Four Seasons (or two, or three)
Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: It’s our last weekend in Hauganes, Iceland; we’re cramming in the last few touristy things we wanted to do here in the north. That’s our system—be lazy for three weeks, then run around at the last minute doing all the fun stuff. We’ll head back to Reykjavik on Monday.
Spring has crept over the landscape while we weren’t watching; I think it arrived on the wings of an Arctic tern. Suddenly the brown fields are fuzzed with green. The rhubarb (at least, I think it’s rhubarb) in the garden of our little house is unfolding thick, crinkled, blood-red leaves. Cheery yellow daffodils nod and sway as I amble through the village; I’m not sure how anything that looks so delicate survives in this climate, even as frost-hardy as I know daffodils are.
When we arrived in Reykjavik at the beginning of April, everything was drab brown—the ground, the lawns, the trees. I had seen pictures of Iceland that showed green fields rolling right up to black cliffs and aquamarine waterfalls. The pervasive brown surprised me. But then, I had also seen pictures taken in winter, when everything is covered in deep white snow. I had no idea Iceland has a brown season.
This is true of so many places—a city that is a wanderer’s dream in summer might be a slushy nightmare in winter. It’s difficult to gain a real understanding of a place if you only see it in one snapshot-moment.
We saw a little bit of darkness, late at night in our first couple of weeks, but now that it’s late May, darkness just doesn’t happen. I’ve been up at midnight, and I’ve been up at three am, and as far as I can tell, it’s perpetual twilight. I think this will go on for several months. We talked to a woman today who said there’s no daylight in December and January, and only a couple of hours by the end of February. So by the time night disappears in spring, she’s ready. And when darkness returns in the fall, she’ll be ready for that, too.
How much of Icelandic character is forged by these wild extremes, or by those long, dark, cold winters that I have very little desire to experience?
This seasonal pickiness feels like a bit of a failure on my part, but I suppose it’s just the nature of being a (literal) fair-weather traveler.
[Aside: the first week we came to the north, in early May, Lee commented that he felt like he was losing his mind because of all the daylight. I was fine in the beginning, but now I’m starting to crave darkness, even if just for half an hour.]
We were in a little beach town in Montenegro—Baosici—at this time a few years back. It was empty when we arrived, the houses shuttered, the boardwalk empty. During the month we spent there, the best entertainment was watching it come back to life in preparation for the summer holiday season. The beach was cleaned up, awnings hung, houses opened and aired. An ice cream stand appeared and storefronts were scrubbed clean. New beach chairs appeared with bright, clean cushions. It was one of those small, quiet insights into another life that have made the world so much more interesting to me now. (I think of Baosici these days, going into their second Covid spring, and I wonder how a tiny, off-the-radar Balkan beach town is faring without tourists or beach-goers.)
I realize that the average vacation doesn’t allow for four seasons of experience (or two, because some places only have two seasons, which kind of blew my mind when I figured it out), and most of us wouldn’t want that. We visit a place to see it at its best, and that picture-perfect version is what we want to remember. But I find it useful and enlightening to be aware that no place—no city, no country, no village—is ever static, no matter how much my brain wants it to look like that photo I snapped.
Seasons come and seasons go.
From my writer’s notebook:
I have no particular plan to work this into a book, but it’s just such a fun tidbit I had to share.
It turns out Bluetooth (you know, that setting on your phone that allows you to wirelessly connect to other devices or accessories) is named after a Danish Viking king from the late 10th century. King Harald Bluetooth. The little Bluetooth symbol on your phone? It’s the runes for his name. Your phone has, basically, a Viking monogram.
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