Tag Archives: wilderness

Iceland Journal – “Gullborgarhraun” – Snæfellsnes Peninsula, West Iceland

The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” 
― Cheryl Strayed

Most of Iceland remains wild, and untamed, and that is a good thing. As humans, in this era of convenience, it’s refreshing to be in a place like this; a place where we can still feel vulnerable and humbled by nature in its most elemental form.

This is something that has stayed with me, now that I sit comfortably at my desk, recounting this journey through Iceland. Even though we spent much of our time on the road, we did take the opportunity to wander off the beaten path a few times and feel Iceland in its natural form. You don’t have to venture more than a few meters off the road to experience this, as the road is but a thin, temporary, ribbon of civilization.

For example, here in the Gullborgarhraun, or Gullborg lava fields of the Snæfellsness Peninsula you are faced with kilometers of ancient lava, twisted and jagged, slightly softened by the ever-present mosses and lichens, which offer a splash of colour in the otherwise bleak landscape of black and grey rock.

At the centre of the scene sits Gullborg, a short volcanic cone, at one time, the source of all this lava, now rising from the deep lava field and littered with  and accumulation of sharp black ejecta, attesting to the active volcanic nature of this region. It’s a rawness that I’ve never experienced before and something I really appreciate given my formal education in geology, so many years ago.

The first word I used to express the nature of Iceland was ‘raw’, and that stands ever more true, several days into the journey. I suppose that is the real appeal for many of us who have travelled here. It’s one of the few places left in the world where we can experience this kind of wilderness, to enjoy such primal diversity within a relatively small geography. It’s like stepping back in time, to a place where nature ruled and mankind was merely a participant at its mercy.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/35 sec; f/1.8; ISO 32

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Iceland Journal – “Wild Abandon?” – North Iceland

“The greatest loss lies in our inability to accept loss.” 
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I have a strange fascination with abandoned buildings, always wondering how they became abandoned and the stories they must have to tell when they were somebody’s home.

Along the Ring Road we travelled through Iceland, there are many of these empty shells, some quite ancient, many perched along a lonely mountainside, lost in the vast, empty landscape which is present in much of Iceland. It struck me as emptiness in emptiness.

Take this house, for example. It’s on the shores of the Heiðará river, just past Heiðarfall mountain that dominates yesterday’s image. It sits on a field of the ever present yellow grasses and mosses, along the river, next the main Icelandic highway, with a tall mountain for a backyard. If you look closely, you can see that there must have been patches of garden at one point, given the drainage ditch and rectangular area of grass to the right of the house. The house itself does not look too old and the roof is in good repair, at least from this vantage point. Yet, it’s clearly abandoned.

Who lived here? A solitary sheep farmer or a family? There is easy access to water as well as the road, not to mention that the city of Akureyri, is only a short drive away. I’d love to know the story, but I fear it is lost in time and the wide and wild spaces of Iceland.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/100 sec, f/5.0 ISO 200

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Iceland Journal – “Selfoss” – North Iceland

“Selfoss” - North Iceland

“Unlike the majority of people, he did not hate or fear the wilderness; as harsh as the empty lands were, they possessed a grace and a beauty that no artifice could compete with and that he found restorative.” 
― Christopher Paolini

It’s really hard to describe this place. The photo was made about an hour after the one I posted yesterday. That’s how fast conditions change in Iceland. For about thirty minutes, we enjoyed relatively clear skies, though snow squalls loomed on the horizon.

This is Selfoss, a broad, but relatively low waterfall in Northern Iceland. The landscape around this waterfall, and the higher, Dettifoss below it is unbelievable. From beyond Selfoss, the steep ravine you can see here gets even steeper with an almost tortured look, like the earth was torn apart, leaving a gaping maw of high, jagged cliffs of black basalt.

There is nothing smooth or soft here. The entire landscape is dark and sharp and barren, with a few mosses and sparse grasses clinging tenuously between the blasted rock. There must have been a great upheaval here, in the vast volcanic plains of Mývatnsöræfi, in Iceland northern region.

The other thing that does not show in the photo is the biting and relentless winds that whipped at us as we made photos of the waterfalls, stepping through deep snowdrifts and winding between the sharp rocks that line the edges of the gorge. Don’t get me wrong, this is a well-travelled tourist site, with a large parking lot and well-marked trails, but at times the drifts made it tough to walk and they covered jagged rock beneath them.

We spent about an hour photographing both Dettifoss and Selfoss. Then, looking to the sky and seeing another squall approaching , we made our way back to the car, which is about a half kilometer walk. Before we got to the car, the squall hit and made it difficult to see more than a few meters ahead of us. By the time we got back to the car, the full savagery of the storm was on us and we could barely see the length of the parking lot, so we decided to wait it out. As we sat in the car, we saw a tourist bus pull in and had to wonder how that bus had navigated the horrible, drift covered road that led us to the waterfalls, 26 kilometers off the Ring Road! Not to mention, people would have paid good money for the tour to the waterfalls, been transported through along dubious roads, only to arrive in blizzard-like condition.

The storm eventually eased and we left the parking lot with three other cars, knowing that the road we had travelled to get here would be in even worse condition on the way out. Fortunately, the trip was made safely and our journey continued.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 160 mm
1/500 sec, f/13.0, ISO 800

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Iceland Journal – “Sandfell” – Fáskrúðsfjörður, East Iceland

“Sandfell” - Fáskrúðsfjörður , East Iceland

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” 
― John Muir

I have found myself looking back through the photos I made along a trail leading to Sandfell, a moderately high coastal mountain, on the Fáskrúðsfjörður fjord in Eastern Iceland. I shared a bit about this in yesterday’s post.

This place summed up a lot of what I experienced in Iceland. Here, I’m standing on the shores of a small glacial stream and looking up the slopes of Sandfell itself. It’s like the innumerable mountain streams that seem present everywhere in Iceland. The creek, one of many flowing down from the mountain, follows a stone filled gully, bounded with long grass and mosses. The mountain itself is not very high, at just over 700 meters and would not normally be snow-covered. The snow is the result of a series of late October snowfalls. It has remained frozen above 600 meters and the creek, where I am standing is a transition zone between freezing and melting.

The scene is also representative of the many colours and textures of Iceland; the endless moss and grasses and the stark black stone of ancient volcanoes, covered in light snow at this time of year. Its rugged yet peaceful, a natural and untamed beauty so rare in the world these days. I completely understand why  thousands upon thousands of visitors come here every year. My hope is that, despite all the tourists, it can remain unspoiled.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/1150sec; f/1.8; ISO 20

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“Hilltop Hemlocks”

“Hilltop Hemlocks”

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 
― Henry David Thoreau

At the crest of a hill, the trail drops sharply in front of me. In this region of wilderness, near Bancroft, Ontario, there are very few flat places. The landscape is dominated by steep, folded hills. The valleys are the realm of spring fed creeks and beaver ponds.

The walking in the high ridges is a bit easier, as the dominant hemlocks are fairly well spaced, yet it only takes one which has fallen to make for a long detour. There are few straight paths between the hills and valleys of the “Boreal Trails” and the only markers along the way are the trees themselves.

When I was younger, I used to have a fear of getting lost in the forest. My father, an avid outdoorsman, never balked at heading into the densest bush. I’m not sure when things changed for me, but I have acquired that same sense of direction that he had. But, I always have a compass with me, no matter how familiar the forest may be, as I have found myself turned around a few times.

In this forest, I tend towards the high ground, following the parallel ridges north and south. Trekking in the valleys, strewn with debris of slash and boulders, and choked with balsams, is tough walking.

Besides, the view from the ridges is much more appealing than the darkness of a tangled spruce bog.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD@70mm
1/4 sec, f/11.0, ISO 400

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“Who’s There?” – Fraser Lake, Ontario

“Who’s There” - Fraser Lake, Ontario

The title for this photo did not take long to decide.

In pouring rain and heavy wind, at the end of my unsuccessful deer hunt, I was driving back to the cottage and noticed this fine fellow standing in a field next to the road, on private property, near a group of houses and cottages. I had my camera in the back of the car, not expecting any further opportunities because of the bad weather, and carefully pulled off the road, opened my door gently, closed it, ever so quietly, for fear of spooking him, grabbed my camera and walked back to see if he was still there.

Much to my surprise, my stopping and car doors opening did not seem to bother him. In fact, he probably did not hear me clearly due to the wind and rain. And, he would not have scented me, for the same reason. Thus, his senses were limited to sight alone. I suspect that’s why he’s craning his neck like he is. I could see him over a rise in the field and I expect his view was much the same. The pale white lines across the photo are caused by the two strands of barbed wire running through the frame.

I had spent the day photographing with my 70-200, because of the low light and wish I could have switched to my 70-300 to get a closer view, even though I did not use full zoom on this shot, in order to capture more of the background scene. Anyways, despite the conditions and circumstances, I was happy to see, and photograph, this beautiful animal before he bounded back into the forest, uncertain if I was actually a threat to him. Just another of those moments and memories I often talk about.

Nikon D300
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 165mm
1/60 sec @ f/4.0-.33, ISO 250

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