Location: Iceland (3)

 

The plants here are so hardy. It snowed heavily last night, about six to eight inches of it, and it has been carved around the landscape by wind. The smallest plants were unaffected. Smaller plants tend to be hardy. The size means that less affected by wind and their slow growth means they require less nutrients to grow. So they can survive even the most treacherous landscapes. Plants, often seen as fragile, are the most robust forms of life, and pave the way for more delicate creatures -like mammals- to exist. As far as ecological succession goes, plants are usually the colonisers of any ecosystem. Despite other creatures aggression, from bacteria to the top predators, the passivity of plants is what makes them ferocious. But it’s an unremarkable ferociousness, it’s like the flexibility of a baby’s skull allowing it to push through the hips of the mother. The grass must be supple enough to crown and reach the ceiling of fireflies. 

The plants don’t actually emerge from the snow. Rather, the snow is desperate to be a plant, desperate to have that grounding, to remain in one place and one state. The snow is used to a volatile life. It starts as water, is hurled into the air by the heat of the sun, and then is abandoned when further from home. So it, and billions of other specks of water start to huddle together, unsure of their purpose but adamant on companionship. Then, like a revolution, one rogue group decides the fate of the populous. To remain as water, to freeze as hail or snow, and then to fall, to bombard the earth with their presence, that is the fate of water. For snow, it has the joy of remaining for a slightly longer time than rain or hail, and remains in a blanket of comradeship with its infinite number of friends. But eventually it will melt, become water, and return to the ocean for the cycle to start again. A plant has a similar fate: it will once again become carbon, but the cycle is much longer. It seems more individual. But the snowflake cannot see how individual it is. 

*

Today I saw a dove: I’m sure of it. Now, doves are simply a white breed of pigeon, and pigeons are birds I only ever associate with the urban. To see that kind of bird here is startlingly incongruous. Another thing which shocked me: seeing sandals in the hallway of the schoolhouse. I can’t image why anyone would wear sandals here. It’s supposed to be warmer in the summer, but I can’t see how it could possibly be warm enough to wear sandals, and apparently, it’s not normal form to wear flipflops to the swimming pool. They’re worn leather sandals, with two silver buckles over the top and feet marks the colour of strong coffee smudged into the soles. Perhaps the owner would slip on their sandals on a bright, fresh summer morning, when it’s was slightly too chilly to just wear the sandals and a dressing gown, and walk down to the water with an empty glass. They’d take some of the water, swill it around in the cup for a little while, then take a sip. The water would be salty. They’d pull a face, but the severity of the taste would wake them up faster than a cup of coffee ever could. This doesn’t work in the Winter. It’s too dark in the mornings to wake up – something I can attest to – and instead they would rely on the clamour of others to rouse them from their slumber. Not quite as poetic, but it did the job.

*

The sea: graphite shavings. An undercurrent of blue but not much, and in the far distance is a fuse blowing, a faulty lightbulb. The sea is a map of where the clouds are, a messy tracing, a left-handers smudged cursive revealed by the iridescent grey skin on the side of their hand.

Beneath me, a felled tree has electricity lines as an augmented limb — The tree a conduit now, an unforeseeable outcome of foreseeable human development. The tree would have been about 15 foot tall. Around us shrubs mourn the loss of their idol. Ambition gone, they remain humble in stature, a stunted survival. Egotism no longer exists for the shrubs – instead: collective endurance. The species takes its purpose to be a windbreaker, a feat of transcendence in a turbine land.

As I walked, a walk highlighting some of the most beautiful parts of the island, I made the mistake of listening to music through my headphones. Every now and then an intrusion of sound would get the amygdala and hypothalamus chattering like crows and resulted in a chant that said ‘Wolf? Wolf! Wolf.’ More often than not, the sound was of me cracking ice that hid under the snow. When that wasn’t it, it was the sound of my coat rubbing against itself as I walked, amplified by the anechoic oesophagus of earth.

*

The funny thing about being higher up is that you feel as though you’re on the edge of the world. Here, you can never get that feeling. You might be at the highest point on this island, but the peaks which orbit you will always offer a better view, a crow’s nest for the sublime. And good luck climbing them. You’re barely geared up to walk this island, and it has clear paths set out to walk on. Those mountains are beyond human, whichever path taken is a newborn, with teething problems and thrashing feet, and an array of forking paths.

*

The swimming pool is excellent. After your body gets used to the cold air (roughly 3 degrees today), the pool actually feels warm. It’s probably about 30 degrees, just below body temperature. If you stay still for too long, you will start to feel a slight chill though, so it’s an excellent motivation to keep swimming. I have been twice now, each time swimming for about 40 minutes. Breast stroke is meant to be excellent for improving posture. I think about my posture a lot. It’s a shame that thinking about it doesn’t automatically make it better. But, it helps. After 40 minutes of swimming I go into the ‘hot tub’, which is basically a smaller pool with geothermally heated water. It’s about 42 degrees, the temperature of the perfect bath. There are some water jets in there which if you sit in front of them give the best back massage ever. Again, good for posture. I used to think I was designed for swimming when I was younger. People said that because I was born in my water (it never broke I would be a good swimmer. But I was also born two weeks early, so really I spend less time in water than I should have done. The idea that being born in my water might determine anything might be a bit of a nonsense.

Keeping fit here is surprisingly easy. I’m eating less (food is expensive), and walking through the snow and across ice does good things for your core (staying upright is effort). Especially the ice. If being here has taught me anything it’s what kind of ice you can walk on — it’s the kind you can see. Like all things in life, you can adjust for the things you can see. You can prepare. There is no preparation for what you don’t expect, so you might as well just accept the inevitable fall. I’ve found laughing my way through falling over makes it easier, like maybe it’s a funny sketch in a TV show rather than a real pain in my leg and a bruise that takes three days to fade.

*

There was also an odd metal structure today, a sculpture, a homage to the culture and history of the island. My first though was ‘Did they build it here or in the schoolhouse? And where did they get the metal from?’ The second thought was ‘That face looks like the Iron Giant.’ I wish there were more relics of human origin here. It’s almost as though the island devours what is human, as it has no place in a land like this. 

Once you admit to yourself that you are human, that that condition is the source of your experience, you can start to experience the outside of yourself. The first stage of human awareness is self-awareness. But that contains the risk of self-involvement and importance, a mobius strip of thought. The second stage is transcendence. Once you can start to place your consciousness on the outer periphery of your body you can start to feel your place with the world, rather than in it, and so your identity isn’t solid, reduced to a set of political and philosophical terms which determine the actions you can take. Instead you are within the world, constantly changing and adapting, who you are when you’re at home, and then when you leave the house, and then when at work, then at play. You are emerging from all of these moments, rather than all of these moments happening to you. Like existential thought, it reduces the pressure. You are a product of your genes, yes, and your upbringing, of course, but also each moment is a new moment to become the version of yourself you would like to be. Transcending human judgements of identity (new year new me! or summer goals! or I’m going do better for x/y/z) means you can see each instance as a new opportunity to act the way you feel you should.

And if you don’t, no one will die, and the next moment will present itself very shortly.

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