by Claire Polders 

The others and I hike up the winding trail from the riverbank to Dettifoss, queen of glacial waterfalls.  The canyon is steep and stark as though warning me for what’s to come. Forty-five meters high, a hundred meters wide, two hundred cubic meters of water per second. This Icelandic queen draws tourists from around the world like magic.

I’m surprised to find myself having an okay time, mingling with the others, sharing in the happy anticipation of all. Do thoughts adapt and intertwine when you talk inside clouds of vapor? While my new colleagues and I compare notes on growing up, relationships, the contrast between pushers and pullers, the revolutionary potential of art, it’s as though the distance between us gets smaller and our boundaries less fixed.

We hear the royal fall long before we see her and when we do see her, beyond the line of rocks, we drop into silence and stare in awe.

This is what we’ve come to experience, a beauty so great it pauses the self.

The closer we get to the fall, the more we feel her raw power, the fury in the drop. The ground trembles beneath our feet and the roar fills our heads.

We scramble toward the gorge. Gushing folds of water ripple and splash, hurling themselves down in a cascading flow. You are flesh, says the queen. You are perishable.

We each get as close as we dare, which means we break apart. There are those who carefully stand back and those who feel called to live dangerously.

There are no guard rails to keep us from the edge. Just a sign shrouded in vapor, easy to ignore.

Three of us lean out over the roar and stare down, holding on to a stunted tree. Spray from the depth whirls up into a gorgeous mist kissing my face.

I imagine my body diving down with the water, merging with its force and speed, the pull of the currents, the life slipping and rushing over me, and my whole self being swallowed up into the white foam, unbound, changing, crashing onto the stones of the riverbed.

I gauge the two others with whom I share the edge. Do they fear or long?

Be honest, do you ever dream of letting go? I ask.

The others seem disturbed by my question and exchange looks with each other. One of them answers me with, Do you?

Come on, I say, let’s get even closer.

The others withdraw, their bodies no longer leaning out.

Once again, I am alone. But alone can be good. Alone is benign.

I let go of the stunted tree and inch forward.

The others call out to me, call me back, fling their voices over the royal crash. They might as well scream, What’s wrong with you?

I face the void, peering into the fall where every sparkle of light discloses more darkness.

Down there I would be free, part of something real. No pretending. No trying. Just falling for eternity, like in a closed circle.

I look up, uncertain about what to do, and face the others. Their expression appears strangely familiar to me, as though fear and longing are the same in the end.

A sweet intoxication sweeps through me when hands that cannot touch me reach out to me nonetheless. We hold one another’s gaze until all of us are back in the safety zone, admiring the queen from afar.

Image by Oleksandra Zelena via Pexels