their yarn factory tour just in time to go whale watching can make you feel like you’re just not making the most of your days. Trying to shake the feeling that I was missing out on something, I took myself on a last-minute horse-ride tour.

All alone with my guide, Pitla and Baelur the horses, the cold wind on my face, tugging at the collar of my jacket. Saddle jouncing between my thighs. We didn’t talk much, just breathed air in the shadow of the mountains, listening to the animals sigh and trot, closing my eyes.

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On a cold, clear night in Akureyri, I went aurora hunting.  Three women and myself, strangers, freezing under the stars, wind so sharp we could barely keep our eyes open.  We never did see any auroras, but we laughed until we cried, until it was time to give up and head back. I went dancing that night with another group of just-met pals, some Belgian boys on holiday from school. I danced until I was done and left without saying goodbye.

Earth.

There are moments

in moist love

when heaven

is jealous of what

we on earth

can do.

  -Hafiz

~

Before this trip was a reality, when it was an unformed lump of travel lust, I already knew I wanted to get to Mývatn, a lake in the Northern part of the country with a small, beautiful, less-touristed hot spring.

This day’s weather was predicted to be the best for the next week in Mývatn and so in the morning, I made a snap decision to go there immediately. I didn’t tell anyone. I packed my bag and got into my car and sat for a moment, wondering at all that, feeling like I was getting away with something.

I think I was.

~

I had about six hours of daylight and a lot of stops to make, my teeny tiny car bouncing dutifully down gravel roads, up mountain roads, and over crusty lava fields.

I went first to a hot spring inside a tiny cave, steamy and breathy and dark and damp. Its water was so clear and glassy I had to throw a pinch of sand to see where the surface of the water began before my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, a shocking little ripple of sparkles right at my feet.

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There was a sulfur field at the base of a low mountain range, with burping pools of blue-grey mud, teal and copper and ochre earth split with rivulets of hot water, steam vents screaming their constant hffahhhhhhh of release, the chokingly present stink of earth’s breath.

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Down the road, a turquoise floodwater lake in the crater of an ancient volcano. I ran up to the edge, breathless, scrabbled around the ridge circling the caldera.

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Nearby, a recent volcanic eruption (the year before I was born) left still-hot earth, steaming vulvar fissures in the mountainside, black rock like brain synapses.

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I made a little list in my notebook:

1. I never realized I was so afraid of volcanoes.

2. I believe in magic.

Folded over earth with decades-past drips under the overhang and milky blue water in unexpected pools.

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Light waning, I drove to the last stop of the night, a lake on a farm spiked with with bonelike lava pillars, surly sheep and shocked ducks. Midge flies hovering around my mouth and nostrils,  I tried to breathe through the down collar of my jacket.

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IMG_3880The entire day was so secret-feeling and wild and gorgeous; frantic and rewarding at the same time.

And in then, it began to snow, light, nearly imperceptible…..and I had no idea what terrible weather was coming the next day.

~

Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 1

Genesis?

I am talking to a hippie crone with Swedish-blonde bangs, a straw fedora and a woven poncho. Her eyes are squinty from wine and weed, and she is telling me about authors she’s loved and thinks I should read: Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut. She rummages around in her huge bag looking for tobacco for what seems like a long time, rubbing and licking her thumb and forefinger, rolling a cigarette.

Everything has been fuzzy for the last few months. It is the last day of April in Minnesota and I am at a bonfire on an island on the Mississippi River, hidden between the dry brush of late winter and the freight train bridge. We are celebrating Valborgsmässoafton, the end of winter (though it will come to snow heavily in the next few days), and people have brought things to burn to welcome spring back into our world. A dry Christmas tree, wooden skis, an old chair, drum sticks go into the fire. I’ve brought a little prayer-on-a-post-it and I poke it into the embers, closing my eyes and holding my breath. A tiny yellow request for happiness, for a sign on what direction I should turn in the coming months.

After a long silence this woman tells me about an author traveling to a wild and barren frozen land in the late 1800s. Iceland. She says something about his observations on the human condition, about his use of language or cultural notes, but I am not listening anymore because I am only hearing the echoing clang of this country calling out to me again. Why does it keep coming up?

Iceland, Iceland, Iceland.

~

I have never traveled alone before, and I was drawn to the alone-ness of a country whose population is less than the city of Minneapolis, whose wild open roads offer waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes and roaming sheep. The air is cold and there are long stretches of road with no other people for miles in any direction. I decided to drive the perimeter highway, to make a full circle around the country moving clockwise. There’s something clear about that, about coming full circle, about coming back to where you started with a lot of road behind you; completion, wholeness, something final and real and absolute.

Planning the trip, thinking about what I wanted it to mean for me, was a bit of worrying it was frivolous fun balanced with hoping that it would be soul-crunching and raw and scary and life changing. Healing, maybe. The single lady pilgrimage trip. I am afraid to be alone. I am excited to be alone. Suddenly, I am alone.

Field notes.

The reality of alone-ness hitting me in the tiny rental car. I sat and laughed with the key in the ignition, the kind of crazy, bubbling-up laugh that surprises you when it comes out of your mouth sounding more hysterical than happy. I was scared to leave the comfort of Reykjavik with its art museums and flea markets and bars, scared to leave the newborn familiarity of sitting in the municipal hot spring baths; the creamy lilt of the Icelandic language; heavy smoky clouds over the harbor.

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The first day’s drive was rainy, as many of them would be.

I passed lakes in isolation, simple churches and paint-peeling farmhouses with white sides and red roofs, horses with shy teenager hair and sheep with matted locks, slopes of hill that ached up into low cloud cover. Beauty building up on that path, slow burn like the black lava boulders cloaked in the tendril clutch of creeping moss.

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Reaching my first trail in pouring rain, berating myself for not having rain pants, for being under-prepared to hike in bad weather. The wind threatened outside the car like a hungry hound. I will eat you alive.

I cried. What the hell am I doing?

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I waited in the car as the windows fogged up, more because I didn’t know what else to do or where I was even planning to sleep that night. Eventually though, the rain stopped and I walked the coastal trail, muck sucking my boots, slipping in the rain’s aftermath, black cliffs plunging into the ocean crash.

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The light like perpetual dusk, even clouds and a pregnant sky. The feeling that something was about to happen was always present: pressure change, a storm, a break in the clouds or maybe the sun would fall straight into the ocean, slipping over the verge of the horizon. When the the clouds cleared from half of the sky, plaits of rainbow crashed down while sheep drank rainwater from potholes in the gravel road.

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(The car’s seatbelt sensor is going off. My seatbelt is on. It starts out as a present beepbeepbeep and works itself up to a deep breath and BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP and I’m yelling at the car, I know, I’m wearing it! Shut up, I’m wearing it!!! and I’m barreling down this gravel road in a tiny toy car and it sounds like being thrown down the stairs in a crackerjack box during the apocalypse and I think to myself, this is not the peaceful quest I’d imagined.)

Further North in Hofsós I soaked in a steamy pool almost level with the ocean, bitter snowy wind blowing at my neck, my face, my wet hair, watching the shadowy clouds snag on the mountain across the inlet. School age boys played the international game of steal-the-tube-and-drown-your-friends, laughing brightly under all the gray.

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A little boy in arm floats and an around-the-chest jetpack floatie sat in the shallow part of the pool until his young dad, ruddy cheeks and wet-straight hair, picked him up and carried him gently into the main pool. Hands cupped over the boy’s ears, he tilted his head back into the water. In the moment I think I might be witnessing a baptism of sorts, and I realize I’ve barely spoken a word for days.

~

Gorgeous Photos from the End of Summer: McMurdo, Antarctica

Deven is behind the lens again–check out these stunning photos from the end of the summer season and vessel offload.

The icebreaker vessel comes in at the end of the summer and is the main way cargo for all departments gets onto the continent. The lovely ship is full of all kinds of incoming cargo, from ramen noodles, beer and condoms to turbochargers and hydraulic hoses. The logistics folks (Cargo and Materials) are responsible for offloading and basically warehousing the cargo; at the beginning of the next summer, South Pole’s cargo gets packed up and sent in. This means the supply chain is really long: it takes a year or two for normal cargo to arrive at Pole.

stunning blue

 

cloud ice

 

floating ice

 

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You can see a storm front moving in on the horizon!

 

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Here’s the vessel, loaded up with milvans.

 

frosty cables
After a storm, everything facing upwind was covered in ice.

 

frosty loaders
…including the loaders.

 

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Hut Point Peninsula, just a short walk from MacTown.

 

mcm ice

 

mcm sound

 

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The Nathaniel B. Palmer (a science vessel, I think) and Mount Erebus

 

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The Pegasus Ice Runway as seen from Arrival Heights

 

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The rigging on the icebreaker, with Scott’s Hut (built in 1911). Deven says about this one: “Future past. I love the little Scott hut in the lower right. The things that place has seen!”

 

icebreaker and beautiful ice

The thing I love about these photos is how well they illustrate the different personalities of the sea ice: marbled and fractured and chunky and smooth.

If you want to see some amazing aurora photos from the same photographer, check out this post.

Walking in the Snow

One step at a time is good walking.
– Chinese proverb

It snowed last week. Pretty, soft snow that stuck to the trees and cars and sidewalks, wet and melty and cold and peaceful.

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Knee-high snow in my knee-high mukluks.

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Sometimes I can only take things one step at a time. Eight months ago, “one step at a time” was very purposeful, keenly directed, survival-mode walking. Get a job. Get a home. Get a car. Process. Grieve. Calm down. Breathe. Don’t forget to eat food sometimes. Once every few days, put on clean socks and get out of the apartment.

Things these days are a little more erratic and all over the map. Some days I feel so hopeful and have so many ideas, and I write really well and I run really hard and I feel so good that I think I’m maybe better off in some ways than I was a year ago. Some days I feel frustrated and sad. Some days I long so deeply for the life I left behind that it makes my teeth hurt. One step at a time means something different now. Go to work. Write poetry. Have fancy cocktails at fancy bars with girlfriends. Register for another creative writing class next semester. Cry and eat Nutella straight out of the jar. Walk around the icy lake drinking a latte, watching birds and talking with a great friend, dreaming about the future. Buy hiking boots for a trip that I haven’t even started planning yet.

My imagination of what the future will be, my 5-year “plan,” the fantasizing about travel and backpacking in Europe and going back to Antarctica and getting hired to work for a travel magazine, it’s going to my head. I find myself making plans that are loosely structured around things that I have no good reason to believe will ever happen. I guess that’s the point of dreaming though, right? What’s your 5-year dream plan?