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Monkey Trails

A fun newsletter for the curious traveler, who travels nearby or 

abroad by way of foot, motorcycles, car, or boat.   

Mid-August is the beginning of a new school year here in Oklahoma. 

However, I wished it started in November instead because I want to enjoy September, when the searing heat has dissipated and the slow arrival of breathable days filters in. The grass and trees are still green and full. It sucks to be in a classroom then. 

It was July 5th when John tucked the Monkeys in back of the truck and we headed to a little town north of us, Sulphur, to explore back roads from Veterans Lake to Lake of the Arbuckles. 

It was a peaceful ride until we rode up to the beach area at Lake of the Arbuckles where the July 4th trash was scattered over beach area. I was disgusted seeing garbage everywhere from lazy people not taking care of their own trash.  

Anyway, I'll get off that before my blood pressure rises. 

Lately, the summer days have been too hot to ride unless we go in the early morning hours. One hundred degrees and above makes the air feel like a hot oven blasting over you, but the morning air is more tolerable. This is when John rides to work. It's evening when he walks in the door, so he misses the heat of the day.

But still, a ride along the country roads mimics the exhilaration of a carnival ride no matter what time of the day it is. It's just pure delight. 

Have a fantastic August despite the heat, chiggers, wasps, flies, gnats, mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and high humidity. There are always flowers to see.  

I really hope you enjoy reading the trip to Iceland! I know I did. 

 Sometimes there are seasons of hardship that may last longer than you wish, but never give up on progress. Eventually, circumstances smooth out.  

   Iceland: The Land of Many 

The moonscape of central Iceland, near Landmannalaugar

Story by Mark Durbin

I’ve reached a point in my life where I manage to appreciate even mundane things around me in new settings. In Costa Rica not long ago, while others were complaining about how small the seats were for a cross-country bus, I looked out the window and marveled at the houses I saw. Their colors. The architecture so different from ours, where water lines can be laid on the ground because they won’t freeze in the winter. Everything can be amazing if you let it.

We had just dropped off our tiny little rented camper van at the office in Kopavogur, a suburb of the sprawling capital of Reykjavík, Iceland.

The young Polish woman at the desk directed us down the street to the nearest city bus stop to get us back downtown. We must have looked confused scrutinizing the bus map and schedule inside the little shelter because the woman with a pram next to us asked me and my daughter if we needed help.

She confirmed our hunch about the correct bus and was surprised to learn we weren’t locals (straight blond hair allows us to blend in to places like Scandinavia). Her head scarf told me she wasn’t a local, either.

“I’m from Afghanistan," she kindly said.

“And how do you like living in Iceland?” I asked, curious to know about her experience.

She smiled at me. Not a fake smile but a warm, genuine one. “It’s wonderful," she replied, "It’s cold, but I don’t have to worry about violence, or whether there will be food, or a house. And I can have a job.”

Stepping onto the next ride, all ten people on the bus we’re evenly spaced away from each other.

No one spoke. Stern faces. Scandinavia, indeed.

At the next stop the bus filled, inundated with humanity. Their coloring told me they, too, were not locals. The silence was broken by the congenial melodies of Latin American Spanish. The aisles were packed and one guy in the front was talking to his friend in the back and everyone in between. I loved listening to the chatter of the people.

“Señor,” I asked the man whose rear-end was in my face, “¿de donde eres?”


Ah, more refugees, I thought.

Everyone, we realized, was headed downtown.

June 17 is the day Iceland won its independence from Denmark, and most of the country was there for the party. Music, red, white and blue face painting, beer and unarmed police. And there were people from everywhere. People clearly not born on that little island but who have come to call it home.

The time that I’ve spent in that rainy, windy, nearly treeless place has left me with a certain yearning. I’ve spent time in other countries, indeed lived abroad for a bit, but when I leave Iceland I always feel the need to go back. 

I proposed another trip to my daughter this year, to which she replied, “But we already saw all the cool stuff.” 

Right. I forgot that part of it all. 

I find I can seek the awesome sights for a few days, but after the waterfalls and glaciers and moonscapes, I want to sit and talk to people. 

To go in their homes and hang out at the kitchen table and talk about life and history.

And local politics. 

And what it’s like when that volcano out the window goes off and everything’s covered in ash. 

And what they eat for breakfast. 

And how do you deal with only three hours of daylight in December?

And, and, and…I want to soak it all in. 

My kids roll their eyes at me.

Lava from 2022, at the site that is currently erupting, Fagradalsfjall, and Mirabelle, my daughter, fully embracing life barefoot amidst the glacial ice floes at Jökulsarlon.

In an Icelandic supermarket I marveled at the rack of 20 different species of unpronounceable dried fish and bought a random one (okay, the cheapest one) because this is the fuel that brought them across the Atlantic 1200 years ago. Turns out it’s pretty good, just hard to chew.

So, of all these great things I manage to see when I leave home for a bit, I find I actually feel at home in Iceland, in addition to being stupefied by the ordinary. 

It’s a bleak place, and I’m not really very fond of mutton or fish, and everything’s expensive. There are no trains anywhere, so I taught both my kids how to hitchhike there!

Maybe it’s DNA. Maybe it’s reincarnation of some kind. It could be there’s something I’m supposed to do there. But then, I think about the people I’ve met there, people from other places who clearly have no Icelandic genes, who say they’re happy to be there. “Es muy tranquilo aqui,” they told me. 

I wonder if it’s the stability in Iceland I'm drawn to, and how it's a culture that knows hardship and what it takes to get by and, ultimately, we’re all in this boat together.

I’m looking into getting a DNA test. Not for the health stuff or to find a long lost sibling, but to get a more precise idea of where in the heck I came from. Maybe some ancestral path passed through 66 degrees north latitude and it's why I feel connected. Maybe not. 

In the end, I’m choosing to celebrate finding fulfillment wherever it comes to me. Sometimes that’s at home, sometimes it’s where home ends up being, and sometimes it’s where home could be.

Author Bio: Mark Durbin

Mark Durbin lives on the coast of Maine with his two teenage kids and his partner Sasha. He enjoys building Finnish saunas, reading, performing onstage, and working on his small homestead. He earns a living by building super insulated houses for a local architecture firm, but his real passion lies in building small houses that creatively utilize space and re-used materials. His most recent trip to Iceland took place a mere week before Litli-Hrutur began (and continues) to spill lava over the Reykjanes peninsula. He anticipates regretting that near miss for a very long time. 

Join other readers of Monkey 

Trails right here!

Shout Out a Local Business

The Art Bar

The Art Bar

Brooke, the owner writes:

"I’ve always used art as an outlet since I can remember, so I chose to study textile design at Savannah College of Art and Design, which has lead me to open The Art Bar. I wanted to create a place where people can come, let go, and be creative. 

I’ve only been open since the beginning of June and it’s been really neat to see people of all ages think they can’t do art make something they are proud of. It’s cool to see what creating does to people!"

The Art Bar is located at:

22 N. Washington St Ardmore, OK 


(across from Hamburger Inn)

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    Sharon Orsack Lang 
    Freelance writer
    United States of America

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