The Land of Awe
A story detailing a photographer's love for the unpredictability of the Icelandic winter.
I always felt out of place growing up, and to an extent, still do. Seeming to view and feel the world in a different way to those around me; living with an appreciation for nature and life that I hope will one day be a harmonious give and take. When I step outside into the wilderness on cold and blustery days, I hear more in the wind than the bitter cold that reddens my cheeks and tangles my hair. I see more than just light when the sun starts to shine, instead looking at smaller things like leaves with that beautifully warm colour, almost like they’ve been drenched in golden honey; or to the mountains, watching the shadows shift under cloud. I feel I belong in isolated places where time can pass freely; it makes me feel connected to the earth and, therefore, at peace.
This winter in Northern England has been grey and dreary, an almost constant monotone with sun on so few occasions that I could count them on one hand. There is however, one aspect of winter that reaches into my child-like soul, filling me with an incomprehensible giddiness that overflows: snow. Unsurprisingly, I found a lot of snow on my recent trip to Iceland, along with horizontal hailstorms and over 50mph blizzards. I had never felt so alive, or perhaps it was the constant flow of delicious strawberry cheesecake Skyr that kept me going whilst I travelled.
There is a feeling called hygge which is a Danish word meaning a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present; but recognise and enjoy the present. Acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as special. This is the way I felt during my time in Iceland. Days spent with friends - both old and new - experiencing everything the country had to offer. As soon as our flight touched down in Keflavík, we were instantly fuelled by happiness and the curiosity of a new adventure. Bags collected, the four of us headed off to pick up our hire car; a Dacia Duster we later named Demon. What an experience it was to drive on the right-hand side of the road for the first time. Whilst driving towards Selfoss, the road became ‘Impassable’; meaning only emergency vehicles were permitted to travel on them. A small convoy made up of a couple of locals and tourists turned back towards Reykjavík, where we made an emergency booking to stay for the night. Although it was a valid experience to be frightened or put off by, I felt the opposite. I could feel the energy of the whole planet against my skin, flowing through my veins; full of secrets and mysteries that I ached to discover.
This first night was only a taster for what was to come. We managed to get further than Selfoss over the following days, mainly exploring the South Coast. Snow tipped into boots as we clambered up hills, and hail stones pelted our faces as the wind threw them at us horizontally. The storms there felt like a surge of unfathomable and uncontrollable energy that reverberated through my entire body; it was the most alive I had ever felt, and I could not help myself laughing and running into the storm. What I loved, and still love, about Iceland is the unpredictability of it. The weather would rage as if the Old Gods of Norse Mythology were very much alive and present, and had something to prove. But then, calm. My heart and soul felt so full as I looked out onto the blankets of snow that topped every mountain and volcano in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There are very few words to describe how I felt that day, other than hygge. So small and insignificant and completely in awe, I looked up at the famous Kirkjufell and felt completely content. Time came to a standstill as I lay down, listening to the tiny specs of frozen snow skip across the surface of the ground. I had no real words to speak to my friends as we drove home that evening, other than to shake my head in disbelief and ask myself: “how is this real?”