How do I put into words the sadness I feel as I fly away from Iceland? To say my heart is changed forever would be an understatement; I think it would have been impossible not to fall in love with the Westfjords.
To begin, the blueberry festival was a mixture of terrifying (the biggest bon fire I’ve ever seen, kids flipping in a bouncy Viking ship thrown off course), hilarious (Svarar Nutur, who is Icelandic Jack Black, sharing laughs over Cards Against Humanity with new friends), exhausting (about 200 kids that wanted their faces painted), and lovely (pies, music on a mountain, dancing all night long). Each twist and turn was unexpected and welcomed in stride. And I look forward to going back one day soon.
When you take a vacation from your job to do another job, does it really count as a vacation? I think it just makes your “day off” a thousand times more savored. That was Tuesday for me. After 8 days straight of working, including about 72 hours of blueberries, I was ready for an adventure, or whatever came my way. Beginning with a dinner in Isafjordur at Tjoruhusid, eating the most delicious meal I’ve ever had, and ending with a lesson on manual driving (my first time), the entirety of Tuesday was glorious. Tjoruhusid was filled with guests from the Fox Centre, many of whom remembered me and Gray and greeted us warmly. Walking up to get my food (unlimited portions!) I could hear chatter all around about what they’d learned from us. It felt good to know we were making a small difference in the lives of others. I met Freddy’s sister at the farm in Heydelur: Kula, a beautiful and friendly blue morph. I went back to Reykjanes for the ginormous hot pot and did “bommaslag” with my new Belgian friends. This word means “granny-style” I am told, and describes a sort of lazy fishy swim. So, now I have to learn Dutch.
Then on Wednesday, back to the Centre, and of course, what will become of dear Freddy Mercury, the fox? Well this part is still unknown, but he is getting quite restless with his current predicament. Trying to escape every time we feed him, he successfully had a run around the yard once on Thursday.
On the plus side, the plans to expand his area are becoming more real. I made a video to present to the Centre’s board to describe what crowdfunding could do to help raise money for the materials and labor. And everyone I tell about the plan is excited to make Freddy the poster-fox for this project. I think it would be easy to get the money together.
As for the actual plans for the pen, this may require more thought and planning. The current idea is to mimic the enclosure from the Reykjavik zoo, which was designed originally by Pall Hersteinsson, one of the Centre’s founders. But, I had the opportunity to go to the zoo, and I don’t necessarily agree with this idea. The enclosure there is designed to hold minks and foxes and has an electric fence all around it.
It just made me sad to look at. I think a new design would suit the bright energy of the Centre better. I also wonder about the future of the Centre’s orphaned pup program and have urged the staff working on this to get a lawyer and figure out a way to prioritize amending legislation so that the program can return to releasing the foxes into their own habitats. Otherwise, I personally don’t see much value in “rehabilitating” pups that will never be free and will just build up a captive fox population year after year, as they can live to up to about 12 years in captivity. Yes, having live foxes at the Centre has a great educational value and certainly brings all the tourists to the yard, but is it right to keep them enclosed there indefinitely? Again, Iceland’s relationship with its wildlife baffles me.
And finally, how do I sum up this experience for you? Was it worth it? Did I like it? Would I recommend this to someone else? As someone who did not study abroad in college, I don’t think I ever really saw the value in leaving your established home to start over from scratch somewhere with just a suitcase. The concept of making new friends, finding new hobbies, and learning a new geography was overwhelming to me. But, I have to say that volunteering at the Centre for two weeks has totally changed my perspective on this. Traveling by yourself, you talk to people you might not normally have struck up a conversation with. You learn about new languages and cultures. You help people without expecting anything in return. Strangers offer you rides or have a meal with you and before you know it you become friends.
Are you reading this blog because you are wondering if you should volunteer? I know that’s what I did before I bought my plane ticket because I was scared and didn’t quite believe it would be for me. It had its ups and downs, but overall, I would describe this experience as totally unique and amazing. And hey, I may have drunkenly bought a plane ticket to Belgium to spend New Years with my new friends, so more to come as the adventure continues. In the meantime, give the Arctic Fox Centre, or some other organization that intrigues you, a shot!