North

The landscape was barren - otherworldly. Blackness clung to the ground like an inky blanket, hugging smudged black sand, decaying vegetation, and sharp, frigid snow. When the wind died down, there was only silence; when it didn't, the wailing and howling whistled in his ears.

"Vatnajokull"  by  Mark Smith  licensed under  CC BY 2.0

"Vatnajokull" by Mark Smith licensed under CC BY 2.0

Warm blood pumped through his veins and the exhilaration of solitary exploration pulsed through is body - the heavy down jacket and snow pants helped keep out the oppressive cold too. Each hand was covered with dense mittens lined with scratchy wool; each hand held an ice axe for scaling the glacier ahead.

This late in the winter it was hard to see when night turned to day and vice versa. The sun truly only came out for a span of 4 hours, then it dipped beneath the horizon once more, hiding for 20 hours and plunging the northern landscape into a impenetrable darkness. It was a comforting darkness though; he reveled in it.

His clip-on crampons dug into the slick, icy snow beneath his boots until he came to the side of the glacier. For a moment or two, he heard snow crunch below him as the howling gasped for air. He planted an axe head into the sheer cliff of ice, then tested his weight. It held. He swung his other arm up, testing it. It held too. He kicked the glacier, one foot after the other, each crampon holding his weight.

He walked up the glacier, wind pressing on his back. The contents of his backpack shuffled and jostled; the camera gear, granola bars, and insulated water bottle shifted its weight from one side to the other as he rose.

The glacier was just over fifty feet high and the lip was easily surmounted. Walking another two or three hundred feet, he saw what he was looking for.

Gradually sloping downward - probably five hundred feet down - was the emptied crater of long dead volcano, nearly a mile in circumference. A natural path spiraled downward, following the outside line of the crater. A lake, icy blue and crystal clear, rested without a ripple at the bottom; the haze of a thin waterfall hung in the air. The lake's center was green - the kind of green only possible in the purest of untouched water.

The sky was shifting to night as the golden sun slipped beneath the horizon. The sky was speckled with the last remaining fluffy wisps of crimson and purple clouds lazily drifting across the darkening vault of stars. He stood alone as the heavenly play reset for the second act. It was like a page had been turned in a book of construction paper; the thick, visceral pages of baby blue gave way to heavy black. It reminded him of childhood, poking holes in black paper and holding them up to a light. Pinpricks of light twinkled on the rapidly dimming sky.

He walked down the dirt pathway. Lackadaisically, he easily walked its length, wrapping around to the base of the crater near the waterfall dumping more pure run-off, glacier water into the lake. The path was small, as if it was maintained by small wildlife, but easily navigable. 

There, on the black sands of a hidden beach, tucked inside the long-departed shell of a volcano, with the hiss of a far off waterfall, he knelt and removed a small wooden boat the size of a toy. The camera, granola bars, and water thermos remained untouched.

He set it on the water and with a gentle push, watched it glide on top of the water into the lake's center. The pure greens and blues of the lake drank in the swirling northern lights as they appeared; each reflecting the other on the mirror-like intersection of water and sky. His shoulders tingled with joy. He smiled. 

And it could've only been a trick of the light, but for just a moment, it seemed as if the little wooden boat had lifted from the swirled stained glass lake and careened ever so slowly into the dabbled, watercolor greens and blues of the construction paper sky. 

But it could've been just a trick of reflection.