On this day two years ago I was wed. Jónsmessunott – Midsummer’s night – the day the seals are said to remove their skins to reveal their true human form, the cows are said to speak, and the dew becomes imbued with protective powers. On a mossy headland overlooking a long fjord in Iceland, encircled by friends and family, I made my vows to a man I love dearly and who I planned to spend my life with. We danced late into the bright Arctic night and through to the other side of day.
Living through Icelandic summers where the dark never comes, it can be respite to have a little lull in the brightness, and I remember being grateful for it becoming overcast, so that I could light candles in the dim.
I thought our lives together would be a long and happy one, as you would when you marry someone with whom you have already shared four happy years. But Life had other plans, and it has taken me a long time to hear it, understand it and accept it. Into the endless light of that union crept a darkness that slowly threatened to devour everything we had built. My husband suffered a severe bout of depression, which turned out to be a cycle that had been repeating itself for many years. For an affliction that is so commonplace in the Arctic, it is also a taboo. It is driven deep, not talked about, masked. He had masked it well from himself as much as anybody else. I tried to light candles in the darkness. We tried and we tried to keep it from swallowing us but it ran deep.
On this Solstice a year ago I was standing alone on a pebbly beach on the Northern tip of Iceland watching the sun sink and kiss the horizon, before immediately lifting its head again. We had spent the winter in England, living on a canal boat escaping the darkness of the Icelandic sky to alleviate the darkness inside us. I was watched by a curious gull, who flew past me this way and that, this way and that again, his belly and wings uplit by the kissing sun.
I was astounded by the electric halo around each and every lupine bud and felt I had walked into a dream sequence. I wondered why no one else was there witnessing this wonder. My love was on a night shift managing the harbour. Before our marriage he had worked as part of fishing crew where sometimes he was out at sea for weeks at a time. In this job, he had to be at the harbour whenever a catch was landed. It always seemed that I would see a lot of him or not much at all. Much like the sun, in the place where we lived – a small fishing village just below the Arctic circle – an equal balance of presence and absence seemed a futile desire. I looked at how red my trusty boots glowed in that golden light, and knew that in a few days’ time they would take me on a long and important journey.
I won a competition to be Penguin Books’ Summer Wayfarer. I made that journey back to and within my home country of England and of course it transformed me. Travelling on foot for two months, carrying everything I needed on my back, I rekindled a relationship with a former self that was not defined as Carer, though she was caring. I shed layers of exhaustion and feelings of betrayal. I had a transfusion of light and kindness. It made me realise how much this land is my home, where I make sense.
The journey made me whole again, enough for one last push. But it emerged my husband’s darkness was his to gestate and I finally realised that I cannot be his midwife. We eventually found the strength to part ways because we love each other, and wish to let the light back in to each other’s lives. Now, in this moment, I can feel a fragile healing setting in, but I have been grieving long and wide and deep. Writing has helped me move through, but I have not felt to write here. What is there to say when everything you know has fallen away?
On this Solstice, a beautiful magazine has landed on my doorstep in which I tell this tale of my relationship with landscape, self and others. Earthlines is a delight of a publication, in its content and its covers, and I urge you to get a copy. I am touched to have been asked to write a piece, and the challenge of doing so was the beginning of a cathartic process. It is a raw journey to write when going through dark times, but it is also the time when the truth muse lingers long enough to be honoured.
This Solstice I headed north to Scotland to share fireside, story, laughter and silence with beautiful people Dougie and Em Strang and their wonderful daughters and Jack Richardson, who I met on my Wayfaring journey. To have the anniversary of a union, now broken, marked by the generosity of the sun, and by the sadness of loss is a fragile path to tread, but I could not have done it in better company. For these heart friends in amongst the landscape I am deeply grateful.
And to my husband, thank you for these six rich years shared that spanned many lifetimes and have made me who I am now.