On November 4, 1875, under dark skies and a mounting gale, the sidewheeler Pacific collided with the sailing ship Orpheus as it rounded Cape Flattery en route to San Francisco. The Pacific sank almost immediately; only two of its 250 passengers and crew lived to tell the tale.
In the waning days of this past July, a killer whale—soon to be known to the world as Tahlequah—gave birth to a calf in the waters off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia. The event was a cause for celebration for Tahlequah’s endangered pod, whose 75 members had not seen a live birth in nearly three years. But within less than an hour, the calf had stopped moving.
It may not rival the stories of Grettir the Strong or Erik the Red, but our own Icelandic saga continues in the geologic wilds of North Iceland. This is the realm of charred lava fields, desolate peaks, and waterfalls named for the gods—not to mention a memorable stretch of the Ring Road that traverses remnants of ice and fire.
Back in 2004, as I was finishing my final months at the University of Virginia, I had a once-in-a-lifetime moment of Halloween costume inspiration. Having already spent 22 years with black hair and bangs (and the last several being told that I resembled a certain Icelandic singer), I set off for the local Michaels craft store. A few feather boas, stuffed-and-stitched tube socks, and scraps of felt later—I was Björk herself, in all of her swan dress glory at the 2001 Oscars.
As the 18th century came to a close, the British explorer George Vancouver set sail to survey the wild coast of the Pacific Northwest. Among his findings was a narrow pass at the tip of Fidalgo Island, where the tides moved with such force that Vancouver believed he had found the mouth of a great river. It wasn’t until his lieutenant, Joseph Whidbey, explored further that he realized he had discovered a second island—one that stood on the other side of this confounding Deception Pass.