Travels along the Ring Road
An island is a world out of time and place, separated by literal and figurative oceans, where the confines of reality are tenuous and magic may be possible.
Iceland—with its relative isolation, enchanting mythologies, creative people, and the otherworldly wild beauty of its glaciers, geysers, volcanos, and fjords—encompasses this special magic in the minds of many, including writer Kurt Caswell.
Vividly illustrated by Julia Oldham, Iceland Summer recounts Caswell’s journey traversing the country by foot and bus accompanied by his lifelong friend Scott. The pair set out from Reykjavík and travel clockwise along the Ring Road, stopping along the way for backcountry walking trips. Caswell immerses himself in the natural beauty and charming eccentricities of the tiny island nation. With his drinking and hiking buddy by his side, and fueled by a steady diet of Brennivín (fermented grain mash) and pylsur (Icelandic hot dogs), he explores the Hornstrandir peninsula, walks to the famed Dettifoss waterfall, waits for a glimpse of the lake monster Lagarfljótsormurinn at Egilsstaðir, visits the world’s only penis museum, and pays homage to centuries of Icelandic literary tradition at the Árni Magnússon Institute.
Writing in the tradition of other pairs who have traveled in Iceland, like W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson, and W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Caswell meditates on the value of wild places in the modern world, travel as both pastime and occupation, the nature of friendship, and walking, food, and literature. Scott is the Sancho Panza to Caswell’s Don Quixote, offering a ribald humor that grounds Caswell’s flights into the romantic. The two travel well together and together arrive at the understanding that what anchors them both is their lifelong friendship.
I disavow everything Caswell reports about me in Iceland Summer—except for the parts that are absolutely true, which is everything. An engaging and accurate storyteller, Caswell has so masterfully chronicled our travels along Iceland’s Ring Road that I hope my mother doesn’t read it due to my inglorious use of profanity.
Scott Dewing, the guy in this book
By turns humorous and profound, Iceland Summer walks beyond the tourist gloss to bring us an island full of the magnificent and unexpected. Caswell's encounters with characters and places from hot dog enthusiasts and bus drivers to mountains full of troll wives delight—and show us why we journey, and what we learn when we do.
Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait
Caswell writes about Iceland the way Thoreau writes about Walden Pond, except that Caswell is, thankfully, not so ascetic. Through a compelling narrative deeply informed by the trolls, mountains, Vikings, hot dogs, and penis museums of Iceland and also by our shared human story, from Neanderthals and Gilgamesh to Dōgen and Anaïs Nin, he seamlessly weaves the sublime with the ribald. Iceland Summer is fun and gorgeous and wise. It is important in how exactly it is of service, in how, like flecks of mica sparkling in granite, it offers the truest gifts we humans can give one another.
Derek Sheffield, author of Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry and Poetry Editor of Terrain.org
What a pleasure being with these two knuckleheads on this glorious romp.
Craig Childs, author of The Secret Knowledge of Water and Tracing Time
Wayfarer, writer, philosopher, friend. In this magical travelogue, Kurt Caswell embodies all of these archetypes as he guides readers through two journeys at once. In the outward journey we roam Iceland: rock, waters, mythology, sunlight, vodka, complex secrets that only the most intrepid and sensitive of travelers can gather. The inward journey is not bound by geography: senses, wonder, mingling of heart and land and pen, love for one another and the wild earth. (And of course there is the deeper wisdom that both journeys are one.) After savoring the last page. I was overcome with an urgent need to reach for my notebook or my hiking boots. But which? Ah, silly question. I did what Caswell would do: threw the journal into my rucksack, tied on my boots, and walked into the world with a renewed thirst for the adventure of my own true path.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit
“You do not ask or strive for meaning. You just walk; walking itself is the meaning you strive for.” So Kurt Caswell commands, as he traverses the ethereal unfrozen kingdom in Iceland Summer. With friend Scott alongside, but no skates required, we come to know the reason for wandering through Kurt's storytelling. Fact melds artfully with the fantastical and humor warms cold history in this North Sea journey that is alternately slog, stroll, saunter and fascinating human encounter through occasionally impossible to pronounce, faraway beautiful places that most of us will never see but can evision herein. Caswell's new work is an extraordinary travelogue that navigates the vagaries of humanity's common curiosities, and gives guideposts past fjord dwelling monsters, museums full of male genitalia, and so much more enthralling in-between. Look and linger. Iceland moves way up on the bucket list after Iceland Summer.
J. Drew Lanham, author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature
Kurt Caswell is a writer and professor of creative writing and literature in the Honors College at Texas Tech University, where he teaches intensive field courses on writing and leadership. His books include Iceland Summer, Laika’s Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog, Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents, In the Sun’s House: My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation, and An Inside Passage, which won the 2008 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize. His essays have appeared in ISLE, Isotope, Matter, Ninth Letter, Orion, River Teeth, and the American Literary Review. He lives in Lubbock, Texas.
Julia Oldham uses a range of media, from animation to graphic storytelling, to explore the complex relationships between nature and technology, humans and animals, and science and creativity. Her work has appeared in the book Iceland Summer and at the San Diego Art Institute, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City and Eugene, Oregon.