By coincidence, a few hours after I posted my last entry about birthdays (specifically mine), I ran across my diaries for a trip I made a couple of years ago to
The approach to
How, I wondered, had anyone ever managed this before the advent of such technology. I asked the driver. He shrugged and said,
As we drove it started to snow, at first lightly but soon hard enough that the tracks from the other van were filled in before we reached them although less than a hundred feet separated us. The snow came and went in random storms, Obscuring our view completely for a few minutes and opening up an horizon to horizon vista for the next few.
In one of these latter periods with the sun shining and a truly spectacular view we paused for lunch on a bleak rock strewn plain. The wind howled across it raising whirling dervish flurries of loose snow
We continued on our way until we came at last to Aldeyjarfoss. “Foss” is Icelandic for “waterfall” and this was our second. There would be more. Later, for example, we stopped at Godafoss, a smaller but, in the dying rays of the setting sun, much prettier waterfall. We walked along the rim a dozen feet above the water and met up with our vans the short ride to Myvatn which is a small scattered town in an area that is very geothermally active. This activity means that there is a plentiful supply of natural hot water to heat all the buildings so that our hotel was gorgeously warm inside. If anything it was rather too warm. The shower too was lovely and hot with the slight inconvenience of leaving the showerer smelling faintly but indelibly of sulphur.
At a barren and remote spot we stopped and got out for a couple of hours hiking. The snow on the ground was fresh and about knee deep which made the hiking beautiful but fairly taxing. Wrapped up in my new parka jacket I was warm, rather too warm in fact so that whenever we paused to regroup I had to push down the hood and loosen the fastenings to cool off a little.
We had a second shorter hike in the afternoon, along a twisting circular route that confounded my sense of direction totally so that I was astonished when after about an hour we rounded a corner to find ourselves back at our starting point. The snow was virgin and white and the rocks stark and black so that the hike took on a startlingly monochrome nature with only the washed out and faded greens and browns of trees and earth forming a very slight contrast.
We ate a splendid barbecue dinner, went for a magnificent walk in the bleak but beautiful surroundings, drank our lunch time purchases and waited for the Northern Lights. Last night in town we had seen faint traces of green in the sky and assumed that we could expect no more tonight. We were wrong. When they appeared they were something far more strange and wonderful. A great green, shimmering arc split the sky from horizon to horizon. To either side of it there were lesser patterns of shifting hazy light. Fringes of luminescence rippled across the sky and died even as others appeared elsewhere.
Here, with no disturbing background light and the clearest of clear nights, the show was breathtaking. We all stood around watching them until, forty-five minutes later, that faded. Twenty minutes later the second performance started. This time they formed a series of hazy veils like silk curtains around the edge of the world shimmering as if moved by some unseen hand. It was everything we had hoped for and more. The whole sky was ablaze with them and no-one, however cold hearted or cynical could fail to be impressed by the spectacle. We retired to bed a very happy bunch indeed.
The houses are neatly laid out in rows
and the windows are lit but none of them shows
any signs of life.
The roads are wide but have no cars
and the tables stand empty in all the bars
through day and night.
The banks and shops seem silent and closed
and on the pavements skeletal trees have been posed
but no birds sing.
There are distant throbbings that might be planes
flying away from some distant airport but could again
be some other thing.
The hotel where tonight we have to stay
has no other guests at all to get in our way -
it’s an empty place,
like the town that surrounds, the buildings and all
the streets and the street lamps that can’t quite recall
the human race.
save for the bullying sun
threatening the faintest of faint clouds
that cling to the horizon
unwilling to let go
Ghosts of steam escape the underworld
to haunt the rocks and hollows
to drift across the empty land
lost, lonely, spectral things,
pale dancers pirouetting
in the daylight.
Since last night the world has changed
for then there were flames and fire
ghosts above us rather than around
angels in a hollow sky
reaching into our hearts
Silk circles wrapped around the world
rippled and shifted and shook
and shrank to faint lace traces
that glowed more brightly as they died
leaving the sky a deep
and empty black.
With long white fur and bushy tail
My domain was a landscape of ice and rocks
Where I knew each hillside trail
Against this snowy background it was really tough
To spot me as I went about my way
But, so it transpired, not nearly tough enough
Or else I might be living there today
Now look at me a shadow of my former self
With yellow fur and a tail worn thin
I stand here in the bar room on the knickknack shelf
That overlooks the whisky, rum and gin
I’ve lost count of the years since that bullet through my brain
And makeover at the taxidermists hand
I was never that religious but when I think of it again
It’s not the kind of afterlife I’d planned
Look at me I used to be a crocodile
Admittedly not someone nice to meet
But I couldn’t help my nature and at least I had a smile
Whenever I met someone good to eat
I would lie there in the shallows patiently all day
But move like lightning should the need arise
I thought I was invincible and so I have to say
That my sudden death came as some surprise
Look at me I have to bear this heavy load
I’m really not the animal I was
I’ve become a creature of no permanent abode
For example my head’s mounted in the lodge
While the greater part of what was once my sleek anatomy
They’ve found a dozen different ways to use
And with great imagination have converted much of me
Into handbags and accessories and shoes
Look at me I used to be an elephant
A hulking great monster of a beast
But I was quite gentle and wouldn’t step upon an ant
Branches leaves and twigs made up my feast
But it seems that I was valued for more than just my size
Or my temperament, however sweet
It’s really rather flattering to be worthy in men’s eyes
But on the whole I’d do without the treat.
Now I somehow feel that my life has gone to bits
For my body parts have gone their separate ways
My feet it seems were ideal for umbrellas, canes and sticks
Though that’s gone out of fashion nowadays
My tusks when carved in shapes by nature unintended
Made ornaments for all the finest homes
As for the rest of me when my life had ended
That was left as rotting flesh and bones.
Look at me I used to be a human being
Master of the world in my own eyes
But that’s because I had my own peculiar way of seeing
And mixing up reality and lies
I strode across the continents and conquered seven seas
Created and destroyed in equal measure
And demonstrated a facility that came with perfect ease
Of muddling the trash in with the treasure
Now I’m nothing more than a shadow on the wall
An outline silhouette of dust and ash
And all because I didn’t know the rule that binds us all
Everything in life at last must pass
And the world on which I lived is just a cinder in the sky
A mausoleum, tomb and monument
To my great capacity to demolish and destroy
With or without a ruinous intent.