Jun 12, 2010 | Látrabjarg, Iceland
Jun 12, 2010

"Look! A rock on a doily! That is soooo Iceland!"

But that was late last night right before the haircut, down on the rocks by the ducks on the small flat island a couple of hours from anything. The scissors flashed in the midnight sunset, and yellow hair fell onto the yellow moss growing in the yellow light, and now I am lighter without it.

As the boat crept close to the cliffs that disappeared into clouds, there was the feeling you get before a fight or a date or any big test, when something is looming and you know it will change you, but it has not started yet, even though you know exactly when it will because you have the schedule.

Like dates or tests or fights, nature can be very scary, but the fear of nature comes in two different ways. There are places like rainforests that are scary because of what they might do to you, and there are places like Iceland that are scary because of what they will not do for you. Rainforests will hurt you with poison frogs and army ants, but Iceland will hurt you by doing nothing at all, and waiting instead for time to do the hurting.

We stepped to shore with sea legs, and then stepped into more water, where tiny flies gathered on bits of floating algae like defiant insect islanders, trying to find a place to be warm and alone and away from the masses, just like me.

We drove on across electric moss and wild black rocks, and in the fog it could have been any time of day and any time in history, except for the road and the car.

We came to Látrabjarg and had all of Europe to the east of us. We were 400 meters above the ocean, and millions of birds clung to the walls below us, swooping and pooping and going for fish. There were thousands of gulls at a time flying back and forth along a great sky highway — headed out to sea to fish, or headed back to the cliffs to rest. It was two-way traffic there in the sky, except for the puffins, who flew right across the sky highway and out to sea another way, perpendicular to all the other birds. They got there faster, and ended up in different waters, and I thought how in life it is good to be like a puffin.

Last week a German tourist fell to his death from Látrabjarg, trying to take a picture. The cliffs have also smashed up many ships, usually killing the crew. In saga times, the cliffs killed many early Icelanders who went down them on ropes, trying to steal eggs from the birds.

In the 1100s, Bishop Guðmundur The Good was lowered down on a rope to bless the cliffs. Legend says he was throwing holy water onto the rocks and saw a hairy arm come out of a hole and start to cut the rope. When there were just a few threads left, he heard a deep voice say, "Enough with your blessing, Bishop — leave some place for the wicked."

So he put away the holy water and went back up to the mesa. The Bishop stayed alive and the cliffs stayed cursed.