NaBloPoMo #17: Iceland, My Great Hope

Prompt: What is one place you need to see to feel like your life is complete?

Located at 65 degrees north, 18 degrees west is a little island you might have heard of before: Iceland. This tiny island isn’t even the size of the state of Kentucky, and at approximately 323,000 people, its population is scarcely larger than Lexington’s. It is a land of contradictions with dramatic volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs as well as the country with the most glaciers and an average temperature that only rarely gets out of the fifties. It boasts millions of sheep and birds and dramatic landscapes of volcanic rock, soaring cliffs, thundering waterfalls, and lava fields dotted with small, fragrant flowers. Only a slight bit of searching will find you the great priest poet Snorri Sturluson’s stomping grounds, the warrior bard Egil Skallagrimsson’s beachfront, and elf houses abutting the Ring Road.

Iceland is my great hope. It is a place I’ve wanted to visit for around eight years now. Periodically, I dust off my collection of sagas, returning to King Harald, Egil, Vinland, and Laxdaela or buy another photo book and spend weeks pouring over the pictures, utterly delighted despite the fact that I fucking hate the outdoors. I can tell you about the Penis Museum and its epic quest to add a human penis to its collection. I can tell you about the Elf School that tourists can join for a cracked out discussion about elves. I can tell you about the healing, soothing, and beauty qualities of the Blue Lagoon. I can tell you about the time the whole island of Heimaey got together in 1973 to stop a volcanic eruption from destroying their town. I can tell you so much about Iceland – except the smell of Reykjavik on a Sunday morning, the sound a woman makes when she asks what you want as you’re loitering in her shop, or the feel of Iceland’s ice and lava fields beneath your frozen, dirty palm. In short, I can tell you anything that you could find in a travel book, photo book, or saga, but I can tell you nothing of what it’s like to actually be there.

I don’t know why Iceland matters so much to me. It’s just a tiny island country with a difficult native tongue. But it resonates with me. It calls to me. Every time I hear something about it in the news, my ears perk up. What’s that, Iceland’s economy has collapsed? A new volcano is fucking up air traffic across the Northern Hemisphere? An Australian woman has written a book about the last woman executed there? You’ve got my attention.

I think part of its allure is that it still seems wild and pure. So little of it is habitable that you can go out and not see any other human being for weeks. Its citizens will campaign their government to allow extra refugees in their country, going so far as to volunteer their own houses. When its economy collapsed, it broke up the big banks and actually jailed their executives. The language has changed so little in a thousand years that people can still easily read the sagas without translation. Literacy is so high that almost everyone publishes a book. Everything seems possible there.

When I consider how unlikely it is that I’ll ever get to visit, my heart breaks. Nothing major, just a small fissure like a sliver of ice cracking off a glacier. It makes me sad, and I cry, sometimes intermittently for days. It’s something that I want so badly but don’t know if I can ever have. Where amid all my debt will I find the resources to go? Who will come with me? Will it live up to any of my expectations?

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from wanting it badly enough to cry, and that doesn’t stop me from torturing myself with guidebooks and unbookable tourist packages. I pursue these lines of inquiry even as they hurt, and I find each small hurt soothing. I want to go to Iceland. I want to experience Iceland, and, until I can, I will treasure each new wound, hoping that it will eventually guide me there.

* Photo taken from


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