Lava, geothermal stream, waterfalls and sheep – The Morning Sun

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As I reflect on the final days of my residency at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn, Iceland, about to leave my dream trip to this amazing country, I am not sad as I have accomplished more and seen more than I expected. I will do it in a month.

I leave with a solid draft of a new poetry manuscript in my backpack and many fond memories.

I drank so much poetry in the air and Iceland’s “mountain wine”, taught a creative writing workshop with high school students, walked barefoot on moss, looked deep into gorges, rivers, waterfalls and rainbows, soaked myself in geothermal ponds and rivers, let the rain flood me to my bones, and looked into the eyes of beautiful sheep. Which reminds me of sheep!

Sheep. (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

Each September brings one of Iceland’s oldest traditions, known as the rettir (corral). During the rettir, throughout the country, farming families (along with their horses and sheepdogs) guide the sheep and lambs through the mountains and hillsides in circular areas fenced with radiating enclosures, to be sorted. . After this hard work, the farmers, their families and their friends celebrate all day long, singing traditional songs and dancing.

By sheer (haha, sorry) luck I was here to attend this cultural event.

Sheep in a pen at Réttir (Proposed by Robert Fanning)

Normally, tourists are allowed to help farmers sort their sheep; however, due to COVID, we have been watching closely. That morning a freezing rain fell but I barely noticed, unable to take my eyes off the astonishing sight, observing the farmers, most of them wearing lopapeysa (traditional Icelandic sweaters) creating a human wall, frantically waving their arms, like a loudly meowing river, the shaggy wool tumbled. I’ve never experienced something so exhilarating, beautiful, and sad (knowing where some of these sheep are heading) at the same time.

After watching it retreat for a few frigid and soaked hours, our host Alda led us, the people of Gullkistan, to Hraunalaug, a geothermal pool located on a local farm, to bask in hot water from a mountain spring. .

Once this once-secret gem was ‘discovered’ by tourists and internet users, Hraunalaug sadly began to be ruined by rubbish. it’s a small price to pay to sit in a hot, steaming earthen bath as rain clouds float through the lush valley, the mountains stretching out in all directions. (If you haven’t yet realized from this Iceland travel diary, two of the most important things to pack, even in cold weather: a swimsuit and a towel.)

Natural geothermal pools are one thing, but who would pass up a unique chance to swim in a geothermal river, right?

A few days later, we drove to the nearby Reykjadalur Valley, one of the warmest parts of Iceland. As you walk for an hour down glorious slopes and gorges leading to the hot river, you pass dozens of columns of steam rising from the mountainside. Once you arrive, there are a few small (and very few private) cabins along the shore to get out of your clothes and put on a swimsuit.

Geothermal Pool at Hraunalaug (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

A recent inhabitant of Gullkistan warned us that the further up the river, the hotter the water and the greater the risk of having booty burnt. So it is better to go where the others are. Despite this great advice, we still made our way up the river to a more secluded area and found a great spot, the perfectly warm current massaging me as I stretched out under a grassy overhang of the riverbank.

As another resident of Gullkistan put it, Iceland offers one “peak experience” after another. And that was yet another.

And speaking of peaks, you may have heard that since last March Fagradalsfjall Mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula in the Geldingadalir Valley in southwest Iceland has exploded.

Luckily for me, he recently started his temper tantrum again after several weeks of calm. Even though they live on a volcanic island, Icelanders are just as excited as we tourists are when one erupts. In fact, while we were having dinner in Gullkistan, Alda and Jön continued to stream the eruption livestream to a nearby laptop and said that it was not unusual for people to leave the livestream on their TVs to to look at it.

Alda also monitored a local site for information on glacial flooding happening nearby and kept us updated on aurora conditions. In such a dynamic country from an environmental point of view, there is something to be careful about!

Lava flow at Fagradalsfjall (submitted by Robert Fanning)

Well the livestream is one thing, but I wasn’t going to leave this island paradise without getting as close as possible to the bubbling hellish landscape of this volcano. So I drove the beautiful 90 minute drive along the south coast, about 30 km from Reykjavík, to see it up close. Over the past six months, an infrastructure for visitors has developed around the volcano, with paid parking, a pop-up cafe selling food and drink, and (thank goodness after a long drive) porta-pots. In addition, painted road signs now open the way to a few viewing areas.

I had heard stories of boneheads roasting hot dogs in the lava flow, and some even stepping on the cooling (but still very hot) puddle.

Lava at Fagradalsfjall Volcano (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

I’m not that stupid, but I wanted to see the lava up close. So I did a really long hike to the active stream. Unfortunately, Path A, the path, was closed that day, but when I saw dozens of other people considering the yellow warning strip as just a suggestion, I definitely planned to do the same. thing.

Walking along a wide river of still steaming magma smells like a mixture of 100,000 matches that have just been extinguished and the smell of burning dung – the noxious and eerily beautiful smell of scorching earth. It was shocking, but also electrifying. Not as electrifying, however, as finally reaching the slope where active lava – true, honest, billion-degree, flaming, tumbling, psychedelic red lava – seeped towards me, a slow-motion smoking tongue of ash. , rock and fire close enough to touch (which I didn’t) or throw a stone (which I did).

I had heard that one of the most amazing things was the sound that lava makes – and it’s true: crushed and shattered glass. This is precisely the sound, as brand new rock spurts out and tumbles lava as it flows. And yes, it was so hot I couldn’t stay too long – I was afraid of burning my face. From there I walked an hour to the top of another peak, for an even better view of the smoking crater.

There were only a few places left on my must-see list nearby, Thingvellir and Bruarfoss.

Öxarárfoss Waterfall in Thingvellir (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

Thingvellir (assembly field) is a sacred place for Icelanders, where from the year 930, the councils of regional leaders met annually to draft and enforce laws in what was called the Althingi (parliament). On this site of the founding of Iceland, the oldest parliament in the world settled here for many decades, and it is also here, where, after centuries of foreign rule, Icelanders celebrated their independence in 1944. Thingvellir is also geologically significant, as it is located at the edge of the North American tectonic plate.

The Eurasian and North American continental plates stretch under Iceland from southwest to northeast, a fault that grows 0.8 inches per year. It was amazing walking through a gorge looking at a rock wall, realizing I was looking at the edge of North America. (And of course I waved to all of you.)

Bruarfoss, Iceland’s bluest waterfall (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

Bruarfoss would be the bluest waterfall in Iceland, and I understood why. It is only accessible after a fairly short hike (40 minutes) but very difficult, due to the deep mud and flooded trails.

In fact, at first, several hikers who had aborted their missions warned me to do the same as they approached, but I only pretended to listen. Granted, in the end it looked like I had spent the day in a mud pit at Lollapalooza, but it was worth seeing that overwhelming roar of clear blue water from another world rushing through a black gorge. covered with moss. Yet another terribly beautiful and heartbreaking place in this land of fire and ice.

Fortunately, at the end of September, the snow arrived in Laugarvatn to coat the mountains and give me a glimpse of winter. It was another gift. As for memories, a piece of still hot lava rock and a lopapeysa were the only things I wanted for myself. Done and done. One of my last days I went to a nearby farm that I had discovered online, where a woman named Rós and her sister Lena sell lopapeysas that they make from the wool of their own sheep, “when we’re not busy hunting, ”said Ros. It was great to buy – with money – a gorgeous handmade and (really) Icelandic sweater from a local family, for half of what it would cost in a tourist shop. So don’t be surprised if you see me soon in the Co-op or Meijer sporting traditional Icelandic threads. And when you do, bend down and take a puff. I smell like an honest Icelandic sheep in this sweater. (I’m nowhere near that cute and can’t jump that high).

Snow capped mountains, winter is coming (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

Thank you, Mt. Pleasant, for letting me share my trip, and I highly recommend that you put Iceland at the top of your list, as I did. Also, Þakka þér fyrir (thank you) Gullkistan Center for Creativity, and Iceland. I wish I could stay through the long nights, dazzling dawns and deep winter storms that will now cover your beloved country.

Robert Fanning with Selfoss High School Students (Submitted by Robert Fanning)

But you know what they say about all the good things.

On every journey, it seems, even that of life itself – barely you settle into the world you are in, than it then finds you – that soft golden light – to paint your long shadow on the earth, announce the departure of the dream, and announce the arrival of the farewell.

The poet in his lopapeysa (Submitted by Robert Fanning)


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