Page images
PDF
EPUB

island and does not freeze in winter, from the existence of hot springs in its depths, and from the fact of the lava having never thoroughly cooled.

To the right is a hill like a dust-heap heaving itself out of the morasses which surround it, with a thread of vapour creeping along its base. This is Vindbelgr, or " The Bellows."

Now turn to the left, and you see the indigo chain of Blafell (Plate IX.), beyond which is a field of sulphur and boiling mud, called Fremri Namur, not visited by travellers, as it is difficult of access, and inferior in interest to the Namarhull springs. Nearer at hand is Hverfjall, which was thrown up in 1748-52; it is a crater, dipping conveniently on one side, so that we can see into the bowl and admire its symmetry. Perhaps you can distinguish a black line along its base; that is a fissure in the lava, similar to the Almannagja, only on a smaller scale. More distant is Vilingafjall, a crater much like Hverfjall. Both are built up of shale and dust, and have never erupted lava.

Now turn your eyes to the strip of land between us and the water. Below us is the farm, with its emerald patch of tun, and the church, the latter encircled by lava which has flowed towards it in an undivided stream, parted into two arms, and met beyond. This took place during the last eruption of Krafla between the years 1724—1730.

The mountains then vomited flames and matter in a state of fusion, which rolled down in torrents, and inundated the neighbouring fields, overlapping older beds of lava. In the lake, where the matter burned like oil for several days, it killed all the fish and dried up the greater portion of the water.

The largest branch of this river of fire ran nine miles from the mountain, and was three miles in breadth; whilst another torrent overwhelmed the parsonage of Beykjahlith, which was swallowed up without leaving the slightest trace behind. The volcanic matter advanced slowly, destroying everything in its progress, without undergoing the least change. During the day it emitted a blue flame, like that of burning sulphur, though the smoke that rose from every part prevented it from being often seen. During the night the horizon was marked by a line of flame, and the clouds rolled fiery overhead. Globes of flame rose from the mass amidst deafening explosions. Whenever the torrent stopped, its surface was soon covered with a crust similar to the skin formed on hot milk; this cake, which might be from one to two feet thick, soon hardened into stone; but when new waves of fire swept over it, they broke, melted, and carried off the crust as a thawing stream dislodges, and bears off the ice which has formed on its surface. In cooling, the lava assumed the most fantastic shapes, such as flowers or sculpture.

After the volcano had ceased belching fire, the core of the lava remained a long time in fusion, and continued to run under the crust in such parts as were sloping; in forcing its passage, the fiery substance generally broke the crust, and thus occasioned many crevices and caverns, internally vitrified with stalactites suspended from their roofs.

Two streams of lava have descended the hill on which we stand, one on either side of us. Of these, one is older than the other, and is coated with thick gray moss, which vainly struggles to veil its deformity, whilst lichen paints the stone with blood-streaks and orange stains, as if to relieve its gloom.

The other is in ah1 its nakedness. Blocks as big as houses are propped among vitreous snags; slabs, whose upper surface is scored with corrugated, concentric wrinkles, like coils of rope, and whose nether side is spiked with stalactites of olivine-coated stone, are canted up with their teeth ready to rend you as you scramble past. Caverns gape among the ruins; into these snow has slipped and become discoloured, but their intricacies you shrink from exploring without a light. Everywhere one sees hummocks of angular fragments clashed together; blisters which have burst, their cankered lips gashed, and their throats blocked with the cakes from which they have been unable to free themselves; cracked domes with holes in them, just large enough for the foot to slip through, and the jagged edges of which would mangle it if you drew it back, down which holes you look into the utter darkness of a cavern without an adit; jaws which have gnashed together till they have ground their teeth to powder; horns, spikes, shavings, polygons of inky rock, shivered, ripped, spurned aside, welted and crushed, as the fiery mass, restrained from doing further injury, has mangled itself in its writhings. See the work of regeneration and restoration has begun. On yon tilted block, one tremulous saxifrage has taken root, and lifts its white face to God and man; the forerunner of other plants, which are to subdue and reduce to powder this iron rock, to fill its grizzly hollows, and make the rough places plain. The rains will honeycomb its shoulders, the frosts chip off its angles, the winds fret its sides; the birds will bring seeds to it, plants will spring up and dissolve its tissues, willow will take root in its crannies, birch plant itself and shed leaves into its crevices, till a good mould is formed, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field. Now look behind, and you will see the red gable of Hlitharfjall standing up soft and rosy in the evening air, with a fleck of white on its apex. Several of the neighbouring mountains have the same charred hue, like slag from a furnace. If we climb a little higher and get a glimpse of Námarfjall, we shall see a chain of bright red and yellow mountains with steam curling from the gullies on their sides. But I think that it is time for us to descend to the farm, whence Grímr is signalling that supper is ready. The guest-room at Reykjahlith is a curious sample of Icelandic taste. It is well boarded, and there are curtains to the recess which contains the bed; the walls are painted gamboge to the height of three feet, above which they are ultramarine; the cornice is composed of ideal green and pink flowers, and the ceiling is flesh-colour. The farmer called me out just as I was going to bed, to observe a curious phenomenon. At the farther end of the lake was a moving russet pillar, the head of which reached

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »