Inspiring Iceland

Iceland is an island that is slightly larger than Ireland and has a population of over 368,792 (2021) people. It is located on the northernmost edge of the Arctic Circle. A lot of people refer to it as "the land of ice and fire," which is appropriate because it is a land of extremes and a difficult place to live in. The roads and cultivated land are covered in snow during the winter; in the highlands, where there is always snow, glaciers are seen creeping down the mountains from the mountains. At the same time, many of these mountains are volcanic in nature, and Iceland experiences a major eruption approximately once every five years. The eruption of Laki in 1783, which produced the largest flow of lava ever recorded by man and caused a bluish haze in the sky that could be seen all over Europe, and even as far away as western Asia, and lasted throughout the summer, is still remembered by the islanders.

Because of the haze, Iceland's grass crop was severely stunted, leading to a famine that resulted in the deaths of 9,000 islanders as well as three-quarters of the island's sheep and horses. Fortunately, not all of the eruptions are as harmful as others, and some may even be more creative than destructive in their nature. A single volcanic eruption in the sea off the coast of Iceland resulted in the formation of an entirely new island. It is now possible for the islanders to benefit from the hot springs and natural steam fields, which are also characteristics of volcanic areas. In Reykjavik, this hot water is piped into the city and used for domestic purposes as well as to fill the town's public swimming pools. Iceland is a young country when compared to most European countries (the first people arrived in Iceland only about 1,000 years ago, during a period known as the 'Settlement Time,' when the first people arrived in Iceland) (AD 870-930). 

Vikings from Norway made up a large portion of these settlers, who arrived in Iceland at the same time that other Viking ships were attacking the eastern shores of Britain. Not only was there no human habitation on the island at the time, but there were also very few animals, all of which were of a single species - the arctic fox. However, there were plenty of birds, particularly ducks and geese, which continue to breed in Iceland to this very day. Iceland is also considered to be a young country in another sense. While many of the valleys in Europe that once contained glaciers have now lost much of their characteristic shape as a result of the action of rainwater and wind, the passage of glaciers from the valleys that are now inhabited has only occurred relatively recently in Iceland due to the action of rainwater and wind. 

It is as a result that the countryside has a rough-hewn appearance, the deep valleys retain the U-shape of a typical glacial valley, and much of the land retains its bareness of earth and plant life, much as it did when glaciers were slowly churning over it. Even in the lowlands, there are still large tracts of semi-desert, and there are very few trees to be found in the area. During the "Settlement Period," the land between the coast and the mountains was said to be heavily forested, but that the settlers quickly depleted the forest's resources and destroyed the remaining trees. Icelanders are beginning to replant trees on their lands, which is a wise decision. Glacial valleys have been flooded by the sea where they reach the coast, and the mountains that formed the valley sides plunge sheer into the water. In addition to the Norwegian coast, these sea inlets, known as fjords, can be found on the south-west coast of New Zealand's South Island and the coast of Iceland. 

Icelandic Hot Springs
Hot Springs are a feature of some parts of Iceland and are put to practical use in heating water for domestic supply

The majority of the Icelanders live on isolated farms or in scattered villages, either on the valley floors near the heads of fjords or on the spits of shingle that protrude from the sides of fjords, which have been built up by the action of sea currents. These farms are located on sites that have been occupied since the "Settlement Time," and are surrounded by a patch of cultivated grassland, with the farmer sharing with his neighbours the rougher land towards the interior for summer grazing during the summer months. Manured land near the farm provides grass for winter feeding, which is harvested in the fall. Because grain is difficult to grow, farmers rely heavily on their livestock to supplement their income. This is primarily comprised of sheep; there are twelve times as many sheep as there are cattle and dairy cows in the country. 

Horses are still grazed on the northern uplands, despite the fact that they are no longer used for transportation or farm work; however, many people still ride horses for pleasure, and they are especially useful in the autumn when the sheep must be rounded up from the wild uplands of the interior to be sold. In addition to the farmers, they have discovered a way to make use of the hot springs. In greenhouses, water is piped in and used to keep the greenhouses so warm that even tomato and cucumber plants can be grown there. It is in these coastal waters that cod, haddock, saithe, and whiting come to spawn, making the seas around Iceland a veritable gold mine for fish enthusiasts. The catching and processing of fish provides employment for approximately 14 percent of the islanders, and fish are an important component of both their domestic food supply and their exports. The great diesel trawlers that have taken over from the open boats that used to catch saithe, capelin, and redfish by the hundred. When the fish reach land, they are transported to processing plants, where they are processed as efficiently as possible. 

There are factories for making fish meal and refineries for codliver oil, and a large portion of the fish is filleted by machine and quickly frozen for export. This industry is so important to Iceland that the country has determined that it is necessary to take measures to protect its interests. She has been a member of the European Free Trade Association since 1970, but her agreements with the European Economic Community have been put on hold until a resolution of the dispute over fisheries resources has been agreed upon. In addition to the fishermen, many other industries are centred around them, such as the shipyards and engineering works where the trawlers are built, and the factories that manufacture fishing gear. Many of the other industries on the island are relatively new, such as the manufacture of cement, which was previously an imported commodity until relatively recently. For the islanders, who are voracious readers, and Iceland produces more books per person than almost any other country, this is an essential resource in a country with a long-standing printing industry that is still going strong. 

In Iceland, there were only two modes of transportation until the end of the nineteenth century: by pack horse over the mountains and along the coast, or by one of the coastal vessels that sailed from port to port. It wasn't until 1880 that the first waggon road was constructed in the United States. Throughout the twentieth century, an enormous effort has been made to connect all of Iceland's small hamlets, though it is unlikely that a road will ever be built along the country's southern coast, where it would be quickly destroyed by glaciers and powerful streams. Even though the roads are narrow and only partially surfaced with gravel and volcanic slag, there is at least a communications system in place, even though hundreds of bridges have had to be constructed. Also present is a network of internal airways, which connects a large number of outlying areas while also providing regular service between industrial centres such as Akureyri and Reykjavik.

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