This week we made the transition from the quiet bustle of Reykjavik, Iceland to the beautiful chaos of London, England. I’m still acclimating to the culture in all of its intricacies: proper etiquette on the Tube, how to shop in a UK grocery store (there’s a lot more to it than you might think), and how to budget carefully while keeping in mind that £ and $ are two very different things. But before I move on to documenting my travels in the city, I’d like to delve further into the richness of my experience in Iceland.
Now that I’m in such an urban place, crawling with people and blaring with noise and pulsing with light and life, I’ve had more time to reflect on the quiet power of a place like Iceland. Here in London, everything is touched. Both literally, as millions of hands grip the handles on the Tube every day (ew), and figuratively, as millions of lives intersect and ripple into each other with every passing smile or transfer of money or song played on the street corner next to an overturned hat. It’s beautiful in its own way, but Iceland is the sheer opposite.
What affected me most about Iceland is that everywhere you turn, you are struck full force by the impact of natural beauty. You can’t even pretend to ignore how much more utterly perfect God’s creation is than anything mankind could ever dream of building. The water is such a clear blue that you can see straight down to the bottom of a stream or scoop some up with your hand and drink it (which I did). The dark basalt rock covers the beaches in perfectly round, smooth pebbles in some places and contrasts against the electric green of moss that has aged hundreds of years in others. And don’t even get me started on the mountains. Stunning ice-capped glaciers, sloping volcanic craters, teeming emerald farmlands making peaks and valleys all over the island. I could spend all day trying to put the landscape into words and never even come close to doing it justice: it is a paradise.
With a population of only 330,000 people, it makes sense that much of the land would remain untouched and sacred. But I believe it’s about more than mere logistics. In Iceland, the culture, the laws, and the technology all reflect an unprecedented level of reverence for the island’s natural beauty and resources. Whether they’re harnessing geothermal energy or keeping the streets and air in Reykjavik squeaky clean, there seems to be a common understanding among Icelanders that the island they inhabit is one of the last pure places left on earth, and they are fierce in their determination to protect it.
On one of our first days touring across the countryside by bus, our beloved tour guide Johannes took us to a field full of ripples and clumps of hardened lava overgrown with moss. Do not step on the moss, he admonished us, for it takes 100 years to grow. We walked down a pathway marked with a crude rope to separate passerby from the soft, spongy moss fields. There were no fences or glass panes or trenches to keep us from touching the moss, but I can say with confidence that no one did. The reverence was too contagious.
I think in many places, it is too late (and arguably impractical) to avoid trampling what was laid on the earth before us so that we can create civilizations and all of the things that they embody, both positive and negative. But may mankind never forget to leave some places untouched. In our thirst for personal conquest, may we never trample the few remaining fields of sacred moss.