Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The day I took a tern for the worse.

At the end of the trip, I took off on an epic 17-hour bus journey, covering 235 miles (377 km, one-way) of Iceland's southern coastline.  Some visual highlights from our route included geysers and waterfalls; massive, untouched lava fields; and a surreal lunar-feeling landscape with black sand as far as the eye could see. 

This is not a black and white photo. 

All of this beauty aside, our destination, in my opinion, proved to be the most stunning and ethereal (yet mournful) scene in Iceland.

The slow demise of our glaciers, reluctantly sliding from the mountaintops into the lagoon at Jökulsárlón

In the lagoon they melt away and break apart, until they are small enough to cross into the Atlantic to be swallowed by the warmer water. 

I was compelled to take a gazillion photos, none of which can accurately capture the otherworldliness of this place.

Wait! Is that a tern-shaped iceberg...mocking me?

Of course something crazy happened to me! While admiring the serene landscape I was attacked by a bird. An Arctic tern (I later discovered), and it's a mean little bastard. 

These curmudgeonly beasts hover above the water scoping for prey. When they spot lunch, they dive razor-sharp-beak-first and absolutely vertically into the water, surfacing a split second later with their reward.


Here's a tern in action at a lake in central Reykjavík.

So there I am--playing the role of "Melanie Daniels"--walking away from the lagoon toward the hot chocolate stand. (It's quite chilly there, duh.) Suddenly a bird swoops down so close to my head that I could feel the wind from its wings. 

"What the hell?!?!" I thought. Certainly birds must have better spatial judgement than that. 

And again, this time just inches from my jugular. Seriously?

No, two-foot, you misunderstand. 

"This is my space, and all of that [waving arms overhead like a frantic wack-job] is your space!"

After a few more repetitions, I'm ducking for cover under my arms, peering side-to-side to see if anyone is witnessing this madness. I realize that I am wearing one of my favorite scarves--grey and black with a few light-catching sequins sewn here and there. I conclude that the bird thinks those sequins are lunch. 

While running, I unwrap the scarf and shove it down the front of my sweater. 

Death is averted by a narrow margin. 

When I recounted the story later, my friend Spike cleverly noted that I had "taken a tern for the worse."

Tangential anecdote: Spike said that the Bodega Bay, California schoolhouse from the Hitchcock classic The Birds had been converted to a restaurant. Spike's friend had been a chef there in the 1970's. Once, a customer complained to the waitress that his baked potato was bad. Apparently having had her fill of whiney patrons for the day, she picked up his potato and spanked it three times, chiding, "Bad Potato!" She returned it to his plate and said he should alert her immediately regarding any further misbehavior.

He gave her a $20 tip.

Bad tern! I would've spanked it, given the chance.