Twilight, gloaming, dusk. All of these seem redolent of evening, and this mid-morning barely light does indeed feel like nightfall. The clock makes it clear it’s getting lighter but my eyes are little convinced. Still, we could do with a word for the light of a morning reluctant to stretch out and shrug off the night.
We woke up into what felt like dead of night. Traffic moving on the ring road and and an advent calendar of lights in the apartments opposite betrayed the time.
On the bus, there is for a time no sky and no land. The brain insists on pale gray clouds and white snow, but much of the time an honest look sees one undifferentiated plane, slowly slowly increasing in luminosity. That word too doesn’t feel right. There is nothing about this light that the word luminous connotes. It is a barely perceptible paring away of darkness to reveal that there is no longer nothing.
Then, some quite sudden realisations. There is a subtle variegation in the clouds. Then a line of clouds doubles itself. Then, the lower line of clouds is the ridge of a fell. The snow plain unfolds into ridges and rills. Shadowing in the snow suggests things beneath: ripples of rock, tufts of turf? It won’t tell us yet. What is small and what is far away?
A bank of cloud pulls back. A stadium roof letting in real light that comes from above rather than the strange non-glow that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Then sunrise, and everything in the -8 degree air is in ultra high definition. Orange-pink-plum clouds scatter above low ridges, pockets of spruce, and the flags, frozen lake, cemetery and church of Þingvellir. Fingers exposed to click and swipe warn with rapid pain that soon they won’t work and don’t want to be lost.
Then, those few hours of limpid daylight. Geysers and gulleys floodlit and spotlit simultaneously. A half moon is staking its claim for equality. It will get more than that, but not yet. Yes, it’s a rush from site to site, next Geysir then Gullfos. They’re tourist traps, sure, but then we are tourists, eager to be snared by beauty. Chosen for us, yes, but not without good reason.
At Gamla Laugin, my showered hair freezes within seconds of stepping into the pool’s absurd warmth. After a few minutes I walk round the edge, through bubbling and spitting ponds and the scalding streamlets that feed the pool. It’s -10. My feet feel as alive as they ever have, every nerve receptor alert to danger, my head reassuring them of the return to 37 degree comfort soon. Clouds of sulphur-scented steam are apricotted by the last of sunlight waving from behind the horizon, handing over to the brilliance of the orange lit glasshouses that feed Iceland and gild its darkness with space-age sparkles scattered across valleys on the sleepy drive back to Reykjavik.