Zephyr Tales

A few days before our trip to Iceland, I was reading a beautiful book on Lewis Carroll, One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – A celebration of wordplay and a girl called Alice, and how the world was gifted with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The book had exceptional illustrations and I found myself looking longingly at the pages multiple times over. Written and illustrated by Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda, the book lets us peek into the journey of Lewis Caroll, and his particular penchant for finding words when the English language fell short.

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What was fabulous and joyous at the same time? Why ‘Frabjous’ of course.

I thought of this book while running down a mountain in Iceland. I was in a magical place and everything around me felt surreal. I was also reveling in the spurts of fresh air, reminding me every now and then that I was not in a dream. So, I suppose I could not really be Alice scuttling after a rabbit, though….I was running behind a friend whose physical fitness is legend in our little circle, and before I could say “Ho!”, he had loped easily ahead of me like a rabbit in a waistcoat. I was lost in the beauty and strangeness of the world around me, and kept on.

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Just as a sample of the brilliant art work in the book, please check it out.

Uphill, it was torture. I was wearing multiple layers of clothing, and huffing and puffing like puffins in a marathon. I plucked at my scarf, petulantly tugged at my jacket, and tied it around my stomach, and kept running. The marvelous scenery around me was ever so slightly befuddled by the mambo drums in the heart.

Downhill however, it was marvelous. I could feel the cool breeze on my face. Knowing that I had a gushing waterfall on the right, and a huge glacier to the left helped. The weather had become cooler, and the clouds that ordinarily I would have found beautiful were now stunningly beautiful.

 

 

Isn’t there a beautiful word that describes the heady feeling of feeling the cool air against your face as you run downhill? Zephyr was the closest word I could think of.  Could horses have something that captures this particular joy? Maybe in the timber of their neighs.

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Exultant, I kept running. There is nothing in the world that can take that feeling from you, I thought, and smoothly tripped on a pebble, and did a routine that could be incorporated in to the next vaudeville act.

In a place where the winds are ubiquitous, there must be many words for describing the wind. I looked up words for wind in Icelandic and I was not disappointed to see 56 distinct words. (Counting Icelandic Words for Wind (JóB))

The search for this particular word led me to other beautiful ones though. Psithurism, for instance. Describing the sound of the wind rustling through the trees, I often stop and listen for this marvel during walks. Some others here:

A Nemophilist’s Orchestra

In the cathedral of the trees,
The bells of the wind
Like perfect music sounds
Accompany our montivagant joys.

Maybe we do need to follow Lewis Carroll’s wisdom and come up with a new word for the wind beneath your wings or the wind on your face.

P.S:
Nemophilist – a haunter of woods, one who loves the forest for its beauty and solitude
Psithurism – describing the sound of the wind rustling through the trees.
Montivagant – wandering over hills and mountains

Dragons of Fire & Ice

“What is your favorite dragon amma?” asked the son as we made our way to see an active volcano. Dragons follow a long line of illustrious characters such as Lightning McQueen, Ninjago – Masters of Spinjitzu. They come and claim his interest and imagination in ways that make me envious at times. How do children play so wholeheartedly?

I mock-sighed and said, “Aaah! Not dragons again! Fine! Nature Dragon is my favorite.”
“Which dragon are you scared of?”
“Volcano Dragon!”, I said. Given that we were going to see an active volcanic region, it seemed like an apt choice. (There is no Snarling Traffic Dragon, I checked.)
He then went on chattering about the shattering power of volcano dragons, and I went back to nodding absently while taking in the physical aspects of the changing landscape around me. (The fellow talks incessantly of dragons and gets cranky if I get the dragons in Dragon Land mixed up with those in Dragon City. I, as you can guess, see no difference between the two.)

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By now, we were ambling along up the mountainside looking at the damage wrought by the volcanic activity. Thick crusts of lava had solidified along the trail helpfully laid out for tourists. It was a stark image, an image in which it was possible to imagine ourselves stepping gingerly on the back of a troll or a dragon with a particularly hideous hide, that at any moment could roar and spurt fire at the indignity of seeing mere morsels tread on his or her back. The very thought sent an electric shiver down the spine.

Looking at the barren/dry landscape made me think of an episode I had seen on Cosmos on Venus. In his deep rumbling voice, Neil Grasse Tyson explains how Venus was once a planet with a wonderful landscape like Earth, but intense volcanic activity seems to have made it a desolate angry planet trapped in its own greenhouse effect.

The World Set Free (Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey)

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/cosmos-a-spacetime-odyssey/episodes/the-world-set-free/

But hope always finds a way of creeping in, in the most unlikely ways and means. A few feet from a still smoking volcano, in which the lava rocks were red hot, around the dense rocks that bore the marks of hardened lava, in that otherwise barren and desolate looking mountainside, grew pink flowers. Tiny pink flowers bravely, cheerfully doing their part in reminding me of the resilience of life and beauty.

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“So you like Flora then?” chirped the son.
How did he know? I looked surprised, and then realized that the Nature Dragon in his game was called Flora. Everything felt surreal in this place. Were there really dragons?

We had reached the smoking crater by now, and I gingerly picked up a red hot piece of rock in my hands. Was I in a dream or was I really touching hot lava rocks, and watching icebergs cleave?

Just a couple of days earlier, we felt a similar sense of awe while watching the glaciers float like icy dragons. One huge ice dragon stirred and with a thunderous roar, cleaved in half from underneath. There is something awe-inspiring in the forces of nature, and it behooves us to remember that our biggest and strongest weapons are no use against the vagaries of nature.

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I sometimes visualize ourselves looking like idiots standing bewildered in front of the storms that batter us every now and trying to tell the storms, “Ehh….I don’t know whether you realize this or not, but we have nuclear weapons you know? “

Dashed silly it makes us look, when a little extra rain sends us scrambling.

To me, both surreal experiences had only 1 way of bringing me to reality: An urgent need to find a restroom. The elements of our being are all very well if you aren’t sprinting across lava beds and glaciers looking for a restroom with a desperate child clasped to your hand.

I wonder whether Dragon Land has a shortcut to restrooms.

Read also:

Baða – A Vatn post 
Foss, Ain, Ja, Vatn, Jökull, Sjó
Jörð, Gaia, Bhoomi
The Earth Laughs in Flowers

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.)

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