Sunday, September 30, 2012

     Welcome to blog #7!  Because rest and vacation are important ways to replenish, every seventh blog will be fun and relaxed.  This one is about Iceland, where I traveled a few years ago.  Check out my Iceland photos on my blog under the photo gallery tab. gets you to my blog.
     Iceland was first settled in 870-930 A.D. by Vikings from Norway and Denmark. The Sagas, which recall legends of the Viking settlers, are still renowned in Iceland and were probably the world’s first novels.
     Iceland’s 320,000 population triples during tourist season.  Twenty years ago, most of its people lived in rural and farm areas. Now, two thirds live in or around Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city.  Agriculture is being concentrated in the larger remaining farms.  The Icelanders are the most trustworthy, trusting, generous, considerate, and clean people I have encountered in my travels.  Their qualities may stem from the low population density they enjoy. 
     The average temperature in June is 56 F; temperatures during the long winters range from the 20’s to 30’s.  Rain and snow are common. There are 24 hours of light at summer solstice and 24 hours of dark at winter solstice.  Northern lights are visible in the colder months.       
     Iceland, the youngest of the European countries, was formed by underwater volcanic eruptions along the North American and Eurasian plates 17 – 20 million years ago.  Myvatin (midge lake) in NE Iceland is a geothermal wonderland.  Eyjafjallajokull is the volcano which erupted a few years ago.  Much glacier and ice cap melting accompanied this eruption.  Possibly the purest, best-tasting tap water in the world comes from Iceland’s melting glaciers. 
     A sign in the Reykjavik airport says: “More U.S. factory stacks = more Iceland glacier cracks.” Glaciers are melting at the alarming rate of one meter or more per year. 
     The clean energy derived from thermal activity is used throughout the country.  Iceland has begun to export this energy to the rest of the world.  Alcoa’s aluminum smelter, dams, funnels, high tension power lines, towers, and reservoirs all contribute to habitat destruction and pollution there.  Protests and bankruptcy have stopped some of these problems, at least temporarily.
     Iceland has 1500 kinds of mushrooms.  Habitats include grasslands, wetlands, woodlands, lava lands, and savannahs.    Once the island had many trees, but settlers’ grazing sheep destroyed all the trees by eating the bark.  Erosion resulted.  In 1945 the nootka lupine plant was introduced to help anchor and hold nitrogen in the soil, but because it tastes bitter, the sheep won’t eat it, and without these natural controls, this tall plant shades out indigenous lichen, grasses, shrubs, fungi, and young trees.  In the past generation, the government has instituted a policy of planting twenty trees for each citizen. 
     Native or long-term resident animals include arctic fox, reindeer, pigs, sheep, Icelandic ponies, cows, cats, dogs, and an occasional polar bear.  Birds include puffins, razorbills, ducks, gannets, sandpipers, arctic terns, owls, gulls, and guillemots.  Among the sea animals are arctic char, trout, salmon, haddock, monkfish, turbot, halibut, herring, cod, shrimp, oyster, mussels, lobster, shrimp, whale, and dolphin.  Herring and cod, upon which many coastal towns have been dependent for a livelihood, have moved further away from shore, into the colder waters. 
     Naturally growing crops are rhubarb, cabbage, potatoes, onion, turnips, cauliflower, kale, and some grains (rye, barley).  Greenhouses extend the growing season and allow peppers, greens, tomatoes, broccoli, beets, radishes, strawberries, bananas, and apples to grow.  Animal products include eggs, milk, cream, skyr (yoghurt), lamb, beef, chicken, and farmed fish such as salmon.
     People travel in Iceland by airplane, bus, car, four wheel drive vehicles, canoe, kayak, and of course, on foot, but travel is mainly via the Ring Road and the roads diverging from it.  The Ring Road is rough in spots, not all sealed, can flood at any time, and is icy before June and after August.  Travel through the interior is also popular.  Guides and four wheel drive vehicles are necessary for interior travel. 
     Housing ranges from modern to old.  The ancient grass houses are just one story tall.  Primarily stone, concrete and steel structures exist in the cities.
     One of the population’s favorite past times is soaking in pools or hot mineral springs.  Drinking in Reykjavik on Friday summer nights is also popular, as is camping in some of the more remote wilderness areas in the interior. 
     Iceland was first among the Western nations to elect a woman president and to legalize gay marriage.  Its primary religions are Lutheran and Pagan, and people find no conflict between the two. 
     This month’s tip:  come enjoy an armchair safari on Sunday, October 7th from 2 to 4 pm at the North Park Village Nature Center, in Chicago.  I will be sharing slides of my photos from a trip to Kenya during the annual wildebeest migration.   Please let others know about this blog and the event on October 7th.