After being in a place so long it begins to feel like home – even a place as committed to consistently challenging one’s expectations as Iceland. The deep stillness of the landscape. The endless state of flux of that same landscape.
There is an island just off the mainland in the south called Heimaey. Heimaey, like the island before her, is volcanic, and surrounded by another string of smaller volcanic islands – known as the Westman Islands – floating quietly from a distance. The islands disappear on a cloudy day, or a tumultuous one. You can reach Heimaey by ferry, take a smaller boat to explore the others, spend hours driving around dramatic valleys of ash and wildflowers and green fields that I am told stay colorful all year, unlike the rest of Iceland. Her name is taken from the Icelandic word for home, heim.
The first word that comes to mind when I consider Heimaey is resilience. Only a few decades ago, this island was engulfed in lava – one its main peaks, Eldfell decided to erupt. Half the island; many, many homes included; were lost to lava and sulfur – but the people wouldn’t stay away. The site of great tragedy is now a beautiful if somber park where people camp and hike – the rest of the town shifted just to the side. The inhabitants of Heimaey managed to save all but one life, and the majority of the town before the lava spread further – and for the most part were not afraid to rebuild what they were left with into something beautiful and new, even the reminder embedded in the landscape of what had happened before.
My last week in Iceland, my friend Clara and I made a trip here, and we both agreed we could see why they stayed. The island is incredibly beautiful – we had two days but wished we had more. One can circle the island by car in an hour, but one could spend months exploring its mountainous terrain and treacherous coastline. I also had a couple specific projects I planned to work on here, in particular one involving one of the surrounding Westman Islands called Heimaey, one of the youngest islands in the world which scientists are seeing remains uninhabited for the sake of research regarding how land masses form and are populated by vegetation and animal life – here and on a macrocosmic scale. I have been fascinated by Surtsey in particular for sometime, this island already featured in some of my creative writings before the whole Iceland trip was a possibility. And now it has a feature in some of my visual art work.
It was a significant last adventure. I took a boat trip around the island for some better views and video recordings of Surtsey and the Heimaey coast, also overcame some fear of heights and climbed the now quiet Eldfell.