Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eystri-Sólheimar

Photos: (1) Eystri-Sólheimar; (2) Behind the house, black glacier in the background; (3) Rocks are mined here behind the house for use on the beach in Vík to prevent erosion (that's Dyrhólaey in the background); (4-5) Pétursey

Sitting outside on the deck enjoying the last days of summer with a cup of tea. A chilly breeze with a patchy blue sky. I want the days to go slow now and I enjoy helping out here in the guesthouse. Looking out at the ocean, a large boat is always passing by in one direction or another. The mountain Pétursey dominates the view. Oh, I hear a lamb He shouldn’t be here. The fields are empty of sheep. The grass here is contaminated from the volcanic ash that fell just a few weeks ago, blackening the sky. The few stray sheep that are left bleat and wander restlessly, knowing something isn’t right. After all, Eystri-Sólheimar is situated just a bit south-east of the volcano that stopped the world (Eyjafjallajökull) and the effects were strongly felt here too.

I just had a closer look at the ash lying around here. There are two types: One is heavy like mud and feels like coffee grounds when you run your fingers through it, and the other is fine and light and magnetic if you hold a magnet up to it. Most people passing through don’t even see the remnants of the volcano, since they don’t realize what it was like here before. For example the driveway used to be made of bumpy gravel, but ash has filled the space between the rocks, packing it smooth and firm with wind and weather. At first glance, the ash also looks just like black sand, which is not uncommon in Iceland. But on a clear day the glacier behind the house will revel its black scars. Once a beautiful bright white mountain, it’s now black, covered with ash. And the cars that were parked here are still full of ash inside, even in the glove box. The paint job on the outside of the cars is ruined since the ash sticks to it like coarse sandpaper, and water only makes it stick harder like glue.

Sigrún’s brother Óli sees me looking at the ash and tells me to jump in his truck. We drive up behind the house several kilometers up the steep rocky track, closer to the glacier. The family’s property is vast, extending all the way back to the glacier. However global warming and receding glaciers are causing the government to reconsider some of the property boundaries of these old farms. The old property deeds mark the edge of the property simply with “the edge of the glacier”, but as the ice melts, the property is growing and the government doesn’t like that. They’re trying to pass a law to give the government any such affected land at an elevation of over 500m for property deeds that contain such unclear boundaries. There are many outraged farmers in the countryside that are affected.

Anyway, way up in the mountains behind the house, we have a clear view of the glacier and it’s really black! The ash is several inches deep here too and it feels like walking in snow. The grass is also much greener up here, with the ash acting as a good fertilizer. The city of Vík is also mining rocks up here to use to protect the coast of its famous black beach from erosion. It’s a way for the family to make a bit of extra cash.

Later at 11pm Sigrún and I take a short walk outside looking for Northern Lights. No luck with that, but we do see the volcano spewing a bit of steam. It’s a crisp clear night, but the moon is full and heavy and the stars shine bright.