Imagens da página

other tasty morsels are just as acceptable as the refuse and garbage that he does so much to put out of the way. Hence the raven is tolerated for the good he does; he is the chief sanitary official of the island. Flocks of tern and some of the family of gulls make their spring breeding haunts on the most desolate wastes imaginable, where they are seldom disturbed by the foot of man or by any of their natural enemies. On the terrible cliffs of the coast, the families of birdcatchers (and this dangerous work is kept very much in families) realize large sums of money at what seems the hazard of their lives. Safety as well as reward depend on the strength and quality of the ropes in use, and on the nerve and readiness displayed. A birchwood undergrowth which averages six feet in height, is crossed at the head of some of the fiords near Akureyri. This town, the northern capital, boasts great antiquity, though it consists of but a single row of houses; and it bears the palm over every other part, seeing that it possesses a few mountain-ash trees, that attain the respectable height of 20 to 30 feet. There were formerly more of these trees than now—some severe seasons having told on them—but they are jealously cared for, as among the sights of the island. They were planted and nourished by one of the traders of the place, whose name is held in grateful remembrance; and it must be noted that the fiord at the inner extremity of which Akureyri nestles, is of greater absolute length than any other inlet. It is circuitous also, and is protected on either side by ranges of hills varying from 2,000 to 3,000 feet in height. Still the sea-blasts rage with such violence near the coasts, that it would be impossible for trees, if planted, to take root without protection, and it is only on the holms of a few sheltered fiords that this can be obtained. Even in the renowned ‘Forest,’ which is crossed on the three days' ride to the Geysers, the willows are but a foot or two in height; and the birch-trees, monarchs of all, little taller than a walking-stick at their best, can be readily pulled up, roots and all, and carried in the mouth by the hardy steed that munches them as he goes along. Several varieties of the salix are met with, but only in dwarfed specimens that are hardly worth recognition. The native flora is limited, though it includes a wild strawberry that never fruits, blue violets that are scentless, and some ferns that hold their own bravely in the fight with adverse conditions. The Iceland moss of commerce (Cetraria islandica) is collected but to a limited extent, and that more by way of a holiday employment for the women and children. It is seldom eaten by the people save when hunger pinches hard; although, being richlyamylaceous ln in character, it is not devoid of wholesome nutriment. Amsterdam claims the chief part of it, where the Dutch value it as a cheap and safe adulterant for the less costly qualities of cocoa. The low moorlands of the North-West peninsula produce it abundantly; when dried, it is preferred boiled in milk and used as a soup. It is a soft, glutinous dish—useful for bronchial sufferers—but has rather a sickly flavour to stomachs used to stronger viands. The mountain summits of Iceland do not attain the height of even a respectable pass in the Alps—seldom rising beyond an altitude of 4,000 feet. But, springing, as many of them do, from the very sea-level, they are more imposing in character than many mountains of greater elevation. Hecla runs to 4,961 feet high, and Oroefa-Jokull, the highest summit in the island, reaches 6,241 feet. Not only is Iceland a volcanic land, but at sea also eruptions take place. Many of these are recorded, and there is no difficulty in assigning the origin of the Westmann Islands to this agency. The volcanic activity of Iceland is unparalleled elsewhere. More than twenty of its Jokulls have given evidence of vitality since the first colonists arrived, and some of them on a scale of destructive ejection more than equal to Krakatoa. The eruptions are, indeed, paroxysmal, but all the more dangerous from their uncertainty. Askja is the most dreaded, because the most active and the largest of the living volcanoes. Men of science were puzzled in 1875 to explain the source of the vast drift of meteoric dust that fell in Norway, the Faroe Isles, and even down as far as Shetland. Hecla was, of course, the supposed source of supply. But at that time Hecla was quiet; and it has never given such a spread of ashes as was then recorded. Inaccessible to the last degree—for it lies in the wild-rifted ranges equidistant from the east, northern, and southern coast-lines—few travellers have looked into the frightful crater of Askja, six miles in diameter; and yet there is no part of leeland more worth a visit, for it affords no ordinary object lesson in the forces that affect the crust of the earth. But these rough basalt and dolomite lavas, outpoured, upheaved in such terrific fashion, forbid any but the most robust from penetrating their secrets... Even the ponies refuse at last to accompany the curious traveller. Previous to the historic outbreak of Skaptar Jokull, over a century ago, Iceland contained many more inhabitants and domestic animals. Some records say that 200,000 sheep, 30,000 ponies, and 10,000 cattle perished in the deluges of scalding water, ashes, and lava that issued from its crater for more than half a year consecutively. Of lava alone, Bischoff’s In easurements measurements show that more material was ejected than would equal the whole mass of Mont Blanc from the summit to the sea-level. Mephitic vapours clouded the land and were carried hundreds of miles out to sea; fine dust was sent up in volumes to the higher regions of the atmosphere, giving all over the northern hemisphere the same blood-red sunsets that followed the great eruption of Krakatoa. Franklin, with his keen observation, speculated on the unusual phenomena, and the superstitious foresaw the wars that soon followed, which gave New England her freedom on one side the Atlantic, and deluged France with the blood of the Revolution on the other. This outburst of Nature must be credited with a total destruction of one-sixth of the inhabitants, and of half the total live-stock of the island, for malaria in various forms attacked human beings, and murrain the lower animals—both following immediately in the wake of the eruption. A surprising amount of accurate notes on the phenomena, and the various dates and events associated with the details of the greater outpourings of lava, are recorded by the natives. Pliny the Younger could not have noted things more carefully. When Hudson was making his last voyage to the North-West, where he discovered the great bay that bears his name, his men viewed as a dire portent that ‘Hecla vomited forth torrents of fire down its snowy sides, while sulphurous smoke ascended to the skies.’ This entry was made on the 11th of May, 1610; and it so happens that, while the Englishmen were skirting the coast, an Iceland clergyman not far off was noting every phenomenon as it occurred. Earthquakes, thunders, explosions, floods, ačrial distribution of pumice and scoriae, are all recorded with an accuracy that leaves nothing to be desired. This makes the work of the geologist easy, as he endeavours to trace the distribution and the successive stages of the lava flood. . Paijkull, in particular, has interpreted present facts in the light of past history, to an unwonted extent. He traces in situ the course of an eruption, the development of its destructive powers, and the relations of the older and newer lavas with unfailing clearness and precision. Sometimes a river has been

changed in its very course by these forces of nature. Although Hecla is one of the most important of European volcanoes, so far as activity and ejected matter goes, it is not, as we have seen, by any means the king of Icelandic volcanoes, nor has its action done a tenth of the injury to the country that the eruption-system of Vatna-Jokull (which is simply a vast inland glacier, through which volcanoes burst forth) and other less active volcanoes have done. It is almost as difficult to climb as the upper part of Etna itself; the lava being particularly rough and and the loose scoria abundant. It lacks, also, the graceful form and the perennial interest of Vesuvius; but, when it does brea forth, it makes itself heard at a greater distance than any other known volcano, while its scoriae have been carried by the winds as far as Norway and the Orkneys, at thirty miles an hour. Thunder precedes and always accompanies every volcanic eruption, so that some warning is given. The mud volcanoes, and the boiling springs, of which latter the Geyser group are best known, form a feature of no small interest. The Jokulls and their ice-fields occupy at least a quarter of the country, and this area may be put down as wholly unimprovable. The streams issuing from the ice-fields are coldness itself, and possess the same chalky appearance as do the waters that issue from the glaciers in Switzerland. That is, they are full of disintegrated rock, in suspension; and this is carried seaward at a rate which must ultimately tell on the average elevation of the land. A line drawn from Hecla to the capital (and embracing the region southwards to the coast) covers the most fertile and prosperous part of the island. Its chief settlement, Eyrarbakki, would be a splendid centre for local deep-sea fishing, if the boats in landing were at all protected from the surf which at times beats along this coast with fearful violence. Holding at most only two or three vessels—which must run in at floodtide—it has proved a death-trap to many a mariner, and even a Danish mail-boat has come to its end here. Whence comes the comparatively even and clean-shaved curve of the south and south-east coasts, as compared with the gnarled east and north, and the deep fiords of the north-west peninsula? The cause is not far to seek; the ‘Law of the Eastward Drift” is as noticeable here as on the coasts of Sussex and Kent. Those vast accumulations of shingle, that prevent a ship taking refuge at Eyrarbakki, are but the products (rolled and water-worn as they are) of what the action of wind and tide have wrested from the mainland, and then flung back again to form a defence against further encroachments. For the Atlantic flood-tide, when driven by the fierce gales of winter, has no compensating return volume of water to balance it; the return stream of the Arctic shuns the conflict, and rushes violently back by the north coast, in the channel lying between Greenland and Iceland. The great stretch of the Rangar Sands lying south of Hecla is but an equivalent to our Goodwins, off Sandwich, where an eddy has been produced by the current striking the Westmann Islands, and the tide has consequently to break its pace. The swift flood still lifts a portion even of the


the sea-bed itself, which adds, though slowly, to the ‘Chesil
Beach' of Iceland. The rest of the great curve is safe enough,
for the Jokulls almost send their very roots down into the sea
itself, and the conflict between the lashing wave of the storm
and the tidal current is fairly balanced by the basalt rock,
which just manages to hold its own.
The houses throughout the island are chiefly of wood or of turf,
without, in the former case, any taste either in construction or
colouring—points in which the Norwegians set them so good an
example. One of the great wants of the island is a supply of
lime for building; houses of vastly increased comfort and better
fitting doors could then be secured. The art of the locksmith
is not much in demand ; for a locked door is scarcely to be
met with, and the loss of valuables is never heard of. Where
built, as in the Faroes, of earth and stone in layers, the houses
have a turf-green roof, which renders them all but indistinguish-
able at a distance. The rarity and cost of timber, and the
difficulty of transport from the coast, almost prohibit the intro-
duction of baulks or scantlings of any size. The gables, however,
of houses of any pretension are often timbered; and as they
invariably stand outwards, the approach is, as it were, to the
end of the house. Neither roof nor walls are at all damp-proof.
Few of the rooms are constructed with a fireplace; and in fact
the winter is less intensely cold than the latitude might lead one
to infer, for the nearly spent Gulf Stream washes most of the
coasts. The farmhouses have a low entrance door, embedded
in walls of turf two to four feet thick, with embrasures cut
in them for windows. The internal construction is admirably
adapted sor the exclusion of light; the flooring is damp and
bad; while the odour of dried fish, half-cured mutton, con-
densed smoke, and a great absence of spring cleaning renders
a tent (if one can be carried) a great comfort to travellers.
The fires of white peat, that never go absolutely out, in the
kitchen, give little heat, and a good many changes of garments
(and plenty of waterproofs) should be taken, as the drying of
wet things is always a difficulty.
To taste coffee in perfection, it is necessary to visit Iceland,
though the excellent cream is an element in the quality that is
not to be despised. Still, Icelanders are assuredly the coffee-
drinkers of Europe. The more thoughtful among them say
that their land would be tenfold better off if not only less
spirits and beer, but also less coffee, were supplied in exchange
for the harmless smoked lamb, tinned salmon, and other edibles
that they send to Europe. Tallow, train oil, sheep's wool, and
cod-fish are ill-paid for in cheap Hamburg brandy, Scotch
- whisky,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »