I used to be a big town boy when it came to holidays. London, Berlin, Amsterdam were my favourite destinations. In the last years, however, things dramatically changed. My idea of a great holiday is being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and animals, spending evenings sitting by a bonfire ideally somewhere near the water.
Except… terms and conditions apply…
Nature Boy taking photos with his smartphone.
This is Arnarstapi, one of the most incredible places I’d ever been to. I loved it. Everything about it. The screams of birds, the basalt columns, the fury of the waves, the smell of the air, even the drizzle. The feeling of being alone with nature, being a small part of it and nothing more than that. Not checking my messages, emails, not getting phone calls (not that I do phonecalls). Unfortunately, there was a catch. When we decided we were cold and wet enough, we went to a lovely cafe and had the most delicious apple pie with caramel. Then we drove back home, warm thanks to the airco. Once we arrived, we took off our coats and leathers as the modern geothermic heating system allowed us to be as warm as we wanted to be. Of course, I had to share pictures and stories with everyone on social media. What good is being in nature if everyone doesn’t know?!
Last year I went on a retreat to Germany for a few days. I stayed at my friends’ guesthouse. The internet coverage was, to put it mildly, very spotty. I checked my emails twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, to see whether my editor (see the new banner under the menu) sent me back the latest draft of Storytellers. I had a wood burner, I was surrounded by the incredible Fairytale Garden (it has to be capitalised), went for long walks. Every morning I woke up with my teeth chattering from the cold, which accidentally gave me a glimpse of life a hundred years ago with a wood-burning stove as the only source of heat. Things that I do for research!
Thanks to an electric kettle a few minutes later I was drinking scalding hot coffee while soaking in a hot bath.
My friends put years of work into making this garden so gorgeous. I just enjoyed being there, seeing all the stars in the sky due to lack of light pollution, being on my own away from Amsterdam crowds. During my walks, I slipped in the mud a few times, came back home sweaty and happy, put on three sweaters as the guesthouse isn’t really suitable for winter months. See? I’m a natural at this nature life thing.
When I got hungry I didn’t take my bow and arrows to go hunting for deer (there are deer in this place). Instead, we drove to a supermarket where I was able to buy very unnatural sorts of canned and preserved food which took minutes to heat up on an electric cooker. I didn’t have to worry about not having electricity or hot water. I read books on my e-reader and typed on my laptop. And I knew that once I got bored of staying in my friends’ guesthouse I would be able to go back home, crank up the heat, and post pictures on Facebook.
The Fairytale Garden in the summer.
And then technology failed me.
On my way back I picked a “silent” carriage on the train. No mobiles, no loud talking, no loud music. I felt serene, calm, refreshed. Unexpectedly, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. It remained there for 45 minutes or so. Lights and heating were switched off to preserve electricity. (Yay! Nature! Needing two pairs of socks!) After another few years had passed the train slowly rolled back to the previous station where we got squeezed into buses. I had to stand at a very awkward angle, pain from my back injuries in full force, unable to find the courage to ask someone to allow me to sit. The other people in the bus were not being silent, shouting loud to drown out others’ loud shouts. Once we arrived at Almere, a small town near(ish) Amsterdam, I found out all the trains to Amsterdam were cancelled. Another detour was in order. The first train was very crowded. When I switched to the second one I managed to grab a seat…among a gaggle of teenagers busy playing their favourite Justin Bieber songs on their mobiles. Without headphones. Upon my arrival in Amsterdam I was glad to leave the train, push through the crowd at the train station to join the crowd on the ferry.
When I got home my serenity seemed a distant memory. I didn’t leave the house for a week. My only human contact at that point, apart from Husby, were Facebook and Whatsapp. My research leads me to believing that those were not available in the 19th century.
Nature Boy loving Reykjanes AND being aware there are sandwiches in the car.
I want nothing more than to live in Iceland, in a part of the country that isn’t crowded but provides me with easy access to the Bonus supermarket, Internet, heating, Google Maps as flawed as they are in Iceland (pro-tip: if you want to use Google Maps to get somewhere in Iceland, look up GPS coordinates instead of names of places unless you’re doing nothing but the Golden Circle). When I say I want to live there, I conveniently gloss over having to dig through snow, worrying about whether the car will start, and being doomed if the GPS signal is gone for longer than two minutes.
Mercifully, Iceland is mosquito-free. But the weather makes up for that. Roads are often closed because the gusts of wind are capable of literally blowing cars off the road, even 4x4s. The houses in Reykjavík often look like ruins despite having been renovated three years earlier because of the wind whipping everything with rain. We went to the Guðrúnarlaug hot pool, which I LOVED, but first we had to drive for two hours to get there. When we got hungry we drove back to Bifröst restaurant to consume vast amounts of preservative-laden food and cappuccinos made in a magical machine. I used an actual toilet with three-ply toilet paper that you could magically flush into wherever used toilet paper dwells. As I washed my hands, I used lovely antibacterial soap from a plastic dispenser. Then we returned to our nice, warm car for the duration of the trip back. As much as I love horses, the car was a tad more comfortable. And faster.
Hot tub at Guðrúnarlaug.
On my way to Asgard. Heimdall was having a day off, probably because Bifröst was being renovated.
I am not the sort of nature boy who can share a dwelling with a spider. Or fleas. Or lice. I haven’t actually ever seen a flea up close, but I don’t mind. Every morning I take medication that keeps me sane(ish). My spine injuries in 2016 were so brutal I can’t carry heavy objects, can’t continue forging, I even have to be careful when carrying a light shopping bag home. This makes me incapable of actually surviving in the wild. I can light a fire in almost any conditions barring pouring rain, but the wood has to be brought over by someone else. And without my contact lenses I’m as good as dead. You try to shoot a deer with bow and arrows when you can’t even see the arrowhead, much less the deer…
During my research – some of which I will be sharing shortly – I found out what life in Iceland was like 130 years ago. I spent some time trying to decide how much the reader needed to know about the constant stench of mould and smoke, the illnesses that killed babies, children, adults whenever they felt like it. About the piercing cold inside the houses. Holes in the roof serving both as “ventilation” and “chimneys”. Working all the time to feed the family. I skipped most of those details because they weren’t important for the novel, but that didn’t mean life in 1885 had become easier for those who had to lead it.
That is a lovely kitchen, but…no microwave?! (Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum)
Since I mentioned my contact lenses and prescription medication… This is something I always wondered about. Have you ever seen a medieval-themed movie where, say, the son of the king is born with bad eyesight? Did the berserkers get diarrhoea just before a big battle? My back was defeated by a piece of IKEA furniture, yet Boromir in Lord of the Rings was able to continue fighting (and winning) with 25 arrows sticking out of his various body parts?
In 2018, it is possible to acquire the sort of dwelling I need. One where I can sit on a chair with back support, next to a modern wood-burning stove with 98% energy efficiency, appreciate my underfloor heating and modern plumbing, drive to a supermarket, listen to music. Sit down with my laptop to do some writing
and check Twitter every two minutes. I don’t watch TV, but I like having Keeping Up Appearances, Vikings, Game of Thrones, Coupling, and Mrs Brown’s Boys available at my whim. Hardcover paper books hurt my back, so I’d better have my beloved Kobo e-reader and a charger for it. Obviously I need to win the lottery first, but still, I get to pick and mix bits of nature and technology that I’m fond of.
Stjarna, miss you bae xoxo
I loved riding Stjarna. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. But for three days afterwards, I could barely breathe because of the back pain, and I ate painkillers as if they were candy… okay, no, I didn’t go over prescribed dose. But if I had to live with this pain every day without access to opiates I would have been drinking at least as much as Gunnar does in Storytellers. In the wild I wouldn’t have been able to undergo a procedure where a pain specialist had burnt through a nerve that was constantly triggered by a cracked joint in my spine, causing incredible suffering. Without my lenses or prescription glasses, I wouldn’t have been a blacksmith, graphic designer, a writer. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post either. Because I would be dead.
Story still developing. Perhaps one day I will be able to sit in my nicely heated castle, go for long walks in the forest, ride a horse again without suffering for days afterwards. But spiders? Spiders are a NO from me, so I will need a nice, portable flamethrower as well. I will be a hermit living in the middle of nowhere with his lovely modern bathroom, a car that never breaks, good wifi coverage, and a Macbook. Nature boy with exceptions.
Main photo: Kleifarvatn lake. The picture was taken with a mobile phone.