Iceland: Turf and sky, wind and stillness

June 12

(Photos here.)

I crawled out of the tent this morning to a high sun and an utterly still morning. Half awake, I stepped out onto the turfy green heath, broad land rolling away from me with no a tree in sight, all the world alien and stunning.

I looked around me, thinking, I love this land now. I will always love it.

I sat by the lake, listening to the birds, feeling very still and at peace. A plover trilled. A tern flew circles in the stillness. A few remaining night fishers stood over their lines, and they were still, too.

The sky was clear, only the slightest trace of cloud over the most distant hills. The lake was deep, deep blue. Yesterday’s wind was gone, and I realized that when the wind dies, that’s a sort of magic, too.

Eventually I did move from the lake, and we scrounged up a breakfast of PB & J sandwiches (having no stove for the oatmeal), and then headed off to explore Þingvellir some more. We walked along through the park, finding random gorges, random fissures in the volcanic rock, some large, some small, some in between. Some of the smallest fissures were surprisingly deep.

The waters of the rivers were surprisingly clear.

On a trail between two walls of gray rock, two ravens cawed at us from either side of the fissure, warning us back, deeper in whenever we got too close.

Later, we left Þingvellir, and took a trail closer to [Lake] Þingvallavatn, across the heath, over a mix of springy yellow and green grasses, gray and green mosses; around occasional low birches; over ripply volcanic brown rock, which we later learned was pillow lava. The land rose and fell, never sharply. We walked through clouds of gray butterflies, the same color as the moss.

In the Southwest, the stretches of rock would have made this a hard landscape to cross. But pillow lava is very different from the slickrock I’m used to. It was softer, almost grippy against the soles of my sneakers. Crossing it was a delight.

The loop we took visited the ruins of two turf farmhouses, Hrauntún and Skógarkot. The ruins of turf ruins often don’t look like ruins at all, at first glance. You see what looks like a grassy hillside from one side–perhaps a little steep for the area, but otherwise not unusual–then walk around the other side, and find the wall of tumbled stone the rock is growing over. Turf farmhouses did use stone in their foundations (for water drainage, we later learned, and not stability), and some wood too (for beams and supports–and the wood was the most expensive part of the building, by far, and generally had to be imported).

Camping without darkness means one doesn’t instinctively head into the tent soon after the sun sets. We stayed up what seemed pretty late, for a day of camping–well past nine. Only one other tent–and lots of fishers–were at the site when I headed into bed.

I wondered why no one else was camping in this lovely spot.

I did not yet understand that camping or not, when the sun sets at midnight, 9:30 p.m. doesn’t count as late after all. It doesn’t even come close.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *