It’s widely believed in Iceland that Nature has a soul, and that soul is deeply rooted in every Icelander’s heart. Across the island, people appear to be continuously inspired by the landscape that they see every day: the green moss, the black sand, the grey stones. As I walk the streets of Iceland’s towns and villages, I picture the people who walk next to me not as what they seem to be, but as people who can transition into another character as the day gets dark. I fancy that everyone has many lives within one, and everyone here does something with his imagination. The longer I stay in Iceland, the more I believe in every tale I was told by the locals. Along the way, I’ve added my own perceptions to these tales, I poured into these stories my own concoction and personal experience. It did not take me long to know that every wild herb has a healing power, every stream can mirror back the depth of your soul, every ‘hidden’ whisper in the dark is a word of love. If only you believe, Iceland can cure you of a broken heart and free you from tormented thoughts.
You see, I am a photographer who has travelled widely across the globe. I always come to a new place with a fresh perspective. Girded with a keen eye for detail and a carefree heart, I have no notion of time. With this unbounded spirit I was in no rush to capture the perfect moment. When I first came, I spent most of my time walking in the lava fields, listening to the many stories floating in the air about life as a continuous cycle. Like any good story, there were loss, rebirth, separation, healing… If you just listen deeply, the mysteriously-shaped stones can tell you their secrets, the wild flowers will tell you about their magical power, and the wind will point you in the direction where the gray sky suddenly opens up to reveal its new color. And so with just magical Nature as my companion, I roam aimlessly for weeks, passing a never-ending changing landscape - stone towers rising from the sea, glacier lagoon, abandoned houses, tumbling chutes, soothing waterfalls, endless colorful lava fields…. Until I stumbled upon this little village overlooking the broad fjord and something in the air told me to rest my wanderlust for a few days. The first person I ran into in the village warned me to be careful, ‘don’t venture too far into the water or you might not find your way back.” He told me the people here believe that there are only two things in the world that cannot be counted: the stars in the sky and the islets in the bay. “Nature is beautiful, but she has her way to fool you,” he affirmed.
For my sojourn, I chose a small red inn close to the harbor. I was immediately attracted to it among the many colorful houses in this fishing town. The innkeeper showed me to my room, a cozy, intimate room with a view on the harbor. With the old wood floor squeaking softly under her feet, the innkeeper told me about the many wonders of her town. She warned me of the fjord howling winds at night, and how it might make me imagine hearing things in the dark. “Old houses tend to sing along with the wind at night, that’s how you get deep dreams in this house”, she said smilingly. Convinced by what I was told, I felt peaceful as the evening slowly fell. That night, Aurora danced across the sky. Seeing her from the window, I quickly ran out of the house and down the harbor. All was quiet as if the whole town suddenly disappeared, and I was the only one left behind. I danced on my feet to rhyme with Aurora soft lights across the sky. I have never seen her more alluring, or beguiling. This was the first moment that I saw Alda. Standing not too far from the lighthouse, she was smiling at me with her hair blowing across her face. Her shiny eyes tenderly held my gaze for a brief moment. The wind from the water was particularly sharp that night, so I looked away quickly to readjust my scarf. When I looked back she was no longer there. I spent the next half an hour looking around, as before all was quiet, there was not a soul in the streets when Aurora quietly faded away. All the houses were dark as though deep in sleep.
That brief encounter haunted me for days to come. I asked the innkeeper the next day about this young girl with green eyes and long, wild hair. “That must be Alda! I see that you fell for her too, you know every man who ever crossed path with her fell in love, but apparently no one has ever won her heart!” I asked where I can find Alda, with a mischievous smile the innkeeper told me: “You don’t find Alda, she finds you!” As I wandered the town searching for traces of Alda, everyone I talked to seemed to have something to say about her, but no one could tell me where she lived or how to find her. The more I heard about her, the more I became intrigued. Apparently Alda has a magical voice. Fishermen could hear her singing even when they were far away in the bay. She moves so quickly on her feet nobody has ever been able to catch up with her. She helps lost souls find their way home. May be because I heard so many stories about her, that night she came to me in my dream. We were silent most of the time as she guided me through a mystical landscape, there were lush fjords, dramatic sea cliffs, and lava caves. All the sceneries, while unknown, looked familiar to me. As we parted, she sang softly into my ears, she told me there was more to come my way, just have faith in Fate.
Today, as I pack up and continue my trek, my encounter with Alda becomes my most precious possession. I feel very fortunate that our paths have crossed in such a magnificent setting. And I wanted to thank you, dear innkeeper, for providing me a room to rest my head at night, and your charming red house for rocking me into a sweet dream. I know my encounter with Alda would not have occurred if Fate did not have a hand in all this. If nothing else, Iceland has convinced me to let down all my guards, to walk towards uncertainty with a firm belief: between dawn and dust is a long journey, anything can happen.
Written by Anh-Dai Lu, inspired by my stay at Hotel Egilsen in Stykkisholmur, October 2015.