SONORA BOREALIS: Maricopan brings Arctic traditions to the desert


Can you really “bloom where you’re planted” when you’ve lived your entire life in a place where the very soil beneath your feet seems to defy life itself?

Rebekka Ash Às Halldòrsdòttir [Bryan Mordt]
That poses no obstacle for Rebekka Ash Ás Halldórsdóttir, a Maricopa resident who isn’t just living the adage — she’s redefining it.

For Halldórsdóttir, it was a journey of 4,200 miles — from a desolate arctic lava field to the searing Sonoran Desert, where even saguaros struggle to survive. Two deserts, worlds apart in every other way.

“It was the biggest adjustment of my life,” she said.

It was love that guided her to Maricopa in 2020, when she and husband Hamilton Ash left her native Iceland to be near Ash’s family here.

Iceland, a boreal jewel adrift in the North Atlantic, tiptoes the Arctic Circle’s edge. Halldórsdóttir is among just 400 Maricopa residents born in Europe, according to U.S. census data.

Halldórsdóttir’s hometown of Reykjavík — Iceland’s capital city — barely scrapes 40 degrees in October, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. Maricopa’s October temperatures are beyond double that, a toasty 85 degrees.

Reykjavík experiences just 1,300 annual sunshine hours, and that’s including the famous midnight sun from May to August when the sun extends a belated apology for its winter disappearing act. Maricopa, on the other hand, basks in a whopping 3,900 sunshine hours yearly, ranking it inside the world’s fifth-sunniest metro area.

“Growing up in Iceland, we spent our whole lives waiting for summer,” Halldórsdóttir said.

Above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t muster a peep over the horizon all winter, a time hallmarked by blackness, despair and unbearable cold. And yet, in the middle of this disconsolate season comes Jól — Christmas — a massive banquet that reverberates notions of communion and cycles of renewal.

Halldórsdóttir’s Glennwilde home doesn’t bear the turf-blanketed roof common in her native land. But inside, Scandinavian tradition endures.

Take Jól, for example. Halldórsdóttir’s four children — the eldest born in Iceland, the others born here — will begin celebrating in the coming weeks.

Throughout the 26-day celebration, 13 Santa Clauses will pay a special visit to Maricopa. Shoes on windowsills will hold treats for the well-behaved and rotting potatoes for the naughty. The children will contend with Grýla, a child-boiling monster, and the fearsome Christmas Cat’s deadly appetite.

Not quite an American Christmas, is it?

“We always have Icelandic Christmas, even though it is traditionally a dark time for us,” Halldórsdóttir said. “It’s just in me, in a way. I’m very Icelandic. That’s just a part of my culture.”

Halldórsdóttir brings much of her culture to Maricopa through song. You might have heard her croon Icelandic folk songs at the Maricopa Music Circle’s Christmas concerts, at Kids Day Maricopa last month and at funerals in town. Or maybe even during karaoke night at The Roost on John Wayne Parkway, her favorite Maricopa pastime.

“I sing a lot of Icelandic folk songs,” she said.

Folk music has long defined Halldórsdóttir, even before she studied at the Söngskólinn music academy in Reykjavík. Her father founded Menningarnótt, the largest annual music festival in Reykjavík, in 1996.

Some 100,000 people attend the cultural showcase, an eye-watering percentage of the country’s total population of 315,000 and Reykjavík’s population of fewer than 118,000.

Halldórsdóttir sang there at a young age. Last month, former Eurovision star Jóhanna Guðrún sang there and released a new cover of the Icelandic folk song Orðin Mín on Sept. 1.

The lyrics resonate with Halldórsdóttir.

Mundu að hvar sem hjartað slær, hamingjan er oftast nær: Remember that wherever the heart beats, happiness usually isn’t far away.

“You can be anywhere in the world, but you need to take a piece of what’s true to you and carry it with you,” Halldórsdóttir said. “That’s why I always come back to my roots.”

It’s not only the diametric climates that made Halldórsdóttir’s move to Maricopa jolting. She bid adieu to endless free running water and geothermal energy, and she experienced a bit of culture shock along the way.

Back in Iceland, she found the website “People of Walmart,” a humor blog showcasing the many eccentric customers of Walmart stores across the U.S. It wasn’t until she moved here that she realized the jokes were very much rooted in reality.

“You don’t go in your pajama clothes outside in Iceland,” she laughed. “If you’re going to go out, you’re going to look presentable. Here, you see people wearing whatever. That is so absurd to see. It’s such a different culture.”

But she has learned to love this crazy American culture with the help of her husband, an MMA fighter whom InMaricopa featured earlier this year. His Viking-inspired dojo, Berserkur Sports Facility, is on Maricopa Road.

And by marrying an American man, she circumnavigated the use of the genetic database Íslendingabók. It’s a must for couples in Iceland, where a tiny population means checking for blood ties before marriage is crucial.

Halldórsdóttir misses other things, though. Growing up working at a fish farm, she was once disgusted cutting the heads off cod for hours on end. Now, she misses the ocean, the fresh air and seafood markets.

However, occasional visits home — and the sound of crashing waves during sessions at Yoga Hús, her Icelandic yoga studio in Maricopa — are enough to quench that yearning.

“The world is really big, and Iceland is a little island,” Halldórsdóttir said. “I don’t want to be stuck on the island.”

For her, Maricopa symbolizes freedom and adventure. She’s grown to see the city as a sort of second home.

“There’s a lot of good people in Maricopa,” she said. “There is a good, supportive community here. People care for each other. I like that about Maricopa.”

Safe to say, this Scandinavian-turned-American is built “fjord tough” and raises her kids correspondingly.

Success hinges upon three simple tenets, she said: “Toughen up. Be a strong Viking. Don’t be a pushover.”

Not everyone can transition between polar opposite environments with such grace. But Halldórsdóttir did just that — proving even in the harshest landscapes, growth finds a way.

And perhaps her new home isn’t so unfamiliar after all.

Iceland and Maricopa have one thing in common at the end of the day, Halldórsdóttir said:
“It’s that cozy feeling.”

Editor’s note: Elias Weiss is a Scandinavian language speaker who studied journalism at a Nordic university. He’s been in newspapers and on public radio in Sweden, and also spent time in Iceland, Denmark and Norway.


The October edition of InMaricopa Magazine is in Maricopa mailboxes and available online.