22 April 2010


What does the almost unpronounceable Icelandic name Eyjafjallajokull mean? It is geographically functional and simply means Island-Mountains-Glacier. It lies above coastal mountains that overlook some offshore islands. It is dwarfed by another volcano called Katla (Dragon) whose crater is approximately six miles in diameter. Yes - six miles!

I was lucky enough to visit Iceland in 1991 and saw Eyjafjallajokull with my own eyes as I travelled round that unique country. It is sometimes known as "The Land of Ice and Fire" and I vividly recall a day trip to Viti (Hell) which is another volcano in the north of the island with a vast lake in its sleeping crater. That day in June, a blizzard was blowing snow horizontally as I picked my way across a field of bubbling sulphurous mud pools - like boils bursting out of the planet's troubled core. It was at once enervating and unsettling - to be in the presence of such fundamental forces.

In the centre of the island, it felt as if I was travelling across the surface of the moon - vast lava fields coloured pathetically by tundra lichen. With a guide and half a dozen other visitors, I came to an escarpment that ranged from the northern horizon to the south. Here you could see very clearly where two continental plates are ripping themselves apart - the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. We crept into a huge cavern under that escarpment and saw a lake of steaming hot water. I remember the guide telling us that when he was a boy he used to swim in this lake but by 1991 swimming would have been impossible - boiling vegetables would have been easy.

European aviation authorities have revised their attitude to Eyjafjallajokull's belching of volcanic dust. All of a sudden, caution has been thrown to the wind and aeroplanes may fly following a week of cancellations. Money has spoken. But if we see just one death, one aeroplane brought down then those authorities will have hell to pay.

Historically, when Eyjafjallajokull grumbles, Katla roars a short while later. This would be like jumping on a chair because a mouse is on the loose, only to discover that a herd of wilderbeest are preparing to thunder through the neighbourhood.

We arrogant human beings with our certainties and and our logic sometime imagine that we are masters of this planet as we plunder the forests and the oceans, destroy other creatures, dig minerals from the crust, dam rivers, build skyscrapers, jabber on TV screens - but we are not masters - we are servants, serfs, simpletons. Eyjafjallajokull reminds us that Nature with its elemental forces is the true Master of the Universe.


  1. Been traveling that same journey of thought myself this last week YP. In fact, a group of us have formulated an art work based on the dichotomy...
    Great post.

  2. Elizabeth6:53 am

    What a great post, YP. Wow, it must have been amazing to see these things. Love the image with the people in silhouette. x

  3. What an amazing place to visit. You are brave to do it.
    Hope the volcano holds off till we fly home on the 2nd May!
    Helsie from Helsie's Happenings

  4. It's amazing that so much of what makes our wonderful Earth what it is are the natural events that range from the truly catastrophic to the very inconvenient. I think of us not so much as servants but as long-term guests. I do wish that as a species, we were more considerate guests.

    I enjoy reading about your travels, past and present. Thank you.


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