It is my first day-time walk to the cliffs (though it is never dark here so night-time walks are not so very different to day-time walks.) After trekking across the inner part of the island, conscious of angry nesting terns, it is a relief to reach the openness of the cliffs. The arctic circle does not seem so far away here and the cold air coming from the mountains is cleaned by high snow.
‘Did you see the whale? There’s a whale over there,’ a fellow walker says to us. Beyond excited we perch on the cliff and stare longingly out across the fjord as fulmars skim past an arm’s breadth away.
And sure enough there is a glimpse of black breaking the surface away across on the other side of the fjord, in between where two different waterfalls fall into the water at the bottom of the mountains. And then a bit more black with a small fin, and then a huge tail. All this in a long, slow, languid motion. We gasp. I shed a little tear.
It comes up again and again, sometimes accompanied by the white of spouted air mixed with salt water, blown a little by the breeze.
In this wide arena of the fjord with the vast vertical mountains as backdrop, the whale is small. It is its slow movement which reveals it as a big animal, mighty and powerful. We talk about the whales singing to one another across oceans, about the whale accents and dialects, about how disturbing all the boat engines must be, the noise amplified by the water, their hearing so sensitive… We gaze in wonder.
Since then we have proceeded to see glimpses of a whale every day, usually from the kitchen window. The wonder never leaves but it is strange to get used to it becoming a common occurrence. Particular forms of wildlife, so rare at home, are abundant and secure here.
What we’ve come to realise is that the real rarity in North Iceland, that which we now fantasise about, is the taste of good, fresh vegetables.
Link to humpback whale song from Glacier National Park.
Snapshot of life during an artist residency in Gamli Skoli, Hrísey Island, North Iceland during the month of June 2018.