My first visit to Iceland was in 1962 with a group of mountaineers. All through the trip from Reykjavík to Selfoss, across the great expanse of grassland to famous salmon river at Hella; onwards to Vík and the black, dusty Mýrdalssandur into the stunningly beautiful mountains of Landmannalaugar and black barb of Hekla, back through spectacular Þórsmörk, down great glacial river floodplain to Hvolsvöllur, then on to the serious climbing on the snowcapped Snaefellsnes.
I did not return to Iceland until 1983, when I made the journey around what is now known as the Golden Circle, in the company of Icelandic foresters Hákon Bjarnason and Sigurður Blöndal and my fellow graduate geographer Siggi Sigursveinnsson from Selfoss.
The weather was perfect—notably because it was always calm—even on the summit of Snæfell where one would expect at least a wee breeze. I mention the wind because its effects on vegetation in urban and rural areas, in mountains and plains is my principle area of research and is why I return to Iceland to study, usually in cooperation with and as a guest of the Iceland Forestry Association, Soil Conservation Service and Forest Service. What I learn I pass on to students at the Agricultural University of Iceland in Hvanneyri (through cheerful lectures if I may say so myself).
As an example, I composed and sang this little parody on the Scottish poet Robert Burn’s popular song set on the grounds of Hvanneyri.
O’ a’ the airts the wind may blaw,
T’ween byre, an’ kirk and school;
The bonny students like tae roam,
Tae brave the fearsome gale;
In search o’ things they cannae see,
Amang the helical rolls;
Wi’ twist an’ turns, like butter churns,
The fractals freeze their nose.
The irony is that, although there is a lot of evidence (signatures) of windiness in the features of landscapes and vegetation in Iceland, I have rarely experienced a decent wind when in Iceland. Ironically, on returning home after my stint in Iceland in 2012, about an hour or so after take-off on my way to Toronto, I could see the front end of the great Hurricane Sandy bearing down on Iceland. Some people get all the luck!
Born and raised in Scotland, Alexander retired as a research scientist for the Government of Canada in 1995. In 1986, he assisted in establishing the Poplar Research Plantation at Gunnarsholt, Iceland. He has also taught a course on Landscape and Shelter at the Agricultural University of Iceland and is a member of the Iceland Forestry Association. He is currently studying the winds of Esja with a view to sheltering Greater Reykjavik. Since 1986 he has made more than 20 visits to Iceland traveling extensively throughout the country to observe effects of wind on the landscape. Alexander is a guest contributor to Iceland Review.