The Philosophy of Timing &…

The following post is by Meg Pier and is from her site View From The Pier. Meg is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, regular contributor to The Boston Globe travel section, and the author of A Vision for Today.

The Philosphy of Timing & Waterfalls in Iceland

“You could not step twice in the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you” — Heraclitus


Seljalandsfoss (by Meg Pier)

This image was taken during our May trip to Iceland, on our drive from Reykjavik to the southernmost point of Vik.  A couple of hours into our journey, on a flat stretch of road, we saw the Westman Islands off to our right, a family of triangular rocks rising from the shimmering Atlantic.  Ahead, something on the face of a steep green hillside glinted in the sun.  As we got closer we realized it was an immensely long strand of gushing water spilling over the horizon high above–the 131-foot Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

We swung left, joining a handful of cars in the parking lot, and approached the cascading water.  No rangers, no ticket office, no lines, no one else even in sight.  We stood together transfixed, our mouths hanging open.  Then Tom realized there were a couple of people actually behind the sheet of water and left me to go climb the rocky path to join them.  Mere feet from the pool at the waterfall’s bottom, getting damp from its spray, I experienced a glimmer of what I imagined it must have been like for early Icelandic settlers when they first approached this roaring wonder.  Awed, I felt tears well up.

“The weeping philosopher” is how Heraclitus is often referred to–apparently he was a lonely fellow who suffered from melancholy.  Rather than considering himself a part of something bigger than himself–umanity–he was quite contemptuous of mankind.  The sage lived in what is now Turkey more than two-and-a-half millennia ago and espoused a doctrine that change is constant and the basis of life.

Allowing for the possibility that just maybe there could be a display by Mother Nature that could top Seljalandsfoss, we later headed down a gravel road to Skogafoss. Timing is everything, in more ways than one.  As we pulled in, crowds were re-boarding their tour buses.  Once again, we were practically by ourselves, being humbled by hydrology.  It would have been a very different experience for us had it been necessary to appreciate the falls shoulder to shoulder with throngs of our fellow man–eraclitus’ misanthropy is something we can all share from time to time I guess .

Seen in reverse order, Seljalandsfoss perhaps would not have been as moving for me.  Skogafoss is more than 35 feet higher, and seemed to be ten times as wide, the rumbling louder and the spray harder and reaching a greater distance.  What these wonders share in common is the title foss–Icelandic for “waterfall.”

Heraclitus’ other monikers over the ages include “the Obscure” and “the Riddler,” because his treaties were worded in such a way as to lay themselves open to differing meanings.  His law of flux has been interpreted differently by other philosophers over the ages.  It is believed his actual words were “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.”  In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers stay the same.

At Skogafoss, I stood back farther than Tom and watched him watching the water with his legs apart, head tilted back, and hands shoved in his jeans pockets. I could almost feel the wheels turning, and visualized a big “Why” question mark over his head.

A sense of wonder and desire for understanding are part of the human condition, and beautiful traits of the human race.  Yet whether Tom and I had admired the waterfalls in a different order, or seen Seljalandsfoss or Skogafoss by ourselves or as part of a crowd, the powerful surge of water flowing ever on would continue, with or without our delight.



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