On Icelandic Plains

My mind rails against recent slights and ancient problems. It chases them down, falls upon them, and tears fresh wounds into them. But out here the noise is eaten by the alien space.

There are no familiar landmarks to resonate with the noise and send it back to me. No familiar walls, no furniture, no routines with edges shaped to my patterns of thought. All the echoes come back different, and the feedback is lost. My rants are eaten by the wind. When the guilt or anger dies, all there is to do is ask, what else can I put here? What do I believe in personally? What do I want to seek in the future, if I can’t drag my old wrongs into it? They have no currency in this otherworld. They interest no one. They involve no one.

Day follows day follows day. There is always something new, and the landscape steals my whole attention for large chunks of time. Sometimes I am blasted by dangerous wind for entire days. Sometimes it rains from beginning to end, and the only dry place on earth is my little cocoon with the sleeping bag and the feather pillow. I meet animals. Sometimes they come up and touch me, sometimes they run alongside, or run away. I breathe great lungfuls of pristine air, using it to shed heat, and when that’s not enough I peel open my jacket and let the wind scrape the heat directly off me. In my layers and with the constant aerobic burn, I stand by the side of the road in freezing wind and feel perfectly at ease — except perhaps for the tip of my nose, which gets just a little bit cold. So I breathe upward on it when I climb hills.

Massive arms of cloud fill the horizon and vanish. They lounge on the hilltops like napping predators, then roll away. The dusting of snow turns each mountain ridge into the wing of a cathedral. I pass rivers of clear melted ice, and rivers colored with rock dust, and watch them merge in smoky currents with the sea. Green fields give way to plains of moss, and these are pierced by bizarre rock formations, which accumulate into a new landscape of shattered lava, tumbling along. Then against all expectations the road knots up into a town. Sometimes I start a conversation with some curious stranger – and there are plenty to choose from – but usually I remain apart, because my mind has corkscrewed too far into the wrong shape for human interaction.

I unfold my little house on a new patch of ground every night and crawl inside. There is just enough room to do a few rituals of self care and then curl up into a warm bed. Outside I hear the wind, or the rain, or occasionally the noise of birds or sheep. Then I fall into a labyrinth: A jumbled twilight of rooms and redwood forest connected by random doorways and teeming with deranged apparitions, disconnected bursts of emotion, and weird acts of bloodless violence. I stumble around this personal Wonderland and the day’s experience is hammered into me by some unknowable method, and I wake up slightly transformed, crawl out of my chrysalis, roll it back onto the bike, and migrate another 30 miles.

I stop any time for any reason; sometimes just because my mind says it is time, even through there is nothing particular to look at. Sometimes my demons catch up with me and I mutter and rave like Sam McGee on his sleigh. I don’t know what time it is. I don’t know what day it is, or the day of the week. Sometimes I forget what month it is. Sometimes I forget who I am. Then night falls, and I tumble into the labyrinth and remember.

There is no forest in this country, but I carry one. The forest I grew up in grew into me. If I peeled off the top of my head and shook it, little trees would come tumbling out like broccoli, forming a pile on the ground. Tiny monsters and weird people would climb out of the pile and scatter like bugs away from the sun. Then I would bend down, and drag my hand across the Icelandic turf, making a huge ball of fluffy green moss. I would cram that into my vacated skull and shut the lid. Let that grow in there for a while; let me wander through that at night. Let this undirected evolution go somewhere else.

But that’s not possible. There’s no peeling off the top of my head. I can’t uproot this forest; not when the roots are my nervous system – my mind – my memories and primordial obsessions. I can only send things in through the windows of my senses. This sunlight, this air — this landscape that doesn’t resonate and send my old thoughts back to me but scatters them instead — perhaps it can have some effect. If I keep breathing and soaking up the rain, and making eye contact with animals and strangers, what new contours will appear in the trees? What new doors will appear? What new creatures will arrive in the labyrinth, like hitchhikers gathered along the road?

I do not know. Whoever I become — he will.

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