Saturday, 26 September 2020

Friday September 25th; Clear Skies, Cold Wind and the Onset of Winter

The last month has been full of autumn colours. The mountains were speckled with reds and pinks as the berry plants shed their fruit, turning the fellsides crimson as if bathed in the light of the setting sun. In the city, the leaves turn yellow and brown and gold, and to open the front door is to risk admitting a gust of wind and a flurry of leaves

     

Autumnal Bláberjalyng (Bilberry)
Near Landmannalaugar in Friðland að Fjallabaki

The air has been clear, the sun bright, but the wind bitterly cold, descending straight out of the north and over the mountain, frosting windscreens and chilling bones. This northerly wind bears winter on its back, ushering in snow on the mountain tops and heralding the end of autumn, though the leaves have not yet finished falling. 

With northerly winds come clear skies, low temperatures and the season's first frosts. This combination is peculiar; the blue skies and sun lure you outside, but in reality it's so cold you wish yourself back in the comfort of home the second you leave the house. These conditions even have their own name in Icelandic, gluggaveður, or window weather. It looks clear and bright outside, but really it's best viewed from the window. 

These conditions, while not ideal for walking, are perfect for sitting in the pool, and for the first time this side of summer, I could sit in the 40° pool for a whole hour without overheating. I had to run from the changing rooms to the hotpot, but once in the water I sank to my neck and really luxuriated, breathing the cool breeze and basking in the low evening sun. It's fascinating how much the pool experience varies from one week to the next, depending on the air temperature, and of course the wind, the rain, the hail and the snow. It was only last week I had to to duck beneath the water to avoid the descending hail stones, though bizarrely the air temperature was warmer and I was forced into the cooler and shallower pool before long. 

Despite the reds and golds, autumn, which in most countries lasts a couple of months at least, seems to have bypassed us this year and we've gone straight from summer to winter. Sunglasses are replaced by hats and gloves and dripping noses; and as tyres are switched from summer to winter, the streets resound with the sound of thousands of small metal studs rolling on tarmac. Summer coats are pushed to the backs of wardrobes and out come winter parkas, with big fluffy hoods and inches of insulating layers. Gone are the months of activity and light; sunset arrives earlier with each passing day and the time for keeping warm has come.


Thursday, 24 September 2020

Thursday 24th September. The wind from the north; cold, clear skies and the Northern Lights.

Thursday 24th September. The first northern lights this side of summer. My fingers ache and tingle with cold but my eyes glint green with light and colour. 

Clambering onto the shed behind the house, we are amidst gardens and rooftops, away from the streetlights, gaining height and perspective and framed with treetops and gable ends, there was the sky, alive with a streaming, a flowing trail of green haze. Flickering and moving with every second, the lights mutate and reform effortlessly, changing beyond recognition in an almost imperceptible moment of transition; but then, it can never have been just one moment because it is all transition, never the same shape or form from one minute to the next. In the same way that no two persons’ fingerprints are the same, no second in the life of the aurora borealis exactly resembles the one that came before it. 

The stream twists and doubles back on itself, flowing along its length, then pulsing and stretching, before curling up like a frond of fern, before changing again and fanning wide across the sky. The ribbon twists around itself before becoming a bedsheet, filling up the entire sky with a pale green glow.

We head to the seafront, climbing over rocks and boulders to see the lights over the bay, isolated in the darkness of sky and water. But we return to our shed rooftop before bed, and see 4 streams flow from a single point, slaloming in unison, echoing and mimicking each other. These streams pulse with flowing light for several minutes before they blend together and begin an effortless sweep across the sky. 

Some bands are thicker now, like stray lines of cloud, scattered and elusive, others mere wisps of vapour, but as if on some unseen, unheard cue, all distinct paths suddenly fade to leave the night sky with only a pale pastel hue, soft and wide and calm. 

Seeing something like that stays with you, something so beautiful, so simple and so unmoved by anythings occurring on the planet’s surface all those miles below. It doesn’t appear for show—a performance for applause—it merely is. And how lucky are we to witness this perverse accident of physics, that just happens to be beautiful. 

Picture taken in September 2020 by Marc Daniel Skibsted Volhardt, teacher of Icelandic at the University of Iceland. You can see more of his pictures on his instagram account here


Monday, 21 September 2020

September 21st 2020; Autumn waining, Winter waxing

I went for my second Covid test since arriving in Iceland in June. Voluntarily, this time, in a bid to improve the data that the Icelandic government has to work with. In the morning the sun is shining and I stand outside drinking my coffee and soaking up the rays. En route to the testing centre we get a glimpse of Esja and she’s covered in a fresh coat of snow, only a light dusting, nothing like a full layer, but still, the first hint of winter. The sun shines for most of the morning and allows for a short “walking meeting”—the safest form of face-to-face meeting in Covid times—though even after half an hour, my cheeks are beginning to feel the chill. And then this afternoon, the sky darkens completely, electric lights go on and hail descends, blown diagonal by the wind. Office-workers look up from their computers, and pedestrians grimace and lean into the wind, their faces shining in the shower of hail. The wind whistles through window cracks and ice splatters the panes. The browned leaves of trees turn cloudy white and glistening; and flagpoles rattle, their slackened ropes tapping out the beat of the storm.

The end to our hopes for automatic promotion. Can we even do it in the playoffs? Yet another League One draw.

 Blackpool drew to Accrington Stanley for the second time this season and weren’t allowed to play the sort of passing, free flowing football...