NOTE: The following is a drastic reduction of an original post on the country of Iceland. As written, I would have split it into three parts. Rather than expecting you to slog through an exhaustive travelogue, I chose to distill it into its bare minimum. After all, I want to adhere to the spirit and intent of the A-Z challenge (and prevent you from falling asleep). I left out quite a bit about Icelandic culture, its history, and the time I cavorted with elves in a lava field. As time goes on, I may provide the original post, leaving out the bits below (I don’t want you to suffer through summer reruns. Yet). Anyway, like a Munchkin in a line-up, this is a short one. Enjoy...
One of the highlights of my career in the U.S. Navy (besides when I mooned Shore Patrol in Naples. Ah, youth!), was the time I was able to bring my family to the NATO air station in Keflavik, Iceland.
Situated in southwest Iceland on the tip of the Reykjanes peninsula (Icelandic for “in the middle of friggin’ nowhere”), the base housed over 4,000 American servicemembers (hee hee. I said “members”) and their families, along with a coterie of very confused looking Icelanders all seemingly named “Gunnar” (even the women. Who could kick your ass, by the way). Our job was to keep an eye on the Russians before they became our friends, ensure the bowling alley stayed open, and maintain the largest inventory of Bjork record albums in the North Atlantic.
Unfortunately, on September 8th, 2006, the whole shooting match was officially disestablished, sending thousands of Americans someplace warmer and dozens of Icelanders out on the local economy of fishing and carving trolls out of lava rock. When the curtain finally rang down, 45 years of operations in defense of Iceland and-who’s kidding whom?-pursuit of American national security interests came to a close.
Still, in the short time I was stationed there, I was awed by the stark beauty which is the “Land of Fire and Ice.” From acres of lunar-like lava fields to the cleanest city I’ve visited in the world, Reykjavik, I gained appreciation for a country unknown to most Americans. Except for the simplistic “Iceland is green and Greenland is icy.”
Plus, I also had a chance to sample what a visiting Canadian aircrew called “Moose Milk.” Not only was it delicious, it significantly...affected...my...powers...of...speech. Love those Canadians, eh?
Even though shortly after our arrival, we were told that the NATO base was soon to go the way of Vanilla Ice’s career, my family and I set out to see as much of Iceland as possible. We traveled the country’s “Ring Road” (so-called, because it “ringed” the country. Apparently, you need 4-wheel drives or tanks to tour the interior) and saw glaciers in the south, the Arctic Circle in the north, and waterfalls everywhere.
No matter where we stopped, we met Icelanders whose warm hospitality and easygoing nature belied the fact their ancestors were Vikings. Or that they consider rotten sheep heads a delicacy.
As our time in Iceland neared its end, we were certainly ready to head back to Wal-Mart and “All-You-Can-Eat” Chinese buffets. At the same time, though, we knew Iceland gave us an all too short glimpse of life not defined by how many strip malls you can cram onto a city block.
Lest you think I’m sporting rose-colored glasses, there were downsides to life on the “rock.” Horizontal snowfalls whipped by dumpster-flipping gales, round the clock winter darkness, living quarters so small I had to go outside to change my mind, and volcanic grit which found its way into my tightey-whiteys (what? You were expecting “thong?”). Each would try the patience of the Amish.
Plus, did I mention rotten sheep heads?
As daunting as those obstacles were, I’ll never forget the beauty of sunlit midnights, swimming in an outdoor pool (heated, are you kidding me??) at Christmas, or the sight of my children delightedly crawling over a soot-covered glacier.
Now, the American presence at Keflavik, Iceland, has become part of history books. A significant part of my life goes with it. Such is the way of things, I suppose, but I’ll miss it.
So, it was with sadness that I said “goodbye” as I boarded a plane for the flight home.
Or, better yet, as they say in Iceland: