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Journey Back to Civilization

Godafoss Waterfall

We only had fifteen minutes here :\

My camera kept getting wet

And so did I

City waterfall

* * *

Well, you will always meet someone more hardcore--not that we are by any stretch of the imagination hardcore. These two Italian guys, for example, who walked all through the West Fjords and the western interior and from Skogar to Mt. Hekla and dear God of course the Swiss girl was impressed, we were all impressed, most of all the Italian guys themselves who put on a show of modesty because they would have been insufferable if they didn't, but their show was as thin as their attempt to disguise their great delight in what they had done, a delight that kept bursting through as they retraced their route on the map with their finger, looking vacantly at us when we interrupted with a practical question but responding oh so effusively to the Swiss girl's admiration. We were soon forgotten, the boring ones who would keep on a subject until no one was even listening. The others had found kindred spirits in each other--carried tobacco pouches for the cigarettes they rolled themselves, craved beer and knew the Icelandic word for "wine shop," stayed two months in a godforsaken, bitterly cold country, walking and hitching everywhere--yes, guffaws all around. You find these people in the big city campsites where everyone is forced to share a table. Somehow in the smaller places they keep to themselves more, or get lost in the crowd, or they're not even camping there because they wildcamp instead. I could feel Chris quiver at their story, to see how much they walked, it was possible, we could do it, wasn't he always saying that, but I was so unwilling, ah well, but it was possible, he knew it, if only we were stronger.

But I'm not strong. And I'm not the Italian guys or the Swiss girl. I am already at the far reach of my tether, though I readily admit it's a short tether. I must crawl there in shambling shuffles, no great leaps for me anymore, so give me time, maybe one day.

* * *

But of course there were signs that used to forbid people entry. I did not forget this fact when I wrote about the feeling of being locked out. In fact, the line about the signs was a direct reference to those evil placards from half a century ago: "No coloreds." Hard to imagine. So after spending a year abroad, I still feel that no one can understand an American except an American, except also maybe a Canadian. When we talk to other Americans there is an implicit understanding of who we are and a small, tacit struggle to place each other in the context of our complicated country--not so much with Europeans, who we approach with the same blandness with which they greet us. Other cultures: even more distant.

On this fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, I cannot help but think of our nation as great, though I recognize the greatness of tragedy as well as the greatness of hope. The civil rights struggle is one beacon in our history that still manages to feed whatever spring of idealism there is left in me. If I were alive then would I have marched? Probably not, knowing my aversion for participating in mass movements. But I would have been glued to my black-and-white television set, throbbing heart and thickening throat. And maybe I would have been stirred to do something with myself, to make my only little shove in humanity's progress.

What stirs me today? The environmental movement? I see myself outside it now, watching the stream pass by. Yet: an undeniable and growing restlessness. Something inside me searching for something outside me. It's not religion but something akin. I suppose many of us have this yearning, many more than I would even imagine, for we carry it in our mouths, too afraid to speak. It's a yearning that becomes coldness that becomes dullness that becomes regret. Mourning already what has not yet happened? Yes, for its inevitability. We are each of us dragged through life by the fate of our personalities. No, I don't believe that. It's only that we are blind, everyone is blind, and we can't see anything until the end, and even then we don't see, so it's as if we're dragged because we're always stumbling, always making mistakes, it does matter, it doesn't matter, it does matter, but maybe I can make it better one day.

Can't make it better. Can only sit patiently. Hardest part of all.

Posted by chschen 05:53 Archived in Iceland

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