“Great weather today,” exclaims Jakob. “It’s a perfect day for bird-watching!” It’s barely ten on a Saturday morning, and he’s already excited by the prospect of watching animals in their natural habitat. Personally, I don’t find anything exciting before 11am, and at this point I can barely sit down without falling asleep. “I want to see a Slavonian grebe today,” adds Jakob, with determination.
My boyfriend and I drove up to Akureyri for the weekend to visit his family, and to accompany his grandmother to see the countryside where she was born and raised, precisely 80 years ago. It wasn’t until later that the trip deviated slightly into the concept of hardcore nature-diving.
Summer in Fnjóskadalur
Buzzed on caffeine and jazzed by the thought of spending time outside the capital, we finally head north along the coast of Eyjafjörður, its crown of mountains still coated in snow, while the water sparkles placidly below. Emerald fields stretch before my eyes as we drive past Fnjóskadalur, while birch trees punctuate the scene like miniature forests.
In the meantime, Grandma is telling us about her childhood here. “Summers here were the best time,” she says. “Even in the winter there was still a lot to do in the farm, like feeding the animals,” she says. “We would milk the cows and then learn how to make cheese, cream and butter.” It’s easy to imagine her running through the dry grass in a white pinafore dress, wondering whether she’ll ever see anything beyond the high horizon. As we drive out of the main road and finally spot Lake Mývatn, a silence so intense fills the car like smoke, and for a time that feels infinite we all give in to melancholy.
On the way back from Dimmuborgir, a striking lava maze, we quickly close the windows as we speed along the black shore of the lake. Mývatn’s infamous flies don’t bite until later in summer, but they stick to clothes and skin as if they were made of honey.
Swirls of flies rise from the surface of the lake like sand tornadoes, a high buzzing sound ringing over the water. “Look, a gadwall,” says Jakob, unimpressed, as he points out a small duck quietly floating amidst the flies. “They’re the most common bird around here.” An elegant Barrow’s goldeneye swims by calmly, her fuzzy black head raised high up.
Spending time in the countryside gives me energy, but I don’t generally find bird-watching as amusing as others. But as we stop to look at flocks of brown and black ducks dancing together on the water, I’m mesmerized. Except for the gentle sound of the water lapping at the shore, it’s completely silent. Golden flecks of light play over the lake, its surface reflecting the faraway hills to the east in the crystal-blue water.
Finally, we spot it: a beautiful Slavonian grebe passes by, just a metre away from us, sound asleep. Its vivid black feathers fade into its white fur. We watch her pass by and for a moment time freezes—we forget where we are, all our senses tuned towards the bird. Then, all of a sudden, it raises its magnificent beak, shakes its tail ever so slightly, and disappears, unaware of our silent awe.