Before my very first trip to Iceland I visited my father in the nursing home, pushing his wheelchair out to the sunny spot of the parking lot where we often sat. I told him I was going to Iceland. Since he had been in the Air Force, he had been in Iceland and Greenland in its early NATO station days, well over sixty years ago.
“Why? Why would you want to go there?” he asked.
“Because I’ve always wanted to go,” I said. “Why, what do you remember of it?”
His foggy blue eyes looked off into the tall trees that surrounded the nursing home. “The wind, the wind in those places,” he said, shaking his head.
And that is the central character, the main mood, of Iceland to me: Wind.
It is the whistling background, the white noise machine in my ear the entire time I am there. It gets in my ear so much it becomes almost a silent, yet constantly audible, partner to my inner narration.
Even in the summer, it often has a brisk Arctic bite to it. Fresh off the ice caps of Greenland and Iceland, it smells as clean and pure as snow. Most of Iceland is treeless, so the wind isn’t filtered through shaking leaves. It has no buffers. There has been an all-out government effort to plant trees in Iceland to avoid erosion, so driving around you do see fledgling pockets of forests. But the common joke is: “If you get lost in the forests of Iceland, just stand up.” It is hard for the trees to grow tall; the relentless wind stunts their growth and the trunks are bent with what looks like a form of arbor scoliosis.
Up north on the farm, there is often a roaring wind, like an ocean wave that never breaks. When we are out on the trail riding and the already brisk wind picks up a notch, it brings an added dash of adventure to the ride. The horses, already peppy, pep up more. The wind gets their blood up, too. It’s all we can do to keep them calm. When we get to the sea with the additional din of the ocean waves along with cross currents of wind, we always dismount. The horses would be too wild to ride.
Someday, I think, I’d like to take that wild ride. This is what the wind in Iceland does to me—it’s a persistent dare, urging me to go bolder, bigger, to take in more air.
There have been a few sunny and still days I’ve experienced in Iceland without wind and it disorients me. It’s like the music stops. People stop. Women lay out in the sun impromptu, taking off their shirts to lie down in the grass with just their bras on. You can hear conversations ten feet away. The sun bears down full strength. I need sunscreen. I need a brimmed hat to keep the heat off my face. It just doesn’t feel right.
I miss it when it’s gone. Iceland is wind.
Often I can’t sleep in my guesthouse bedroom because the bright sun angles in my window at 2am and the whole midnight sun thing disturbs my circadian cycle. I hear the wind blowing outside, muffled against the double paned windows in the room. Even in its muffled state though, it thrusts its power like a pushy banshee: “Let me in.”
So I do. I crack open the window and the full storm of fresh Arctic air whirls in with the you-can’t-sleep sunlight. The wind fills up my eardrums with its reckless chatter. It puts me right again. It helps me breathe. It makes my life seem large and the world larger.
The wind, the wind in this place.