Sunday, January 17, 2016

Iceland, day 2.4: Geysir, onward upward

The sun was setting and dusk falling as we approached Geysir, just before 1700 hours. The area is a bubbling cauldron of fire and ice, just what Iceland is known for and marketed as. As one first approaches, there is a small steaming hole atop a small rise, surrounded by ice. Little signs throughout warn that the water is hot: 100 degrees Celsius or more. That means: boiling hot. Still, I wanted to reach in and just touch the water quickly, the way a WET PAINT sign counterintuitively beckons one to touch. But I did not. Some of these hot springs, which abound in Iceland, are always percolating and are not active as geysers. Our word in English borrows from the Icelandic place name of Geysir and the Icelandic word, which borrows from Old Norse: to gush, gusher, to pour. As a wordsmith, I had reverence for the place for this reason alone. How often does one experience such etymological originalism, or word-birtherism? Icelanders bake bread in the hot ground near here and other places, for 24 hours, but I neither saw nor bought any. I saw one or two other bubbling craters before seeing the large, active one, Strokkur, as in "churn," which had people shrieking and jostling some twenty yards away. The experience is oddly lunar, here and elsewhere, though how would I know, never having traversed the lunar landscape. (And there's no water shooting into the air there.) I walked up to THE geyser. It had just "gone off." some little kids were laughing; perhaps they were a tad too close and got doused with mist. Up on a slight incline, I was not worried about that. From the prior bursts, you could see which way the wind was carrying the steamy plumes. A low, chained fence kept people at a safe distance. We were told this active geysir goes off approximately, but unpredictably, every 2 to 8 minutes. A pool of water, perhaps 20 to 30 feet in diameter, percolated and rippled. Then it would start to heave, as if it were breathing, or as if it were a creature getting ready to cough. without exact warning, BOOM it bursts upward vigorously like a rocket launch with an iridescent blue at the bottom hurling skyward and turning steam white and exploding into the air. It pauses as a column, some 75 feet high, and starts dispersing downwind. I stayed to witness two or three eruptions close at hand. Having been warned about the difficulty of timing, I did not attempt to photograph or video record it. My battery was low anyway. More than that, I knew it'd be a futile attempt and I wanted to take this in and let it surprise me. Of course, that was in line with the explicit purpose of the whole trip: to reset my true north bearings by taking in new surprises, to see what would be revealed -- around me, in front of me, in me. The eruption was cleansing. And innocent fun. Erupt, release, spray, spout off, churn, release pressure, recharge: it was all there as the perfect natural metaphor machine. And onward and upward, too. As is said of the wind itself (as well as spiritual matters), one never knows exactly where it comes from or where it goes, or when. Same here. This seemingly endless geyser gives the appearance of everlastingness, though it merely happens to be "alive" now. It has not always been active and, like Geysir itself, can become dormant or more quiet.

We headed into the sunset, darkness enveloping us. Trond played some Icelandic music. It was a long and wondrous day in the Golden Circle. I drifted off to half-sleep on the way back to Reykjavik. We stopped in the cold dark to view the Northern Lights, off the highway, taking advantage of the absence of light pollution. If it were not for Trond pointing out the subtle greenish-blue wave above the horizon, which became two fairly distinct waves, I would not have discerned it as aurora borealis. I would not known where to look and would have expected (there's that word again) shimmering, Technicolor flamboyance. So, it was not postcard-dramatic, but observable and a fitting cap to the day. 

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