After leaving Geysir , we followed the road up a short distance to our next stop: Gullfoss. To say this wonder took our breath away would be an understatement.
Gullfoss, like all the major attractions along the Golden Circle route, is a magnet for tourists. There is ample parking nearby the two (upper and lower) viewing areas. We parked in the lower lot and began our misty walk along the trail beside the Hvítá River.
You hear the falls, and feel their thundering power of the water as it rushes through the river, before you are greeted with their full splendor. The trail is constantly sprayed by the force of the falls, and it is advisable to dress in waterproof clothing and shoes, unless you enjoy getting a good soaking.
Gullfoss was our first encounter with one of Iceland’s waterfalls, and it could not have been more awe-inspiring. Turning the corner and seeing the descent of the falls, I had to pause to catch my breath, not from exertion, but from the sense of wonder that overcame me as I took in magnificence of Gullfoss.
Gullfoss does not require a long visit, but it was one of those places that is hard to leave. One cannot help but contemplate the awesome forces of Nature while there. Neither words nor photographs do justice to Gullfoss, you simply have to experience it for yourself. Take a pause, more than a brief one, if you go, and soak it in.
Thankfully, like many of the natural wonders in Iceland, the government is leaving Gullfoss untouched in its natural state. This is, in part, due an environmentalist who helped prevent a hydroelectric dam from being installed at the falls, and who is depicted on a stone nearby.
It was with some reluctance that I made my way back to our car and prepared to set out for our next adventure along the Golden Circle route. Gullfoss, fittingly, is at the apex of the circle, and now we were heading down Rt 35 as we made our way back towards Reyjkjavik. We still had two stops to visit, though. And they, like the ones that preceded them, did not disappoint.
Next up, a volcanic crater with the bluest water imaginable…
After leaving Pingvellir, we made our way to the Geysir Geothermal Field. The area is impossible to miss. As you crest a hill heading north into Geysir, traffic slows down to accommodate the crossing tourists heading from the visitor’s center/cafe and the parking lots into the attraction area. Streams of water bubble out of the ground and pour into the sidewalks. I was surprised to see young children playing in the cooling waters with their unconcerned parents meandering nearby.
There are many signs and ropes to alert visitors of the dangers of getting too near this geothermal hotspot, and plenty of stories can be found about the less-than-careful getting severely burned, and worse. Do take care and respect the boundaries that are marked when you visit geothermal fields. They are volatile places where the Earth clearly wields the wand of power.
There are several places that send out clouds of steam at Geysir, but only one active geyser big enough to gather the crowd with cameras poised at the ready around its vast circumference. Its name is Strokkur, and it releases a gush of steam every 10 minutes, sending its cloud a good 50 feet into the air.
Along route to Strokkur, you pass Little Geysir and some smaller steamy hot spots. The water here trickles over the paths and it is not a place for sandals, but sturdy shoes.
Like all of the natural attractions we stopped at in Iceland, Geysir offers much more than its main attraction. The area is filled with paths that lead around the geothermal field and up into the surrounding hills. It’s well worth the time spent to explore and get a little hike in. The views are stunning from the hill that climbs above the area, and it’s a great spot to watch Strokkur erupt away from the hovering crowds.
We probably spent an hour exploring the geothermal field and climbing the hill behind it. As you can see, the views are stunning.
If you find yourself hungry, as we did after the climb, there are a couple of options for dining. Both are across the road nearby the parking lot. The Geysir restaurant is connect to a hotel, and although it looked like a lovely option, we chose to purchase soup at the cafe adjoining the gift shop. We both had the wild mushroom, which come with bread and butter. It hit the spot, and after a stop at the restrooms and a perusal of the shop, we were ready to head out towards our next adventure.
Pretty much everyone who travels to Iceland to see its natural wonders takes a journey around the “Golden Circle.” At just under 200 miles (300 kilometers), the route begins and ends in Reykjavik as it circles northeast into the interior of Iceland. Along the route, you can view many of the natural wonders the country has to offer, including: waterfalls, geothermal fields and hot springs, an active geyser, a crater filled with the bluest possible water, and walk along the rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are increasingly separating. It’s well worth a day to explore.
We began our second day in Iceland around 10:30am local time. Having stopped at a Bonus market in the capital the day before, we had enough food to get us through lunch. After a breakfast of eggs and rye bagels (to my dismay, the favored flavor of bread products in Iceland appears to be rye), we put together a couple of sandwiches (thankfully on wheat bread), packed them alongside apples and trail-mix, filled our water bottles with sulfur-laced water (I know there’s not supposed to be sulfur in the cold water in Iceland, as it comes from a different source, but we could still smell and taste it), packed up our rain gear, and headed out to our tiny rental car.
It doesn’t get dark in the summer in Iceland, so we knew our only limits to the length of our days were our own internal body clocks. Despite our daughter’s repeated insistence (from back home in New Hampshire) that we witness the midnight sunset, we never quite made it to that hour.
We took the clockwise route around the Golden Circle, heading out from the city towards Pingvellir Park. The hour ride to the park is beautiful, as I’m pretty sure all drives are through Iceland. The day offered us a mix of sun, clouds, light rain, and a fair amount of fog on the higher elevations, which only enhanced the other-worldly feel of the landscape. I found myself ever-grateful that I was the passenger in the car, able to peer into the misty mountains to make out the shapes of dragons and other mystical beings. Iceland is a land where one cannot help but believe in magic. It’s my kind-of place where wonder is around every corner.
Unfortunately, I was too busy losing myself in the landscape to capture the mystical beasts that caught my eye (you may get a glimpse of a dragon on the last day of our journey), so you’ll just have to imagine traveling along their green backs as you ascend into the mist. Then, take a pause for a breath and a small gasp as you make your way down their tails and discover their expanse, note the tiny dots of sheep parading up their wings, and the wrap of their tails around houses that look like they belong in the land of Lilliput.
We arrived at Pingvellir close to midday, but easily found a parking space in one of the pay-to-park lots amid the other tourists. Summer in Iceland is busy, but we found the flies that greeted our arrival to the park more bothersome than the crowds. Pingvellir covers many acres, but most people walk along the tectonic rift only as far as the gorge. We carried on quite a bit further to see some of the other natural wonders and views. Click through the slideshow below for sites we saw during our stay at the park.
We probably spent 1.5 hours total in the park, walking the trail that leads down the rift towards the gorge and to the Oxararfoss waterfall, then turning back, meandering through side trails to the gift shop and bathrooms. After purchasing souvenirs of Icelandic chocolate and a deck of rune cards, along with an Icelandic carbonated soda that appeared to be flavored in sulfur instead of elderflower, we made our way to the car to eat our packed lunches.
Pingvellir Park can easily be a day trip in itself, or more, but an hour or two will allow you to see the highlights.
Soon we were on our way to our next stop on the Golden Circle: Geysir.
It was our first time traveling without our kids, who are no longer kids, but 17 and 18 yrs. old, for more than a night. They were originally supposed to go with us in April of 2020, but the pandemic hit and plans changed. So, my husband and I used our airline vouchers and took a long weekend in the land of fire and ice to celebrate our 23 yr. wedding anniversary.
And, it was wonderful.
Stepping off of the plane in Keflavík feels like stepping into another world. You are greeted by a landscape devoid of trees, but filled with rocks. Black, lava rocks covered in a green-yellow moss that made me think of Dagobah. It is a dreamscape of wonder that never ceases, and gets more alive and intensely surreal the further one travels outside of the city.
Life has taken ahold of this volcanic island in a way that makes a person feel like a somewhat foolish intruder. Untamed and wildly unpredictable, it is nature at her rawest form. One misstep and she can swallow you whole or spit you out in a fury of fire.
Well, just about.
Despite having an intense love-affair with the wild beauty of Mother Nature, I don’t think I could embrace her unpredictability in quite the same way as Icelanders seem to.
Even the cats are entirely at ease here, aside from the orange tabby on the right whom I disturbed in the middle of the night from its contented slumber in front of our window.
After driving to our Airbnb on the outskirts of the city, we took a three-hour nap with the intention of making the most out of our brief trip. Reykjavik, as we discovered, is very walkable, and it is quite a joy to ditch the car and don your sneakers to get in your steps for the day.
Highlights from our walk into the city center. The parks are beautifully welcoming and maintained.
Reykjavik is a wonderful city. If wears an aura of welcome without the feeling of overwhelm that often accompanies larger cities. We spent a very fully day walking its streets, popping into shops, taking photos and enjoying its stunning art and delicious food. We even caught the end of a women’s soccer match with the locals.
It was a fully day, well spent. The kabobs at the Sea Baron are pretty much to die for, and we regret not having purchased a container of the seasoning they have for sale on the self beside the counter. If you go, go early. They are a small, no frills restaurant, but their fabulous food makes them quite popular.
Or perhaps I should say, “To walk a life into being.”
My husband and I spent the 4th in nature. It was the perfect way for us to express a reverence for what feels worthy, real, and based upon love. We brought the dogs along, which meant a perfect day for our canine companions as well.
Sitting on our front porch with a cup of tea dividing us, I scrolled through the “All Trails” app on my phone until I found one that just felt right. A new trail, to us, not too far away. And so, after breakfast was consumed, water bottles filled, and a couple of granola bars tucked in pockets, we set off in a race to the “minivan.”
We no longer have a minivan, but my husband and I love to shout out, “go straight to the minivan,” to incite the dogs and annoy the teenagers. The said teenagers, though, had their own plans for the day. Still, it brought a smile to our faces, and, naturally the dogs’ who could not have been happier. There’s nothing like a good car ride as long as the destination is not the vets.
With windows cranked to snout-level, we were off on our new adventure. The day perfect according to the weather. The high hovering around 80, the breeze just enough to keep most of the bugs away, and the sky as blue as our children’s eyes. We did miss them, but sometimes it’s nice to have that time to recall how you began.
And for us, it began 31 years ago. I’m going to take a slight pause to let that sink in…
We were at the place where our son is temporarily residing, the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program. It was July 4th, 1991, and although I can’t tell you the exact details about the weather, I can recall in full-color the certain sundress I borrowed from a friend to impress a boy I had seen on the baseball field at recreation time. We met over bowls of ice cream, and the rest is our story.
So here we were, 31 years later, celebrating our story in the quiet way we knew best. Out in nature. We parked beside a wooden sign in front of a field of grasses, milkweed, and butterflies and suddenly I found myself falling in love, again. This land, not wholly ours, but from which we are all birthed, enfolding us like a mother who forgives even if she never forgets. And we, walking upon her, opened to love.
And wild wonder.
I was 48, 17, and 4. All ages wrapped up into one body, which is the way wonder finds us. Time slips past meaning and nothing else matters. The body’s bounds tangible, yet free. And the mind, that illusive organ without a physical structure, finds its tune and begins to sing of home. There it nothing better.
Life unties its binds in these moments and pure being erupts into the dream without the nightmare. As we walked that trail through the butterfly fields and into the woods beside a river, I began to dream of Life as it opened before us. The smile, spreading ever-wide upon my face. My body alive with the energy of being. And that vision that enfolded wider with each footstep, imprinted in full-color upon the canvas of my mind.
I’m honored to be a part of this collection of poems edited by Gabriela Marie Milton. The anthology is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit and our ability to heal and create from our wounds. Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women has been release one day early and is now available on Amazon.
Once again, like many others, I am feeling deeply bothered by the state of the world in which we all live. Today I am thinking of the words of Louis Armstrong and his beautiful lyrical antidote to a troubled world. A world that, more than fifty years later, feels, well, no less-troubled.
Where have we gone wrong? How do we make right?
We still cling to our violence like an infant clings to his “blankie.” We are hesitant to let go. The lust for power and greed continually supersedes our common good. We are a broken beautiful world trying to exists in the extremes of violence (mankind) and beauty (nature).
I use the world “mankind,” because let us be clear that it is the driving force of masculinity, whether it exists in a so-called male of female body, that lends itself towards violent acts. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often is in our world. The driving force is also the creative force, bringing forth life instead of death, in all its myriad forms.
It is working with the “light” that drives the life force that threads through all of us in its purest form. It is what Christ strived for, and Buddha. It is a quest for a balance and harmony. For the common good of all life.
And here we are stuck in the throes of our extremes. Many of us are struggling to incite change: signing petitions, calling senators, picketing our capital buildings, voting…while knowing it is simply not enough.
I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. I don’t know what it is going to take for us to put aside our accumulated lust for power and find our common ground. I wish I did.
One thing that nags me continuously though, is those we keep silent. Those who pull the card of spirituality without actually doing the real work. The term spiritual bypassing was coined by a psychotherapist named John Welwood to define individuals who use spirituality and its practices as a way of bypassing the real work of healing and changing their lives. Now it is a term used to also include the lives of others.
We see it all the time. It has become a chronic problem. An excuse for either doing nothing, or worse, doing the wrong thing. I am stretching the limits of this term to define all of those who claim to be following the path of the “light,” but refusing to do the real work to support the balance and harmony of life, whether it be within or outside of them.
We see it everywhere, in all of its masked forms. Self-ascribed christians refusing to give up their weapons of death used to murder children. We see it in self-ascribed light-workers refusing to acknowledge their individual and our shared darkness in their need to hold onto the ideal of the “light” they think shines more brightly within them. Their need to feel special superseding the good they proclaim to spread in the world. Instead of digging into fact-based, real-world problems to work towards bringing light to our collective darkness, they add to the darkness by spreading falls theories created by bots and deranged individuals intent of perpetrating the chaos in the world. The irony is almost too much to bear, but bear it they do, with a perverse sense of delight. Otherwise they would not be “special.”
This chronic need to be special and have control over others negates the real work of the light and being a spiritual being, whether you are professed follower of Christ, Buddha, Allah…a pantheon of gods or one God.
A world filled with beings who are striving to be separate. To feel special. To be better. Beings that feast on individual greed and need…with always tip towards chaos.
Our beautiful world of “skies of blue,” and “fields of green,” is raging. Fires burn in lands turned arid by mankind’s greed. Fires burn from the bullets of guns, destroying life, over and over again, because of mankind’s lust for power and control. And the fires of denial burn in the hearts of those who bypass the real work of life and cling to their sense of otherness.
We cannot live in a wonderful world without doing the real work of nurturing life itself.
It’s been a week since my grandmother left this life and rejoined the realm of spirit. She was 94.5 years old, and for the last two decades of her life she awaited the day when she would be rejoined with her beloved husband, the man I used to call Poppy.
I feel lucky to have had my Gram in my life for nearly half a century. It is a much longer time than most. My mother was a young mother when she brought me into the world, and her mother was there to welcome me into this life. One of the last memories Gram shared with me, as she often did, was of that day.
“Did you know, Alethea,” she reminded me as I sat beside her on her bed, “I was the first person to hold you?”
I know the story well, as I do so many others Gram used to like to share with me. Although we lived, for most of our shared lives, 3,000 miles apart from one another, Gram and I spoke regularly on the phone. When it became evident that she was getting ready to transition out of this life, my sister and I decided to fly the distance to visit our Gram one last time.
It was, in many ways, just like old times. Except it wasn’t summer, there were no longer mystery meals to unwrap on the plane, or cigarette smoke to pollute our lungs. It was, though, just the two of us again, flying west to see the family we had left behind when we were four and six years old, if only for a few days.
And we are both glad we did. We spent many hours of those two days sitting with Gram, trying to help her find comfort in her increasingly uncomfortable body, and even wheeling her outside for some time in the fresh air to look at the gardens surrounding the facility where she lived.
Gram’s weariness with life was apparent, but so was her unfailing love for us. Gram was happy we were there and didn’t want us to leave.
Although our Gram and Poppy had their faults, as all people do, they always exhibited unconditional love for me and my sister. It was something we needed as children, and clung to, despite only seeing our grandparents for a few days a year, if we were lucky.
In those few, brief visits, I have compiled a lifetime of happy memories. Sitting on the sun-soaked deck of my grandparents’ pool and eating homemade dried granny smith apples with Pringles and cans of pop is one of them. As are the moments when Gram would take my hand and trace each finger from the base to the tip before she took her emory board out to shape my nails and push back my cuticles. “You and your sister have such pretty hands,” she’d tell me, “just like your mother’s.”
Mine was a childhood filled with a sense of not belonging, of feeling like I constantly needed to prove my self-worth and earn my keep, but never was that the case at Gram and Poppy’s house. For those few blissful days each summer, my sister and I were able to relish the bliss of unconditional love, and even of being spoiled a bit.
At Gram and Poppy’s we’d watch forbidden cartoons during daylight hours and gleefully open cabinets filled with the junk food of our choosing. Outside, we’d turn handstands on their perfect lawn and lift our feet above the water in their chlorinated pool. Whenever I smell cedar, I think of Gram and Poppy and their home atop Mt. Scott in Portland. It was the closest place to heaven I found in my godless childhood.
Gram and Poppy sold their house on Mt. Scott many years ago, but during our brief trip west to say goodbye to Gram, our father drove my sister and me to see it. It looked the same, but very much changed. Just like life. Just like the entire trip.
The night before Gram passed, I had a conversation with her in my mind. I told her how much I loved her and that it was more than okay to leave. I knew she was ready. She had been working hard, in fact, at letting go. Gram knew I believed in life after death, even if it wasn’t in the same way she did.
“Send me a red bird,” I requested the following morning after I learned of her passing. “Let me know you made it okay.”
I was in the car, and as I turned the corner, a red-breasted robin stood in the road in front of me. It looked at me, then flew away.
I turned the radio on, and through the speakers came the word “bird.” NPR was doing a showing on birds.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jules De Vitto, a Transpersonal Coach and Trainer for Highly Sensitive People, as a guest on “The Highly Sensitive Humans” podcast. During the podcast, Jules and I chatted about our experiences living as HSPs and how we have used our own struggles and triumphs to help others thrive in a world that can both overwhelm us and fill us with joy.
Jules is offering a 3-Month Professional Training on How to Coach Highly Sensitive People starting on September 5, 2022. The course is accredited by the International Association of Coaches, Therapists and Mentors. It offers an integrative and embodied approach, drawing on psychological and spiritual perspectives, to help empower highly sensitive people who struggle with life.
Jules uses a mindfulness, trauma-informed, compassion-focused approach to her training. In the course, you’ll learn the fundamental skills needed to coach HSPs. Upon completion of the training, you’ll also receive Professional Development (40-hours) certification credentials.
Spaces for the course are limited to just 20 people. More detailed information on it can be found here.
Jules has a small number of scholarships available for those who require financial support to join the course. Please email her at email@example.com if you’d like to apply for the scholarship.
My journey into the world of podcasting continues with episode 88of Steve Silverman’s “World Gone Good” podcast. I had a wonderful time chatting with Steve about healing, writing, reiki, yoga, and following your joy. Some of the highlights include our Jodie Foster stories, how we healed our stomach aliments through mindfulness, and how we channel our inner truth through writing.
It was a genuine honor and pleasure being on “World Gone Good.” If you have thirty minutes to listen to episode 88, you can find it here. Better yet, start following Steve’s awesome podcast!