24 January 2011
Day one in Vestmannaeyjar. I set up my tent inside a circle of mountain. Volcanic walls surround my cloth home on a field crowded with dandelions. Swarming above the scattered tents are as many birds as there are people in Reykjavik. Thousands of seabirds squawk about, lighting on tufted nests that look like messy green mustaches. Near the sea stands a shelter constructed with the volcano's crumbs, a four-walled, turf-roofed abode, a hole in the rain. This is where I write.
They call this place fiskehellar, the fish caves, because of the hundreds of dry pockets worn into the mountainside. When the island was being fought over, fiskehellar is where the women and children kept safe. Tonight, it cradles me to sleep, too, as I flatten dandelions into pancakes beneath my back and pray that my tent is spared the steady fall of ammoniac rain that artfully speckles the ground.
The flight here made my heart leap. Heimaey and its little siblings rise out of the water like emeralds set in asphalt. A late evening light cast them in an oblique, golden hue. The runway reminded me of the airport in Pulaski, except instead of a quarry preceding the landing, we lipped a bungled volcanic cliff covered with birds and giant waves. There was a young soccer team aboard -- about a dozen ten year-old kids wearing their uniforms and grass-stains proudly -- and when the wheels touched down smoothly, they let loose a spirited applause.
The rain has stopped, the birds haven't. One slight shadow falls when camping in around-the-clock sunshine - aside from being hard to fall asleep at first, the birds are never quiet. All hours of the night they squawk and sing away. But perhaps they do that back home, too. I cannot remember. I am looking forward to darkness again, even if I spend it mostly asleep...
excepted from a letter written on Heimaey, the largest of the islands of Vestmannaeyjar, off the southern coast of Iceland.
July 3, 2010