This series begins at Part 1.
The “now, I'm really there” moment in Iceland happened, for me, in the highlands. You don’t have to go far. An hour out of Reykjavík you can be in Thingvellir National Park, another dramatic site in the cleft between continental plates, important to the national narrative as the site of the world’s first parliament.
Then, keep going north. Ignore the gratuitous rainbows everywhere. Icelandic weather is fast-moving and fast-changing, so the sun-rain transition that generates rainbows is a pretty routine event.
Signs warn little cars to turn back, the road turns to black gravel, and you enter a vast, empty landscape of rolling mountains and plains, thinly painted with life.
We stopped in a small pass where these forms collide.
I was drawn to a moss-covered spherical scope, rising and curving away from me.
The spongy green carpet seemed to bounce back readily, forgiving my steps. As I climbed the spherical hill it seemed almost that the surface was rotating toward me, so that I stayed in place. At a certain point, though, the sides of the moss-mounds became vertical, as though cut off, creating a Hobbiton effect …
Between the mounds, little sunken gardens, wind-sheltered, for a diversity of tiny plants: heathers, low huckleberries, a few fast summer herbs. There near the autumn equinox, I saw what appeared to be the last flower of the year, from the dandelion clan.
This huddled life seems to be the main niche for success in Iceland, for anything more complex than moss or grass. Later at the Reykjavik Botanic Garden, we noted that the entire Icelandic natives collection is shorter than its guardian cat:
Back in the highlands, the journey over the great sphere of moss seemed to take forever. When I finally crested, seeing the tundra plain beyond with glaciers in the distance – this was the moment I chose to identify as “finally, I'm there” and also as “this will do, for now, for me, as the Uttermost End of the Earth.”
The silence was absolute. The cars that passed – two in the hour we were there – sounded like buzzing flies only at their closest approach. Otherwise, the silence seemed active and forceful in suppressing them. I’m not sure I could have handled the silence if it had been any louder.
Oh yes, and on the way back, more rainbows.