Iceland: A Land of Contrasts


Iceland is a land of contrast.

Volcanic fire meets glacial ice, geothermal steam mixes with Arctic sea breeze, tender moss grows on razor-sharp rock, frigid shadows slice blazing sunbeams. Tectonically speaking, the island itself is split in two, with the North American plate to the west and the European plate to the east.

At the summer solstice, the sky is light all night long. Geothermally heated greenhouses burst with tomatoes. Puffins nest, Siberian driftwood appears on beaches, the high country opens up. Creativity peaks. The hills sprout a plethora of rare alpine plants that are exquisitely fragile. But a few of the wildflowers, like the Arctic lupine, are unabashedly hearty. They're strongly rooted, thickly set, almost succulent-like. It is incredible what's evolved to thrive in this land of extremes.

When the morning fog lifts and the sun burns through the clouds, the land spreads far in every direction: from lichen-laden lava fields to wind-carved meadow bogs to snow-capped mountain ranges that rise up to meet the sea. Much of the wilderness here has a sense of rugged isolation attached to it, quietly reminding those who wander in it to take heed. At the same time, the wilds relentlessly beckon you to explore their beauty, their hazards, their spirit – and the energizing calm of your own solitude.

Anna Eshelman