Being determined to not spend money while only here for such a short while, but also wanting to see something of the country, I planned to simply walk as far as I could walk in a certain amount of time and then turn around to make my connecting flight. It was a great plan, I was excited about it. Turns out the weather was not so excited about it.
We landed in minimal visibility, relatively strong winds, and a strong mist that, when met with the wind, renders you soaked in minutes, even when clad in waterproofs.
I was pretty disappointed honestly. I love gloomy weather, but the combined elements of the compromised visibility, slick roads, and wind seemed to suggest that my roadside wander was perhaps not the best scheme for today.
While pouting a bit internally about this, I recalled two nature-related concepts. First is the notion of edgelands - the transitional space between countryside and town, the limbo land between the urban and rural. Although the term "edgelands" would not be coined until much later, in 1883 English nature writer Richard Jefferies wrote of this in-between zone in his Nature Near London. In the preface to this work he articulate that:
"it is usually supposed to be necessary to to far into the country to find wild birds and animals in sufficient numbers to be pleasantly studied. Such was certainly my own impression till circumstances led me, for the convenience of access to London, to reside for awhile about twelve miles from town. There my preconceived views on the subject were quite overthrown by the presence of as much bird-life as I had been accustomed to in distant fields and woods...Along the roads and lanes the quantity and variety of life in the hedges was truly astonishing..."The area surrounding the Keflavik International Airport is similarly symptomatic of an edgeland as was the "nature near London". Most of the major landmarks are a single hotel, a collection of tour buses, a car park, and a plethora of rental car lots. However, should you be so desperate to see Icelandic nature as I was, you will see it abundantly. What initially appears as a vacant moorland, becomes a forested wonderland in miniature. As Jefferies wrote, "the quantity and variety of life...was truly astonishing." The botanical specimens almost appear like a terrestrial coral reef, a nearly-missed, but undeniable variety of colour is painted there within. Although there was no ocean for this coral reef, there were certainly waves of spray. As mentioned earlier, today's weather was in a bitter mood, but it a created beauty all the same. The wind blew the mist over the landscape, over me, in waves, almost like a sand storm. The sound of it was both haunting and melodic.
The second nature-related concept that came to mind today for me was John Muir's affection for "botanizing". He is most famous for the botanical studies he conducted in remote (especially Sierran) wilderness. However, prior to his 1,000-mile walk to the gulf of the United States, he engaged botanizing in exploits whenever and where ever he could - be they an urban or rural wander. For example, during a short (5 hour) visit to Chicago, Muir turned the city tour into a pursuit of plants. He wrote after the hunt:
"I did not find many plants in her tumultuous streets, only a few grassy plants of wheat, and two or three species of weeds, - amaranth, purslane, carpet-weed, etc., - the weeds, I suppose, for man to walk upon, the wheat to feed him. I saw some green algae, but no mosses...I wish I knew where I was going. Doomed to be 'carried of the spirit into the wilderness', I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my desires, but I cannot, and so there is no rest."Although, here, Muir was rather disappointed in the variety of plants, the point is - he saw every place visited as a botanizing opportunity. So, today, I tried to do the same. I was more pleased with my findings that Muir was with his venture in Chicago. In truth, I was in wonder of how much there was to be seen, bending down in the rain to capture as much of the nearly overlooked wilderness that lay at my feet.
Muir's urban botanizing only made him long for the wilds, propelled him to greater curiosity to see plant life in places even more remote, more distant. I felt the same here in Iceland...but that for another visit, another day.
I returned to the airport completely drenched - waterproofs dripping and spectacles splattered with droplets, hair a windswept, wet mess. My boots squeaked on the tiled floor, leaving water prints to mark my passage. I got not a few confused (amused) glances. I regret nothing.
Anyways, I am sitting damp, waterproofs and hat draped over a luggage cart to dry, and have hours more to wait for my flight. This is mostly just a letter of gratitude to nature writers who keep inspiring readers to go out and walk and see, to risk being ridiculous. So, cheers to you Jefferies & Muir - thank you for pushing me out for a botanizing opportunity of the Icelandic edgelands... an experience, in the end, only made better by the dismal weather.