Our unfortunate president always sides with the wrong forces. Yesteryear he partied hard with the businessmen and bankers who ruined our country’s good name and became their cheerleader describing their brilliance. Now he predicts on international television an enormous eruption in Katla which could bring the world to a standstill.
I’ve been speaking to many reporters worldwide over the last few days. Many have had the notion that the whole of Iceland is ruined because of ash, fire and brimstone.
This is far from true.
The great volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull is a natural disaster and the ash fall has had dramatic impact on the farmers who live directly underneath the volcano. About 30 farms got smothered by the ash that now looks like concrete on their fields.
But no human lives have been lost and although the volcanic eruption has filled all of us with awe and wonder about Mother Nature’s immense power our system is coping well.
The truth is that we live on a volcanic island and benefit greatly from it. We heat our houses with geothermal water that comes from volcanically active zones.
The threat of an eruption is always there. That is what makes it so inspiring to live here. The breathtaking beauty of fire and ice, the stark contrasts in nature and the constant battle between man and the environment.
I’ve always felt that all of nature is very much alive and I believe Icelanders have a unique closeness to the country which many other people—especially those who live in big cities—do not have.
Last Saturday I had the brilliant opportunity to go and see the awesome eruption in Eyjafjallajökull with my own eyes.
We took an unusual route, flying to the airport in Akureyri in the north and driving 800 kilometers, around half the country, to witness it. The airport in Egilsstadir, the hub of the east, was closed like so many airports in Europe and Scandinavia because of the ash.
Because we approached the eruption from the east we got another perspective than other reporters. They were all on the west side.
When we approached the Mýrdalssandur desert we started seeing evidence of the ash that had fallen in the previous days. The country looked like it had been covered in grey dust and the strong northern wind blew it up like a desert storm.
As we drove closer the ash clouds got thicker and when we reached Vík, a small village in Mýrdalur valley, the outlook really seemed apocalyptic.
At Skógar, we could hear the volcano thunder in the glacier above us, but saw nothing because of the ash cloud. We went to sleep for two hours. I was woken by a big bang.
Underneath the Eyjafjöll mountains it was dark as night. At 12 am we decided to return to Vík because we could not see anything.
The sky in Vík had turned blue, all the ash had been blown away by the northern gales. Two hours later it was bright and beautiful at Skógar and we could gaze up at the magnificent volcano spewing dark plumes of ash into the air.
It was however pitch black night underneath the mountains because of thick ash fall. We drove into the ash cloud and about five kilometers in we could hardly see out the window.
It rained ash, really heavily, and the darkness that came with it was thick. It felt like the end of days, birds fluttering in the darkness like bats out of hell. And the horses, some of which were still outside, hung their heads, like doomed. I was surprised to see how calm the animals were.
Click on the picture for a larger image.
We drove back to Skógar for a while and then decided to drive all the way through the darkness to the town of Hvolsvöllur.
The heavy ash fall covered an 18 kilometer strip of land. We could hardly see the lights in the farmhouses, some of which are quite close to the road. The police had told us there could be danger of lightning hitting the car and therefore we should not venture out of it.
Eruptions like this are often accompanied by lighting because the activity in the volcano creates a lot of electricity.
But we got through the devilish darkness safe and sound and on the other side we saw nothing but clear skies and pure breathtaking beauty of the majestic volcano and the surrounding countryside.
You have to understand, for us an eruption in Eyjafjallajökull is a historic event. Our national poet Jónas Hallgrímsson described the stunning landscape there—basically the scene of the eruption—in one of his most breathtaking poems, “Gunnar’s Holm.”
(Read it in the translation of Dick Ringler which was published just recently under the title Bard of Iceland.)
Although we are respectfully afraid of volcanoes and what they can do we also admire them with all our hearts. Of course we have the deepest sympathy for the farmers whose land has been damaged by glacial floods and toxic ash. But in the end that will be taken care of and the land will turn green again and be even more fertile because of the ash.
Volcanic eruptions are an astounding sight. And most of the time they are very accessible, perfect for visitors who like to witness earth’s astounding power.
I think our president should not be warning the world about the old Katla volcano which shows no signs of erupting.
Of course it can erupt. All our volcanoes could erupt at once if he’d like to issue a volcanic warning. He could drown in his soup one day—like we all could—if you get my point.
But I have news for you, especially those of you who plan to visit us in the near future. Today is the First Day of Summer, a national holiday and a very happy day for all of us who live here in the north.
We celebrate it by giving those we love small gifts and eating good food; many serve smoked lamb for this feast.
And here comes the cracking good news: folklore says that if winter and summer freeze together we will have an excellent summer which is what happened tonight all over the country.
This is quite unique to tell you the truth. Today the temperature in Reykjavík is 4°C (39°F).
There is no need to be afraid of volcanoes unless you fall into its crater for some reason. So, stop by this summer, enjoy the good weather and our fine company—perhaps you will see a volcanic eruption. What an experience it would be.
Bjarni Brynjólfsson – [email protected]