* * * Part I: Blue * * *
There is an Icelandic expression, “Það kemur í ljós”, which is the equivalent of the English “time will tell”. Though it means something rather different which I find appropriate and telling as to how one interacts with one’s realities in Iceland: “that will come into the light”. Time passing might change nothing at all about a situation, but the light shining on it allows you to see it differently, in a different colour, and thereby it is revealed.
The winter before this one was my first in this land, and some might say I was a fool to come at the beginning of one. I might say that myself. But, in my stronger moments, I like the idea of putting myself through experiences, good and bad, to really taste life in all of its extremes. The biggest surprise last winter was not the coldness or the dark; it was what happened to my energy, and the energy of everything around me. It froze.
I suppose this might be an obvious effect of deep winter, but I have never been in a situation or place where I felt it so directly, so physically. There were few distractions, even less motivation, and being new here I was not integrated. I kept active as I always do, but I was unable to acknowledge that I had achieved anything.
The following summer we had several visitors and they could not believe how much I had achieved. One said, “If this is you in the dark, I’m not sure I want to see you in the light!”. Achievement can of course be measured in much more subtle and beautiful ways than career, money, property – a lot of which is based on an illusory linear life course. Some people choose a life course that is like a branching tree, and see uncertainty not as insecurity but as the cherished anticipation of what is around the next bend. I am one of these, but one who has been raised in the linear worldview, so when stepping off the highway onto the bumpy winding side track that is this life, it is nurturing to have reassurances from others that you are doing well.
As I hunkered down for this past winter, I knew that this time around, I would have to change my point of view, and sometimes my view as well: I would have to leave this fjord sometimes. But what I did notice particularly this winter, was how often the same view changed day to day, and even during the day. I never cease to marvel at what lies beyond our window panes. I am always stopped in my tracks on my way out of the front door and often turn on my heel to get my camera.
A friend pointed out that Isafjordur (‘Ice Fjord’) – both the name of the town we live in and the name of the fjord system that contains it – contains the ‘Isa’ rune, which is described thus:
The Isa rune
Ice, cold, freezing. Lack of change. Stagnation. Lack of emotion. Storing binding. Bridge across danger.
Isa means ice. Although ice can be beautiful, it is also dangerous. It can be slippery or treacherously thin, or block your progress. Isa means that you may have to delay your plans until a more favourable season. But it can take the heat out of a confrontation, or protect against magical attack. Emotionally, Isa implies a cooling of affection, or frigidity. It has a freezing, delaying, or preserving effect on other runes around it.
A period of non-action is indicated. Do not let yourself get into a rut. Do not take anyone for granted. Be not afraid to show your feelings. Crossing water will be beneficial. Things appear to be at a standstill and this is not a time to try to force movement. Patience and wisdom are called for. This is not the time to abandon goals, but an opportunity to reaffirm them. This is a time for contemplation and preparation, not despondency or regrets. Things will change as surely as winter changes to spring and then summer.
This description resonated remarkably with my experience here, and it is not unlikely that it resonated with that of the settler who gave it this name. Whatever the connections are, I found it incredibly helpful to see my situation in this different light, and knew that this time around I would do some things differently – primarily to have different expectations of myself and to ‘cross water’.
January is usually the most difficult time. It is the darkest time of the year (especially once all the Christmas lights have come down), and the festive spirit of Yule gives way into the long hard wait until spring, which is only just beginning for us now. So this January, to ‘change my view’ I fulfilled a several year-long dream. We headed to Norway for the incredible Ice Music Festival in Geilo. It might seem perverse to escape winter stagnation by going to an even colder place, but only in cold climes do you find and ancient ice, and only in very cold climes does it SING!
First we drove south amid avalanche and gale warnings, which curiously seemed to avoid our path. With reports of evacuations in our village on the radio, we meandered through the greyscale landscape until we met the sun up on a mountain pass – the first time it had touched our skin in many months.
We looked as if we were waking from a deep deep slumber, and as it warmed our skin, our life force began to flow, and the light changed everything. Even though everything was still mostly white, it was tinged with colours! Blues, greens, yellows…and shadows.
* * * Part II: Red and Yellow * * *
We passed through the UK to have a wedding dress fitting, visit family and to collect our friends Kate and Jedrek, who live on a canal boat in London (when not doing research in Zanzibar!). Staying in the secret, brightly coloured, slow paced world just below street level was the most relaxing way I have ever met with the city. Days were spent cycling along the towpath, discovering such delights as The Book Barge, and that everything seems much closer than it does on public transport. Evenings were spent at their hearth meeting fellow boat dwellers, sharing tales smoking shisha pipes, and very excitingly once going on a voyage to collect water and empty the toilet!
And mornings were spent having very springlike red and yellow breakfasts out on the ‘terrace’. The white landscapes of home seemed a million miles away, not to mention the proximity of their winter mooring to London zoo meaning that some nights they heard the lion roar!
And finally we bundled up every Icelandic jumper we had, along with mulled wine and food, and headed off to the higgledy piggledy streets of Bergen to catch a train into the mountains, where the ice likes to sing the most.
* * * Part III: Back to Blue * * *
From the roaring of lions to the singing of ice…the Ice Music Festival did not disappoint. It is exactly what it says on the tin.
The venue is made of ice…
The signs are made of ice…
The percussion section is made of ice…
The horns are made of ice…
And this year there was even an ice cello….
It is a magical experience sitting on a reindeer skin full of hot chocolate in a snow amphitheatre under the open skies, listening to the sound that 1000 year old ice makes. It really makes you think about how much beauty and potential there is held inside so many things that often go unnoticed. I am heartened that there are people in this world who take the time to unleash it. I urge you to take a listen!
The view from our Norwegian wooden house window
It was a blessed journey from the start. Months back last summer, I heard a Radio 4 documentary about the festival which prompted me to act on this long held dream and make it a reality. We bought the tickets and resigned to figuring out the details later (like accommodation and travel with very little money). A few days later, a couple walked into the shop where I was covering for a day, and they turned out not only to be from Norway, but from a small village near the festival! The man, Lars, is a musician and had made an ice harp for the festival some years back. We were invited to stay at their beautiful wooden house on the shores of a frozen lake, neigboured by old timber barns with turf roofs and mushroom shaped feet to keep the mice out. Around them were pine and birch forests and towering icicle cathedrals with stained glass windows of yellow and blue (to give an idea of scale, note the small black form at the bottom – it is Kate!).
I am always astounded by the hospitality of strangers though I think there is, beyond the fear mongering and the ‘social norms’, a deep human instinct to open one’s door to some colour that comes in from the cold. I am glad to be able to extend the same welcome. So far it has only been wonderful and two of those colourful folk we had opened our door to last summer were the next stop on our Winter Whirlwind Tour….!