By Clara Peterson
Somehow, despite the wind, we chattered merrily, like two best friends who hadn’t seen each other for a year. Or, maybe, I did most of the chattering. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember the wind stealing the words from our ears with the same icy tentacles that whipped the pom-poms on our wool hats while our boots crunched on a hard layer of ice that was rapidly getting buried in fluffy new fall.
“A-wheeeeeee-oooooh!” Kíra let out a Viking scream, and I snapped around just in time to see her charge forward, toward the cliff-face.
“Kíra!” I screamed.
She stopped like she’d run into a wall, arrested by a gust of wind that pushed her back toward me in a fit of ruddy laughter.
“Try it!” she laughed.
I took a tentative step in that direction. I was never the daring one. Feeling the force of the wind, I leaned into it. I guffawed. “The wind is holding my whole body weight!” I cried. Kíra walked closer to the edge. She leaned, and the wind held her too.
“Kíra, careful!” I admonished. She leaned backward and immediately tumbled into the snow. I followed suit, letting the force of the wind push me backward too, and I tumbled into the snow next to Kíra. We laughed and rolled toward each other like two kids having a sleepover on a bed of snow.
“Do you like it here?” I asked solemnly. Kíra let out a hoot. I knew she was thinking of old times, when I would suddenly get serious after a day of careening antics. ‘Questions with Anna,’ she’d always called it.
“It’s no Kyle Avenue!” she said. I smiled. She was always doing that, looking out for my feelings first. “I don't know, it's been kind of lonely. I miss you! But I’m getting to know my cousins and, like, my culture. It feels like a treasure hunt on one of those old-timey maps! And I’m an explorer on the winding trail!”
“Is it worth it? When you’re lonely?”
“Well, I met this girl Margrét who’s really cool, and I think we’re going to be good friends. You’ll meet her!”
“Oh…That’s great!” I said with a little too much effort.
“Not best friends! Of course,” she clarified.
“Whatever, you’ve already thrown me to the wolves of high school,” I joked.
“Then be a tiger!” Kíra roared as loud as she could; the wind whooshed it away.
“I might have to lose the glasses string,” I mused.
“Nooo! The glasses string is quintessential Anna.”
I sighed and sat up in the snow. I gazed out at the clean blue ribbon of the fjord, spooling through a valley between sprawling mountains, endless black rock and scraggly grass now cloaked in dramatic white. The homes nestled into the mountain base on the other side were trim and modest. Not a Walmart to be seen. Not a single strip mall in the entire drive from Reykjavik to Akureyri. Just small towns, open land, mountains, and rock. I took a deep breath and savored it.
“Nope,” I said, doubling back, “Absent your protection, I can’t keep wearing my glasses on a string around my neck.”
“Anna Peterson, you don’t need my protection!” Kíra proclaimed. She jumped up, extended a green-mittened hand, and pulled me to my feet. Her bright blue eyes watered from the wind, shining with their perpetual mischief.
“How much farther?” I asked.
“Not too much!” Now with each step, we plunged to mid-calf. The light began to change. Our shadows grew longer. Occasionally, the sun slipped behind peaks of the mountain that rose to our left, casting a dark film over the diamond snow. I looked up at the mountain’s dwarfing presence as the sun fell lower in the sky, and I shivered. Kíra had told me how avalanches started with a little crumb of snow tumbling down the mountain, growing bigger and gaining speed until it was a huge white mass, rushing down, crushing everything in its path. We had to be careful of avalanches, she’d said. Not that there was much we could do about it if we saw one coming, I’d thought glumly.
“Here’s the path to the top!” Kíra cried. Straining my eyes through accelerating snowfall, I could see a pathway of flatter ground between two peaks that led around the side and up, with a steep climb near the top. Kíra forged ahead, and I tried to keep up. Taking a deep breath, I turned onto the path...and was met by a surprising, quiet serenity. With a rock face blocking the wind on either side of us, the ferocious rush softened to a whisper. The snow, catching on cliffs above, filtered down in a gentle flutter. We trekked on.
Red-faced, we rounded a sudden bend and lost the protection of the second face. The wind whipped out like a laser and pushed us back. Gasping, I heaved my weight forward and realized with a sinking feeling that I’d lost sight of my friend. I pushed forward, looking for a snowy figure, or a flash of green mitten. “Kíra!” I called out to her. The snow formed a moving surface that swirled around my boots and up all around me, stinging my cheeks like pinpricks. My heart was beating quickly.
A barely-perceptible, “Almost there!” reached my ears. And then...the snow slowed...and we emerged together — into a moonlight so bright it was almost a silver sun. Below shone the golden light of a hundred miniature houses on the other side of the now-black fjord. I thrust my arms into the air and threw my head back — like Leo in Titanic, which we had seen together in 5th grade.
“I’m the queen of the woooorld!” I yelled.
Something hard and cold hit my cheek. I whirled around to see Kíra cackling with delight, already packing her next snowball. I grabbed a fistful of snow, mashed it together, and lobbed it in her direction. I missed.
Laughing even harder, Kíra ran over and grabbed my hand. Her green mitten and my purple glove clasped tight.
“LEAN!” she cried. We stretched our arms to their full combined wingspan and leaned all our weight into the winter wind. And I felt it rush around me and over me and through me until I became part of it — fierce, fearless, indestructible.
Featured in our December 2021 issue, "Polar*ity"