In another life, I had a friend. We flew to Iceland, rented a car, and drove around the island. It was April. We were only a year or so out of college. People were confused by us. They kept saying,
"But you're Americans. Shouldn't you be on a beach somewhere?"
To which we would say we liked their country, and they would squint at us, and tell us we had more to discuss. They'd wave us inside and then we would drink coffee and they would continue to look at us through narrowed lids, as if they made us blurry enough, we would snap into focus and become the American co-eds they knew we were.
I didn't drink coffee until I went to Iceland. And I only started drinking it because it would have been rude not to. Now I have coffee every morning.
One night we made it to a town where the land was chunky volcanic rock. We had learned upon arriving on the island nation, that thermal pooling was a national past time, and we sat in a thermal pool every night. Sometimes one was associated with whatever hostel we were at. Sometimes we found a community one, or a touristy one. That night we sat in royal blue water, the sky pink, the land Mars-like in its hostility, and watched the sunset.
Back at the hostel, the proprietor invited us for desert. We sat down with him, and a boy about our age came in. He held a liter soda bottle, label long gone.
He told us he was a truck driver, and he had brought moonshine he'd made back in his house, all the way on the other side of the island. I had heard moonshine could make me blind, but I was as close to Mars as I ever thought I could get, and I was young and invincible. My friend and I drank the moonshine out of a used soda bottle and ate ice cream covered in raisins.
When we finally stumbled outside, shuffling through the sharp rocks to our wooden cabin, which stuck out like a neon sign in a landscape sans trees, we realized something was wrong.
When we looked at the sky. Navy velvet with peppered with pin pricks, those rents in the fabric letting through the purest starlight I'd ever seen. But then, wisps of green waved before the stars. Nonsensical, silent, unprecedented.
Then we realized. We weren't going blind. We were looking at the Northern Lights. My drunken brain struggled to comprehend what I saw. The green streaming flags twisted above me and no matter how hard I listened, I couldn't hear it.
Never had I encountered something so visually significant without any accompaniment of sound.
And I haven't experienced anything like it since.