top of page

Dark Beaches

Figure 1: Reynisfjara Beach; photo credit to Travis Leever.
Figure 2: Basalt silver and polished beach stone from Reynisfjara Beach.

Somewhere along the Icelandic coast there is a beach frequented by visitors from faraway lands. Black and ominous with eroded remains of volcanism they stretch for several miles before striking the columnar basalt indicative of the land's youthful geomorphology. Waves in greyscale curl in venomous silence, lapping ever higher on the gentle glide of their soft, dark beach. As the illusion of time passes on the black void of beach, the ocean's mesmeric quiet lulls tourists away from the presentiment of the encroaching ripples [Figure 1]. Ever closer. Ever quiet. 

Until an arm of the sea takes you and you drown in its eternal quietude.

Reynisfjara Beach has that kind of reputation. It's the place you can gallivant off to on your extra-special Icelandic trip that's closeish to civilization that you can hangout for a spell before hitting up your third pub before noon. It's also the kind of place that sucks you into the tide, they never find your body, and none of the locals are surprised. Jovial travelers boast of Reynisfjara's splendor with the usual chorus of natural wonders: 

"Here you can appreciate the powerful waves of the ocean, admire the soaring sea cliffs with sea birds, look for perfectly polished pebbles and rocks, and examine the stunning geology of the basalt columns."

The Guide to Iceland also reminds you of "yet another fatal accident took place in South-Iceland on the 9th of January 2017," where a German woman was sucked into the tide never to be seen again. What makes this beach so deadly and why have I brought it to you this day? Well, obviously, I am working a pocket rock angle- why else [Figure 2]. Balancing natural beauty and danger is an old song of the seas. Skippering a vessel or poking around on the shore, it's all samesies across Earth. That primordial, atavistic call of the waves to enter and remain resonates with our ancestral desire for food, shelter, companionship, and endless expansion. We are buoyed onward into the unknown by the quintessential experience of knowing something new. Often, something new capitalizes on our primate's curiosity to become something familiar and we again venture into the darkness with a simmering light of intuition and characteristic human bravado. 

Figure 3: Sarah Leever.

Waking from a disturbing dream, I take two stones onto the sparce concrete patio. To my right, budding vegetables poke their green heads in greeting to the breaking day. To my left, the faded rose-colored curtains of a mysterious neighbor are pulled tight against the goings on of the patio. Morning air, buzzing with bird song and a gentle wind, does the breathing for me. The two stones in my hand beg for attention, and I do the only thing my groggy mind could: obey their call. On the iron ball atop the plant-hanger I place the basalt sheet. It quivers once and remained still. Peculiar. Awfully peculiar for a round and flat object to find balance so well. I take the smooth beach stone and delicately set it on the sheet. It does not quiver and sits still. Without realizing I hold my breath, I release the tension of expectant objects falling and exhale sharply into the Spokane spring. These stones of Iceland, young though they be, know how to instantaneously find themselves in tune with each other. 

Isn't that something. 

It's an old song, and Iceland sings it well. According to Sarah and Travis Leever, anyhow. These two explorers hopped a flight to the great frozen fields of lava back in November and brought back a wonder to share with this rock rat as well as a pair of stones [Figures 3 & 4]. 

Before relocating to Spokane, WA, I saw these two for one last hangout sesh. Naturally, Sarah produced two hard objects for my delight: one smooth and supple, the other course and light. I overturned them in my hands while Travis constructed a chilling narrative about their visit to Reynisfjara Beach. How one of their party -despite the warnings from the tour guide who deposited them at the site- sat crossed-legged before the tumultuous rhythm of gentle cresting waves and watched in fascination. As the story goes, the slight frame of their friend dodged a particularly large crash of water by less than six inches! And they were all very much afraid. 

Figure 4: Travis Leever.

I recorded this encounter, but the file was corrupted and so their eloquence is lost in my rendering of their adventure. That so, I prodded with my usual line of pocket rock questioning about their experience and the meaning they assigned to it.

Fundamentally artists both, Sarah and Travis admired the dark beach for its unprecedented silence and speed. Subject to multi-directional gusts from nowhere in particular, the southern shore captivated them with its tempermentality. They could have watched it for hours and perhaps would have, withstanding the risk to life and limb. Walking its full black arm, they reveling in the columnar basalt, so favored in Washington state. Keeping a fair distance from the low beach, and  exceedingly close eye on their group, the Leevers pawed handfuls of heavy-graded black sand into cool damp clumps and wondered at the shining glints held within. Too small for the unaided eye, mineral particulates in rapidly cooling magma are bereft of the time to find one another. Magma boils to the surface a casserole of potential and solidifies. Eventually, lone hexagonal spires destined like glass to shatter under the weight of time might end up as a dark beach.

Waiting to mesmerize you.

Happy Hounding!


bottom of page