Finding peace in rural Iceland

Clapping the rocky gravel undefoot, Mosa, an Icelandic horse, black as a shadow, was hesitating at keeping her vigourous tolt under control.  As she raised her muscled left legs her right side would already be pounding the ground in shear fluid motion. So smooth in fact, if you were to carry a glass of water, while riding, you would not lose a single droplet. The horse, though, is ready in an instant. In a flash she’ll drop the Icelandic tolt and merge into a full-on gallop.

This horse and this frigid island nation where it dwells, would not only come to stir my horsesoul and deepen my love of rural lands, but bring to me a simplistic peace I could never have imagined.

Sparsely inhabited, this island nation, has some of the most uncharacteristic landscape, coupled with wide swaths of pasture land neatly seated by the oceanside. Traveling outside Reykjavik, the national capital, you begin to see the hardy Icelandic horse. Herds of them roam free in their kingdom of hectares and hectares of frozen grasses. Some horses wait to catch a glimpse of travelers along the Icelandic highway, route 1, others have a hierarchy and wouldn’t dare step against the herd.

mosaThe lifestyle of a horse, like Mosa, is wild and free, conversely, at times she is stable bound and tame. Though, she always has a yearning for freedom flowing through her heart. In the winter months the horses are herded by local farmers into the Icelandic highlands. It is there horse becomes one with the land. One with the mountains of ice and stone, drinking not from the hand of man, but streams of pure, fresh glacial water. The landscape and these horses harbor much in common. The Icelandic highlands are insurmountable, indominable lands of high peaks of snow, and mountain ranges that jut against the sky. The highlands will never come under the rule of man, as many an Icelander will tell you. They’ve inhabited the island for centuries and not many dare venture in to the highlands after the onset of winter.

But soon after winter storms begin to wane, the tepid Atlantic spring air begins to roll across the island signaling the change of seasons to Iceland’s horse farmers. It is time again for herding. The farmers bring the horses back down to once again lay claim to their countryside kingdom, which is beginning to green. Returning to the farm an amazing thing happens. The horses, for all their wild ways, never miss a beat in the saddle. As if training finishes minutes before a saddle crosses their backs, they remember all lessons. As I learned.

Mosa’s ready to take off I thought. I could feel her need to rush down the hill to the waiting river bank. Would I need to nurse her into the river? Nope. She plunged in to the icy water, soaking me up to the ankles. She immediately began fording the river. Amazing. Crossing to the other side I noticed she was hardly cold, though soaked. She just kept moving. This horse is nothing short of unstoppable. I could still feel her pulsing, she was ready to take off. I had to try her. Gently I put my heels to her side. Her back stiffened, and her muscled slackened as she snapped into gear. She flew past the others in my party, I could hear them calling me back. But we kept on riding, she knew she was free. And she was taking full advantage of the fact. I slowed her down. Took control, and reared her back.  It is at this time in their lives, these half-wild horses are tame. This, you see, is where the horse and the wild Icelandic lands differ.

waterfall

Fluming down massive cliffsides comes thousands upon thousands of liters of water creating epic cascading waterfalls; surging down to the ocean is glacial runoff – teeming with wildlife. Burdening hillstops and mountain peaks are immense snow caps. Massive rocky plains of black lava rock cover kilometers and kilometers of the landscape along Iceland’s highway. These sights play with your mind. How can a gorge contain not one, not two, but several waterfall all in succession? How can the morning fog be so beatiful by a deserted strip of black sand beach? How can the bird cliffs of Latrabjarg be so high and mighty, and so quiet at the same time? And while you’re discovering these places, how can you see not a soul around you. Just you. This is where I first got to know myself, in the silence against the wind upon the cliffsides. In silence against the rushing waterfall, in silence against the foaming sea forever striking the beach. It was peace I learned. Peace. No cell phone, no radio, just the sound of my breath, the crunching of the earth beneath my feet and the sound of nature’s will. I could think. And I could hear myself think. I found myself favoring sleeping outdoors, waking to see my breath hanging in the air. I was in love with the ever approaching storm and guessing the weather that would befall those on the ground. As the caribou and the sheep graze along the roadside, I would wonder about their spirit. Was it good? Was it evil? These primordial questions coming to my “information age”mind made me feel human. And I couldn’t remember the last time I ever felt I was alive and free such as this.

iceland1Both the land and horse have come to symbolize what many of us never allow ourselves to attain, absolute freedom. This freedom, this peace, is not hidden. Though it is away from the cities, far from the smog, far from the television telling us who we are and what we should do. Freedom is in the little house sitting under a mountain, where smoke gently rolls from its chimney, it is in the the tiny fishing village along a Icelandic fjord, it’s the sound of the raging Atlantic crashing against the lonely beach, early morning fog hanging heavy. In all of these insignificant things, and puny trivialties of life is where freedom resides.

We’ve created so many means in an attempt to simplify our lives. The goal of the process – so we could spend more time with family, or give us time to make supper, or make us more productive. In essence, none of that worked out and we’ve invented ourselves an even more complex life. We should all try, try and shut off the phone, the TV, the laptop, the tablet, the radio. And just stop and listen to the sound of freedom.

 

 

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