January 27, 2017

The huldufólk of Iceland.

Written 11/9/2016 for a travel blog

Folklore tells of an invisible people who populate the Nordic island country. The modern generations of Iceland no longer pay heed to them; however, the "hidden folk" prove time and time again to their visitors they don't need the belief of mere mortals to exist.

In November 2014, I flew to Iceland with four friends to the Iceland Airwaves music festival. After the second worst Halloween ever and a good six months into my first full-time job after graduating, the trip came at the perfect time. The cement walls of the Keflavík airport welcomingly echoed back my footsteps as I sleep-stumbled after my friends whose strides were much longer than mine. Swiftly and silently, the second I left the cold, gray structure and planted my feet into Icelandic soil, the huldufólk grabbed hold of me and I became theirs forever.

Huldufólk roam free and protect their mystical terrain — a lumpy place, as I discovered when I walked through a field of mossy volcanic rock. Their home is a land of fire and ice, of thermal hot springs and glassy glacier lakes, of serpentine lights slithering in the sky and Garðar basalt columns rooted in the black sand of Reynisfjara.

Their magic is strong. It has, admittedly, been two years since I’ve been there, but I have no tainted recollections of my travels there. They’ve taken hold of my imagination, kept my memories from getting dusty, and illuminated even the dark, slippery streets of Reykjavík.

In Iceland, the huldufólk reconnected me with God by entering my dreams and reminding me that I am His child. They introduced in me a desire to raise sheep by sending a herd (way past their shearing date) to bounce past our hostel, knowing that I would laugh too hard at the sight. They were with me as I discovered new musicians: Ásgeir, Moses Sumney, Kaleo, Snorri Helgason, Phox, Sin Fang, Ezra Furman, Júníus Meyvant, Low Roar and so many more. They supplied the magic I felt when my friends and I skipped The Flaming Lips to play MASH all night long. (That’s probably the touchiest subject of the whole trip. We all live with regrets sometimes. But, MASH was magical in the moment. And the band was on our flight home to Denver.)

I wish I could pin down a favorite memory, but I really can’t. Every time I start to write about the shark museum with the family church, memories of eating fermented shark comes to my mind (and burns my throat). Or if I begin on my experience bathing in the Blue Lagoon, I remember spending at least 15 minutes detangling my friend’s hair. Or I think of the odd crunchiness of those hot dogs. Or the warmth of the Icelandic people who welcomed us to church. Or the emotions I felt when I was in line for Caribou. Or the boys who asked me if I had “schwag” (drugs?). Or the cold of my body, but the warmth of my soul surrounded by people I love. So much to show you.

So, I guess, you’ll just have to meet the huldufólk yourself and experience Iceland with them. And within you, like they have within me, the huldufólk will plant the heart of their home. The active rumblings of the earth and the volcanoes will mirror the restlessness in you. And when you leave, you'll only find that you only want to go back.

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