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!

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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.

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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.

~

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?

Strange Ice

These weird stacked snow boulders appeared out by the RF satellite buildings over a grave shift one night.

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They were big.

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Almost big enough to hide a loader, but not quite.

I can still see you.

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Snow

Today snow is falling: real snow. Fine, nearly imperceptible flakes that you can barely see unless you hold your head really still. Real snow is so rare here, mostly the ice crystals just blow around, and every time I see snow it makes my heart hurt because I feel so homesick for Minnesota. For winter, for snow, for sunrise and sunset, for family and winter bonfires and for dogs to play with and real evergreen trees, for frozen lakes and ice skating and hearing snowflakes fall by streetlight. I usually feel like I’m too busy to be homesick, except on Sundays, and this season has been no exception.

The Centennial of Roald Amundsen’s arrival is in just one week, and the first tourists have already begun to arrive. Some in planes, some in trucks, and they have started to set up little tents that we can see looking out from the galley windows over the ceremonial South Pole. The ski-in expeditions will start arriving soon, as will the Distinguished Visitors from Norway and beyond. The station is buzzing; the carpenters have built a visitors’ center, the head executive chef is planning a special dinner for the Prime Minister and his party, and the IT folks are busy preparing for a live broadcast to Norwegian television the morning of the centennial. It is so exciting.

Two weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, which is really not the same as it is at home but still really nice. We slept in, showered, ate a ton like you’re supposed to, went sledding in our formalwear on a hill that has been removed by now, and went to a dance party in summer camp. I think I’ve been to more dance parties in Antarctica than I have even been to in my entire life combined.

Here is a panoramic photo of sledding behind the elevated station, taken by Daniel. More sledding soon. Click to enlarge.

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