Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Iceland Rocks

As I was preparing for my 20th trip to Iceland--where I am now--this map of the country surfaced on my Facebook feed.

"On my trips around Iceland over the last years, I ...  have collected one rock at each location where I've caught a photo I've been really pleased with," wrote Snorri Þór Tryggvason of Iceland Aurora Films. "So I decided to make a map of Iceland out of those rocks, since I finally have enough." Each rock, he explained, "is placed at approximately the location where I found it."

The post was dated December 2014--apparently Snorri Þór, like I do, muses about his summer expeditions in Iceland's hinterland during the long dark winter days, and likes to pick up and play with the rocks he's pocketed on his journeys.

I admire him for having the self-discipline to pick up one rock--and only one rock--from each special place.

When my husband, son, and I spent three months at Litla Hraun, an abandoned farmhouse on the west coast of Iceland in 1996, cut off from civilization (road, neighbors, electricity, plumbing, phone) twice a day by the tides, we collected three bulky bags of beach rocks. Though transporting them home required carrying them in our backpacks the 45-minute walk across the tidal sands, they all made it to Pennsylvania--and then, some years later, to our new home in Vermont. One bag is secreted in my son's steamer trunk. The other two--and miscellaneous fellows--fill the glass bases of table lamps.

Most of my Icelandic rocks are ordinary lava: black, perforated, shiny or dull, water-rounded or craggy. But I have a few sparkly ones, like Snorri: reds and greens and crystals. I'm especially fond of the quartz I've collected at the farm of Helgafell, a spot I've written about before as my "thin place," where the world and the otherworld meet. From one cliff-face beside the fjord, crystals like teeth and eyes and icy blue fingers spill out of the rock.

Then there was Bright Stone Beach. On that same summer of 1996, my family found a halfmoon of sand littered with little polished rocks. None was bigger than a finger nail. As the tide crept in, they disappeared--never to be seen again, though I have hiked that same stretch of beach numerous times since, searching for them. If not for the pewter saucer I filled with those gems, I wouldn't believe that beach was real.

But that was years ago. In spite of my love for my lapidary souvenirs, my rock collecting days in Iceland are done.

They came to a crash one weekend in 2001, when I hiked at Skaftafell National Park with a friend who's a geochemist. I pocketed a rock. She frowned at me. It's illegal to take rocks, she said. I laughed. It was a pebble. Who would miss a pebble? It's against the law, she repeated, and glared. Iceland has a million tourists a year. What if everyone took home a pocketful of pretty rocks?

I kept the pebble. I was stubborn in those days. (Still am.) But after that day, every time I slipped an Icelandic rock into my pocket, I saw Anna Maria's glare.

Like a shoplifter, I stole three black river-rounded stones from a glacial stream in the highlands the year I rode a horse on the Kjolur trail 125 miles north to south through the center of the island. (But Anna, I may never see that river again!)

Like a thief, I picked up three sandy lozenges (red, green, and tan) from a beach in the West Fjords that same summer.

And I could not pass up that last beautiful geode I found by the fjord at Helgafell, a tiny half-globe stuffed with glittering teeth.

But I'm making amends. Truly. The last few times I traveled to Iceland, I took with me a quart-sized bag full of Icelandic rocks, culled from my collections. My husband looked at me like I was nuts when I told him I was repatriating them. I stuffed them in my day pack when I took a hike and scattered them.

All except one. That one I kept in my coat pocket to fill my hand whenever I was tempted to pick up another rock.


  1. Nice, Nancy, but I really love the last line. It's also a good idea for other things in life!

  2. You can use that one for your "worry stone".