It was my own fault, I’d done it on purpose. 89 days in Fjallabak; it was quarter of a year, the summer, but for me the season felt short. 25 days on, 5 days off, but often I cut my breaks. Did I really need them? Would the place survive without me? The answer to the latter question, disappointingly, was always yes, but I tried not to think of that.
Landmannalaugar wasn't mine, but I wanted it to be. It’s an unflattering perspective; I’m not proud of that. I had no claim on the place – I cleaned its toilets and took the trash; I spoke to people passing through, but I wasn't in charge of them either. I had no business being possessive, and yet…
All summer, I’d worked harder than ever before, it felt, but the deck remained broken and each piece of wood still thirsty for paint. The dirt, in the corners,
returned – stubbornly escaping the prods of the mop and demanding I crawl, down on the
floor, to clean them myself. The jobs I started, never got done, but
I was more tired by the day – hopelessly trying to improve things, they crumbled when I glanced away.
I’d promised myself, this time, six years in, that I’d take a back seat: let the place flow without me breathing down its neck. Relentlessly though, I proved myself incapable of this. Landmannalaugar was uncontrollable: the people too many, the site so vast, and yet, I tried – to do everything at once, to be everything at once, but why? In previous years, we were working for the chance to stay for the autumn; it’s my favourite time of year. But this year, I would have no autumn. Should I have saved some of myself, for what? A later that didn’t exist?
As usual, Fjallabak ignored my presence. The moss changed from brown to luminous green, before tinges of yellow reminded me I was running out of time. I wanted more. Somehow the storms were
disappointing this year; I wanted the wind that threw rocks at the house, the river to break its banks.
I’d hiked, I had, but not with the feverish intensity of the year before. Was I really so old? This tiredness – like a priest* to the head of a floundering trout – knocked me flat. The expression of, 'needing to lie in a dark room,' became all too frequent reality; I wasted my breaks by missing the summer, neglecting the reason I was there. Did I feel like this in 2019? In 2017? I was haunted by memories of a mythical summer, where everything was perfect, and I flew around, solving problems with invincible ease. Had I forgotten how to love the place?
If I worked hard enough, would I still have to leave?
I wanted to stay until no one was left. To breath that damp, still air, that hangs heavy in the valleys, when you start to feel like you’re disturbing the peace of the ghosts, and elves, and trolls – those creatures I don’t believe in – who wait until the last back is turned to claim the place as their own.
The blueberry leaves were red now, but the sheep remained grazing amongst them.
We hadn’t yet seen the first snow.
On the 12th of September, I’d only missed the last bus by a day. I left, with a friend I’d never met before. I was a poor companion, feeling too much and nothing all at once – speaking in a slow, quiet monotone, like someone who hadn’t slept for a week. He glanced over, slightly concerned, and distracted me with calming stories from the West Fjords – learning to fish as a child, taking a boat out by himself – a prince of his own tiny kingdom. A place where people complained there was nothing to do, and yet...
Glancing behind, I watched the mountains shrink on the horizon. The road was still open, and the campers would stay longer than I could, stealing the best time of year and complaining about the rain.