Sometimes You Will Back into a Lamp Post in the Middle of Nowhere!

“Life just doesn’t care about our aspirations or sadness. It’s often random, and it’s often stupid and it’s often completely unexpected, and the closures and the epiphanies and revelations we end up receiving from life, begrudgingly, rarely turn out to be the ones we thought.” – Khaled Hosseini –

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Iceland has become one of my favourite places on the planet. My partner and I had the privilege of circumnavigating this magnificent piece of terra firma last year (I kept some travel reflections – Part One starts on this link). We hired a 4 wheel drive that took us to some of the more remote areas where we crossed streams that totally disregarded the ‘road’ and held our breath while ascending and descending the terrifying steep cliffs on either side of fjords.

Sorcerer's Cottage, Klúka, Bjarnafjörður
Sorcerer’s Cottage, Klúka, Bjarnafjörður

The Westfjord of Iceland does not see that much traffic. The bulk of tourists stick to the Golden Circle down south. It was my turn to drive when we explored this exquisite area. Even though I was driving on the ‘right’ side, which is actually the ‘wrong side for us Aussies, it was a fairly easy, serene tour. We noticed a small guesthouse with a “Sorcerer’s Cottage” sign and out of sheer curiosity drove into the empty, small carpark. And, yes, it was in this desolate carpark that we actually argued about where to park… long story. So out of sheer irritation, I reversed back to a spot suggested by my partner and that’s when I hit the lamp post.

Now you need to understand that this was THE only lamp post, not just in the carpark, but probably for miles and miles around. I managed to hit that one and only lamp post in what felt like all of Iceland! The lamp post, like a soccer diva (player), did not just absorb the small bump and hide my embarrassment! No, it shuddered, and began a slo-mo lean, creaking dangerously, as if to lament the fact that it had stood there for decades and now a stupid tourist has brought about its demise. I was mortified.

A woman walked on to the porch of the guesthouse, presumably the owner of the guesthouse and therefore the lamp post guardian. She just stood with her mouth open. When I eventually ceased the long flow of descriptive German words and cracked the car door open, she uttered profundities, “Why would you hit the lamp post when you have all this carpark and the surrounding fields to park in?” It was a vexing question. A question that, gauging by the conversation that followed, never really was rewarded with a satisfactory answer. Simply because in life there are days when you will defy the law of 99.99999% possibility and hit a lamp post in the middle of nowhere.

The rest of the day was ruined for me, even though I was surrounded by the most stunning vistas. I was dreading the Icelandic powers-that-be to banish me from their northern kingdom or to receive a ginormous bill to run a new power line stretching for hundreds of kilometres in order to erect a new lamp post. But it turns out that Icelanders do not just have a wicked sense of humour, they are also very kind. I never heard another thing about that lamp post. I know it would not have survived the ordeal.

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Friend, in life there are days and seasons that feel like Iceland Lamp Post Moments. One moment we are neatly tucked away in our part of the world, minding our own business, the next moment we are surrounded by drama through a most bizarre set of circumstances. We can beat ourselves up, question the lamp post gods, fret over the cosmic injustice that allows us to be part of the 0.00001% of people that back into lamp posts in the middle of nowhere … or simply embrace life with all its strange lamp post moments.

Embracing lamp post moments is not easy. Trust me, you are talking to a lamp post anxiety expert! We have to change the narrative about how we view those moments and seasons – something like, “How gifted am I to have hit the only lamp post in Iceland!” Now some would call that delusion, I call it survival with style! In all seriousness, I will never forget our fantastic Iceland getaway … and I have a lamp post to thank for that!

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Acid Rain? Clean Up Your Life

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
– Wendell Berry –

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Just a few weeks ago my partner and I paused on our hike and admired the beautiful Black Forest near Triberg in Germany. We had reached a high point in the trek and could see the dark, majestic trees covering miles of rolling hills. With a clear blue sky above and the warmth of a late summer, it was as mystical and magical as all the story books lead us to believe. However, this was not always the case. All of Germany’s forests, especially the Black Forest, were in serious decline in the 1980’s … and they are not out of the woods yet (never miss an opportunity for a well-placed pun!) … the reason? Acid Rain.

Acid rain is the wet and dry deposits that come from the atmosphere and contain more than the normal amount of nitric and sulphuric acids. They cause the rain to become acidic in nature, mainly because of environmental pollutants from cars and industrial processes. Decaying vegetation, wildfires and biological processes also generate acid rain forming gases, but human activity leading to chemical gas emissions such as sulphur and nitrogen, are the primary contributors.

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The result of acid rain? Acid rain accumulates in water and changes the pH level that certain plants and fish need to survive and breed. A reduction in biodiversity is one of the many effects. It destroys forests as they become vulnerable to disease, extreme weather, and insects. Soil composition is altered and destroyed, sensitive micro-organisms are killed. This has a direct impact on other vegetation which becomes stunted and dies. Also, architecture, especially buildings made of limestone, corrode and are destroyed. In short: Acid Rain is a disaster. You can read more about this environmental disaster on the Conserve Energy Future web site.

Recovery has been slow. Government solutions have been varied and there is a focus on seeking alternative energy sources. Eco-systems are slowly being restored. The severity of this disaster still eludes so many – especially if we do not recognise that Mother Nature, although patient, kind and long-suffering, is definitely not indestructible. Everyone has to play a part. Acid rain ultimately affects all of us.

So we carry an environmental responsibility in our wider world, but what about our personal lives? Noticed any effects of acid rain lately? Deposits of toxic pollutants that are killing you? Perhaps it is a relationship that has become dysfunctional, but you have put up with it for so long you no longer notice how it has stripped your soul? Maybe it is a barrage of poisonous words that have been levelled at you with sniper precision when you were least expecting or prepared? Or maybe it is the refusal to look at your own shadow, acknowledging the pain or wound that is hurting not just you, but the environment you exist in? Perhaps it is your relentless schedule, your inability to say “No”, or your addiction to pleasing others? Maybe it’s time to seek an alternative way of life?

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Friends, the sad phenomenon of acid rain is a reality that, whether we know it or not, like it or not, affects our world. We are all consumers. We are all responsible to live in a way that leaves no heavy footprints. In an “I-Need-This-Stuff” world this is no small feat. We are also responsible for the energy we use in our own lives and relationships. This becomes very confronting when there is toxicity in our close relationships. Acknowledgement is the first step. A healthier space is not created overnight because often it has to do with an embedded way of relating or thinking. It takes courage, recognition and a refusal to be resigned to an environment that is killing us.

Acid Rain in your life? Time for action. Take the first step. Be Brave!

“Toxic relationships are dangerous to your health; they will literally kill you. Stress shortens your lifespan. Even a broken heart can kill you. There is an undeniable mind-body connection … Don’t carve a roadmap of pain into the sweet wrinkles on your face. Don’t lay in the quiet with your heart pounding like a trapped, frightened creature. For your own precious and beautiful life, and for those around you — seek help or get out before it is too late. This is your wake-up call!”
– Bryan McGill –

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Turbulence! That Annoying Necessity of Life

“What gives value to travel is fear” – Camus

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You’d think I would be used to it by now. Considering a number of untold hours I have spent in the air over my lifetime, you would think that turbulence and I have a solid, unfazed relationship. Not true. I detest turbulence. The minute the plane starts shaking and bumping with all of 40,000 feet of free fall between it and earth, my heart starts pounding and I wish I had not said ‘no’ to that glass of red (it’s the plastic cups, you know, nobody should drink wine from plastic cups … but that’s a different story). No matter how bored and casual the pilot sounds as his voice drawls across the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems we have hit a tad of turbulence (no friggin kidding, Junior?!). So we ask you to return to your seats (yep, done that, curled up in the seat) and fasten your seat belts. The cabin crew will cease service (please cease service, keep your salad and bread roll, just throw me some valium) at this time.” He doesn’t have me fooled! Turbulence is not my friend.

It seems that flying and turbulence go together. I wish they didn’t, but it is simply a cruel part of this unnatural experience. If you are going to place your body in a metal and plastic aerodynamic structure and hurl it through space, the likelihood of striking turbulence is about as high as the possibility of drama and weeping on The Bachelor. Turbulence reminds me that there are many unforeseen air pockets and storms that we will encounter in this thing called ‘life’.

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Without turbulence, it would just be one, long smooth flight to our next destination. How utterly boring (doesn’t boring sound wonderful?!). Turbulence cuts through the bollocks and delusion of control. It reminds us that we are vulnerable and that the notion that we have control over our lives is as illusionary as an oasis in a bone dry desert. We can map out the most beautiful destination, set the most splendid route that promises us sunshine and unicorns farting butterflies, but with one shudder of that plane we remember that life seldom follows the path of glorious boring monotony. Life is all about facing our fear. Turbulence makes sure we do.

Be wary of anything or anyone that tells you otherwise. In a consumer culture there’s always someone selling something that promises “No Turbulence Guaranteed”. If you drink this potion, eat this green slime, say this prayer, mouth this mantra, wear this talisman or have this much faith, then you will encounter no turbulence. So you buy into the farce with gusto, only to discover a few months or years later, it’s not true. Turbulence is one of those annoying necessities of life – and there’s no way round but through. Turbulence has your number – because turbulence shakes out of you what sunshine, butterflies and cupid kisses won’t – your shadowy fear.

Fear, like turbulence, is a part of life. It is not fear in and of itself that creates all the problems. It’s the denial of fear. The suppression of fear. The inability to own or recognise how fear has held us back in so many areas of our lives. Turbulence exposes our captivity to fear. It is only when the storms of life hit that we have the opportunity to examine what lurks in some of the dungeons of our heart … but only if we pay attention … only if we are honest …

Turbulence has often come into my life in the most inconvenient of times! Just a few years ago it came to me through the lives and stories of those on the margins. It totally upset my nicely held set of beliefs and ideals. It exposed some of my darkest fears – what if I listen to my heart and lose all I have built in this beautiful, tiny, hyper-real bubble of existence? Facing that fear was traumatic. There was no way round but through. And I did lose. And it did hurt. And I did grieve. And I also survived. And I could never go back. Turbulence broke fear’s spell.

I still don’t like turbulence. There’s no real way we can make peace with it. We are wired in such a way, that, if at all possible, we will avoid it. This is not a post about welcoming turbulence. Friend, this is a post to let you know that you are not alone when facing it. It will impact your life and change your travel plans. But there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you. You are just fortunate to walk the path of the living – and the living face turbulence and with it their fears. May you be brave.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Murakami

 

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What The Sea Teaches Us

“Listening through the heart is not something you must learn to do. It is something you need only reclaim and remember.”
– Stephanie Dowrick –

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I loved going to the sea ever since I can remember. In Germany it was the chilly harbours along the North Sea. The fishermen would sit there like a line of dominoes on the freezing cement curbs, their buckets filled with a variety of sole, mackerel, cod or whiting, while their cigarettes created a hazy cloud above their heads.

When we moved to South Africa we would use our weekends to visit Durban’s magnificent Indian Ocean. I have a distinct memory of my father and I enjoying the huge waves before being told off by the lifeguard. As newly arrived immigrants we did not understand a word that this bad-tempered, red-faced man was saying to us until he pointed to the rather obvious warning sign displaying a giant shark. Apparently, we were swimming in unprotected water and had thereby become tantalising human bait.

Since moving to Australia over three decades ago, I have never failed to appreciate the beautiful beaches of this fair isle. I have spent many hours walking the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas in Melbourne. The Sunshine Coast here in Queensland, however, has to take the prize for some of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen. And there is something so therapeutic about walking on their shores.

The sea teaches us many things. One of them is that there is a rhythm to life that we can miss amongst our often artificial, neon lights of suburbia. Nothing can stop the sun from rising or setting and no barrier can stop the tide from rolling in. Observing and connecting with this rhythmic part of nature stirs something deep inside of us … whispers of hope and providence.

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Swimming in the deep blue sea has always thrilled and scared me. It reminds me of life. The deep is not safe, yet sitting on the shores is not an option. On the shores I will never experience the healing, stinging salt water that washes over me, like my tears and my prayers. You never learn to swim in the shallows. There is something about launching out into the deep. Many years ago Jesus told a disheartened fisherman to launch into the deep. The rest, as they say, is history.

I look at my feet as I squelch the sand between my toes. The many broken shells remind me that they too, once held life, and that life passes quickly. “Travel lightly,” they whisper to me. Life is short and these feet are made for walking, not for being tied to the many cumbersome burdens that modernity claims we need. Accompanied by the unruly frivolity that overtakes my hair at the beach, it adds the classic reminder: “Beach Hair Don’t Care.” The sea and its shores reminds us of the splendid and simple joys of life.

Most of all, the sea reminds me that to wait is holy. The sea cannot be rushed or ruled. We can only wait … and in that sacrament of waiting we find untold treasures. Isn’t it about time you took a walk on the beach, dear friend?

“The beach is not a place to work; to read, write or to think … The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Gift from the Sea) –

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New Streets and Old Maps

“Not all those who wander are lost …” – Bilbo Baggins

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In the 1990’s nearly every car in Melbourne still had an often mangled, coffee-stained Melway in the back seat. In the ‘good old days’ we did not have any fancy satellite navigation systems that talk to you in that annoying, patronising voice (you can almost see Mr or Mrs Automated Voice roll their eyes as they incessantly repeat: “Make a U-turn, Dumbass!” when you take the wrong turn). No, we were tough. We had printed maps that led us to our destination – most of the time!

Using a printed map for direction is problematic in several ways. First, you have to keep driving with your eyes on the road, while frantically scanning the map on your lap to ensure you are going the right way. Second, due to destructive car occupants such as dogs and toddlers, you may have found that the page you needed has been ripped out and chewed. Third, if you got lost, there were no mobile phones to let people know that you accidentally arrived in Wangary instead of Wanguri. But most frustrating of all, if you had a Melway that was several years old, you found yourself in deep custard when navigating a new sub-division with brand new streets.

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Old maps and new streets are not great travelling companions. The map will tell you that the street you are looking for does not exist, has never existed, and you are wasting your time looking for it. In fact, if the map suddenly turned into a talking, philosophical, map-person (yep, imagination needed here) they would probably say something like, “Look, I know you desperately think that you can visit someone in Gertrude Street, but I hate to break it to you, Gertrude Street does not exist. Trust me, we have been doing this for a very long time. My father, my father’s father, and my father’s father’s father have all said the same thing. There is no Gertrude Street. You have to let it go. You are looking for a destination we have never been to … and we are the experts.”

No one has told the old maps that landscapes change. These maps, like the old wineskins that Jesus talks about in Luke 5, have only ever known old streets or old wine. It is ludicrous to demand anything else of them. We can hope, we can try, we can get angry, but in the end, old maps direct you around old streets and old wineskins hold only old wine. If you want to drive around new spaces, then you will either have to find a new map or you will have to draw your own.

Friend, I wish I could tell you that the maps you have used in your formative years, or in times of flourishing success, would be sufficient for the rest of your life – but that is not the case. Ideas, paradigms and methods we use to navigate life can disappoint us as we continue to learn new things and drive down streets we have never visited before. Some maps may last a lifetime but the way we read them may need to change, and the person who taught you to read that map is not always the expert. That realisation alone can be life changing.

In this life we have choices. We can allow old maps to rule our lives because the very idea of new streets terrifies us. Or, we can recognise that from the moment of birth, life is an ever changing landscape and without taking risks we will never discover new possibilities. Today we live our lives with certain knowledge, like the earth being round and orbiting around the sun. We forget that this knowledge came at a great price for people who, many years ago, threw away their old maps of thinking. Now it’s our turn. Time to explore some new streets.

I’ll show you a place
High on the desert plain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name (U2) 

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This Ancient Mountain

I acknowledge the original custodians of this land and pay my respects to the Elders both past, present and future for they hold the memories, the spiritual connections, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of  Australia.

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Every morning when I step on to my front verandah I greet a Dreamtime legend. A warrior that caused havoc amongst young love and was turned to stone and became Mount Ninderry.

The original Aboriginal people of the Yandina area and its distinct land formation belonged to the Gubbi Gubbi language group. The tribes included Nalbo, Kabi, Dallambara and Undabi. These tribes lived in Yandina and the surrounding area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Middens, scarred trees, bora rings and burial grounds remain a silent witness to their presence and rich heritage. Stories like that of Mount Ninderry speak of their dreaming.

In the evening I sit and watch the mountain light up as the setting sun begins to dance and flicker upon its ancient surface. One moment it is bathed in golden light and shining so brightly that I squint watching it. John Muir wrote, “How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains.” Then the shadows come, pouring out of the rocks and bushes like warriors of old. Ninderry becomes dark and ominous reminding everyone that this idyllic setting also has a dark and bloody past.

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View from Mount Ninderry to Mount Coolum and the coast.

As I sit in silence and contemplate this giant of rock, I find solace and am reminded of a few things …

  1. That we have lost our way in a fast-paced, over-stimulated world. We no longer pay heed to the ancient voices. We no longer allow the healing power of sunshine, flowers, wind, storms and mountains to stop us in our tracks and revive. It is time we take stock and acknowledge how much our neglect of nature has cost us and the world we live in.
“Thousand of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” (Muir)

  1. That we need to remember our place in this earth … and it is not as grand as we like to think. My ancient friend has seen civilisations rise and fall. The people who rose with grand ambition in the hope of making a name for themselves, now lay forgotten several generations later. Even the ones we remember have had their narrative distorted as we airbrush them into mythical characters. Not much remains of our one short life – except, perhaps, those things we did when we rose above our fear and pride and gave ourselves to love without borders. Ninderry reminds me to walk in humility.
        “This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.”

  1. That God is faithful. Mountains have always spoken to me of faithfulness. I don’t mean to sound trite or even comforting. Mountains can be treacherous, they can be difficult, they can even claim lives. When I speak of faithfulness I don’t intend it in the diluted manner so often flung about in modern, pop religions. Rather, it is a faithfulness despite of … a faithfulness that my ‘in spite of’ faith can connect with. I believe in faithful Providence and a Creator that remains faithful to all of creation, not just an elite few.
    “Mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion” – Anatoli Boukreev

Mount Ninderry has become my immovable friend. A constant reminder of past, present and future. When I am long gone this regal mountain will still stand guard. However, right now Ninderry reminds me that I have one glorious life to live … and live it I shall.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
 
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Arctic Terns and Lupin Flowers: Reflections on Relentless Thoughts

“The Arctic Tern is one of the most aggressive terns, fiercely defensive of its nest and young. It will attack humans and large predators, usually striking the top or back of the head. Although it is too small to cause serious injury, it is capable of drawing blood. Other birds can benefit from nesting in an area defended by Arctic Terns.”
Migration – 

Our road trip through Iceland had to be one of the major highlights of 2016. I loved that hauntingly beautiful country.  This past week I spent time looking through photos and came across this:

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Arctic Tern COLONY you might be attacked by hundreds of angry birds, wear a hat and or hold a stick or Lupin flower above your head. 
 
We spent a few days in the Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre, staying at a Mountain Lodge, 17km east of Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland. Taking a walk along the rugged coastline we came across the sign. Our amusement was cut short as the hilarious warning became a chilling reality – we became the focus of hundreds of very angry birds! Running for our lives like the students in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” there was no time to pick a Lupin flower – just get me the hell out of here.

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Months later I now sit in the peaceful forest surroundings in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland with no Arctic Tern in sight. Only the ones in my head. It is amazing what happens when you take time out; the very act of seeking solace in quiet spaces can become a minefield of a thousand thoughts and some of them are very angry. We should go into times of solitude and reflection with warning signs: “You might be attacked by hundreds of relentless, incessant thoughts – stick a Lupin flower in your hair and smile.

As a serial ‘overthinker’, an empath, and an only child, this blog is dedicated to all tortured souls out there who, like me, asked ‘why’ long before we ever said ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’!  Those not wired this way tend to see our questions and cynical streak as negative – and they have a point! We all have our shadows. Understanding that our critical mind can very quickly morph into an Arctic Tern Colony is an important step in self recognition. Just like the folk on the opposite spectrum can fly into the positive hyper-reality of Neverland, never to be seen again.

Existential angst is the hound that snaps at our heels on a daily basis. What a menacing beast it is. We look for meaning and everything needs to be analysed critically. Mistakes and regret are some of our worst nightmares. We have a small-talk phobia and would rather pluck the hair of our big toe than listen to cliches or one word answers. We connect deeply with the German word “Sehnsucht”, or unfathomable longing, that takes our mind on tours and detours as we search for significance and essence, just like Indiana Jones hunts for ancient artefacts.

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Some of us have found meaning in faith. Identifying with the author of Ecclesiastes (another obsessive overthinker!!) who wrestled with profound profundities and in exasperation declared that God has placed eternity in the human heart, we ponder all our lives and still don’t get it (3:11). The great, late C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” My own personal thousand rabbit holes of thought leads me back to the life and claims of Christ – but it is not an easy, ‘happy-go-lucky’ faith path. Rather, I go through seasons of doubt, hounded by questions that I know are veiled in mystery that greater minds have pondered for centuries.

But I digress! Back to those Arctic Terns that at times take it upon themselves to disrupt our peaceful state. Lupin flowers, it seems, are Iceland’s answer for this force of nature. The Nootka Lupin is a native to North America. It was introduced to Iceland in the first half of the 20th century to combat erosion, speed up land reclamation, and help with re-forestation. The Nootka Lupin has proven to be effective for land reclamation. However, some are concerned because it is spreading too quickly and becoming too invasive, and this delightful purple flower has now earned the name ‘Alaskan Wolf’.

362036164-nootka-lupin-reykjanes-wildflower-meadow-flowerIcelanders suggest taking this beautiful, purple perennial pest and waving it wildly above our heads to deter angry birds targeting our scalp. There is a lesson in this for all fellow overthinking empaths out there. When critical thinking begins to turn us into brooding balls of melancholy it is time to deliberately find some invasive forms of happy thought and swing them around in our head like a maniac. We don’t ban Arctic Terns, they need to be recognised and acknowledged, but we draw a line when they start to shit on our heads. 

So what does that Lupin flower look like for you? A bungee jump down some mountain cliffs? A long walk on the beach? Getting out your paint brushes and creating art that has no rules attached? A motorbike ride? A visit to the state library or national gallery? A good glass of red and a cigar? A cup of coffee with a dear friend? Singing in the rain? Goethe? Jazz or Viking Metal? When we open our eyes, we discover that we are surrounded by Lupin flowers.

Arctic terns come and go. We don’t pretend they don’t exist. They do and they have a role to play. So do Lupin flowers. Through the yin and yang of life, we discover that for every Arctic Tern there is also a Lupin flower. Remember that, dear friend. Pick your favourite flower, wave it above your head, and do a wild dance … just for the heck of it!

Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery)
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Congestions, Delays and Detours!

Odd, how life makes twists and turns. I never would have guessed that I’d end up where I am now, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade this path I’m on for the whole solar system, for that matter. If I’ve learned anything these last several months, it’s that sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.
– Angela Blount –

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I was meant to fly back home to the Sunshine Coast yesterday. The alarm went extra early to ensure that we could negotiate Melbourne’s traffic mayhem, and get to the airport in plenty of time for my 10am flight. But, alas, even at 6.30am the freeway had already ground to a standstill. My quick thinking partner took a detour, weaving in and out of tiny streets through sleepy suburbs. Then the phone went with a text message. My flight had been cancelled. I tried to call the airline to change to a different flight and was placed on ‘hold’. We listened to repetitive announcements and the jingle of ‘hold’ music for over an hour. By the time someone eventually picked up we had just arrived at the airport.

The person on the line was not helpful. Referring to the airline as ‘they’ it became obvious that the delicate job of dealing with irritated customers had been handed to some contract group. They showed no mercy. No, I cannot catch another flight that day as they were all fully booked! No, they won’t allow me to detour via another major city! No, they do not compensate in any way or form. You have to find your own accommodation. By the time I put the phone down I was in a frightful fury and we took the long trip home – stopping for strong coffee, as it was too early for wine!

After I managed to downgrade my feelings towards a rude airline encounter from ‘cold hatred’ to ‘loathe entirely’, it occurred to me how much of life was represented in those few frustrating hours. We plan our life journey: how we will travel, what we will do when we get there, and the people we will meet and greet … and then we wake up to life with all its detours, congestion and cancelled travel plans. Have you noticed that?

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Sometimes life feels so congested that we need to be reminded to breathe. We frantically look for a different way and venture on a random detour through uncharted territory. Our congested, helter-skelter life has flung us into some unknown suburbs that we have never heard of or thought we would visit – perhaps an oncology ward? Or an interview for a totally different career? Or surrounded by strange tribe of people that quickly become friends and people we love deeply.

There are times we are caught totally unaware. We thought we were bound for an exotic destination, only to have our dreams and hopes ‘cancelled’. We furiously dial the ‘God’ line – but it feels like God has placed us on hold and taken a liking to elevator music!! We desperately look around for a comforting word from the people around us, but they have been kidnapped and replaced with distant, look-alike cousins that mouth robotic, religious cliches that once held meaning.

Life is full of congestion, detours and delays. To expect anything else is to live with constant disappointment or frustration. It is not a matter of whether you will encounter these travelling companions but rather a matter of where and when. At any moment, life can grind to a total halt and we sit on the freeway and wonder whether it will ever go back to ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ means. We cannot force things to start moving again, we just need to sit and wait. What a terrible dilemma for all of us addicted to our own adrenaline in a hurry-sick, congested world.

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So I was stranded yesterday. I treated myself to a pedicure and read my ‘Slow‘ magazine. Sitting in the corner of that bustling little store I remembered to be grateful. It was a begrudging sort of gratitude at first, but gratitude nonetheless. As I leant into breathing, being mindful and grateful, I reflected on my life. My whole life has been a set of detours, congestion and delays. I have walked paths I never dreamt of walking, I have met people I never thought I would have the privilege of meeting, I have been in spaces that were thin places – and so many of these encounters happened because of … you guessed it – detours, congestion and delays.

Most of the time we do not know why life can get so awfully complicated. We feel helpless and vulnerable when circumstances come into our lives that we have no control over. But there are a few things we can do. We can remember to breathe. We can practice mindfulness. And we can be grateful. May your delayed, congested and detour-filled life also be filled with unexpected joy, a sense of purpose, wonder and gratitude, dear Pilgrim.

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Idyllic Iceland – Part 4 (Finale)

“Adventure is worthwhile” – Aesop

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I was wrong! You know, this bit from Part 3: “But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.” I wrote that after circumnavigating most of Iceland, but I hadn’t arrived in Reykjavik. And two thirds of Icelanders live in Reykjavik! And in summer they never sleep!

After leaving heavenly Skalanes, we headed south. The roads become wider and there were noticeably more people and tourist buses on the move. At our accommodation near Skogafoss, another beautiful waterfall, a local informed me that Iceland tourism has been growing 20% per year over the last five years, and it is putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. In 2017, Iceland is expecting over two million tourists . Not only is that a new record but that is a heck of a lot of people for a tiny country of around 330,000 people.

Skogafoss
Skogafoss

The south is beautiful. Walking on the Vatna Glacier, Iceland’s largest ice cap, with its eerie stillness and black, white and blue colourings, felt like I had been transported into the fantasy realm of Narnia. I could have spent hours staring at Iceland’s most visited tourist destination: the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

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We took time to visit Geysir (meaning gusher), with its spectacular geothermal pools and diva of a geyser, after which all other geysers are named.

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All history and geology buffs should visit Thingvellir. So much of Icelandic history and identity was shaped here. It is also the meeting place of the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates. I walked through the middle of the rift and marvelled at the wonder of our world.

Our last few days have been spent in the island’s capital, Reykjavik. We arrived in time for the Annual Jazz festival and settled ourselves in a little apartment in the middle of the city. Our stay co-incided with a weekend, and it feels like the whole city centre has become a giant street party that really only gets going after midnight. Icelanders don’t settle down in one pub for the night, they crawl from one to the next, getting progressively louder as they do. I am very in love with my industrial ear plugs right now!

Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrimskirkja

The time has come to pack and take the long journey home. Iceland has been a blast and I am so very grateful to have shared the time with my most favourite human and partner-in-crime of 30 years.

I highly recommend this part of the planet to all who have a sense of adventure and wanderlust.

I will leave you with a few more travel tips:

1. Book your accommodation ahead of time. In summer this tiny island takes a tourist beating. Don’t expect to book last minute. Even with my partner’s careful planning, there were some areas that were nearly booked out … and that was months ago.

2. Alcohol is very expensive here. If you enjoy a glass of red, I suggest you buy a bottle at the government run ‘Vinbudin’. The restaurant prices are ridinkulous!

3. You can save money on meals by ensuring that your accommodation includes breakfast. Also, many of the small supermarkets around the country have delicious fresh sandwiches for sale. These made up most of our lunches. Find out where the locals go out to dinner and eat there. Many of the highlighted restaurants are simply run for the large tourist buses that roll in.

4. There are so many amazing geothermal pools right around the island. Some are free. Others are part of a local swimming pool and the entrance fee is minimal. Speaking about swimming pools, these play a major role on any Icelanders recreation list. You will find locals speak with a sense of pride about their pools. We avoided the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. At €65 ($94 AUD) per person with towel and locker hire, that was beyond premium! We chose a local pool with hot springs and paid $11 for both of us 🙂

Here ends my Icelandic iPhone travel rambles. Wherever your travels take you, pilgrim, may you feel humbled at the grandeur of the planet we call home.

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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. – Martin Buber

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Idyllic Iceland – Part 3

… Continuation of Icelandic rambling Part 3 – coming to you via my iPhone  … And thanks to Iceland’s rich supply of free & fast WiFi even in the remotest mountain region …

After a couple of days up north in Husavik, we headed east to the Skandales Mountain Lodge. Taking a detour, we stopped at the Vatnajökull National Park, Europe’s largest protected reserve. You could spend weeks here. We just had time to walk down to the gorge at Ásbyrgi and marvel at the vertical canyon walls. It seems that in Iceland, Mother Nature got totally carried away and threw some of her world’s most gobstopping spectacles on one tiny island.

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Dettifoss Falls was the next stop. At 100 metres wide and with a 44 metre fall it is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is spectacular with a permanent giant rainbow as its crown. Thundering at such voluminous speed it sends up a permanent spray that can be seen for over a kilometre away. Do take care on the walkways, they can be very slippery.

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We then headed to Seyðisfjörður. A 27 kilometre road over the Fjarðarheiði mountain connects Seyðisfjörður to the rest of Iceland. If you see one place in East Iceland – let it be this place. Situated at the very end of a fjord, surrounded by mountains, it is decorated with colourful wooden buildings – the whispers of a past when this place was inhabited by Norwegian fishermen. We drove another 17 kilometres out of town, along a perilous dirt road with three river crossings to arrive at our accommodation – Skandales Mountain Lodge. This is about as remote as you can get – and is probably a visual display centre for what some would call heaven. If you ever come here, hike up the mountain – the hike took us about five hours return, we built a stone pillar on the very top … It may still stand there to applaud your effort when you arrive.

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A couple of travel tips and reflections:

One, the roads in Iceland vary. The main Ring road (1) that circles around the island is mainly asphalt, but on our trip south today there were also sections of gravel and some serious cliffs and turns without any barriers. Although roads are well built, they are narrow and elevated in order to handle snow and flood. You cannot become complacent on these roads. If you feel uncertain about driving here, or driving on the right side of the road, please consider a bus tour. It will be far more relaxing. And you probably won’t come to a screeching halt like we did when we spotted three reindeer casually strolling along the black coastal shores!

Two, Icelanders are hospitable, warm and informal. You feel very safe and welcome in this beautiful country of theirs. I hope that the increasing tourism treats them well so that the delightful innocence, that is part of this place like the fresh air, continues.

View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge
View from our room at Skalanes Mountainlodge

Three, Iceland is made for those who love nature and outdoors. It is a nirvana for any artist. It’s rich history and sagas will keep you enraptured as you travel to the different places. But if you are after a fast, busy, techno holiday with smoke and bubbles – Iceland is not for you.

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A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

– Jonas Hallgrimsson

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