Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lasting Impressions of Iceland

I'm finally posting again but this time from the green and verdant shores of Saint John River in Gagetown, New Brunswick. What a contrast in landscape! We arrived in Halifax, Canada on Thursday night, picked up the rental car, and drove 2.5 hours to Annapolis Royal to spend the night with an old friend from Vernon. After a glorious morning and lunch in AR, we drove to Digby to catch the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, NB, and drove another hour north to Gagetown, arriving about 8:30 PM. Saturday was spent wandering this beautiful village of artists before driving to CFB Gagetown (in Oromocto, NB) for Lloyd's nephew's wedding. The wedding was a wonderful family occasion--a good time was had by all.

Back to Iceland and my lasting memories of the diverse landscape--I've already commented on the enormous lava beds and bleak black sand and ash deserts. Interspersed can be lush farms with lots of sheep, dairy cows and/or horses. The sheep and horses are Icelandic breeds which can be traced back to the original Viking settlers. Indeed, my understanding is that no new strains of sheep or horses have been allowed into Iceland for several hundred years. The sheep have two coats--the tough outer hairs which shed the water and a soft inner coat which keeps them warm. Both parts of this fleece are incorporated into the Lopi wool which is used in all Icelandic knitting. The sheep can come in all colours from white, grey, brown (light to dark) and black. We saw lots of ewes with twin lambs, and it wasn't unusual for the twins to have different coloured fleece from each other and their mother. The horses were like that too--brown, black, white, and spotted or not. We saw newborn foals just figuring out how to stand on their legs, and older foals running and jumping.

I really enjoyed exhibits on the archeological digs ongoing in Iceland. One exhibit at Reykholt discussed climate change, and how Iceland is a good study in human impact on the local environment. For example, within a few hundred years of settlement, most of the trees had been removed (for fuel and building) and the people had to start burning peat--archeologists can tell when this happened by the type of ash in the deposit layers.

Last Wednesday we drove down to the southern most tip to the village of Vik. It was a rainy day and the landscape was obliterated with low clouds. We knew we were close to the volcano with the unpronouncable name however when we came to a river valley that had obviously just been flooded--the surrounding fields were full of black silt, gravel and ash. The first explosions of this volcano back in March had created huge havoc with flash floods that wiped out lots of pastures and road approaches to bridges. These approaches have been re-established, however there was still lots of heavy equipment dredging the river beds. By the time we'd had lunch and wandered around in Vik, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Our drive back was such a different experience--we could see the mountain tops and the glaciers which are now black with ash.

We visited the main geothermal plant for Reykjavik--a new plant which also generates electricity with steam turbines. Icelanders are understandably proud of their green energy and lessening dependence on oil. Geothermal hot water is piped into all cities and towns--every home is equipped with a heat exchange unit to heat their domestic hot water. And a side benefit in Reykyavik is that the hot water pipes under the sidewalks keep them free of ice and snow in the winter!

It is still such a contrast to be looking out this window in Gagetown to lush green grass and lots of big trees--this was a rare sight in Iceland. Icelanders have been so tenacious to survive amidst volcanoes and hot springs for over a thousand years. It isn't any wonder however that there has been a lot of emigration to greener pastures where making a living is a little easier--even Manitoba was an easier place to live than Iceland a hundred years ago.

Once I get home and sort through my photos I will post some of my more evocative images for you to enjoy. That should be in the first week of July. We're now headed off to Lloyd's nephew's home for lunch and to get to know his new wife a little better...and then to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredricton later this afternoon--remember that recent court case successfully proving that Lord Beaverbrook did indeed gift most of the paintings to New Brunswick? We're going to see some of them.

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