Grokking this place

Today is the second to last evening we’re spending in Iceland. Just in the past 2 days, we’ve driven halfway around the country, stayed with a family at a local farm, chatted with other travelers over langoustine and smoked fish, explored ice caves and glaciers with local guides, and soaked in outdoor “hot pots.”

After all this, I still feel like there’s more to do here. At the same time, I think I’m starting to really get this place.

There is a peacefulness in this country that I haven’t seen anywhere else. This makes sense for as far as I know, Iceland the modern country hasn’t experienced much discord. It’s so far from any continent that foreign troubles don’t often drift over here. It doesn’t have deep class, race, and political divides, and in fact prides itself on being a classless society. It hasn’t been active in any wars and doesn’t even have a standing military. The only battles the Icelanders have really fought are those against Mother nature and that misty pall she throws over the human soul in the dark winter.

Those battles are universal, and I think that makes the Icelanders easy to relate to. I mean, I constantly have trouble understanding China, my home country. On the other hand, I have had no trouble so far understanding the Icelanders and their lives, motivations, and way of doing things.

For instance, I get the way they use music as a defense against dysphoria. And the way they welcome everyone like they are all tired, wind-swept travelers who’ve come a long way. And the way they are obsessed with cleanliness—no shoes indoors, and everyone must shower before entering a swimming pool. I even get the way they love to swim outside in what New York would consider midwinter temperatures.

(Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I even went on the water slide 3 times to prove it.)

It’s all to simultaneously elevate themselves from, defend against, and harmonize with the natural conditions that exist here. It’s making a living amongst so much nature without losing a sense of being human.

Sometimes I wonder what our little habits tell us about how we respond to our environments, how we evolved. Earlier in the week I wrote about how traveling presented a chance to reconfigure some of my ingrained behaviors (like compulsive planning). I wonder where my compulsive planning tendencies came from, and if that’s a natural extension of living in New York. Of feeling constantly time- and space-challenged. And I wonder, too, if there’s a way to resist those ingrained behaviors. Or if I should leave them be because they reveal to me what I value.

These are the things I think about as I get ready for going back home.

Tomorrow is our last day. It’s sure to be an incredible one, as so far each day has been more surprising and memorable than the last. But first… sleep. Good night!