Iceland is a fantastic and beautiful country – there’s no disputing that. However, all the moss covered rocks and impressive glacier-wrought mountains can’t combine to replace the elusive Northern Lights I’d hoped to see dancing through the polar skies during my Iceland excursion.


When we decided to book the trip to Iceland seven months ago after spotting a hotel/air/tour groupon, we carefully planned our precious five day window around the vernal equinox after reading that activity is heighten at this time and our chances of catching a light show would be increased.  Witnessing (and photographing) the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for about a decade or two now so all the hype and anticipation were pretty much at a boiling point by the time I stepped off the plane.

Our Northern Lights excursion was scheduled for the first night which was about all the patience I had left after years of longing.  I carefully checked all my photography gear since the forecast for activity was decent (or at least, the highest they anticipated during our stay) and prepared myself to be amazed. We piled into a giant tour bus with about 65 lively senior citizens (the phrase the ‘Golden Age’ of travel is no coincidence) and hurtled out into the darkness. We only traveled about an hour outside of Reykjavik and the consensus between the guide and bus driver was clear: clouds had rolled in and the chance of seeing any of the coveted lights was slim to none. They dumped out the sad contents of the bus at a small cafe so the cargo might console themselves over doughnuts and hot chocolate wasting away the tour time in comfort rather than chasing the elusive green ghosts.

I have to admit that I was disgruntled and shocked that we were just giving up. This was what I’d waited ten years to see and everyone else seemed just as happy to sit and sip overpriced tourist drivel. As if to add insult to injury, a loop of rippling northern light video footage played during the entire drive back, meant as a consolation prize of sorts. It only served to add to my bitterness, especially when some of the other passengers began leveling their point-and-shoot cameras at this pale faximilie. I was aghast and insulted. And nowhere nearer to seeing any sky phenomenon because of it.

And that was when it hit me: I’d approached this whole thing as a foregone conclusion. As if the Northern Lights were somehow owed to me. I paid X amount of money and put in Y amount of effort and the outcome must surely be something spectacular. The possibility that I would plan for months and dream for years and travel all the way to Iceland and NOT see them had never even crossed my mind. Disappointed as I was, there is no demanding results from the universe. It simply doesn’t work.

So, I resolved to enjoy the rest of my time in Iceland and, over the next few days, I discovered I was having an even better experience than I anticipated because I was no longer fixated on the assumption of some blessed occurrence. I was free to be surprised and delighted by all the unexpected, unassuming events and sights.


Near Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon

During the last part of the trip, we decided to change our plans on a lark and drive further out along the Southern coast of the country than we’d planned and stay a night in that area instead of returning to Reykjavik. After a lively dinner with friends in the charming town of Vík, we still had a two hour drive to our hostel for the night. As we sped across the snaking road, I spotted a low, thin, straight cloud over the mountains. My eyes could barely make it out but, I could have sworn it had a slight color to it. Grateful to not be tied to the rigid dictation of a tour bus, we pulled over and got out to investigate. I fiddled around with my tripod in the pitch black for a while until I managed the first long exposure photo. To my absolutely shock, the ‘cloud’ came out with a vivid green color. This was no cloud at all but rather, the very thing I’d nearly forgotten about.  We continued our drive that night accompanied by the ever-strengthening and burgeoning lights, stopping every few miles to take more photos and stare in abject wonder. By the time we neared the hostel, we stopped a final time for the most powerful display yet. Plainly visible to the eye, frolicking and boiling with playful abandon, the Northern Lights lit up the sky and arrested our attention for as long as we could withstand the bitter cold. Giddy and sated, we at last turned our attention to rest for the night, sure to cherish those moments for a lifetime to come.


The last shot of the night

Thinking over these events later, I could not help but draw a parallel. Much like giving up hope for a relationship after years of wishing only to have a wonderful one fall into my lap just a few short months later, the Northern Lights were all the sweeter and more joyful after I’d given up all hope and planning and trying. To experience something completely unexpected is somehow richer and more special than something you’ve been meditating on so hard the joy is merely an afterthought.

There is a value in giving up on the plans you’ve made and the control you think you have. Giving up is strangely liberating and, sometimes, it’s the only way you can experience the things you truly need to. In the end, the elusive fickleness of the lights make them all the more monumental and rewarding when you finally see them dancing and swirling across the sky.

2 comments on “The Value of Giving Up

  • So very true Melody! What wonderful insight regarding our need to control and the freedom found in letting go of that control. It looks like an amazing journey, the pictures are absolutely gorgeous!

  • Reading about your excitment and joy during this journey and gazing on the incredible photographs you captured, is all I need to be fulfilled. There’s no need for me to travel to Iceland as I feel I’ve been there. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *