My ruminating thoughts about visiting Iceland last week were the work of pure pleasure. Looking over photos of that trip since then have only increased the good memories of that all-too-quick visit. Traveling in a group of eight friends sounds like it could be a challenge but this worked well. We all were of the same mind that there is plenty to see and we each had a general idea of where and when we would want to see things, weather depending. And the weather worked out pretty well, drizzling on us only once and even that didn’t keep us from hiking back from a mile-long walk.
The variety of Iceland’s landscape is, in a word, amazing. Soaring mountains with steep slopes turn into gentle green valleys dotted with tidy dairy farms and sheep farms that are almost indescribably beautiful. There are desolate moon-scape looking black lava beds that are almost beyond description. Long, beautiful, deep water fjords are teeming with whales and saltwater fish like cod, pollock and haddock. It’s hard to believe there can be so much geographic variation in such a small country. It is the eighteenth largest island in the world and is only 180 miles from the world’s largest island, Greenland.
Iceland’s volcanic activity and the geysers that are so common and the hot water springs that are so abundant are the result of Iceland’s location atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and European tectonic plates are slowly moving apart. That resulted in the upheaval that formed the island. When we traveled the countryside, it seemed like we were going through places that hadn’t been on any mainstream traffic route. In fact, many of the small towns have had a paved road access for only about the last 20 years.
That’s not to say that Iceland is isolated these days. Internet access seems to be available everywhere and the larger cities are full of international travelers. All of the electricity in Iceland is generated from a renewable energy source, most of that coming from geo-thermal generators that utilize the county’s hot water resources that seem to be everywhere. Hydro- electric power is the other main source of electricity, which, unlike many other necessities, is cheap and abundant. Many other needs are imported and thus expensive. Our rental cars ran on imported diesel fuel that sold for $1.95 a liter or around $8.00 a gallon.
I suspect that someday, most cars in Iceland will be electrically powered, especially those in and around Reykjavik. Except for birds, there are few other animals that are native to Iceland. The arctic fox is believed to be the only native land mammal in Iceland and there are very few insects. While it is said that Iceland has no trees, there are trees but nearly all of them have been planted during the past 80 to 100 years. Small stands of native birch or aspen trees are still found in some reserve areas. However, in the 12th and 13th century, it is recorded that Iceland was heavily forested. The soil however was thin and subject to erosion and human habitation during those early centuries of settlement disturbed the fragile eco-system with the cutting of trees for timber and firewood, leaving the island bare of its native forests. New stands of trees can be seen near farms and along valleys. There is no known native or indigenous population. Human habitation of Iceland is believed to only date back to the around the sixth or seventh century when Celtic (Irish) monks habited the island briefly.
Norwegian Vikings began settling there around 870 AD and had a rough and tumble time enduring the conditions but eventually took root and established settlements and communities. The weather is milder than most of us would think, being moderated by ocean currents. However, it is far north and that also plays a role in the weather. While the summers are a bit cooler than here, the winters are a bit warmer. The summer days are very long.
Even now the sun doesn’t set until around 8:15 leaving it light out until nearly 9 p.m. Of course, the winter days are very short. The flight to Reykjavik takes six hours and is shorter than flying to either Alaska or Hawaii. That doesn’t seem too bad and flying over the southern end of Greenland is an added bonus. Seeing the mountains and glaciers, even from an airplane, makes Greenland look foreboding. It’s no wonder that those early Norse explorers preferred Iceland’s much more hospitable climate.
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I’ll never complain about warm weather in September and the rain we had in August while much more than we needed, was welcome after several dry weeks. Twelve or more inches of rain in any month is certainly too much. The combination of that much rain and the September heat has meant the lawn has demanded attention every week and the mowers are running again. Or not.
I spent most of Sunday afternoon removing the deck on my riding lawn mower and struggling to remove the frozen bearing assembly that holds one of the blades on. My order for replacement parts won’t be here until next week which means we get to mow our over-sized lawn with the trusty old walk-behind mower. At least it’s commendable exercise. The late summer heat and rain also means the return of those blasted mosquitoes and that’s something we could all do without. By the way, there are no mosquitoes in Iceland.