This globally precious land in a country that claims to be an environmental leader is about to be sold for tourist developement. Perhaps this image shows why it is not being made into a national park instead, which would be the responsible, wise course to meet tourism and environmental goals together. Note the catastrophic lava field that obliterated the original farms in modern memory, the excavator digging gravel out of the river, a forbidden practice in many countries but likely under government subsidy here, to enable farmers to stay on the land, and the farm up on the poorly-productive high country, away from that lava gick. This is a story of survival by harnessing energy to an austere, hierarchal system of political order. The fear is palpable, but the land…
… is palpable, too. Environmental laws mean nothing if this land is not protected from crass development. The soul of the nation is here. Development is inevitable, and in true Icelandic fashion, it will be industrial and in place, and it should be. Restraint, though, is also Icelandic, and it is sorely needed here.
This land, rich in spirit, is as fragile as Iceland. The response to the offer of sale of this land should be as robust as iceland, which means putting some teeth into environmental legislation. The alternative is to become a laughing stock. It’s not desirable, and it’s not necessary.
A massive glacial outwash canyon, of unparalleled accessibility, purity and mystery, rising above a lava field that is a graveyard on and memorial to Iceland’s past, should be a national park, but not in the new Iceland. In the new Iceland, it is for sale, to be developed as a tourism site, at a time in which Iceland has come to the bearable limit of mass tourism. A national park would have the power to develop this land on a manageable scale. It is irreplaceable, and very vulnerable.
Even in Iceland, beauty is elusive. These hot springs and sulfur vents near Myvatn were mined by the Danes for sulfur. They are now a tourist site.They are, in fact, mine tailings. Only a tiny fraction of the sulfur remains. It’s still beautiful, though.
Nature, though, it is not. The Icelanders know this. You should know it too.
In the 9th century, long, long before Nicola Tesla, the vikings of Iceland changed the course of the Öxá, to create a waterfall in þingvellir. The sagas tell that it was named after a troll that used to chop up early parliamentarians with an axe — surely a witty reference to early spiritual struggles in Iceland, which was grounded simultaneously by at least three spiritual traditions: Norse, Irish and Christian. Wikipedia tells how the waterfall was used to provision campers with water.I will merely point out a couple things. First, the Icelandic killing fields were in this river, either by the drowning of witches, ie reunion with the troll, or by beheading on a rock in the water, ie the cancellation of Christian belonging, as a form of organic justice. This was hydro power before the industrial age. We now call it “nature” and “beauty.” Those are only industrial terms. Beware.