25.7.11

ordinary moments in an extraordinary place.

Only fifteen days ago we arrived on this litle farm tucked into a spectacular peninsula ringed with pseudocraters and lava pillars. It's not at all an exaggeration to describe this place as other-worldly. In fact, a couple of nights ago, a film crew was flying helicopters over our farm taping footage for an upcoming Ridley Scott movie about life on another planet. Accordingly, these last 15 days have felt like a surreal dance between ephemeral and eternal. In some ways, our life has been no different: we wake up (too early, always too early), feed everyone and the kiddos and I play, plan, work and argue together, along with the other three children staying here until last week). We all have lunch together, then there's some version of nap, reading, quiet time. Then dinner, play and sleep. Some days, Jake calls a family day and we get in a car and travel for the day to hike, explore and relax together. It's the everyday rhythm of life with two children under 5.





Only with a twist: our daily outings have been hikes to volcanoes and Dr. Seuss-worthy lava fields. Snack is frequently dung-smoked char on cave-baked bread or skyr with rhubarb sauce. The rhubarb sauce is homemade from colossal rhubarb growing by the lake behind our house. Milo can identify the species of midge that lands on his sweater (Plumosus, look at his antennae, mama!). The neverending daylight and all the vaulting ambition that comes with it. When I hang laundry to dry, I have to make sure the sheep won't eat it.

Today, we hiked over a couple of hills before dinner to catch up with "our" sheep, the mama and her lamb, and chat with them for a while, feeding them stalks of fresh angelica. Then we headed to some of the students' experimental plots to check on how many midges were in the traps. We walked along the lake, nibbling on wild sorrel leaves and looking for the arctic tern chicks that were patrolling this stretch of lakeshore last week. Kyra picked buttercups and put them all under her chin. She doesn't know why yet, she has just seen us do it. It was magical, in some ways exactly what I'd hoped for this trip to be: an opportunity to be out in nature a lot, to feel a relationship with a place and its plants and animals. To let them wander outside without our needing to hover nearby. To get used to walking and hiking. I watch these children seemingly growing before our eyes at the dinner table, brimming with these new experiences. I feel grateful and awed that we can do this together as a family.






And yet, it's required moments of digging deep for reserves of patience. Rainy days are hell when you live in a place where children lying on the floor skeeves you out and the sofa smells suspicious. While I have joked about wanting the farmhouse life, pitching headlong into 24-7 children, with jetlag, 15 other roommates and days of laundry, breadmaking and child-tending stretching before me left me feeling occasionally, oh, insane. And that's with an amazing husband who has been working hard to balance the field and the family (I do not envy him that task). But, I knew those days would probably happen, and we have been trying to go easy on ourselves when they do. Bad parenting moments definitely didn't get left at home...





In two days, we roll out of here to tour the country along its famed ring road and then land in Reykjavik for another three days. I am already starting to miss it here and yet am excited we get Jake to ourselves for a whole week. And there are glaciers to see, parks to play in, swimming pools to visit, strange foods to eat. And a lovely flat with a not-terrifying bathroom in a beautiful city. But most important, there is adventuring to be done as a family.

20.7.11

Musings

Some random Iceland-related thoughts I've been mulling lately

There is a bag of Doritos in the pantry. The flavor is "Cool American".

The owner of this farm and her 86-yr-old mother live in the basement of the farm and their flat smells a bit like greasy boiled mutton. As a result, I think we are starting to smell a bit like greasy, boiled mutton.

It feels decadent to go to bed in broad daylight.

Lava rocks hurt like hell when you fall on them.

I have yet to meet an Icelander who does not make art. I think this is a beautiful thing.

While I get that it's nature out here and shit happens, I still want to shoot the black-headed gull that has picked off the sweet tiny ducklings in the lake behind my house. Do I really need to witness every death?

Thanks to a 4-yr-old's mispronouncement, we coined a new cocktail: brandy, Ginger ale and muddled lime and basil makes a Fizzer.

The Farmhouse wife gig has been fun, but man, when I get home, I am going to kiss my high heels and eat sushi for a week straight.

16.7.11

In Iceland, you can't go far without eventually coming to water. And in the last few days, we've had the chance to experience water in its most sublime: whales, waterfalls and wicked hot springs.




Can you see the giant humpback?

Jake and I got out one evening this week to catch a sunset whale watching cruise in Husavik. The boat ride alone was worth it: an achingly serene and clear night (one of only two so far this trip), views of distant shimmering glaciers, the ocean swelling and heaving as we bob on its surface like the shorebirds around us . I absolutely love that feeling of moving with the ocean, it feeds my inner seagull. But the whales were quiet. Two humpbacks surfaced now and then, revealing a blow here, a dorsal fin there, just a tease of their enormity that lies beneath the surface. We watch, quietly delighted. They disappear for a long moment. Then, just like that, a leviathan literally dives out of the water completely, head to tail, twists a half turn in the air and crashes back into the sea fifty feet away from us. People gasp and duck. It feels just that close. It happens again, and again and again. Two whales, four jumps and then silence again. Shit, these animals are big. I love to be so humbled by the scale of this living creature. The show is done, they've tired of entertaining us and our boat turns around and slowly heads back to the tiny port of Husavik.

Dettifoss

Canyon rainbow (photo by Milo)

Basalt columns



We also took a family day trip to visit what are probably two of the crowning jewels of northeast Iceland: Asbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss Falls. Dettifoss is a 45m-high waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier. Asbyrgi canyon was formed by glacial flooding of Jökulsá á Fjöllum river now located several kilometres away. Icelandic legend has it that the horseshoe-shaped canyon is a hoofprint left by Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse. No surprise that this is the heart of the land of hidden folk who are said to reside among the 100m-high canyon walls of Asbyrgi. We hiked the mystical birch forests and pretended to float elven boats in spring ponds. If you have ever seen the Sigur Ros documentary "Tak", Asbyrgi is where they held the midnight outdoor concert. I so wish I had been there. It must have been an absolutely magical experience to hear their ethereal music in such an ancient place full of spirits.

Descending into the ass-crack of the earth

The ass-crack kinda gave me vertigo

Can you see Jake pushing Europe and North America apart?

Last night after little ones were asleep, we stole away to hike to a hot spring cryptically referred to as the "hidden fissure". The hidden fissure is aptly named: it is literally a widened and perfectly cooled spring in a deep fault in the earth that you reach by scrambling down 30 feet of cliffs into a chasm. And you definitely don't think about earthquakes while you do it. What you do think about is how glorious insane it is, how one hand is touching Europe while the other clings to North America, and how, even though you just spent an entire cold, rainy day indoors with five kids and needed two drinks to unwind from it, this is a pretty damn awesome trip you're on. That's what you think about.

cheers,
Helen

11.7.11

Still a small world even when you're on the edge of it.

beachcombing

collecting spiders

primrose (I think)

Akureyri

Warsaw Pact

midnight sun

And just like that, eight days have slipped by in this delerious place of eternal daylight. Just as subtly, we've slipped too into our own new rhythms, and I am reminded again of just how flexible people, especially little people, can be in the face of change. It's encouraging considering the panic I felt when I realized we'd be all sharing the floor of one bedroom for four weeks and we would be putting kiddos to bed in broad daylight, amid the dinner conversations of fifteen other people wafting in through paper-thin walls at the SAME TIME in the SAME ROOM. All of this new to them. And I'd be lying if I said it didn't melt into pandemonium the first couple of days. "Sleep", like "nighttime", was a very fluid concept around here for a stint. But adapt they have and we have really enjoyed listening through those paper-thin walls as two little siblings talk one another to sleep each night.

This weekend the family tagged along on a lake sampling trip to Vikingvatn, the Viking Lake. The drive took us through winding cliffs along the bay of Skjálfandi. We pulled off at an unassuming spot, braced ourselves against the penetrating northern wind and peeked down on a large puffin colony nestled in the cliff walls below us. I was embarassingly giddy. They were just so RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF US! After months of talking and reading about them it was positively thrilling to see the little sad clown faces so close, their comical roly poly little bodies almost crash landing into the waters below. For a moment, I held Kyra close and pointed to the islands on the horizon. "It's 4 degrees in July," I whispered into her ear, "and there is the arctic circle. We are standing on the edge of the world." Fascination succumbed to numbness and the anxiety of having small children perched near the edge of a 300-foot cliff. We reluctantly tore ourselves away and held an impromptu picnic inside the car before heading down the cliffs to the field site (in search of midge larvae - more on that in a future post).

We closed the week last week with a road trip to Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city and the northern regional center, to catch some local music. And by local, I mean Icelandic musicians and some guy from East Lansing, MI playing polish wedding music sung in Icelandic. Varsjárbandalagið ("Warsaw Pact") were a terrific and quirky cast of characters that reinterpreted classic Icelandic folk music with klezmer and Balkan influences. They reminded me a lot of Madison's own Reptile Palace Orchestra and I know Reptile had an Icelandic drummer once upon a time and wouldn't you know it the bands knew each other and we all had friends in common. Small world, indeed.



Until next time,
helen

8.7.11

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via Soulemama

7.7.11

The world outside my windows

"What modern technical noises - for that matter, what music, even Bach - can compete with the music of water, river and fjord, constantly in motion? To extend that metaphor, what artwork that you hang on your walls can stand up to the splendor of the light that enters this house? It is good that humans labor to make beauty out of light and sound and language, but we must also practice a certain modesty in the presence of our superior - the world outside those windows." Bill Holm, The Windows of Brimnes

We all tend to see the world around us through windows of some kind, whatever boxes we place around our perception of the world. But literally speaking, I think the best introduction to this adventure of ours is to show you what really lies just outside the windows of this little farmhouse called Kálfaströnd.

The view as I write.

Here is a satellite image of the Kálfaströnd peninsula and on the bottom left you can see the three buildings of the farm. The farmhouse is the little dot nearest to the water.

The view out our bedroom window

The beauty of this place lies not in the what of it (though there is plenty of quaint in this old, moldy little building) but in the where of it. There is just a bigness to the Icelandic landscape and every little wooden window beckons you to take a look, to soak it in.


I find myself forgetting my thoughts, forgetting the sentence I had begun as I watch a lenticular cloud settle over the crater south of the farm.


Today, I poured coffee into the french press and forgot to put the plunger in. I was watching the ewe outside, hobbling under the weight of a tragically damaged and distended uterus, protectively herding her lamb from an oncoming car. Even though she didn't have much life left in her, she was still compelled by her biological imperative: to care for that child. The lamb herself had a disconcerting habit of parking beneath the bedroom windows and coughing loudly. So much going on, can you see why it's easy to forget that coffee?

No neighborhood cafe, but we do have these.

5.7.11

Icelandic cataclysms large and small

The geothermal pool at our guesthouse in Keflavik

Fourth of July with the UW field crew. Beach: normal, mittens and hats: not so much.

The view from the backyard of our farmhouse

I think they're talking about sulphur-reducing bacteria. I wasn't really listening.

A few bandages can't stop the flower-picking

Sulphur-reducing bacteria-eye view of us.

Mama by Milo

It's midnight and I am watching the sun on the horizon, though the light gets most magical around 1 a.m. Tonight after the children finally collapsed at 11 pm, we went birdwatching. Visiting Iceland in the heart of their summer is a bit of a mindgame: the day never ends but summer arrives in, like, two seconds. It's been cold, really cold, and the landscape looks - even for Iceland - rather bleak. And then, poof!, it's sunny, still and 17 degrees celsius.

Our travels with two little ones in tow were relatively easy. The most challenging part was the sketchy airport hotel in Milwaukee. The best part was waking in a guesthouse in Keflavik beneath handmade crocheted blankets to a breakfast of Icelandic smoked salmon, fresh baked bread and homemade skyr. After fortifying ourselves with dark coffee, fish and a family soak in the backyard geothermal pool, we set out for Lake Myvatn, a six-hour drive along Iceland's ring road. Given the time difference (5 hours) we woke late and only set out for our trip mid-afternoon. Which meant when we stopped to view the Golfoss waterfall en route to our field house in Lake Myvatn, it was 11:45 p.m. Messed up.

The trip has already been filled with more cataclysms than I bargained for. This country is a study in big geological events, those I was prepared for. The one I was less prepared for was Kyra's fall into the 4th of July beach bonfire and the terrifying 45-minute drive to the hospital to have her burned hand (and to a much lesser extent, lip) treated. She is fine, healing remarkably well and shockingly not in as much pain as we expected given the 2nd and 3rd degree burns her little hand suffered. The doctor (named Unnstein!) treated her hand, sedated her and released her about an hour later and we got to take her home. We anticipated a long night, especially as the pain relief wore off. Instead she slept all night and woke in a good mood, almost delighted at the big white drumstick her right hand had become overnight. The entire hospital experience here was as surreal as the endless light. The young doctor in Diesel jeans who came to unlock the clinic door and let us in, the sign asking visitors to remove their shoes before entering the hospital and the billing process. As in: none. He told us not to worry about it, it had already been a hard night and we should go home and take care of our daughter.

Today, we watched this little girl of ours not skip a beat. She just ate and played with her left hand and by the end of today, had mastered a pretty functional pincer grip with the exposed tip of her thumb and index finger of the injured hand (see flower-picking above!). Given her cheery disposition, we took her and Milo to some much calmer catalysmic sites: fumaroles and boiling mud pots. Tomorrow, she'll have her bandages changed and then probably master left-handed chopsticks.

Stay tuned...
Helen