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Respecting a place

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I hope everyone is having a great Tuesday! It’s been such a cold month here in England, and although I work quite well in the cold and it keeps me energetically, it’s made me miss the sunshine, as well as nights where I can go outside in less than four layers. So naturally I’ve been looking through my old diaries and photos from old trips and adventures, trying to warm myself up and look forward to the summer. And this weekend, I’ve been looking through my photos of my hike through Iceland on the Laugavegur trail.

Although, ironically, that trip wasn’t ‘warm’ in the slightest – it was hiking through snow on the first part, wide open spaces full of wind on the second part, and rolling hills on the final part, where I would have to put my coat on before ascending over the ridge of a hill because I knew I’d be buffetted by the wind on the next slope! But that freedom – I can’t wait for it again.

Iceland hiking

Freedom. I loved this hike so much in particular because of my love for this country. Yes, I’ve fallen in love with Iceland over the years. All of a sudden, just like that, there was the honeymoon stage – the absolute amazement at the whole country during its endless summer nights, going to bed in the early hours when the sun was rising at 2 or 3 AM, meeting elves in the twilight hours, the endless edges of the land that I found myself pondering over and discovering, weeks and months later.

Then on my next travels there, learning to appreciate its harder levels and its intricacies during the winter months, its coldness, yet its beautiful fury when it is so enraged by the elements, every shadow of it full of endless layers of light in an almost eternal sunset, then endless layers of dark at night, with the different streaks of the Northern Lights lighting up its skies.

And then, on this hike, rediscovering my love for it in a more intimate way. I found myself truly beginning to understand the land, instead of roaring through it in my car or stopping for a static view over the horizon. Slowly trekking up its hills and down its crevices, like any country in this world, it presents its true sides, the path well trodden, the trails less known. I felt pain, exhaustion, fear, self deprecation, but also peace, serenity and triumph. The emotions were unexpected, in a way. It’s like we spend all our time channeling ourselves into productive tasks and ideas, being reasonable, and then we venture out of our comfort zone, and all we want is to laugh and cry and feel new things.

Iceland hiking

I wish I could have been born here in Iceland so I could fully take in everything about the country, so I could live it every day. But as I get to know it, more and more, its politics and its geography, its people and its communities, its summers and winters, and even as I love it, more and more, I also am starting to understand its fears and its weaknesses. I both love it entirely and fully, yet know there are parts of it I will never fully understand. Then again, do we truly know our own countries? I think a lot about this when I remember my time here, and when I think about being here again in the future.

And its beauties, like jewels laid gently over potholes, are scattered lightly over paths that are dangerous. So many people, experienced and inexperienced, have had a difficult time in Iceland. Just as this country allows us access to its ‘Interior’ during the summer meltings, and we can transverse it – gently and with knowledge – in our 4×4 trucks and cars and our hiking boots, so too does it reclaim these lands from September to June again, and so we learn to respect it. There is no disrespecting this place.

Every time I come back here, I love it more and more. There is so much to find here, I think. Both so much to find in this landscape, and so much to discover in ourselves.

Iceland hiking