“Why do you keep going?”
Someone asked me a week before I was to take off for the seventh time to Iceland, Why do I keep going back? What’s the draw? Why don’t I try someplace new? We were in a noisy New Haven restaurant with the clatter and clang of dishes and forks, and the convivial loudness of a drinking crowd. I was with work folk, whom I’m fond of, but Iceland is my other life, far removed and, in this context, more like my secret life. I didn’t want to explain, why do I go? Not then and not there. I love my life, but I go to get away from it.
Why I Go
I go for the light, lavender and misty in the twilight of the midnight sun. I go for the friendship of a group of women, where for a week we don’t talk about home or problems or politics or news, we talk about horses and riders and horses and rides. Someone who mentions the national debt or say, the problems of public education or health, is shunned. Literally. Or in Kathryn speak, “Let’s not go there. Let’s not be negative.” Those topics are for our ordinary lives. In Iceland our lives are extraordinary.Why do I go? I go for the vistas, for the desolate northern beauty of the Arctic, and the feel of being in an outpost at the edge of the world. I go for the riding, without which, it would be a spectacular trip but it wouldn’t be an adventure; because mainly, I go for the horses. I go so I can trek up to twenty kilometers a day, follow the tundra to the dunes of the Arctic Sea to gallop on the black lava sand. I go so I can cross a tidal lake, Lake Hop, where for twenty minutes I am in a temporary dream state caused by the cold water splashing like metal light against the horses’ steaming breath as they trot and canter the knee-deep shallows. Then as we get out of the shallows and into the deeper water, I knot my reins and drop them on my mare’s withers so she can stretch out her neck without constraint. Leaning forward I grab her mane, so that my face is thick in horse hair, my breathing and my mare’s breathing are matched. I hitch my legs up so that my feet hit the back of the saddle, as my mare plunges into the deep water and the movement goes slow motion. I think when I die this is how I want to enter the other world, on the back of a horse that is swimming. I am reminded of the Celtic belief of the transparency between this world and the next, the thin wall separating the two, and this is the closest I will ever get to that, and the thinnest the wall will ever be for me. I have ridden my horse into a myth. I have touched for one brief icy moment the other side. And most importantly, it has let me enter.My regular life is full of work and routine and caretaking and good citizenship. My Icelandic life is time out. Life warped from another dimension. This is why I go.