A Viking Summer- Iceland July 2013

Iceland. First impressions are of an immense grey sky and a vast landscape of volcanic rubble dusted with green lichen and cold creeping moss. Dirty, green grass is dulled by the sombre sky and box-like houses cling to the cold earth. Functional, weatherproof. The grey sky cries slaty tears streaming over moss-blanketed lavafields. Signs of summer are few but then I notice the splashes of purple and violet from wild lupins that line the road. A blush of pink breaks the lichenoid monotony here and there as delicate arctic harebells cautiously peek out from the rugged cold ground. The palette is dull and muted and I wonder how the sunshine would transform this great northern island.

I’ve been travelling in Iceland for about 10 days now – from the arty sprawling village that is the capital Reykjavik, to the northern harbour towns on the arctic circle and the geothermal hot spots of Krafla and Myvatn to see boiling mud pools and fumaroles. I’ve soaked in thermal pools the shade of turquoise. I’ve hiked in the Jokulsa canyon (Jokulsargljfur) – over 100m deep and 25km long it was created 2 millennia ago when a volcanic eruption beneath the edge of a glacier caused a flood of biblical proportions to tear a vast channel though old basalt rock. I’ve been to the south to Vestmannæyjar – an active volcanic island that sits shrouded in fog in the cold north Atlantic sea. The steep black basalt cliff faces are a nesting ground for migrating sea birds including gannets, guillemots and razorbills.. but also home to the world’s largest puffin colony and my reason for venturing there.

It has been the other-worldly landscapes that have captivated me while travelling here. Exposed to extreme arctic weather, it´s a land pimpled with temperamental volcanoes where hills and valleys have been gouged by the icy tongues of ancient glaciers. Iceland sits astride two continental plates that are slowly drifting apart, stretching the little island. It is said that the earth´s crust is among the thinnest at this area encouraging magma to surge towards the surface intermittently via more than 20 active volcanoes along the rift.

I´ve never had much cause to contemplate the earth beneath my feet in Australia – a stable foundation; it just is and feels like it always has been. But in Iceland I have felt truly for the first time that the earth has an undeniable energy and force. It trembles, it moves, it vents and creates new rock where none was before. I´ve had a sudden moment of feeling rescaled by nature – my size, my life and my existence recalibrated against the enormity and millennia  of the earth´s ruler.  Iceland – it´s a place where life and land are truly shaped by natural forces.

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