The Road to Thingeyrar
For almost ten years we’ve been traveling together to Iceland. We no longer get lost on the five-hour car ride from the capital to Helga’s farm, though this past year we missed the cut off from the ring road to the dirt road for the first time. When we turned the car around and passed a farmhouse, someone brought up the time we all stopped to pee in the cavernous barn before we crossed the river. The mention of the river ride, our name for the riding trail alongside and across the river, brought up the time a herd of three-year-old horses raced alongside us, spurring us on to go faster and faster. “Was that the time Disa’s horse threw her?” The question produced a collective intake of air. “Oh, God, remember that?” A scrap of barbed wire hidden in the grass made Disa’s horse buck. One minute Disa was our fearless Viking leader with her magical long golden braid and the next minute she was thrown hard to earth, on the unforgiving ground. Esther said, “I remember thinking if Disa can fall off a horse, what chance do I have of staying on?”
Every place we pass now has a memory for us. We remember them differently from each other and mix them up frequently. Was that the time… or was…wait… when was that? We fade out with our mixed up musings. But the accuracy doesn’t matter much.
None of the horses we rode on the first trip are still there. They have either been retired, have died, or have been sold. Everything changes. Even in Iceland, especially in Iceland. A decade ago it was a more traditional country and less traveled; it never made the news cycle and wasn’t the go-to locale for Game of Thrones.
The first year we went in 2004 Kat had a Blackberry, a novelty. It was a Darwinian breakthrough every time she took it out and called her husband—and got through! We felt like primitives around a magic box. It talks! And way up here in the mountains! The first year the rest of us were using a rotary phone in the guesthouse to call home. It was a big gray wall phone, and I had to stretch the cord as far as possible up the stairs for some privacy. I used a phone card with pre-paid minutes. By 2010, we were Skype-ing. I was holding my laptop above my head so my husband could see the sheep in the mountains.
But our guesthouse on the farm remains the same, and maybe one of the reasons we return is for the sameness, even if in the beginning what so entranced us was the newness. Part of the pleasure of being on a farm even with modern amenities is that it brings you into the past. The agricultural life represents the not-so-distant lives of our farming ancestors. It is the something you can hold on to. The opposite of digital is dirt, mud, grass, horseflesh.
My Aunt Ruthie (a wise, sharp woman who made old age look presentably worth it) used to say: “As you get older, you get more you.” I used to think that meant that you just did away with needless approval and forged your own way. But lately I think the “more you-ness” comes from our recollections. Our minds and hearts become fat and swollen with memories of places and people, and this makes us “more.”
How long can these trips go on? We used to put an end date to them, but then we stopped talking about it. As much as I hate the phrase, we are mature women in our forties, fifties, sixties. We mark time. My children were young when I first started these trips—young enough to miss me when I traveled. Now they are grown up, living in another city, and they don’t know when I come and go.
So every trip is a reminder of all the years that have passed: memory is time, time is loss, loss is life. But weirdly enough, trumping all that, these trips are a reprieve from aging. We squeal at the first site of Helga’s horses in the fields. Look at the babies! Is that the stallion? We pull up to the farm, tumble out of the car, rush to the fence and fawn over the horses. We’re like a pack of girls, full of nerviness, excitement, blissfully unaware of anything else. It never gets old. And, in the moment, neither do we.