Elves Afoot in Iceland with Me and My Kin

Icelanders believe in Huldufólk—hidden people—supernatural, mythical beings that live high in the craggy, green bluffs that circle the sky and alongside the tumbling, icy streams that meander through mossy flatlands that lead to the sea. Appearing and disappearing just out of the corner of your eye, elves, fairies, trolls, and ghosts look and behave like humans and enter and depart a person’s life leaving a faint mark only the wearer can see. The mark they leave, you ask? It is a pointer—the direction in which to go.

Although my Nancy Drew heart beats fast at the thought of tripping over an elf who impudently steps in my way, it is not I who will bear the mark when we leave Iceland, I believe it will be my daughter, SarahKate.

SarahKate invited me to accompany her on the first leg of her three-week journey through Iceland, Scotland, England, Amsterdam, Norway, and Denmark. She is in that in-between place that some of us experienced in our youth—momentarily free from responsibilities and brave enough to embrace the unknown.

I see her clearly at moments on this trip—the stubborn little girl who hated to wear shoes—and then she wavers out of my sight when her eyes gaze far out into the sea and I have no idea where she has gone. Unlike my boys who are…well, boys…SarahKate is introspective, loyal, and to be perfectly honest, somewhat of an Eeyore (the donkey from Winnie the Pooh). If there is a cloud in the sky, she will point it out.

We have switched places. I refuse to drive; there is no need to be criticized for something I know I am barely competent at. At the rental car place, they warned us that car doors can get caught in an Icelandic wind gust and tear from their hinges. Now each time I go to open the car door, she peers over the top of her glasses as if I am a teenager and warns me to “watch out for the wind.” Yet, when she spots a humungous waterfall from the road, it is I who says, “are you sure?” We return to the car waterlogged wishing we hadn’t spent so much time on our hair that morning. While in Vik, a lovely village adjacent to a black sand beach, I feel an oozing wetness trickle down my calf and discover a rope burn from Sibby’s leash has burst open. Her face blanching at the sight of the mess and my grimace of pain, SarahKate hustles like a parent and talks to a local woman who tells her to take me to an unmarked clinic high on a green hill where a kind doctor applies a burn patch and bandages me up. I feel comforted and safe with my daughter at the helm.

We have merged our pictures through Air Drop and, although it appears seamless which are hers and which are mine, there is a freshness and an eagerness in her photos while I feel mine look still and staged. I realize that, although she came from me almost twenty-nine years ago, she has cut the last tether and is leaving on a road of her choosing.

The hidden people of Iceland are known to cause mischief, speak in the wind, and drop trinkets at the feet of the unsuspecting. Tomorrow SarahKate will get a new tattoo that symbolizes who she is grounded and whole and who she will be in the unknown world that lies ahead. My reasons for finding the hidden people are different from hers—I want to catch them by their sleeves and hold them fast, while my darling, Eeyore daughter would say to them “climb aboard and come with me.”

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