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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/November 1907/A Trip Around Iceland II

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 71‎ | November 1907

A TRIP AROUND ICELAND
By L. P. GRATACAP

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

II

THEN came Husavik, a large village looking amazingly well with its extended domiciles cleanly cut in the sunlight, at the base of some old crater cone, which Professor Gourdon told us repeated the worn down volcanic stocks of Auvergne, which that notable pioneer Guettard first pointed out were igneous accumulations. And how bare it all was! Two wild white swans suddenly swept through the foreground. We dropped off a sysselman here; a kind of local magistrate, governor, collector of the port, friend of the fatherless and widow, and general Pooh-bah who raised his hat as he left us as if he expected us to recognize his official importance. Icelanders pay the most formal respect to each other and doffing his hat for a person of a large acquaintance must, in so uncertain a climate, insure a popular man a permanent cold in his head. The sysselman, who thus returned to his domain, had an earnest mien, and was typical of the strong, resolute and intelligent temperament and mind of these boreal democrats.

We turned westward again over the Skjalfandi, the broad bay west of Husavik, toward the beautiful range of mountains on the opposite shore, the Viknafjöll hills. As they came near to hand in the transfiguring light of the setting sun, they were revealed as a series of enfilading peaks standing up behind each other, with the pockets between them spotted with snow, while snow-fields like spotless rugs hung low down on their steep flanks. They grew upon our eyes in

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Flat Island near Husavik.

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Akreyri, Dock for Steamer.

magnificence and beauty. they seemed to exhale a spell in that northern latitude that drew us to them, pressed close upon the gunwales of our ship, in wondering silence.

The weathering, and subaerial erosion here was most pronounced—and the range seemed clearly older than the east-coast rocks. The sides of the mountains plunged with unhesitating precipitancy into the water. The beds composing them had variable inclinations. Still we drew nearer and closer—with wonderful displays of red rock disintegrating into rubble, and long sweeping and steep surfaces of comminuted stone. The higher cells, cirques or valleys in the mountains were floored with snow, and occasional glacial patches were uncertainly described. At a distance these mountains looked like a serrated range on a single base of extension, but nearer they were seen to be in ranks thrown up in most effective hummocky confusion.

And now a thousand lights play over them, and now they gleam with one consentaneous and single glory, like a pale and myriad facetted ruby. New features come into view on every side, at each new inclination of the ship: a rainbow stands upright piercing the zenith,

PSM V71 D429 Akreyri.png

Akreyri.

almost above them, and the sun floods the skies with pink and purple hues, painting also the low-lying bars of cloud with gold, to be itself slowly, slowly, quenched in a roseate ocean. And still the alpine glow bathed all the scene with opalescent reds, with violet colorings and russet lines, while the shadows of the higher peaks lay black upon the snows of the valleys below them. The picture remained perfect for an hour, its high lights shifting, but its beauty penetrating and immanent, spreading all over the solemn austere hills with changing marvelousness.

In the morning we found ourselves at the bottom of a fiord at the head of which we confronted an extensive marsh. This was Akreyri, a good-sized place, running around a curved shore with large frame houses, some three stories high, and a good road along the shore and up into the hills. About a quarter of a mile from the landing dock there is a deep till morainal deposit, packed with rounded pebbles, and prevalent evidence of an old beach line. Back of the shore on the village side rose sculptured snow mountains, and opposite across the fiord the long slant of a hill dissected by rill channels. This hill was the

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Oddeyii.

usual wall or palisade of lava flows, with green grassed slopes at its foot.

The town, containing about 3.000 people, consists of sizable frame houses, some quite large. The public school is commodious, and there is a hospital and a hotel. The streets are named and the houses numbered. Here trailing along the roadsides and dotting the fields in color patches were the wild pansies (Viola tricolor).

The next stop was in the Skagafiord at Saudarkrokr, where a remarkable raised beach suggested geological themes. If I was not mistaken in my notes on the conversation between a fisherman and the steward of our steamer, the fisherman was induced to furnish us with good herring at about a farthing a pound, which same fish sell for almost twelve cents a pound in Copenhagen. Fish were all about us and the herring nets, floated by buoys, seamed the water, with fishermen moving slowly to and fro gathering them in. The Icelander peasant fisherman is very poor, and, clad in rough clothes, with hairy bristling whiskers and worn eyes and shock hair, has sometimes quite an aboriginal appearance. He wears a sheep-skin slipper on his foot and heavy encasing woolen socks underneath leggings, and has no scruples about

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Rykiafiord.

wading in the water as indifferently as if he wore Goodyear Rubber Company boots.

More geological themes stared us in the face at Blönduos where a glacial river discharges its mineral burdens into the sea in a turbid muddy tide. Again at Reykiarfiord we were called upon to esteem the endurance of the Icelander. The place is rough and stony, with a few houses and turf-covered cabins, an eider duck island or so, and wore an expression of depressing loneliness, albeit in the bright sunlight it bravely challenged our admiration. Again on our way with our former tireless companion—fog. In the weird night dawn, with the fog dissipated and the north cape passed, we pushed on to Isafjardarjup; and the high shores with dark menacing and austere contours loomed strangely over the fringed spray-scurried waves hissing around us. We plunged headlong into the inky billows until the cape headland gave us shelter, and the confusion about us subsided, and in the morning we woke in Isafiord—a thriving town on a crescentic spit of land enclosing a quiet lake-like harbor in which the Vesta floated.

This fiord was the usual thing; walled in by high cliffs, plainly

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Cod Flakes in the Village of Isafiord.

banded by the successive flows of igneous rock, while at one point on the east wall an amphitheatrical cup was seen, just such as prevailed elsewhere, but here somewhat larger and accessible, and which begins the degradation and removal of the basaltic cliffs.

Early in the morning we left the steamer for the shore, and traversed the town. We saw the big cod storehouses where perhaps $10,000 worth of dried flat cod were piled up in snowy walls to the roof. Women work, spreading and weighing them, over the rocks. These women work eight or ten hours a day. and receive about fifty cents a day. the men about one dollar. The fish, headed and cleaned, of course, are gathered into tint piles over night, covered with oil skins, on which planks are placed, carrying a weight of stones, and distributed in the morning if the day is clear. There are perhaps three or four such establishments in the town, and they fill it with bustle and commercial activity. Stores (Verzlun), opened by German and Scotch traders, dispense to the people dry goods, art material, decorations and utensils, coffee houses entertain them. and. judging from the crowded

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Cod on Stones, Isafiord.

post-office—to which our steamer had brought the letters—the outer world regularly reaches their doors.

I looked into the modest little church through its windows and discovered the altar with candles and a figure of the Christ. The religion of the island is Lutheran. The graves were marked in many instances by polished granite tombstones, many with Thorwaldsen's "Night," in a white medallion of porcelain, upon them, and all more or less covered with tin flowers and tin palms with linen flowers, in white, and many withered wreaths of bear-berries.

After breakfast I climbed up into the amphitheater on the palisades to the east, which in the shadows of the morning seemed remote and fascinating, with a great boulder of liparite flung upon its extremest lip like a propylon at the entrance of a temple. The views from this cup of erosion with its steep talus-slopes of comminuted stone—splinters and angular chips dislodged by frost, were superb—the outer fiord with its snow mountains with the water at their feet dyed bleu foncée, and the hill country southward with snow banks and threading

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Dyrifiord Village.

streams and Isafiord below nie like a map. The outer entrance of the Isafjardarjup is magnificent and was seen about two o'clock in the morning, a bold, deeply fissured and mountainous coast.

Our next stop was Thingeyri, on the Dyrifiord, which was a small place in a rather deep fiord, the sides of the fiord displaying a series of radiating valleys divided from each other by eroded walls of rock, which presented sharp prow-like fronts on the fiord. The landscape here had a dusty, dry and barren expression with poverty of green surfaces, the rock gravelly and crumbling, and a hard strange loneliness enveloped everything. The long morainal wall at the mouth of the fiord has been dissected by elevation and the attacks of the sea, and continues the encircling chain of evidence around the shores of the island, of its elevation since glacial times, its emergence, which has brought in many places beds of marine shells into dry and exposed positions. To the south as we rolled again on the waters of the Denmark Strait, headland after headland succeeded each other down the coast with splendid sweeping beaches between. Then came a most remarkable long precipitous wall, like a creation of masonry, spattered

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Weathered Palisades in Dyrifiord.

fantastically with white splotches of guano, and celebrated as a home for the sea-birds, a veritable basaltic dike, eaten into by time and weathering, and furnishing innumerable nooks and ledges for the great population it harbored.

Desperate and vain efforts to get it to "go off" involved the captain and the engineer in savage denunciations of a small brass cannon, whose thunders were to awaken the sleeping (or dozing) inhabitants of this mural metropolis. When at last it sputtered its salute, a solitary bird rose jeeringly in the air, and the show was over.

Now we were crossing the Breitfiord (the broad fiord) a vast bay, sprinkled with stumps of rock in chains of islets, and darkening ominously under gathering wind-clouds, whose first puffs began to rumple and whiten the wide expanse. Then came a marine idyll, a little grass-covered island with rocky reefs and walls, and its upland quaintly decorated with a little village and small farm houses, whose roofs were white with flowering shepherd's purse and wild mustard, shooting up most naturally from the turf gables. The men and women were out harvesting the hay, and the pictorial charm of everything was

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Houses and Surf Wall at Flatey Island, Breitfiord.

increased by a slanting towered church very odd and lovely too, with its disheveled graveyard about it.

We crossed the bay to Stykkisholm, a picturesque village made up of snugly elbowing houses, crumpled together on a high rock, with black islets all about. It was ten o'clock p. m., and a yellow splendor filled the western sky, against whose wild light the sharply scissored outlines of the mountains ran in a black silhouette. The great arc-like boats came off in the morning from the shore, and were loaded, and their cargoes discharged on the dock, bands of women carrying the sacks on their backs, or taking the broad planks (for making furniture) between them.

We left Stykkisholm in the morning, which was cold and clear, and steamed out over the broad fiord with the snow mountains distantly gleaming and the lead-bottomed clouds in angry rolls pouring over them to the south. Towards three in the afternoon we reached the crater-peak of Snaefells, with its glacier or jokull, which terminates the long peninsula between the Breitfiord and the Faxafiord. At first Snaefells was clouded and capped with mists. Then we saw a long

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Little Church on Flatey Island, Breitfiord.

flat flow of trap on the coast, spattered, like the bird-rock we had passed, with guano, and riddled with caves and excavations, and following-that, we approached the shore at the base of the magnificent mountain. It was a beautiful picture, its expanded base rising into a dome on which spread the ice and snow cap-like flat helmet, surmounted by two monticules or mammillary peaks, one darkened by an enclosed rock. The view of the mountain improved each minute, until at last its glorious argent dome was swept clear of clouds, and in the lucid brilliant air shone like a silver shield. The physical aspects of the mountain below the snow fields were most interesting. The guttered flanks, deeply channeled with a network of rainures, whose interlaced troughs resembled the crossing and interference of paths of flowing material, but was interpreted by Professor Gourdon as purely erosive, were highly instructive. The spectacle the mountain made was undoubtedly very fine, and for the whole afternoon, until actual semi-night and knotted clouds hid it from sight, it remained the majestic crown to the broad panorama of snow mountains stretching eastward. We were now in the Faxafiord.

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Stykkisholm.

And then came Reykjavik, of which and the interior of Iceland the editor may permit me to say something at another time.