Source of Dingspiration: History of Iceland, From the Settlement to the Present Day, by Jon Hjalmarsson

I’ve recently started to confront the fact that even the biggest baddest problem in my life – it’s just not as big or bad as I think. I really have no excuse to feel defeated, or fail to find a path to happy.

This realization that there are harder things in life – much, much harder things – started a few weeks ago as I sat in a darkened movie theater watching the credits roll at the end of The Revenant. I mean, the ordeals that man went through for vengeance. The countless times he almost died but instead was a straight up G and didn’t. He slept inside a horse carcass for God’s sake. Let it be known that from now on, I will gauge how truly difficult life is by comparing it to sleeping inside a horse carcass. It’s all a matter of perspective, people. TGLWO* [See featured photo. This is an Icelandic horse that I met, in whom I did not sleep.]

But to get us back on topic, I switch to the trip I took to Iceland last week. I came away with a whole slew of unforgettable adventures –standing inside a waterfall decorated with thousands of glittering icicles, racing snowmobiles across the second largest glacier in Europe, miraculously catching the ephemeral Northern Lights – but first I’ll describe my emotional journey.

Day 1, we explored the city of Reykjavik. Let’s skip that part because after being awake for 36+ hours to get to Iceland and successfully obtain a working rental car, I was basically a shell of a human being walking through life like a dream. I was reduced to basic instinct and reflexes. The only reason why I remember what happened at all on that day is because Asian instinct and reflexes include diligent photo documentation of all things and places.

Day 2, we hit up all the hot spots on the Golden Circle – the gargantuan Gulfoss waterfalls, the violent Geysir at Haukadalur, the Viking Parliament spot at Pingvellir. Although I was surrounded by beauty, I was seriously questioning the sanity of any person who lived on this bitterly cold, relentlessly windy, seemingly godforsaken island. And questioning my own judgment for having voluntarily installed myself here for 9 days. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel warm again.

By the time Day 9 came around, I had seen some things. My world had changed. I even bought a book, the History of Iceland, to fuel my newfound obsession. Here is what I learned.

Iceland calls itself the ‘land of fire and ice.’ The land was created by volcanic fire along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and ice showed up on the scene some 2500 years ago. It has no native peoples or animals save some birds and arctic foxes that skittered over on ice from Greenland. Only a quarter of the island is deemed habitable by humans. Let’s face it folks. The island wasn’t meant to be lived on. It’s basically like Mars.

As far as anyone can tell, the first people to chill on Iceland were Irish monks around 400-500 A.D. They were smart enough to hang out and meditate for the warm months only, before booking it back to Ireland in the winter. The monks were eventually overrun by land-hungry Vikings around 900 A.D.

The first Viking who found this new mysterious land named it Snowland. Cute, right? But he went home to Norway and it didn’t stick. The second Viking named the island after himself, and that definitely didn’t stick. I can’t even remember what his name was. Case in point. The third Viking, he was one of the first to brave the winter. When Spring came he climbed a mountain and looked over the other side, (because that’s a normal weekend activity), only to find more ice. He was real bitter because all his animals had died from the cold, and this was the last straw, so he named it Iceland. Boom. The name stuck.

Here’s the situation with which we are presented. A ton of volcanoes, a ton of ice (Iceland holds the largest glaciers in Europe), practically no trees, and very few animals.  I think I can call that ‘sleep inside a horse carcass’ difficult. Despite all these warning signs – zero aboriginal beings, monks who came over for summer getaways, badass Vikings who couldn’t deal – today 300 thousand people live happily on Iceland. I haven’t fact checked the ‘happily’ with a morale survey, but they haven’t left yet and my plane tickets were pretty affordable so I feel ok with making that assumption. My question was, how do they do it!?

Well, because of the volcanic activity, there’s a ton of geothermal energy. They harvest nature’s super hot water by using the steam to run turbines and funneling the hot water into an underground network to heat all the homes. When you turn the faucet to hot in Iceland, the water is instantly scalding and smells faintly of sulfur. Energy is practically free; not only do they sleep with the lights on, but they also attract a ton of high-energy manufacturing processes like for creating aluminum.

The whole not having trees thing? Almost every Icelander is involved in reforestation efforts, and their houses are made of corrugated iron. The iron is good for insulation and makes for a pretty picture when they paint their houses unexpectedly bright colors.

Food? They eat and export a ton of fish, grow a bunch of stuff in greenhouses, and have found some sturdy animals that can survive the crazy unpredictable weather. Seriously, you can’t drive a mile in Iceland without coming across an Icelandic horse. Which is really from the Norway region. They are the Icelander’s best friend, and delicious to eat to boot. I’ve come to terms with the fact that horse steak is just 10x better than cow steak.

And that’s just the tip of the glacier. (See what I did there?) If this isn’t a story of taking a difficult situation and making the best of it, I don’t know what is. There’s always a way of turning things around. Taking what seems like a weakness, and making it a strength.

Learn from Iceland. When life gives you lemons, make margaritas.

*Thank God Leo Won an Oscar



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