Down in the Valley

June 24, 2006

My first group of volunteers has come and gone, and all is well. I’ll be meeting my next group in about 25 minutes, so this will have to be short. I’m attaching a few more photos- they were taken during an expedition down to one of the valleys in Skaftafell, called Morsádalur, where lupines have taken over. While a beautiful flower, the lupine is an invasive species brought to Iceland in hopes of enriching the soil. Unfortunately they’ve spread out of control and the sheep will not eat them, so it’s causing problems everywhere. We hiked down into the valley (about two hours) to repair a fenced-in area for sheep, where some are hoping the sheep will suddenly fancy munching lupine. They didn’t seem too interested. We have had some days of rain, which is to be expected, but one of the nice things in the valley is the arrangement of the lupine leaves- they form a little circle, perfect for cradling fat rain drops in the mist. The lupines just glittered with all of these suspended drops of water, and it almost made the rain seem like a blessing instead of an inconvenience.

I’ve also become reacquainted with PermaDirt… when you get so dirty, so regularly, that it never really goes away. My tent has become an array of clothing piles, ranging from Mostly Clean, to Sketchy, to Only If Desperate, to Terminal. When you start recounting your most recent hot shower by the city you were in, instead of the day, you might be a trail monkey. If your socks are too soft to be used as tent pegs, hey, you’re good for another day!

All is good, the sun is shining today and this week we’ll be working on restoring a turf house. My co-leader is one of the Ians, the Scottish one, so I’ve been adjusting to his accent as well. “Aye’ll be get-tin up air-ly to kook the porridge, yeh?” But it’s fun.

Morsárdalur, the valley that seems deceptively close but it actually quite a long walk! Especially when you're carrying a sledgehammer.

Morsárdalur, the valley that seems deceptively close but it actually quite a long walk! Especially when you’re carrying a sledgehammer.

The beautiful but problematic lupine are everywhere.

The beautiful but problematic lupine are everywhere.

Cradling a fat, shimmering droplet of rainwater...

Cradling a fat, shimmering droplet of rainwater…

On the way to Skaftafell, we pass the elegant Skogafoss, which is not the most famous or the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is definitely my favorite. Those are three of my new volunteers in the foreground.

On the way to Skaftafell, we pass the elegant Skogafoss, which is not the most famous or the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is definitely my favorite. Those are three of my new volunteers in the foreground.

Turf buildings were necessary in Iceland because they utilize Iceland's abundant resources: turf, stones, and small amounts of driftwood.

Turf buildings were necessary in Iceland because they utilize Iceland’s abundant resources: turf, stones, and small amounts of driftwood.

This is the inside of the turf building above. The wooden frames were built and then lined with rocks, and the roofs were made of shingled slate stones which was then covered in turf. The support logs are not nailed or connected- don't lean against anything!! Our mission is to clear up one of these buildings that had collapsed long ago, and also uncover and rebuild a historic turf-and-stone sheep fold nearby.

This is the inside of the turf building above. The wooden frames were built and then lined with rocks, and the roofs were made of shingled slate stones which was then covered in turf. The support logs are not nailed or connected- don’t lean against anything!! Our mission is to clear up one of these buildings that had collapsed long ago, and also uncover and rebuild a historic turf-and-stone sheep fold nearby.

It was hard work. As the days progressed, lunch break often became nap time as well.

It was hard work. As the days progressed, lunch break often became nap time as well.

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Here we have before and after shots of part of our work. Aside from cutting and removing the turf that had grown over the collapsed building, we also removed all of the rotted and broken interior beams and several layers of slate. We also played archeologists, finding some wooden beams carved with old initials and several aging horseshoes.

Our restoration group did take time out to go for a guided trek on Svínafellsjökull, one of the nearby glacial tongues.

Our restoration group did take time out to go for a guided trek on Svínafellsjökull, one of the nearby glacial tongues.

This is Sarah, the British version of me! It took me a while to learn to understand her strong Yorkshire accent, but once I did we found we had lots in common, including a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and a love for Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

This is Sarah, the British version of me! It took me a while to learn to understand her strong Yorkshire accent, but once I did we found we had lots in common, including a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and a love for Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

Yep, it's another photo of the glacier!

Yep, it’s another photo of the glacier!

Here we are atop one section of the rebuilt sheep fold wall. It is WAY harder than it seems.

Here we are atop one section of the rebuilt sheep fold wall. It is WAY harder than it seems.

This is Jökullsárlón, also known as the Iceberg Lake. Incredible, magical place. A glacial tongue slowly calves off into this lagoon, and the chunks of ice, some as large as buildings, slowly make their way out to the sea. There is a stillness and a chill in the air here unlike any place I have ever been.

This is Jökullsárlón, also known as the Iceberg Lake. Incredible, magical place. A glacial tongue slowly calves off into this lagoon, and the chunks of ice, some as large as buildings, slowly make their way out to the sea. There is a stillness and a chill in the air here unlike any place I have ever been.

The beach just past the mouth of the lagoon, where sea-faring icebergs sometimes come back to shore on the black sand.

The beach just past the mouth of the lagoon, where sea-faring icebergs sometimes come back to shore on the black sand.

Americans are cool!

Americans are cool!


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