Loyalty, Thy Name is Dog

19 05 2017

This afternoon we took the dogs for a walk out back.  It’s been our usual routine for the past few years.  Once in the morning and once in the evening we would put the leash on Shae and head to the utility line path behind our house, Tembo plodding along behind.  We used to walk on the street around our neighborhood, but as Tembo’s back legs started giving out it became harder and harder for her with her back legs shaking and scraping the hard asphalt.  At least on the back path she could be off leash and walk at her own pace.  We never forced her to come, either.  As a matter of fact, anytime I wanted to go for a longer walk, we’d have to make sure Tembo was inside or she would follow her nose until she caught up with me.  She used to keep up with us, walking in front and exploring smells on either side.  Lately, she would lag behind, head down and ponderously moving forward.  Occasionally her back legs would fold up under her and she would collapse for a while.  When that happened, we would go back, scratch her ears, and wait on her.  Tembo would eventually pull herself back up with her strong front legs and continue on the way.  Walking behind her was a special kind of torture.  Her left back leg scratched a comma in the sand, pulling her sideways as she walked the path.  I looked the other way, remembering the dog she used to be.

More than 14 years ago, Tembo came into our house as a pup whose litter mates had been abandoned on the side of the road.  We weren’t too sure she was a good fit for our family.  As a matter of fact, for the first year, or maybe a bit longer, I referred to her as “that Devil Dog.”  The Tembo pup nipped and jumped on our terrorized girls.  One of Christa’s first memories of her was running and jumping on top of the picnic table to get away from Tembo.  And then the rotten boards gave way and Christa found herself up to her waist in picnic table while we stifled our laughter at the sight.  I could remember how old our sofa was by the chew marks in the upholstery.  Each day at school I’d entertain my students with the misdeeds of Tembo the Devil Dog.

Her name was the subject of much mirth.  For years, the neighbors mistakenly called her T-bone.  Not a bad name for this hulk of a dog.  Most visitors to our house assumed that as big as she was—over 90 pounds—and with a name like Tembo, she must be a male.  In truth, her name came from the name of a character in a Chinese folktale:  Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo.  Our first dog was Tikki, so Tembo was the logical next name.  The hapless visitor who would unwittingly ask about her name would soon get an earful.

From the start, she was stubborn and strong.  We enrolled her in agility classes to give her an outlet for her energy, but after almost tearing my arm out of the socket as she raced downhill to sniff at the other dogs, we took the instructor’s advice and bought a “Gentle Leader” harness.  That helped, but she still pulled so hard she wore sores on her muzzle. In class she crawled through tunnels, climbed up ramps, over bridges, and down steep slopes.  She learned, but only what she wanted to.  She would chase a ball, but not fetch it back.  She would sit, but only for a treat.  The wireless fence was more of a suggestion than a barrier.  Squirrels feared her and nothing could hold her back.  She was Dog.

As time went on, she mellowed.  We gave up on the wireless fence.  She roamed the neighborhood, following a set path in the morning and evening but mostly staying in the yard.  Early on, she and I had a “come to Jesus meeting” and the nipping stopped.  She suffered the little children pulling at her, moving when it got to be too much.  As a guard dog, her only power lay in her size.  Warning barks deterred the occasional salesman, but the mailman soon learned that she was not to be feared. And we learned, too.  One short woof: “I want to go out.” Several short barks: “Mail’s here.”  A long series of barks: “Come on outside, you have visitors.”

Years passed, and we all fell into a routine.  Then almost three years ago, Tembo’s world was overturned.  A rambunctious pup named Shae appeared, rocking her order of things.  This pup wanted to play, and Tembo wanted nothing of it.  Our placid old dog began baring her teeth, growling and snapping.  We couldn’t blame her.  Shae was relentless, nipping at her back legs, inciting her to join in the fun.  For more than a year, we tried to keep them separated.  One dog in, one dog out.  People walking by our yard must have thought we were running dog fights; ferocious growling, yapping, and snarling sounds broke the silence of our peaceful neighborhood.  Eventually, Shae’s rough-housing slowed such that they could both exist in the same room for a while in the evening.  And the old dog learned new tricks: how to plop down so that Shae couldn’t nip her back legs, and how to climb through a doggy door into the garage.  Her woofs to come in or out became more insistent.

Other things changed too.  She began to lose bladder control.  At first, meds helped but gradually even that didn’t stop the messes.  Her back legs shook and weakened as her joints gave way.  The vet diagnosed kidney failure: a new regimen of special food and high priced medicines.  She could see fairly well, but she became deaf as the proverbial door nail.  She would sleep so deeply in the front yard that on more than one occasion walkers stopped to ask if our dog was still alive.  But she hung on.  Walks were optional, but she never missed a one.  It was her job to be with us, to protect us from harm.  She was ever loyal.

So this afternoon we took the dogs for a walk.  It was her last.  As always, she plodded along behind, her back leg scratching commas in the sandy path, her claws worn down to the nubs.  And then, we took her to the vet.  Silent tears later, we took her home where we had prepared a place for her under the shady pines.  Brian affixed a cross made of PVC pipe as a headstone onto which I hung her collar.

Someone once asked me if I thought dogs went to heaven.  I replied that if it helps your faith to believe that, I didn’t see any harm in that belief.  I do know that our lives were richer because of this dog.  This Loyal Dog.  Whose name was Tembo.Tembo





Iceland 2016: Time to Go

12 08 2016

Tuesday, June 7 to Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our last day on this grand Iceland adventure: a day I’ve been dreading, but now since it’s here, I’m determined to make the most of it.    We get to Geysir early and before the crowds.   Our word “geyser” comes from The Icelandic word “geysir,” which means gusher.  The original Geysir no longer spouts, but just beside it is another one, Strokkur, the Churn, that spouts very conveniently every ten minutes or so.  Take that, Old Faithful!  Base temperature of this geothermal area is a warmish 2500 C, so we decide to forego any hot soak.

6-7-17 Geysir (6)

From there we go up the road just a few kilometers to Gullfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland due to its location on the Golden Circle so near to Reykjavik.  There are quite a few people here, although “crowd” in Iceland doesn’t mean near the same as in America.  The falls are spectacular and are almost as amazing as the vehicles in the parking lot.

 

6-7-16 Gullfoss (3)

Not our ride

In the well-stocked gift shop, I finally give in and spend big bucks on a beautiful wool blanket.  I tell Brian it can be my birthday present.  Maybe he won’t remember.

Dave has read about a cave nearby, so we turn off the main road onto a bumpy gravel road to try to find it.  As we bounce down the road dodging potholes, I can sense Brian’s tension rising as he remembers all too vividly our earlier adventure of getting stuck on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere.  We finally arrive and find two small caves called Laugarvatnshellar.  The story behind these caves is that in 1910 a young couple moved in and raised a family in one of them, using the other for a sheep shed.  These Icelandic folk are a hardy bunch!   And they didn’t even have midge hats!

On to Þingvellir.  This area is noteworthy both for its geology and its history.  It is the best place for viewing the Rift Zone, that area in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are diverging at a rate of two centimeters a year.  Numerous fissures crisscross this sites, evidence of the many faults in the Rift Zone.

It is also the site of the oldest known parliament in the world, the Alþingi, in A.D. 930.  Chieftains would meet here every summer from all over Iceland to hear the telling of the law and decide on court cases.

On our previous trip to Iceland, Brian and I snorkeled at Silfra, one of the fissures in this rift valley.  Because of this, we didn’t have much time to explore this National Park.  Today we will remedy that omission.  We eat lunch at a picnic table pull-off just inside the park, then go to the site of the ancient parliament.

6-7-16 Þingvellir (37)

In the foreground is the Law Rock where speeches were held

 

6-7-16 Þingvellir (32)

One of the prettiest fissures, where people throw coins to commemorate the Danish King’s visit

We explore one of the fissures and do our part for Continental Drift.

We walk up one of the main fissures with hundreds of other people, including a large group of rowdy middle-schoolers taking selfies and paying no attention to where they are or what they are seeing.

6-7-16 Þingvellir (42)

And then it happens.  My Teacher Voice rings out, loud and clear.  A group of kids runs ahead of their chaperones, skidding down the gravel path and shooting clouds of dust and the occasional rock onto the other tourists.  I am just ahead and turn around to see what is happening.  Before I can stop myself (and really, I don’t even try), I spear them with my Evil Eye and impale them with a stern jab:  STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.  Startled, they do.

It’s time to go.

We make one more stop at a gas station so that Brian can wash the grime off the car.

6-7-16 Þingvellir  (3)

Inside, I find a chocolate-covered marshmallow dolphin for Annalise.  She hates dolphins and takes great pleasure in biting its head off.

6-7-16 Þingvellir  (2)

It’s time to go.

We turn in our car at Dollar Thrifty, where we are delayed for an hour or so while they assess a $200 fee on us for a small ding in the chassis caused by an errant piece of gravel.  We have insurance, but the deductible is $200.  Amazing.

It’s time to go.

We check into the Hotel Frón.  We make arrangements for an early morning pick-up.  We repack our bags.  We settle in for a sleepless night.

It’s time to go.

6-8-16 Reykjavik

Our travel home on Wednesday is uneventful, thankfully.  We make it through Customs without a hitch.  We make all our connections.  We are home and in our own beds before the night is late.

My body is thankful to be in the familiar comfort of my own space, but my mind is still in Iceland.  Like Peter Pan’s shadow trapped in Wendy’s drawer, a piece of me will always remain in Iceland.  I hope it never escapes.

shadows at 9 oclock





Iceland 2016: Never Enough

7 08 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just when we think we have seen the most beautiful falls in all of Iceland, we turn around and are awed by the next one.  Down the road from our hotel in Geirland, we come across a waterfall that stuns us with its beauty.

It isn’t very tall.

The volume of water isn’t great.

It doesn’t drop from sheer cliffs.

But its rounded features mirrored by the hills around it sooth us and its turquoise waters draw us in.

It is poetry.

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (3)

This place deserves some Marie.

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (17)

 

Annalise adds her own brand of poetry

And because there is a hill, I climb.  And because I climb, Annalise takes off after me and soon leaves me in the dust.  Such a climb!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (15)

It is exhilarating to hang onto the hillside with a handful of grass, pulling yourself up the steep slope.  I get three-fourths of the way up before Annalise decides to come down.  Turning around, I look down and suddenly remember that I don’t like heights.  Shoot.  How to get down?  6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (18)

As I’ve done a time or two before on this trip, I face out and start crab-walking down, but am passed by Annalise who is simply sliding down.  So I give up my crab-walk and slide on my butt, laughing all the way.  Worries, stresses, problems…they all disappear when I give in to this moment!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (13)

And after a stone-skipping contest with Dave, who wins with a seven-skip rock, we get back in our cars for our drive around the southern-most part of the island and up to the Golden Circle.  And all day long a niggle in the back of my mind says, only two more days left to experience Iceland.

We cross miles of black sand before reaching the town of Vík.  Vík has a huge tourist souvenir shop—just the sort of shop I love to hate, but need in order to find some goodies for my family back home.  When we step outside and look to the cliffs along the beach, we see a parasailer working his way along the cliffs.

6-6-16 Vík I imagine what he is seeing: jagged rocks, seabirds nesting on ledges, puffins scooting into their burrows.  But I am glad to have both my feet firmly on the ground.

We replenish our food stocks at a grocery store, then walk to a nearby park with a picnic table to eat lunch.  While we eat, the parasailer floats closer and closer, landing gently in the field next to us.  We watch as he gathers his sail up and stuffs it in a bag, hoists it on his back, and walks down the road.  This guy is older than we are.  What a life he must lead!

We go to the black sand beach that has made Vík famous.

6-6-16 Vík (1)

Nancy and I amuse ourselves by walking over to the cliffs to look for puffins.  One can never have enough puffin pictures!  We only see one on the cliff, too far off for a good shot, although we see lots of them bobbing on the waves just past the surf.

From a kiosk, we learn that these sands and those in the sand flats we’ve just driven through are the result of “subglacial outburst flooding.”  Yipes.  The geology of this place fascinates me.

On to Skógafoss, one of the prettiest waterfalls in all of Iceland.  Definitely the most crowded.

6-6-16 Skogafoss (12)

Brian and I climb the stairs to a good viewing area, sidling out on a ledge that has me quite uncomfortable, but hey, we got some good pictures!

6-6-16 Skogafoss (18)

6-6-16 Skogafoss (16)

We climb down again to find Nancy taking some close-up shots of a patient and photogenic  sheep.  One can never have enough sheep pictures, either!

Next stop: Seljalandsfoss.  Yes, another waterfall.  Never enough.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (3)

This  waterfall is unique in that you can walk behind it.  So I did.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (8)

And we get a glimpse of Darwinism in action, almost.  People have hiked up to the top of the falls, and one hiker who is either very brave or very stupid or both gets right out on the edge, close enough to stick his feet into the falls.  He must have very good karma, or at least a good grip on reality, because he doesn’t fall.  That would have been a serious downer.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (4)

We end the day at Efsti-Dalur Farmhotel.  Efsti-Dalur is a working dairy farm, with a wall of windows separating the restaurant and dairy bar from the barn.  We can’t resist: even before going to our rooms—each a little cabin with wood paneling—we settle down in the dairy bar with fresh, homemade ice cream as we watch the cows next door who provided the milk.  We hear that people make the trip all the way from Reykjavik just for this ice cream.  I can believe it!

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (2)

Dinner in the upstairs restaurant is equally delicious, although a bit more unsettling, as we eat huge hamburgers that are also produced on site.

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (3)

Our view as we eat our hamburgers

And our timing for dinner is impeccable, since we finish just as a loud party of people with full body tattoos comes in.  I don’t dare take pictures, but then the image is seared into my brain anyway!

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (5)

We walk past the horse pasture to our little cabin room and fall asleep to the sweet songs of birds in the ever-light sky.  And the birds sing all night.  Never enough.





Iceland 2016: Over the Ice, Up the Hill, and Across the Flats

5 08 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

We leave the peace and quiet of Hoffell for Vatnajökull National Park, where we have a glacier-walking tour lined up on a “tongue” of the largest glacier in all of Europe.   I’ve never thought of it before, but due to plate tectonics, half of Iceland is in North America, and the other half is part of Europe.  We’re on the Europe half.

Vatnajökull National Park , unlike most places in Iceland, is crowded with tourists.  Actually, since we are now in south Iceland not too far from Reykjavik, just about all the attractions will be crowded.  We have been spoiled by the unpopulated areas of the island.  I guess we are easing back into the real world.

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (30)

Getting fitted for the crampons

Outfitted with crampons on our shoes and pick-axes in hand, we are ready for anything, but mostly pictures.  The glacier itself is not very pretty—too much volcanic ash—but our guide keeps us entertained with stories and facts about the glacier.

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (2)

The ash is both a result of and a cause for the melting.  As the temperature warms over time (he was careful not to say “climate change” or “global warming”) the new snow and ice melts, exposing the ash from a previous eruption.  Then the dark ash causes heat to be absorbed, increasing the melting speed.  Ice cannibal.  Several times during his tour, we hear the thunderous booming of ice calving off a chunk of glacier somewhere off aways.  In spite of the dirty ice, our guide sets us up for some pretty neat photos.

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (7)

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (29)

Poser

I ask our guide which country seems to be sending the most tourists.  China and America.  He adds that he really likes Americans because they are so friendly and good-natured.  A pat on the back for our country, although he may have said that just to get a larger tip!

After our walk on the glacier, we break for lunch.  While Brian, Annalise, and I scavenge food from our diminishing food bag in the car, David and Nancy opt for the hot dog stand, where they pay $35 for a fish and chips basket.  Be warned: the options for food are limited here.  No restaurants or grocery stores for miles around!

Thus nourished, we hike to Svartifoss, a beautiful falls over columnar basalt that reminds me of a pipe organ.  The hike up is fairly strenuous, although we keep getting passed by someone in a wheelchair!

6-5-16 Svartifoss (1)

6-5-16 Svartifoss (3)

6-5-16 Svartifoss (6)Back at the parking lot, I decide I haven’t walked enough, so I enlist Brian and we head on down a trail to a tongue of another glacier.  I am hot from my hike to Svartifoss and tired of lugging my jacket around, so I don’t bring it with me.  However, as we get closer and closer to the glacier, for some reason it gets colder and colder!  By the time we’re there, the temperature has dropped at least 20 degrees, and I am downright chilly.  I’m sure there’s a lesson here somewhere.6-5-16 Vatnajokull National Park (1)

From Vatnajökull  we head on down the coast, through miles and miles of black sand flats and then miles and miles of moss-covered lava fields.  We stop at a pull-off and get out to see this area where the moss covered the lava so thick it looks like sponges.

6-5-16 moss covered lava field (1)

It must have taken centuries for the moss to grow this thick!

A short trail loops through the lava field, and unlike most areas in Iceland, this trail has guide ropes on either side to keep people on the trail and off the lava.  There are even signs written in two languages as well as a picture that clearly says STAY OFF THE LAVA.  And yet, when we walk a little ways on the trail, we come to a group of tourists who are taking pictures, having their teenagers pose ON TOP OF THE MOSS-COVERED LAVA.  It was all I could do to keep my Teacher Mouth shut, although I did shoot them some stink-eyes that should have conveyed the message.  Oh, and to make matters worse they had a drone buzzing overhead.  When I was crossing the parking lot to get back in the car, I got to talking with a man and his wife about what I had seen.  He validated my feelings; he was a retired ranger from Glacier National Park in Montana and told of his frustrations when foreign tourists disregarded signs to walk all over areas that were being replanted.  So, watch out.  Next time I see something like this, my Teacher Voice is going to ring out loud and clear.  And it may not be a pretty sight.





Iceland 2016: Puffin Pictures Prevail

31 07 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Today is our last chance to see puffins, or lundi as they are called in Iceland.  They were not showing themselves on the rainy day when we were at the cliffs at Látrabjarg in the West Fjords, so we are hoping to see a few on our bird-watching tour to Cape Ingólfshöfði.  But our tour is not until 1:30 this afternoon; we have time for other adventures along the way.

And so we stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  Fed by the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier on the southeast coast, it has increased fourfold since the 1970s and is now considered to be the largest lake in all of Iceland. But people don’t come here because it is a lake; they come here to see the icebergs that have calved off the glacier bob down the way to the ocean.

In a word, it is spectacular.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (22)

We opt not to take the boat ride through the lagoon, viewing the entire lagoon from the glacial moraine instead.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay  (2)

Walking from the beach to the lagoon and back again, we watch enormous chunks of ice roll and bounce down the narrow channel.  Eider ducks float like so many bathtub toys and arctic terns use the larger icebergs to rest up from their constant feeding forays.  A snow bunting poses long enough for me to get a decent shot.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay  arctic terns (19)

A fulmar and some terns find a good resting spot

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay snow bunting (1)

Snow bunting

Washed up on the beach is a photographer’s playground of icebergs.  Ice chunks that may be 1,000 years old melt slowly into fantastic shapes and I wonder how many of these images will end up as profile pictures on Facebook.  I know mine will!

 

 

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (34)

A close-up of 1,000 year old ice, courtesy of Nancy

We cross the one-way suspension bridge and make our way further south toward Cape Ingólfshöfði.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (32)

6-4-16 Skeiðarársandur (1)

We stop at a strange roadside attraction: the twisted remains of a bridge at Skeiðarársandur.  In 1996, a volcanic eruption under the glacier caused massive floodings, wrecking this bridge and completely interrupting road travel on this section of the Ring Road.  Here it is not simply the inconvenience of taking a detour: between the glacier and the sandflats, this is the only road in the area.  And so Icelanders don’t bother making sturdy bridges; they acknowledge the unstoppable power of nature and instead make narrow, easily replaceable bridges that only need last until the next eruption.

Our GPS takes us down a long bumpy gravel road that ends in a small parking lot.  We are here.  Soon a large farm tractor pulling a hay wagon full of tourists splashes across a broad creek.  Our transport has arrived.  Down the road flies a girl on a bicycle.  Our guide.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (2)

Our tour

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  tractor ride (2)

Our ride

 

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (20)

Our guide

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  outhouse

Our outhouse

She introduces herself with her full unpronounceable name, laughs, and says we can call her Guni.  In my mind, I make the connection: our Goony Bird.  We climb into the wagon for a half-hour ride across the broad, black sand flats to the Cape.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (4)

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (10)

Guni stops the tractor at the base of the cliffs, and we trek up the steep and shifting black sands, stopping numerous times to “admire the view.” Annalise, of course, sprints up and waits at the top in sheer boredom.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (19)

David and Nancy labor up the hill

Guni also waits patiently and once the group is all together, gives a brief overview.  This area was first settled in A.D. 874 by the very first Viking in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, who went on to found Reykjavík.  Guni herself can probably trace her lineage back as far; her family has had a farm here for countless generations.  She tells us stories of hitch-hiking up and down the east coast, able to find a family connection in every ride she got.  Guni speaks fluent English, loves being outdoors and active, rides horses all throughout the winter, and is just so darn wholesome I want to bottle her up and spread her throughout the States.

Her tone takes on a precautionary note, however, when she talks of the skua.  Skua.  A skua is a seabird. Remember, a skua is a seabird.  Memories flood back as I recall years of giving standardized IQ tests in which students were given short definitions of words including this one and asked to recall them later.  I’d always wondered what a skua was like.  Now I’m about to find out.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (23)

If a bird can be considered evil, his name would be Skua.

What I learn about skua:

  1. Skua are not cute like puffins.
  2. Skua eat puffins, puffin babies, and even puffin eggs.
  3. When passing a skua, stay together as a group so it won’t attack.
  4. Skuas are not on my list of nice birds.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (26)

Puffins, on the other hand, are cute.  They pose nicely.  They fly like little whirly-gigs.  Nobody’s ever had to be warned of an attack puffin.  Which is why I have thousands of pictures of puffins.  And only a few of skua.6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (9)

 

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (1)

Puffin Perches

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He waits with his mouth full of sand eels for the coast to be clear before going to his burrow to feed his pufflets.





Iceland 2016: East Fjord Frivolity and Failure

30 07 2016

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lately each morning I’ve awoken with a sense of urgency, and particularly so this morning.  With only five more days left, we are on the down-side of our trip, and I don’t want it to be over.  My “Bucket o’ Adventures” is still not full.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur  (4)

Good morning, Sunshine!

And so, after loading up the car, we drive over to the camping area and start climbing the hill toward the waterfalls we saw last night.

After a couple of false starts, we finally find a trail, scaring a pair of graylag geese along the way.6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (15)

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (14)

Brian, David, and Nancy stop at the first falls and amuse themselves with their cameras, settling in on comfortable rocks as they take in the scenery.

Annalise and I look at each other, look up the hill and take off.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (52)She quickly is out of sight and I am thinking hard about turning around as the hill gets steeper and steeper and the trail disappears.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (21) But as long as Annalise is up ahead and out of sight, I feel it is my motherly duty to climb onward, if only to save her from disaster (as I did when she climbed a cliff as a two-year-old).  I use nature photography as an excuse to catch my breath.

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Alpine bartsia: a hemi-parasite whose roots tap into other roots for nutrients

 

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (23)

Wooly willow

 

And really, it’s not about the speed or distance to me; sometimes the most breath-taking views are the ones up close and underfoot.  But then, in Iceland I rarely look out to see a view that is not spectacular!

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Stopping numerous times to “admire the view” I finally spot a tiny figure on top of the ridge.

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Annalise heads down, thank goodness, so I don’t have to rescue her.  As if.

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Annalise and I stop at a particularly beautiful cascade, and I can think of no more appropriate spot to leave some of Marie, who I just happen to have in my backpack.  (Later I am to find out that Marie was afraid of heights, so maybe this is not the perfect spot I think it is.)  Regardless, I thrust Marie’s ashes out into the rushing water, but just then a gust of wind catches them with Annalise downwind.  Ahh, well, I always thought Annalise had a bit of her Aunt Marie in her.  Now there is no doubt.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike Marie

Marie’s Spot

We race down the hill just for the sheer joy of it.  The beauty of this place is overwhelming and it occurs to me that Iceland is a place of seasonal manic depression.  I’m not much for the cold and dark winter months, but this season of sunshine, flowers, and sparkling air makes my spirits soar.

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Annalise rolls down the hill, just because.

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High jinks

We meet back up with Brian, David, and Nancy who have been waiting patiently for our return.  What a perfect mix of fellow travelers: always someone up for a little extra adventure while the rest hangs out good-naturedly!

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We are now in the East Fjords, and if I thought the West Fjords had a lock on grandeur, well, I’d be dead wrong.  With the rugged coastline to my left and the jagged mountains on my right, I have a hard time deciding where to look.

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We stop frequently to explore: a lava flow, a lighthouse, and then a place I am sure must be a tourist trap, Petras Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjördur.  With so much else to see and experience, I’m not eager to spend time at a place I assume is like the roadside attraction, South of the Border, in South Carolina.  But we go anyway, and boy am I wrong!

Petra Sveinsdottir was a woman after my own heart.  She was a self-taught naturalist who from a young age scoured the hills around her home for stones, amassing what is now one of the largest privately owned collections in the world.

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Petra herself

 

The gardens around her home are filled with beautiful displays of her rocks and minerals and are lovingly tended by her children who have opened her home to visitors.

6-3-16 Petras Stone Collection Stodvarfjordur Marie

Marie would have absolutely loved this place, so for the second time today I pull her out and quietly fertilize a cluster of flowers with a bit of her.

We eat our lunch at a picnic table across the road from Petra’s house and then take off once again.  After passing through areas where slopes of scree pose the very real threat of landslides, we pull off at another scenic area, a valley and a fjord named Breiðdalur and Breiðdalsvík.

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Layers of basalt with vertical intrusions fascinate us, as does a wall of fog that is leaping toward us across the fjord.

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We watch for a while, then get back in our cars and take off, with our car in the lead.  We don’t see David and Nancy pull off, but think nothing of it as they usually take a minute or so to settle in.  This will become important.

Another pull-off, this one down a short driveway to a creek and waterfall.  Brian, Annalise and I get out and mess around for a little while.

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Annalise takes off her shoes and quickly wades across the shallow creek.

 

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Me, not so much.  I decide to follow, but the water is deceptively cold, freezingly so, and the rocks are hard to walk on.  With ice cubes for feet, I get stuck in the middle, but Annalise comes to my rescue and helps me back across.  So much for The Adventurer!

We keep an eye out for Dave and Nancy but don’t see them, so we assume they’ve passed us by and we will catch up later.  We go to the top of the falls, take a few pictures of people taking pictures, and then continue on our way.

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Waterfall selfie

Reindeer, a whole herd out in a field!  I don’t have any pictures of reindeer yet, so again I ask Brian to pull over and he complies.  I take off across the field toward the herd, but other people are doing the same and the herd gets spooked.

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Reindeer tracks and scat

Still, I’m enjoying the feel of being in a field far from civilization when I turn around and see a golf course.  A golf course.  Apparently golf is Iceland’s fastest growing sport, but I am not a fan.

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Of course, I’m teed off.

Still no sign of David and Nancy, and text messages and calls are not going through, so we drive on to our hotel in Hoffell, fully expecting to see their car already in the parking lot.  But it’s not.  The hotel receptionist says, no, they haven’t arrived yet.  She goes on, they called several hours ago and said they would be late due to car trouble.  Uh oh.  I start to worry that they are stuck out on the road somewhere.  But when I turn around, there they are!

It seems that back at the pull-off at Breiðdalur, a sharp rock punctured their tire.  They honked, waved their arms, and tried calling us, to no avail.  Dave was able to put on the spare tire and they stopped at the next small village, where they got the tire fixed in a relatively short time while they relaxed at a café.  Lesson learned:  Stay together!

We dine out on the porch of the hotel restaurant, in view of a glacier.

 

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A glacial reflection

A broad valley surrounds this farm hotel, with horses grazing in the field while snipes make constant winnowing sounds with their tails as they swoop and climb in the air.  We relax, knowing that for only the second time on our trip, we get to stay here two nights.

This hotel boasts five open-air hot pots fed by geothermal waters, so I head down the path through the horse pasture for an evening soak.  The water looks a little murky, and each pot is already inhabited by other soakers like myself, but turning around is not an option, so I overcome my awkwardness and slide into one with only a couple of people from Canada in it.  We are soon joined by a girl from Spain who is smoking a strange-smelling cigarette, and we all exchange stories of our travels around the island.  And while it is interesting to hear from other travelers, I am also slightly weirded out by sharing this murky warm water with strangers.  So when I get back to the hotel, I scrub well in a long hot shower before I feel clean again.  I crawl into bed in our room with a glacial view and dream of the puffins we hope to see on tomorrow’s excursion.

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Iceland 2016: From Calderas to Midges, the Adventure Continues

22 07 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What a luxury to know that we get to spend two nights in one place!  And according to our excursion voucher, our tour of the Lofthellir lava cave doesn’t start until 9:00, so we eat a leisurely breakfast and then prepare for the trip.

Only thing is, we get a call from the travel agency shortly after 8:00 telling us that our tour was actually at 8:00 and we missed it.  Dang.  It seems the travel agency updated our plans and then did not get us the updated version.  It happens. Fortunately, they are able to book us on a tour for the next day.  And fortunately, there are plenty adventures in this area to keep us active and entertained.

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Say that three times fast!

After a look through the ranger station of the National Park, our first stop is at Grjutagja, a cave with a pool inside where David remembers skinny-dipping when he took a tour through here 40 years ago while stationed in Iceland in the Air Force.  We’ve been warned not to get in the pools as the water temperature changes rapidly and without warning. (Later, we will discover that the Icelanders still use this pool.  Possibly the warning was just their way of keeping it for themselves.)

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We hiked a bit around the area, ending up at a sheepfold built in 1880 as the main sheep sorting fold for the free-range sheep in the Mývatn area.

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What I usually see of Annalise

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We send the guys back down the road to get our cars, and while they are gone, we investigate a more modern sheep shelter.  Lots of snow melt still around—not sure how much of a shelter this would actually provide!

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We travel down the road to Dimmuborgir, a lava field that translates as “dark castles,” and indeed is the avowed home of Iceland’s Yule Lads, those mischievous elfish creatures descended from trolls who show up around Christmas time.   If I understand the origin of this place correctly, some 2,000 years ago a lava lake pooled over a depression where a small lake was.  The soggy lake bottom under the lava turned to steam, which boiled up through the lava in tubes, the sides of which cooled forming hollow pillars as the lava lake drained toward lower ground.  I’m no geologist; after reading the explanation several times in several different places, I’m not sure I have it right yet.  However, I do know that in this area are some really fantasmic lava structures.

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David and I meander around several of the many paths through this area; Annalise and Brian take off on another path that leads them far astray.  “Follow the yellow trail” is now synonymous with getting lost!

 

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The lost are found

After lunch at a picnic table near the parking lot, we head out to Namafjall Hverir, a geothermal area just off the road that is reminiscent of Yellowstone National Park, minus the boardwalks and constant reminders of danger.

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Note the proximity of the photographer

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll mention it now:  Iceland is heavy into Darwinism.  If the rotten egg smell of sulfur is not warning enough, the steam coming out of boreholes should be.  Not that either dissuade us from getting closer than we should have.

 

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Somehow we survive our stupidity and go on to Krafla, a huge caldera (volcanic crater) that had an active lava fountain as near as 1984.  To get to Krafla, we pass through a geothermal power station, with geodesic domes signifying wells.  Cheap energy, if you don’t mind the uncertainty of eruptions.

 

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The best views are always found up high, so we climb Krafla, and from the windy rim of the crater, we look down on the lake within—still frozen in June, but a beautiful turquoise blue edged in icy whiteness.

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It’s the middle of the afternoon and we have tickets for the Mývatn Nature Baths so we go back toward town.  We chose to go to these hot baths rather than the more popular Blue Lagoon because, well, I like an underdog.  Also, it is not as tourist-y, it is smaller, and it costs less.  Brian did not bring a suit because he had no intention of repeating his unfortunate experience from our last trip (hot pot + open wound = staph infection), but somehow the receptionist persuades him to rent a suit and go in.  He does.  It’s a Speedo.  He gets in the water and we all enjoy a hot steamy soak.  But magic is performed: none of us sees Brian get in or out of the water.

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After dinner, Annalise and I go to the lava field just outside our hotel.  I should mention that Mývatn is a shallow eutrophic lake, which when I looked up the word I found out that means “high biological productivity.”  That would explain why Mývatn translates as “midge lake.”

 

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Dried cow parsnips

Midges, for those fortunate enough never to have encountered them, are small black flies that swarm around you, never biting, but preferring to clog orifices with their bodies, making breathing and talking next to impossible.  I had the foresight to bring two midge nets along, donning mine as soon as I noticed the first nasty little booger.  Annalise swears she will not wear one as it clashes with her ensemble, but within a few yards I could have sold her my extra net for a hefty profit.

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Annalise can even make a midge hat look good!

 

With midge hats on, we are good to go, stopping to watch as our pants changed color as they become laden with midge bodies.

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Sometimes, Icelandic adventure is as big as a caldera, other times as small as a midge.  But adventure is always around the corner, as we are to find out on the morrow.