To live without reflection is to be a rock and not roll.
As the ferry rocked and swayed its way toward the Icelandic coast, I sat wedged into the corner of the windowsill, peering intently along the port side of the ship to our mystical destination. Sheer walls of rock and ice rose thousands of feet straight up from the frigid waters. The slowly rising sun caressed their peeks in the late morning.
“Hey! Geoffrey! C’mon! I gotta show you something!” Anton said excitedly in his thick Icelandic accent as he burst into the lounge with his heavy coat unzipped and an unopened bottle of vodka in hand.
“What is it?” I replied as I started to get up.
“Just come on! Grab your stuff.”
“Alright fine. Just gimme a second.” I started shoving some of my things back into my backpack, but quickly gave it up remembering that there were only about eight passengers left onboard. “Forget it. No one’s going to touch it,” I muttered as I shrugged on my sweatshirt and began to follow him down the passageway to the forward stairwell.
“This is the vodka I was telling you about,” he said showing me the wide bottle of Reyka. “It’s the best stuff in Iceland.”
“You couldn’t wait until you got home?” I inquired, curious about his hurry to procure the liquor I was certain he wasn’t going to touch before he drove his rickety old van along the icy highways across the island.
“It’s cheaper here. Everything’s expensive in Iceland,” he explained more candidly than I knew at the time.
We walked quickly down the rocking passageways and took the stairs two at a time to the seventh deck.
“Is this the one?” he asked partly to himself as he peered around the corner. “No. Next one.”
We climbed to the next deck and rounded the corner to a wide iron door sealing out the cold winds. I followed him out the door and pushed it closed behind me. The water from the previous night’s rain rippled in puddles on the blue deck, a tiny replica of the white-capped waves beyond. Continuing forward, we climbed a ladder to the top deck. A high gunwale and the radar sail protected us from the winds, making a peaceful eddy from which we peered over the bow.
Unfiltered, untouched, unimaginable. The steep cliffs stretched along the entire western horizon. Their faces lit by a sun that appeared to be resting on the water to the south. It was impossible to grasp the scale if the jagged peaks, bounded by the countless waves below and the bluebird sky above.
Anton broke the stillness: “Can you imagine? Being a Viking in your little wooden boat? And you see this? There must have been that one guy: ‘Fuck it. I’m going back.”
I laughed and added, “Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. It’s not exactly welcoming.”
I started wandering toward the forward rail. I wanted to see around the sail.
“It’s windy as fuck up there,” Anton warned me.
I looked back with a smile but continued. As I passed through the safety of our little shelter, the wind and ship’s speed combined in a wall of icy air that tore through my cotton sweatshirt. Leaning into the wind, I pushed forward until I grabbed onto the rail. Squinting against the gusts, I gazed from south to north along the entire inhospitable coastline. Not to be outdone, Anton came to rail on my right. Playing with the wind, he leaned into it with his arms spread wide, bending down at least twenty degrees before his weight overcame the lift. He tried again, a wide grin on his face, the vodka in one outstretched hand, eyes on the deck above which he was momentarily suspended. He looked happy. I could tell he was. He was almost home.
He caught himself from a fall once more and gave up the trick. Still smiling, he grabbed the rail and stared longingly at the coastline. Starting to shiver from the cold, I retreated to the calm safety of the sail’s wake. Anton remained, drawn in by the scenery. He had been away for seven years, only visiting briefly a couple times. It had been years since he last saw this. Norway, his temporary host, had been no suitable replacement. He longed for the vast landscapes, the unbounded freedom, the genuine people of his homeland. For a moment, he was lost in reflection of memories, of hopes, of a world once lost and now perhaps found. It was a moment I could not share. I would not understand. And for a moment, he was alone.
to be continued…