Baða – A Vatn post

I remember seeing some pictures of Icelandic horses, in the meadows and thinking to myself that the fellows seem to be having a swell life. I mean fresh air, green pastures, and none of the bother of getting folks from one place to another harnessed to an infernal coach. Their poor ancestors must have had a thin time of it: I can’t imagine human beings being any better horse-coach passengers than public transit passengers. But, look at these fellas looking rather pleased with themselves knowing that no amount of chirping and tock-tock noises can budge them from their excellent perch in life. The younger generation I tell you! *Shakes head*

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The universe has a queer way of satisfying our desires. Within a few hours of landing in Iceland, I had the satisfaction of feeling like a horse. I suppose in a way that made me an Icelandic horse.

“Are you going to take a bath again?” , is a familiar refrain in the old home. Mia familia rolls their eyes indulgently as I come out feeling refreshed and happy again. In fact, when I am grumping around and shooting dark looks at folks after a long and trying day, the family gently nudges me to take a bath, and Voila! The magical waters yield a perfect amiable nut in their midst again.

Obviously after a long-ish flight, I pranced into the shower, but I was astounded to see the shower in our lodgings in Reykjavik were best suited for Icelandic horses, not humans. There were 2 shower heads, placed about 2 feet apart, and both spurted water together or not at all. This posed a number of problems for one who does not want to waste good warm water. Do you stick your feet in one shower and lean across to get your hands in the other shower, and leave the torso high and dry? Or do you go in for some of that fashionable puppy like scooting in the rain?

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Icelandic horses seem to throwing their heads back and laughing and neighing with glee at my plight. But I wasn’t done with my bathing adventures.

The next day, we were admiring the glacial melt join the oceans, when I shivered, and thought yearningly for a warm water shower, even if it was the horse type, when a young couple shouted, “What?! Do you think we are afraid?! “, and the pair of them removed their top clothing layers and plunged into the chill waters. I shuddered and my teeth went on chattering in that incessant typewriter mode in a speed and intensity that I wish were true when I start writing.

Apparently, in the olden days, babies in Russia were given cold dips in glacial or fresh water every now and then so they would adapt to the severe cold better. Called Polar Dips, I got to tell you, I was in no hurry to try it.

(https://siberiantimes.com/healthandlifestyle/others/news/like-ducks-to-water-in-the-snow-keeping-kids-healthy-siberian-style/)

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And then, Mývatn came along. Mývatn, a natural geothermal spa, was curious in that I came out smelling multitudes worse than when I went in, but I felt refreshed multiple times over. Iceland sits daintily on a couple of tectonic plates that have their tiffs and turfs every now and then. So, it is heavy in both volcanic activity and geothermal spas. These warm waters are like everything everyone said – warm, soothing waters, set in natural surroundings that smell like those gasping chemistry experiments in high school emitting Hydrogen Sulphide, that chefs later tell you is the smell of rotten eggs.

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Folks have called me a sound egg before, but what I was not prepared to smell like one, much less a rotten one.

Add to this the rinses, showers and dances in the rain, and I can truly claim that Iceland far from being the Land of Fire and Ice, was the Land of Baða Vatn. (I think that means Bath Waters.)

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Foss, Ain, Ja, Vatn, Jökull, Sjó

In a moment of poetic rarity, I daftly said I would break my posts into the Elements of our being (Earth, fire, air, water and space), which means I am now stuck with the strange problem of writing my experiences around water in Iceland in one post.

Now do I tell you about how I bathed like a horse in Reykjavik, or how I much-muchly laid bare my ignorance of this beautiful Earth’s ecosystem as I lamented the cleaving of the iceberg, or how we were convinced an obstinate mermaid had come ashore the beach, and insisted on getting into people’s pictures the whole afternoon?

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I have to swim quickly past the Icelandic rivers and streams (Ain), gasp like a wasp at the thousands of waterfalls (Foss), warm myself in a sprint by geothermal spas, jump and shiver near glaciers (Jökull), watch a tidal wave sweep past me as I admire the seas (Sjó) and let my soaking in the rain (rigning) all just fleet past.

I can hear you mumble that now, no one feels refreshed by the post on the most sustaining of the poetic elements, and I agree.

I get a faint understanding of what these authors have to deal with when they go and promise a N- book series. Take the Harry Potter series for instance. J K Rowling must have had little choice but to get the books bigger and bigger because she had to fit everything in 7 books.

I now have to delegate all of the important things to be said about these things to the links below:
Did you know how 90% of Iceland’s energy needs are obtained from geothermal energy?

Did you know Icelandic glacial water is so fresh that you can drink it from source with little fear of contamination?

Well, you do now.

We were there in Iceland when Summer was beginning to show her beauty. Even so, more than half our days, there was rain. For a pluviophile, this was marvelous. Everywhere the eye could see, green carpets were rolled out for us to feast our eyes on.

The rain matched the tones of the children. Sometimes, the joyful pattering of the rain was like their perky tones of enthusiasm, the shuddering and heavy downpours were met with “Amma! Do you really want to hike like that? Get in now!”, and other times when the rain could not quite decide whether to pour or drizzle, the heart was torn whether to go out or stay in the car. These moments of cloudic indecision were the best and I danced and pranced in the rain, while the children adopted a distinct “I don’t know this crazy woman!” stance.

There were waterfalls of every kind and very soon, we stopped pointing them out to one another. We quietly enjoyed the weeping wails of the fjords, as much as the roaring riptides of the beach, and almost as much as the gleaming turquoise blue of the glacial ice pack. Water, in any form, is mesmerizing, tantalizing, energizing and therapeutic.

Well, I suppose I shall at least have to write about bathing in Iceland after all this larking about.

Jörð, Gaia, Bhoomi

Fresh off the flight, and in our room, after loafing about during the day in Reykjavik, I was still groggy. I finally managed to sleep, happy to rest my tired frame on a good bed. The heart had already stirred in that nurturing soul mode, but was not in fully. A good night’s sleep is all I needed, I thought to myself.

It could not have been more than a couple of hours before I awoke to see the son looking cheerful, sitting on the bed alert, and tucking into Skyr, that delectable yogurt of Iceland that sustained our appetites anywhere. “Hi amma!” he said. The energy in his voice unfortunately was not echoed in my hollow moan.

The sun glowed outside, and I asked whether it was morning already. Tired or not, I was set on enjoying the holiday, and I tried to drag myself out, but the little fellow chuckled, “Nope! It is 2 o’clock amma. In the night. This is night!”

He was so enthusiastic and happy at this odd hour, that I smiled happily. (Smiled happily because he had the good sense to wake his father and not me for his night revels with Skyr)

I pointed at the window outside, and he said, “I know right?”

To be fair, I suppose that some of the clouds had a slight pink colouration indicating a sunset, but that was all. Within an hour, the sun had risen again without ever becoming dark or even dusky.

I goggled, the son giggled, and the sun cheerily ogled.

Our half baked theories are always fun, but this Khan Academy video of the Earth’s tilt is much better.

This infographic was useful to see how we would have to change our perception of a new day starting. Our minds are conditioned to the concept of dusk, the sun setting, and darkness enveloping our consciousness signaling the end of the day. But what if the Earth never signaled the end of the day. Would melatonin still be released?

 

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The long days, coupled with a sunny countenance made for action-packed days in which we had to force ourselves to sleep and take breaks. Nevertheless, it is truly wonderful when the earth offers its bounty to you the way Iceland does.

There were days when we saw fresh meadows filled with flowers that had sprouted afresh in the spring after the long winters, lava beds with thousands of years of moss growing on it, rivers gurgling with fresh snow melt winding their way across canyons and meadows, waterfalls thundering their way down as though their restive energy would not and cannot be contained, volcanoes and glaciers, all on the same day.

 

A country that blessed with natural beauty obviously tapped the imaginative strain in us. There was one particular place that looked like time had stood still in the middle of an epic battle in which a monster crocodile had pulled off a troll’s leg, and a bear was crossing the river.

 

If this sort of thing appealed to us within a few days of Iceland, it is only to be expected that the Viking myths and sagas are rich and bountiful. I am now reading Icelandic Myths, so I can continue to savor the experiences of that beautiful island.

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Years ago, when my dance teacher explained the poetic significance of the elements necessary for our very being, Panchabhutam – Earth, water, fire, air and space, I was thrilled with the poetic beauty of it.

My Icelandic experiences, I think, shall therefore be split into these elemental joys – this one of Earth(Jörð, Gaia or Bhoomi), followed by water, fire, air and space.

The Earth Laughs in Flowers

Quote from Education of Little Tree:
Everyone is born with two minds: one is the mind that is necessary for worldly survival – we need it for having young ‘uns, surviving and stuff. But there is another mind that is linked to the soul, that is the one that we must nurture.

I was off to nurture the soul like nobody has nurtured it for me before, only I had not realized that yet. Long flight journeys are true tests of the soul however, and I was still yelping with pain on the flight. Recent sharp pains indicated the causes: a teenage elbow was lodged in my rib-cage, and a smaller knee was lodged in my stomach. (The children were sleeping.)

I felt like a piece of clay pummeled and distorted by deft children’s limbs to be just the sort of play-doh shape that classifies for shapeless.

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Shapeless, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, I turned my head toward the vague direction of the husband’s head, and mumbled, “Iceland better be worth it after this journey!” He chuckled, or I think he did, for his mass rumbled underneath the jacket he had pulled over himself to sleep. In that strange deluded condition, I thought he looked like an iceberg about to surface, and chided myself for delirium.

Not delirium, leaps of fancy, said the soul-brain.

Little did I know that leaps of fancy were just what the doctor ordered for me, and something Iceland, the Land of Fire & Ice was set to give in the order and magnitude of the seeker’s soul.

These poets have a way of saying things that make you wonder how they put things like that. I mean you think and you think and then you say, Flowers are beautiful, and beam around for approval. But these poets, nuh-huh. They’ve got your back when it comes to hitting the spot. Look at the way Ralph Waldo Emerson put it for instance:

The Earth laughs in flowers – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Iceland not only laughed, it engulfed us all in its merry wake.

The first thing my heart-mind did in Iceland was to attach itself to the flowering lupines. There they were, strewn like birdseed – all over the countryside, the roadsides, the littlest mounds where you expect nothing, was home to purple flowering lupines. Entire mountainsides of them, valleys of them, meadows of them.

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They held their bright heads tall and straight and in their richness, I detected the essence of female kinship – waving and tossing their high spirit in the breeze with mellow grace, enriching those around them: heart-warming in their presence, strong in their roots; the world was infinitely better with them. In fact, in that short span, I could barely imagine Iceland without them.

 

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In my hurried search of pictures of Iceland, nobody had mentioned the lupines, and yet they are there in my mind’s eye, every time I close my eyes and think of beautiful Iceland.

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Skip Your Way There

The school year was coming to a close, and I had promised the elementary school going son and his friend that I would show them a marvel on the way to school. Off we went then looking for this mystical being living in our midst. The excitement had built up in them. With the ready enthusiasm for serendipitous adventure that childhood blesses them with, they were chatting along to see this wondrous three-headed beauty, while I soaked in their infectious enthusiasm like a pup on a spring saunter.

We approached the marvel with hushed tones, and there it was, standing erect and tall, urging us to believe that there is magic and possibilities out of the ordinary: A tree in which the trunk grew for several feet , and then sprouted off in 3 different directions, like three siblings, or a three headed being, each with its own whims, but living together as one.

As I saw the tree, I could not help thinking of Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables:

I couldn’t live in a world where there were no trees; something vital in me would starve. – Anne of Green Gables – L. Montgomery

It is a beautiful tree, but what was more beautiful was the rapturous attention the children paid to it. They marveled, and the magical in them, so easily accessible under the surface bubbled up as they befriended and clambered on the tree. Off they went with their heart full of tales of the little adventure they had had that day. I could see it in the way they skipped to school that morning. 

One dressed like a princess in bubbling swirls of excitement, the other clad in a princely cloak of incredulity and wonder. An urge to skip gurgled in me. I definitely had a spring in my step as I watched them that morning. When is it that we stop skipping along? I don’t remember the time adults stopped skipping, but it should be a day we rap ourselves on our knuckles. What can be more enjoyable than skipping along to wherever we are headed? Why are our steps laden with the weight of the world?

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. 

Some see nature all ridicule and deformity. 

And some scarce see nature at all. 

But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself 

– William Blake.

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Why can’t we imagine ourselves as princesses and princes out for a royal journey with adventures along our path everyday? In fact, once we do imagine this, the world has a way of giving us the very adventures we don’t even dare to dream about.

For us it came about in the Land of Fire & Ice, and in a world where there weren’t as many trees as I’d like, but a place that captured my heart and soul to willingly belong elementally, fundamentally, intellectually to it.

Next Stop: The Land of Fire & Ice 

Also read: About Ombu Trees in The Mockery Bird

The Corner Case

T’was the last day of May. The day started with the revelation that the car we had parked outside overnight was gone. It had been towed away overnight because a parking permit was not visible. I need to take this moment to assure you about the permit. You see, the pater accompanied us to place the permit in the car. 

How can I be so sure? For one, when we leave the house, the pater locks the door. By that simple statement what I mean is that he hangs on the doorknob and pushes and thumps the door till I can hear it howl in anguish, and confirms that the door is indeed locked.

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So, when the pater checks the permit in the car, the permit is in the car. And can be seen from every angle. With torch light or without.

Of course we were flummoxed to find the car missing the next morning. A few minutes later, there we were in the towing company’s yard. We went in, and the fellow behind the counter, from now on referred to as Tow-man, started off professionally enough.  He showed me some hazy pictures and I must admit I could not find the parking permit in the pictures he showed me.

He then walked with me to an impressive lot surrounded by a 8-9 ft tall fence topped with barbed wires on top. I wondered then why a towing company’s impound lot needed that kind of prison security. I was soon to find out.

I went in with him, and right enough, the parking permit gleamed. It is a shiny red one, and the morning rays of the sun made it glint cheerfully. I showed Tow-man the permit, and he was flabbergasted. I saw shock flit through his face. He had been so sure he had not seen the parking permit in the pictures. 

I asked him if I could take a picture of the car with the permit, and he agreed. Immediately, he realized that a picture could mean no money. I could almost see these thoughts run through his head, for he immediately clamped down his stance. He insisted that I get out from there, his company had a no-picture policy, and that he needed to investigate this. That was when anger became his companion.

Ursula Le Guin in her excellent set of essays, No Time To Spare, dedicates a few pieces to Anger. In one essay, she says, Anger usually stems from fear. 

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In this case, that made sense. Tow-man feared his bosses would not be happy with him if he did not get the money for the towed car. But there was no doubt that the permit was there. This is something that felt like a mystery to me too, and one I hoped to solve amicably. But his anger bubbled up, and stopped all possibility of a dialogue. He made ridiculous claims such as: You must have scaled the fence and jumped inside overnight to put the permit inside the car.

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The impound lot, as I have mentioned earlier, was double my height, and topped with barbed wire on top. I asked him a bit incredulously whether he really believed I could jump over something like that. I have my merits, but pole-vaulting over 9 ft high fences with barbed wire on top is not of them. Ask the rose bushes I walk by. I love them to bits and stop to sniff at them rapturously every now and then, but I still keep clear from the thorns. Getting scratched does not appeal to me. 

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There was no talking to Tow-man about rosebushes however. With anger as his weapon, things got ugly soon. 

“We have a no-picture policy, and you have been taking pictures.”

I felt the no-picture arbitrary rule a bit unfair, but there was nothing to be done.

Things started heating up, and we went out of the premises. 

Quote from No Time To Spare by Ursula K Le Guin:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. 

It is very hard to find the right response to anger in a situation where both parties are technically right: His pictures showed no permit; I know the permit was placed before midnight and the car in the lot held the proof. 

It is a gripping tale, but in the interest of length, shall cut to the place where Tow-man shook his head obstinately, and said no, I won’t give you the car even if you pay.

The police had to come now. Professional as ever, they listened calmly to both sides of the story. Jobs dealing with people in general are hard, but jobs dealing with people in duress, peppered with high strung emotions and actions has got to be toughest of them all.  

It reminded me sadly of the piece on Anger again:

Quote:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.

The mystery was solved within minutes of his printing the towing papers:

The towing company indicated that they had taken the pictures at 11:26 p.m.

We had put in the parking permit at 11:30.

The vehicle was towed away at midnight.

The permit is only enforced between midnight and 6 a.m., but before towing the vehicle, they did not verify again. The Classic Corner Case.

How can we all be right and still live harmoniously together? (Link to Buddha In a Lotus article)

Quote:

What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?

Our Rainbow Colored Hearts Can Sing

The elementary school going son and his friends were proudly showing off their art work at the open house. It always makes my heart sing when I see the beauty of effort. Tables that looked like flattened zebras, zebras that looked like striped platypuses, and platypuses that looked like duck bills were all being open to interpretation. I was admiring everything and the artists around me were very proud of themselves. They puffed their chests out and competed with each other to show off one another’s work. 

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The teenaged daughter tugged my hand to show me a particularly fetching piece of art done by her brother. “Oh beautiful!” I coo-ed, though I could not really make out what it was. But to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, a potter’s job is not to explain a pot, but to make the pot. It is upto us to use that pot as we will. In her fascinating collection of essays or blog posts, No Time To Spare, she deplores this tendency in Modern Art museums for the artist to explain their work.

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An artists work, she says, is open to interpretation and mean different things to different people at different points in time. It is a sentiment that I agree with, and I relished her way of putting it into words. Something that I have always admired in Ursula Le Guin’s work. Of course, she put it far more elegantly than I have attempted to here. 

Please read this earlier post on the daughter’s drawings as a child.

Anyway, I admired the son’s work, and then the daughter pointed to the bunch of people in the picture. Peering closely, I noticed they had rainbow colored faces. I asked the son why the folks in his drawing looked like rainbow trout in the sunshine.

He said, “Oh my teacher said to the class, to put in some colored people.”

I turned to the teacher, and she said she did say that for Diversity and Inclusion. I smiled at her, and thanked our stars for all the lovely things teachers teach the children.  Half the adults seem to have difficulty remembering these simple lessons in these sad times. All the more reason why we should all attend a year of Kindergarten every decade.

I looked again at the rainbow colored people and thought how beautifully untainted and open minded we are before we learn our little prejudices along the way. To think how much we obsess on skin color makes my rainbow colored heart very sad. It was, therefore, with utter joy that I picked up the book, “Different? Same!” Written By Heather Tekavec and Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

In this beautiful book, we are reminded of how each of us are so different and yet similar. How is a Zebra similar to a bumblebee? Or an Elephant and a Narwhal? 

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

The book finishes on a beautiful note that can make our rainbow colored hearts sing: If you look closely enough, it soon becomes clear … we’re not as different as we first appear.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick