Spring is a time of rapid changes. After months of hibernation, the people of the north come out of their man-made caves to discover a world full of life and joy, the very opposite of long and sometimes oppressive dark nights and melancholy.
In my mind, the epitome of spring is the Parisian printemps. The Parisian spring is the season when Parisians take to the streets and enjoy the perks of living in the most beautiful city in the world.
My first Parisian spring arrived early in 2003.
As a photography student in my beloved Paris, I took out to the banks of the Seine with my outdated film camera, picnicked at the Champs du Mars by the Eiffel Tower with fellow students, and listened to a solo acoustic guitarist play on the banks of the Seine underneath the Pont Notre Dame.
Best of all, I could roam the streets at night in a floral summer dress with a light cardigan and sandals.
In my adulthood, the Parisian spring is iconic for what spring should be in my mind.
The Icelandic spring is by no means comparable to the Parisian dream.
In fact, it is the very opposite.
The cool breeze from the Atlantic Ocean carried to the coastal communities by strong and sometimes violent currents replaces the warm air of the Parisian printemps.
The cold air from the glacier regions affects inland regions, air cool enough to make two-digit temperatures feel more like an early one-digit temperature on the Celsius scale.
However, my expectations for the perfect spring are probably too high for the northern regions of the world.
And with expectations so high, it may not be so hard to understand how I lost sight of the real magic of the Icelandic spring.
This past weekend I found the magical spring I’ve been looking for, and all it took was a trip to my family’s summer cottage in Munaðarnes, Borgarfjörður in west Iceland, and half a day’s trip to Snæfellsnesjökull, or “Snow Mountain” glacier, that is, as far as we could safely travel by wheel and foot.
The reason for the surprise trip to the Snæfellsnesjökull was my brother-in-law Richard’s visit from London. Last time he came for a visit was couple of years ago. He arrived in February during a blizzard and loved every minute of it.
This time, he came the very weekend the spirit of spring was embraced by the weather authorities and from Friday to Sunday, he enjoyed clear skies and sunny days.
Since he had already seen the sights of the Golden Circle (Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir) and enjoyed a relaxing weekend in the capital city, my husband thought it was about time his brother saw the west coast as opposed to the south coast.
So on Friday afternoon, we drove to the Keflavík Airport to pick up Richard and from there we drove straight to my family’s small country cottage in Borgarfjörður.
The further we drove inland, the colder it got and upon arrival we were greeted by the cold glacier air drifting in from the neighboring Langjökull, or “Long Glacier”.
In the distance the orange sky bid us good night before the dark of night clad the world in its veil.
The sight of the rich orange hue on the horizon amazed Richard and as the midnight blue of the night surrounded us, the Auroras came out to play, dancing in the bright starry sky in neon green and diamond blue, a delight to the eyes of on-sightseers.
Saturday afternoon we woke up to another glorious day in the countryside and drove to Arnarstapi, with a short hotdog break at the Vegamót diner.
At Arnarstapi, we stopped for a moment to look over the harbor area and the rich birdlife in the cliffs rising over the transparent sea.
Upon discovering that the road to Snæfellsnesjökull had been declared impassable by local authorities, we obeyed the orders and parked the car at a safe location and prepared to walk up to Sönghellir, the “Singing Cave”, where a farmer from the ages past had resided while constructing a home for his family.
It was an extraordinary experience to climb the steep road surrounded by mountainous slopes, from which black cliffs rose high above us, humbling mankind under the blue spring sky.
At first I was relieved to have brought my winter boots and dressed in my winter jacket and the wool jersey my mother made for me as we climbed the gravel road to the Singing Cave.
Along the way, as out of breath as I was, I felt as if I had entered another world.
However, soon enough my winter boots with the wool felt lining were boiling hot and the climb was so strenuous that I ended up carrying my winter jacket and wool jersey all the way up to the Singing Cave.
And so, the climb was not only a great chance to have a workout like no other but also a chance to catch a little tan.
I realized that in Iceland spring is a season of great contrasts and extremes. Where else in the world will you find the local population dressed in a bare-armed t-shirt amidst tourists heavily layered in winter gear?
And I discovered the very magic of spring as I admired the view: the majestic glacier-covered mountain peak rising high above the abandoned clearing mere meters above the Singing Cave and the shimmering Atlantic reaching far into the horizon.
Yet it quickly became cold again and by the time we got back to the cottage in the early evening hours, I was feeling the chill to which I had exposed my bare arms at the base camp of Snæfellsnesjökull.
But it was magical, just like the Parisian spring of my youth.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]