Somewhere, there’s a poem on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Island Mountain Glacier Volcano” …

… and these are two of its verses:

“Compared to the last eruption, this one is spooky, unpredictable and not tourist friendly.”

“The heart of our island is pulsing, throbs exposed for all to see … And we’re to let our own hearts beat in time.”



– I’m still checking in regularly at the Eyjafjallajökull web cam. Which is slow, because I’m not exactly the only one doing so, but I do it anyway.

Lightning in ash cloud. I don’t even remember where that one came from.

– A picture of the Markfljót behaving, for now, along with photos of the ash cloud and the land around it, also from Reykjavík Harbor. This one looks particularly, quietly apocalyptic.

Aurora, stars, volcano.

“All we ever know is that the tourists survive …”

So, aside from all of the downright incredible photos, and the always-fascinating geology, there’s a thing about the Eyafjallajökull volcano that I’ve been thinking about — the way people are reacting to it. Not the part where everyone jokes about being unable to pronounce the volcano’s name. (And, seriously? Tell me the pronunciation of Eyafjallajökull makes any less sense than that of, say, thoroughfare.)

But the part where large numbers of people simply cannot believe that a volcano, of all things, can be messing with their lives.

Here in the western U.S., we have wildfires in summer. And every year, when you hear the wildfire reports, you also hear about people who have decided to ignore some evacuation order or other in order to try to protect their homes. This makes little sense — no amount of rugged individualism is enough to allow any of us to stop a wildfire singlehandedly — and yet I think people stay because it feels like we should be able to do something, somehow, some way. I’m guessing it’s the same sort of thinking that causes people who have the means to leave the path of a hurricane to stay at home. It feels like surely there must always be something we can do, if we’re brave or smart or stubborn enough.

But there isn’t.

In the early 1970s, on Heimæy Island south of Iceland, a fissure opened in a farmer’s field and began spewing lava. Everyone was evacuated within four hours. There was only one fatality, someone who was after drugs in a local pharmacy. The residents were lucky–the fishing fleet was already in the harbor. But the point is, as far as I know no one questioned whether they should get on board one of those ships, or tried to stay behind to save their homes from the lava. When faced with an erupting volcano, they left.

A few returned later to help pump huge quantities of seawater toward the lava in an effort to save the harbor, which is pretty awesome. But for the most part, in the struggle between man and nature, nature always wins, and there’s only so much we can do about it. We’re not in charge here.

lnhammer and I have been joking that everyone’s gotten into the habit of thinking of volcanoes as a third-world problem. There’s this notion that with sufficient resources, there ought to be a way of facing down and defeating, well, anything.

But there isn’t. When a volcano erupts, there’s nothing we can do, except to heed what warnings our cleverness and luck provide us.

We’re not in control, not always, not really, and I think maybe the disbelief of the past few days comes from large numbers of people being reminded of that, all at the same time.

Thief Eyes and the current volcano

So Eyjafjallajökull — the Icelandic volcano that’s been erupting the past month, and that’s begun melting glaciers and disrupting air travel the past couple days — is about 10 miles from where the climactic scenes of Thief Eyes take place — we had a view of the glacier the volcano is now melting from the hostel we stayed in when we visited.

I’ve been thinking about those scenes a lot the past few days and wondering … how to talk about this without spoilers … whether Haley, my protagonist, didn’t leave some loose ends lying about at the end of her story, or maybe not quite succeed in doing all the things she set out to do as well as she thought.

Haley’s father, Gabe, who’s a geologist, would insist that Iceland has always been a hugely geologically active island, that volcanoes and earthquakes have always happened there on a regular basis, and that there’s no reason to think anything Haley or anything anyone else did would change that, magic or no magic. But Ari’s mother, Katrín, who is also a geologist, would say that that just because the island is geologically active doesn’t mean it isn’t magically active as well.

I picture Haley, now back in the States, worrying as she watches the news no matter what her father says, IMing Ari — and Katrín — and trying to find a flight to Keflavík amid the shifting winds and that moving ash cloud around.

Haley finds watching all the volcano footage much more unsettling than I do.

Speaking of which, some more links: a webcam, volcano photos from The Big Picture, and a gallery over on flickr. (via galeni, lnhammer, and the iceland community.)


While yesterday geologists and others thought the Eyjafjallajökull volcano had stopped erupting, today it has begun again, this time with considerably more force, and underneath the glacier as well, which means there’s been glacial flooding. Some of the fastest-rising water has been in the Markarfljót river (site of Skarphéðinn’s memorable bit of ice skating in Njal’s Saga), but there is evidence the river is now subsiding. It’s not clear whether the tourists are having fun. (ETA: But the airlines certainly aren’t.)

Footage from the current eruption:

And from the first one:

Also, ads for helicopter volcano tours. Surely that can’t be a good idea?

Eyjafjallajökull volcano

I”m late linking to this one, but around midnight UTC last night a volcano near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier began erupting and continues to do so, though fortunately it has turned out the volcano is not actually underneath the glacier, which means there’s no danger of a jökulhlaup, and it may even have reduced the pressure beneath the glacier. More of a concern is that the past three times there’s been an eruption near Eyjafjallajökull, the more dangerous Katla has erupted soon after.

Everyone in the area was safely evacuated. The volcanology students are having fun.

Eyjafjallajökull is not far from the Fljótsdalur valley, which includes Hlíðarendi, as well as the lovely Fljotsdalur hostel we stayed at there–from which we could see the glacier. (The eruption, as I understand it, is a bit east of there, on the other side of the ridge.)