Words & Photography by Mia Nguyen-
There’s a type of quiet I long after. It usually takes place in the early mornings and late evenings. This particular state of calm permeates every living space, making it easier to breathe and be still. The late and early darkness is often filled with tender murmurs of airplanes flying over, a subtle hum from the refrigerator. I’m neither a morning or night person, but these are the feelings that home exhibits after being away and on the road for stretches of time. It’s a calmness that creates a space for reflection.
Finding pockets of calm in daily living can feel precious and rare, especially when living in a noisy city. It’s the moment when the phone buzzes less and the flow of traffic comes to a dead stop. It’s the moment where you can close your eyes and just be left alone. In our busy day-to-day, this slowness in life is often forgotten about. Due to our fast-paced lifestyles we have adapted ourselves to we have to remind ourselves to slow down.
After a while, there’s always a need to escape to a place with quiet ambiance. Each season, I find myself having a sudden need to escape in an attempt to build new meaning for my creative work. Time starts to stretch and start to weigh like heavy glass blocks when the winter air remains stagnant and unproductive.
On a late November evening in 2017, I took a red-eye flight to Reykjavik from Boston. I had the unique opportunity to return to Iceland for the second time. It’s the first country where I received my first passport stamp and will forever cherish that memory. The purpose of my return was for a photography workshop focused on photographing arctic foxes on the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve of the Westfjords. The northwest region of Iceland is known for its intensity and extreme weather patterns. Life is rugged underneath the Arctic Circle and I prepared myself for the worst by packing clothes I could layer on top of each other for shooting photographs outside for long periods of time. I specifically chose to embark on this trip for its challenges and completely surrender myself to the environmental extremes. I wanted to push myself to the creative limits under harsh conditions. I wanted to go at it alone.
The word bravery is often associated with traveling alone. Bravery itself is a choice we make in order to remind ourselves of our own strength and courage. We are stronger than we think we are most of the time. If I allow the thoughts of fear of failure to seep in for too long, it’s game over. There’s real magic in diving deep into unexplored parts of ourselves and the world. Through this magic, we can find solace and understanding on what we are after and where we are going.
On day one, we packed up the Land Rovers with our equipment and headed to Súðavík, an 8-hour journey from Reykjavik. Just moments on the road, the trip had already surpassed my expectations. The views were nothing but awe-inspiring. Each mile and turn unfolded another natural wonder and a new weather pattern. Over the course of an hour we witnessed a rainstorm, a snowstorm, and vastness of sunlight. The tumultuous experience felt like a kaleidoscope dreamscape. In Iceland, we must surrender ourselves to the weather and adapt quickly to the sudden changes. It is crucial to go with the flow.
The small town of Ísafjörður was dusted in a generous amount of snow. The place resembled a real-life snow globe. As we departed from the marina, we were advised to switch our phones to airplane mode. It was nice to disconnect and say goodbye to the world for a brief moment. Our worlds in the modern age is grounded in staying constantly connected. The thought alone can be overwhelming. Switching off occasionally is essential for sanity’s sake. There’s so much of the world to experience presently.
Life generally slows down in the Westfjords. The landscape of Iceland is defined by its sparseness. The sun doesn’t rise until 10 a.m. or later in the winter. The waves from the water crash onto the rocks with full force. Everything is cloaked in deep blanket of darkness upon waking up and before 5 p.m. The combination of the fast and quiet winter breezes complement the expanse of the fjords.
The auroras swayed and danced gently underneath the Northern sky, making it easy to fall in love with every bit of what nature had to offer. Early mornings are bathed with hues of ethereal pink light. The land surrounding the cabin felt like an endless playground, a boundless space for creativity. It was hard to let go and make the realization that we had to leave and go back home.
Building a strong connection with the strangers that came together for this trip was unlike anything else I ever experienced. The experience would have been much more different if we had cell reception. Moments were serendipitous and carefree. People opened up and revealed their truths.
© all pictures Mia Nguyen
I felt like it was a new beginning with a new family created through the power of serendipity. The anticipations we have for our adventures are often times charted with expectations. The world of Iceland is cloaked in beauty in every waking direction. It exceeds all and any expectations that conjured up in the distance.
In the final moments of quiet while standing on the shore and awaiting our Zodiac boat, I stand there dumb in awe by the vast beauty. I’ve grown so in love with the views over the past four days that I didn’t want to leave. The pockets of calm during these hours echoes a kind sentiment: everything is going to be okay. I take these words with me and tell myself that everything will be okay and I am right where I needed to be.
From NORTHLETTERS MAGAZINE Vol.1 print edition, available soon.
More about contributor Mia Nguyen here.