Excerpts from Islandia

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Dear Diary,

today, I endeavored to conduct experiments with ice cream. Namely, I sought to either prove or debunk the myth that it is impossible to be unhappy while standing behind an ice cream cone. As I have no intellectual attachment to the results of my query, and found myself unhappy, yet perusing the ice cream flavors at a shop in Reykjavik, I remembered the old adage and decided to test it through self-observation.

It was my birthday, a day that is full of mirth for many, but not for me. When I was young, around age seven, my birthday wires were crossed and instead of enjoying the day, I dreaded it instead. Mind you, the day before is fine and the day after is always sunny. Call it a quirk of character, or a flaw. Call it what you will.

Mankind is a walking, talking contradiction and our innermost thoughts elude us, even in plain sight.

I had every intention to conduct my experiment with vanilla, a solid flavor. A good vanilla, is like the sublime quietude of the mind while the mind’s body sits on a rock by a babbling stream and listens. Unlike its cheeky cohort, chocolate, vanilla is weighty with nuance, subtlety, and poise.

However, cherry-vanilla is very nearly the hardest ice cream flavor of all to pass up.

And so, I conducted my test on a two scoop cone of cherry vanilla on a bright Saturday evening in Reykjavik, Iceland. I cannot recall the flavors E chose, she mixed, but as it was not E’s birthday, nor was she sad, angered, or in any way put out, her emotional response to her ice cream cone is a moot point.

And thus, I learned that, yes, it is possible to be sad while eating an ice cream cone, but ice cream, particularly in the form of a cone, but it is equally impossible not to feel silly about feeling sad while eating an ice cream cone.

In short, cherry vanilla ice cream definitely takes the edge off.

***

I once had an awkward conversation with a friend who loves rocks above all else.

It went something like this:

He said, “rocks are the most powerful element of nature.”

I said, “no element is more or less powerful than any other.”

He said, “rocks are the strongest.”

I said, “everything works together.”

He said, “rocks crush things.”

I said, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”

He said, “rocks are cool.”

I said, “do you want some ice cream?”

***

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“We are walking on the bottom of an ocean,” I say to E as we explore an open field surrounded by flat-topped mountains.

It’s true. Once upon a time, the ocean covered the land where we were walking. Fish swam, sea plants grew. But, the oceans pushed their ways through to cover dry land, and rearranged the continents.

Why the oceans and waterways moved, I don’t know. Perhaps change was in order? Perhaps the water wanted a new view? Curiosity? Boredom? Or maybe they drifted over while they were dreaming.

At any rate, it happened. The ocean, with help from the other elements, moved itself from one place to the next.

Rocks are strong and trees are smart. Fire is transformative. Air sees everything and ether carries the news.

But water has the ability to break up continents and wear away the sharps edges of rocks. It shape shift with or without the help of fire, and travels through land and sky.

And yet, if it were agreed in a conversation between all the elements that water trumps them all, I’m pretty sure water would shrug his shoulders and say, “come on, guys. Without you, I’m nothing.”

***

Dear Diary,

I have a theory. One that I dare not tell E, as she is a scientist and I am a dreamer and my dreams make her quake with irrational fits of indulgent logic and spurts of rationality.

Today Eleanor pointed out how Icelanders seem to have an elemental geographic understanding of the island upon which they live. The landscape changes within the course of one’s life. Earthquakes open volcanic steam vents on the sides of mountains, lakes move, and mud pits boil. It’s as if Iceland is the engine room for the planet.

While we were exploring a cave, our guide pointed out that the water dripping from the cave ceiling took five thousand years to become a free-falling drop of water. It is the drinking water of the country, filtered by layers and layers of rock, lava, and earth. This water tastes fresh and clean, despite the fact that it took five thousand years and a specific set of circumstances for that particular drop of water to where it does after all that time.

Hearing this, I began to suspect that water has a very different experience with time than I do.

And then I saw that when time and water work side by side, they are invincible.

I started to wonder if time might be another expression of water.

If so, earth is not only the water planet. It is the time planet as well.

Time, like water, can cascade, drip, evaporate, erode, flood, swirl, wriggle, and stand still, depending on its intentions.

And we, humans, travel through time with every breath we take, every step, every blink, and every heart beat.

Time swirls around us and changes us with the patience of a drip of water finding its way to the center of the earth.

Like water, it has the power to change the landscapes.

Time and water possess infinite reserves of patience.

I am more convinced, every day, that this planet we live on is a time machine.

***

During the ice cream experiment, a few minutes in, I was yanked into my future.

It’s my eightieth birthday and I am similarly employed in considering the emotional implications of a cherry-vanilla ice cream cone. try as i might to ignore the day and it’s relevance, a well-intentioned friend who enjoys her birthday remembers it is mine.

And my eighty-year-old memory boomerangs back to the memory of me conducting my ice cream and emotions experiment in Iceland in that moment with my sister. I see, if I learned anything from the trip, other than being a stone or a tree or a mountain or an animal on the water planet is an exercise in adaptability, is that life is an expression of time.

And I finally understand that, no matter what my mood is, or where I find myself, I’d be a fool not to eat ice cream, even on a dreary day.

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