I know I keep writing about Iceland, but the place got under my skin and is still there.
In many ways it was just like England; clothes, streets, cars, foods were recognisable and they spoke great English.
And yet, our land is so stable. I don’t mean politically, I mean geologically, whereas Iceland is changing all the time. It is on the edge of tectonic shapes which are constantly shifting, it is covered in volcanic systems, many of which are still active, and the aeon old glaciers are melting.
In 2010 I waved my 7-year-old son off to Poland with a neighbour to visit her grandchildren who he had made friends with. While he was there one of the volcanoes in Iceland erupted spreading a huge ash cloud. His was one of the first return flights to make it through.
Our tour guide told us how the ash had temporarily blinded sheep grazing in it’s fall, and ruined that year’s harvest. But the sheep recovered and the land has been more fertile since.
We went to the Black Pearl interactive museum where we learned that if global warming continues there will be no glaciers left in 200 years’ time in Iceland and instead of barren glaciers and lava fields, the landmass will have shrunk due to the rise in sea levels and trees will have grown instead.
The land is constantly shifting, shaping and reshaping due to the fire and ice, the water and the earth; it is much newer country than ours.
And even without these big environmental changes, the land holds so much more power than we notice that we live with. We drove along roads which are often shut in the winter because the wind is so strong that cars can just be blown off them. Employers just accept that this is how it is.
We were there when the sun was still up at 11pm and awoke at 0330, in mid-summer, it never sets. The kids whose Airbnb we were staying in were still on the trampoline at 1030pm.
But in the winter, it is dark. The nights are long, the days grey and cold. People retreat into their houses, our coach driver said that many people suffer from depression during the winter; I’m not sure I would do well without light.
So the homes are warm, heated geo-thermally with an abundance of natural hot water. People socialise in hot pools, water which is 38-44 degrees in air which is icy…we tried them, we loved them. I can completely see the pull of the hot water under a cold winter sky.
There is no escaping nature in Iceland. Water is everywhere, heat, cold, light, dark dancing constantly. Earthquake drills are practiced and houses built to withstand them. Phone systems are set up to send alerts of eruptions with instruction of which direction to head to safety, and they would even have texted out foreign phones.
I think this is why Iceland is so ecologically sound. 90% of their power comes from geo-thermal energy and the remaining 10% from other sustainable sources. They increasing the use of electric transport and buildings are highly insulated. When you live so closely with the shifting moods of your environment you know that you are not separate from it, not living apart, but intimately connected.
We have forgotten this. With our screens and our more temperate climate, our lives are only occasionally disrupted by floods and heatwaves and when they are, we see them as annoying anomalies, rarities, chance occurrences that have somehow broken into our lives.
We are deluded. Our land may be older, more stable, less volatile, our seasons easing more gently into and out of the calendar, but our life is just as intimately connected to our environment.
I’m writing this in Dorset in high wind where the beaches are closed with life guards holding people far back from the sea and yet still people are walking to the end of the peer to take selfies of themselves with huge waves reaching over them. The Amazon is burning, the artic is burning:
‘All those fires release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. When trees burn and when the soils burn, it adds those gases back to the atmosphere. And, of course, that makes climate change even worse on a global scale.’
Maybe it will only be when we face the destructive power of nature that we will begin to regain our understanding of how small we are in the face of the environment. It is only when the sea wall claims a victim, or an elderly neighbour dies in the heat that we pay attention.
We have forgotten that the sea is more powerful, the waves higher, the rocks harder, the rivers deeper, the sun hotter, the winds faster, the snow colder. Maybe we need to suffer more before we really reconnect to the natural world we live in and maybe it will only be at this point that we finally, fully understand that there is nothing, but nothing that is more important than learning to live in partnership and harmony with the environment.
Iceland knows this. We have forgotten. We have much to remember and learn.
Ps…don’t forget to check out the books for early Xmas shopping x