Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lasting Impressions of Iceland

I'm finally posting again but this time from the green and verdant shores of Saint John River in Gagetown, New Brunswick. What a contrast in landscape! We arrived in Halifax, Canada on Thursday night, picked up the rental car, and drove 2.5 hours to Annapolis Royal to spend the night with an old friend from Vernon. After a glorious morning and lunch in AR, we drove to Digby to catch the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, NB, and drove another hour north to Gagetown, arriving about 8:30 PM. Saturday was spent wandering this beautiful village of artists before driving to CFB Gagetown (in Oromocto, NB) for Lloyd's nephew's wedding. The wedding was a wonderful family occasion--a good time was had by all.

Back to Iceland and my lasting memories of the diverse landscape--I've already commented on the enormous lava beds and bleak black sand and ash deserts. Interspersed can be lush farms with lots of sheep, dairy cows and/or horses. The sheep and horses are Icelandic breeds which can be traced back to the original Viking settlers. Indeed, my understanding is that no new strains of sheep or horses have been allowed into Iceland for several hundred years. The sheep have two coats--the tough outer hairs which shed the water and a soft inner coat which keeps them warm. Both parts of this fleece are incorporated into the Lopi wool which is used in all Icelandic knitting. The sheep can come in all colours from white, grey, brown (light to dark) and black. We saw lots of ewes with twin lambs, and it wasn't unusual for the twins to have different coloured fleece from each other and their mother. The horses were like that too--brown, black, white, and spotted or not. We saw newborn foals just figuring out how to stand on their legs, and older foals running and jumping.

I really enjoyed exhibits on the archeological digs ongoing in Iceland. One exhibit at Reykholt discussed climate change, and how Iceland is a good study in human impact on the local environment. For example, within a few hundred years of settlement, most of the trees had been removed (for fuel and building) and the people had to start burning peat--archeologists can tell when this happened by the type of ash in the deposit layers.

Last Wednesday we drove down to the southern most tip to the village of Vik. It was a rainy day and the landscape was obliterated with low clouds. We knew we were close to the volcano with the unpronouncable name however when we came to a river valley that had obviously just been flooded--the surrounding fields were full of black silt, gravel and ash. The first explosions of this volcano back in March had created huge havoc with flash floods that wiped out lots of pastures and road approaches to bridges. These approaches have been re-established, however there was still lots of heavy equipment dredging the river beds. By the time we'd had lunch and wandered around in Vik, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Our drive back was such a different experience--we could see the mountain tops and the glaciers which are now black with ash.

We visited the main geothermal plant for Reykjavik--a new plant which also generates electricity with steam turbines. Icelanders are understandably proud of their green energy and lessening dependence on oil. Geothermal hot water is piped into all cities and towns--every home is equipped with a heat exchange unit to heat their domestic hot water. And a side benefit in Reykyavik is that the hot water pipes under the sidewalks keep them free of ice and snow in the winter!

It is still such a contrast to be looking out this window in Gagetown to lush green grass and lots of big trees--this was a rare sight in Iceland. Icelanders have been so tenacious to survive amidst volcanoes and hot springs for over a thousand years. It isn't any wonder however that there has been a lot of emigration to greener pastures where making a living is a little easier--even Manitoba was an easier place to live than Iceland a hundred years ago.

Once I get home and sort through my photos I will post some of my more evocative images for you to enjoy. That should be in the first week of July. We're now headed off to Lloyd's nephew's home for lunch and to get to know his new wife a little better...and then to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredricton later this afternoon--remember that recent court case successfully proving that Lord Beaverbrook did indeed gift most of the paintings to New Brunswick? We're going to see some of them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Adventures with an Icelandic keyboard...

I have been enjoying myself immensely exploring this beautiful city of Reykjavik, and Lloyd has enjoyed the deep-sea biology conference. It´s quite amusing for other conference delegates to find out that we live in the interior of BC--"So what deep sea biology do you do there?" is a common question! To which Lloyd answers that he teaches entry level biology and comes to these events to get excited about topics, and in turn get his students excited about doing research. These PhD types all love that answer.

On Wednesday we joined the excursion organized by the conference, and hopped aboard one of seven 4x4 Mercedes Benz coaches to be driven about 4 hours into the interior. Quite a change in scenery--we drove through the greenhouse area not too far from Reykjavik (lots of greenhouses heated with geothermal power) and then inland into a vast black and bleak desert just west of Hekla, a volcano that erupted about 10 years ago. We were taken to Landmannalaugar where all 300 of us were discharged to hike or soak in a hot spring. Lloyd and I wandered up through an old lava field and he was excited to see all the obsidian--black volcanic glass. We hiked further up a valley gorge to some steam vents and then even further uphill to enjoy gorgeous views of the surrounding orange, grey and red hills. The only greenery is around the hot spring and the steam vents--otherwise it´s all stone and gravel.

To the Icelandic keyboard...because there are a few more letters in their alphabet, these have been added to the edges of the qwerty keyboard. For example, this letter þ is where my right baby finger expects to find the question mark. And this letter ð is to the right of the P. One keystroke that I am having to get used to is the apotrophe. I should be pressing shift first--otherwise I get an accent which only appears once the next letter has been typed, e.g. this "don´t" has the accent. And quotation marks are shift 2. To get the @ sign, I have to press and hold Alt Gr (do we even have that key?) and press Q.

To Joanne's question about flying with knitting needles--fortunately Canadian security allows them and has done for years (except for some hysteria just after Sept 11). I do take bamboo needles which I am not afraid to lose however!

And speaking of wool--this is indeed a wooly country. It's quite wonderful to see the array of woolen goods for sale, altho' the heavy circular yoked sweaters are a little too ubiquitous. I am enjoying the new designs--there are many shops highlighted Icelandic designers and they´re doing very adventurous things with knit yardage, felted wool, and other fabrics. I´ve bought 8 balls of Lopi wool (the fine stuff called Kambgarn which I haven´t seen in Canada) and tomorrow we´re going to the Alafoss Lopi outlet store in the nearby town of Mosfellsbær. (There's another Icelandic key æ just to the right of the L)

I've been immersed in learning about the Icelandic culture by visiting the National Museum, the Settlement Exhibition, and the Culture House. One interesting fact is that genomics studies have shown that 80% of male settlers were Norse and 62% were Celtic (mainly Hebridean). The sanitized descriptions describe the original female settlers as wives of the Vikings, whereas other (probably more realistic) information describes them as slaves!

That's enough typing for now... I'll post again in a few days.


Monday, June 7, 2010

We have arrived in Iceland

We landed in Iceland about three hours ago. The flight across the north Atlantic was beautiful. I had a window seat and enjoyed the night skies...the sun was setting as we left Toronto and very quickly there was a sunset that stretched across the sky in stripes of orange, yellow, pale blue and deep blue. This lasted about an hour and then it was pitch black for about an hour, followed by a sunrise which was very similar in colour, lasting only about half an hour before the sun popped up above the clouds.

I have a new sock knitting project with me--some toe up socks from Lucy Neatby´s Cool Socks, Warm Feet book--so I cast on somewhere over the Atlantic. I happily knit my way to Iceland.

The landscape around the Keflavik Airport (the international airport for Reykjavik) is bleak and beautiful...lots of rock and carpets of purple lupins. Every now and then were stone assemblages, almost statues--stacks of big and small boulders which looked very human...

We arrived at the Sunna Guesthouse at about 8 AM. They were fully booked last night and so our room won´t be ready for a while. Meanwhile we were able to have some breakfast...our first "Skyr" which is a low fat yogurt and delicious with granola and fruit. There was an array of breads, cheese, ham, hard boiled eggs, and fresh fruit as well. Lloyd has now dashed off to the University to attend the opening session of his conference, and I´m waiting here in Reception with the bags. Which is why I´m using the time to write on the computer available for guest use. The weather is typically marine--low cloud and mild. It just might burn off later. I really would prefer to be crawling into bed right about now, but might have to go for a walk instead!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jude has received her stole!

Here's the e-mail I received from Jude this morning:

It is with tears of gratitude in my eyes that I write to thank you for creating my beautiful stole. As I opened up the box, the tears started to fall. The beauty of this stole literally took my breath away.
Everything about it captures the very spirit of my ministry. That's me! Full of life. Full of beauty. Full of color. Full of love. It has Reverend Jude stitched into the very fabric of the design. And should ever I forget who I am or what I have been called to do, I only have to look down at the stole I'm wearing to be reminded.

Unfortunately, I'm home alone and have no one to take a proper photograph. But I couldn't resist sending SOMETHING to you! Here is the stole and robe - minus me! :-)

Thank you also for so beautifully including my mother in this piece.
My journey began with her, and it's so fitting that I will be taking her with me as I do my work.
(Note from Janet: Jude had sent me a photo of herself and her sister with their mother
asking that I incorporate it into the label. I superimposed the photo on an image of the heart from the back of the stole--using Photoshop--and printed the label on fabric.)
Feel free to include any of my words on your blog. May my words touch the hearts of your readers so that your work will continuing to touch the world.

Much love and many blessings,

Friday, June 4, 2010

The 12th Annual Okanagan Knitting Retreat

The latest knitting retreat at Sorrento Centre was a big success. For the first time we scheduled three concurrent workshops--each of the 56 participants chose one workshop for the whole weekend--and the choices were Contemplative Knitting, Knit Until it Fits and An Introduction to Lace Knitting.

I have opted to post images of close-ups of hands knitting--I just love looking at the different ways that people hold their yarn and needles.

The next retreat is scheduled for May 26 - 29, 2011. The most likely theme is "Socks", and again there will be a selection of workshops--for example, perfecting the fit, different heels and toes, and knitting from the toe-up or cuff-down.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jude's "Heart" Stole is Finished

I finished Jude's stole last Thursday, and then loaded up the car to go to my 12th annual Okanagan Knitting Retreat at Sorrento Centre on Shuswap Lake. I'll post some images from that great weekend by the end of this week. I shipped Jude's stole to her Monday morning.
I hope she'll get it by Friday. I'm very pleased with how this stole turned out, and am looking forward to getting a picture of Jude wearing in on her ordination day in a few weeks.