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Transitions

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A foggy sunny day in Reykjavik, or as they call it in Iceland, typical. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

I packed two separate suitcases for this trip.

The green one is for Africa, the grey one is for Iceland.

July means different things in different parts of the world. In Tanzania, July means winter, so I packed flip-flops and T-shirts, shorts and a wide-brimmed hat—then a tube of SPF 70 sunblock and a sweatshirt for cold nights. In Iceland, July means summer, and so I packed woolen sweaters and hand-knit caps and long underwear and rainproof pants and heavy boots.

Three days ago I left Tanzania’s wintry skies—overcast and grey (but dry) and landed in Iceland’s summery bliss, where the wind blows in spots of severe and persistent rain followed by blasts of clarity and sunlight.

Down in Africa, the sun sets right at six and rises at six the next day. Up here in Iceland, the sun simply doesn’t set. The light just changes directions, slowly, rounding the sky and following its patient arch around the horizon.

In Africa, I taught my students that when it comes to photography, they must “become students of light”. They must study when and how sunlight happens, how it makes things look—and then chase the good light, because the light is always changing

In Iceland, I have become the student, traveling with (the amazing!) National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths for the next ten days, hoping to learn from her. Up here, I am a student of light, because the light in Iceland is magical and forever changing, just like the weather.

It’s not that weather in Iceland is bad—just very finicky. I might wake up to horizontal rain and a tantrum of a windstorm that (no kidding) will taper off in seven minutes, followed by eternal blue skies, happy flying seagulls and a big yellow sun with your name on it.

Almost magically, my glasses change with the sun—a single pair that I wear in this attention-deficient climate of the north. When the weather turns pouty and grey, my glasses go all clear—and when the sunshine turns on, my glasses transition to black, shading my eyes. Oddly, my view never changes. Sun or no, rain or shine—looking through my lenses, my eyes see the world the same.

By definition, to travel is to undergo transition, and in the past week I have transitioned—from southern to northern hemisphere, from Africa to Arctic, from winter to summer, from darkness to light.

In fact, in just a few days, my whole world has changed. Suddenly I can drink the water, snakes don’t exist, I say “Takk” instead of  “Asante” and my pockets are filled with krona instead of shillings. I have changed out of my shorts and T-shirts into waterproofs and heavy wools, from no socks to thick socks. Indeed, the only thing I haven’t changed are my glasses.

This is how Annie and I live, transitioning from one country to another, always chasing the light, adjusting and changing to fit the place we are in at that moment.

And that is why I packed two separate suitcases for this trip—two suitcases, but only one pair of glasses.

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Midnight in Iceland in July, when the sun never really goes away. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

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