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Post details: Frontier of Life

Frontier of Life

There are many things fascinating about Iceland. One which catches your eye no matter where on the island you are is certain stubbornness of life, its bullheaded determination to squeeze some juice out of virtually barren environment. While in the southern climes life wallows comfortably in the recliner of verdant valleys, in Iceland it is precariously poised on the razor thin ledge of uneasy existence.

Glacial outwash is a bleak stretch of land that looks like an industrial wasteland taken straight from apocalyptic movies. But give it a year or so and you will see an army of mosses marching across its inhospitable plain. No place is safe from the subversive invasion of green - lava flows, thermal fields, sheer rock faces, black sand beaches - wherever nutrient can be found, there they are. And where they can't, life subsists seemingly on pure hope. Like glacial mice - the small pebbles that the glacier rolls along as it descends into a valley. Slowly, year after year, they get turned from side to side eventually becoming sort of green eggs completely covered with moss and living purely off of the moving ice mass. No soil necessary.

But the ultimate outposts in the ancient battle between life and the elements are the Icelandic farms.

Trying to harness the forces of reproduction around the 66th parallel requires a healthy dose of determination, a good stable of horses and at least a thin layer of soil. Big or small, the farms put up a good fight for every acre of fertile land. Every mud patch that contains some organic matter, every couple of inches of dirt that drifted into the lava fields, every piece of tundra that the sheep won't turn down will count. They may not sustain more than a family or two, but in Iceland that is enough. As you drive around the island, you will see their small settlements ensconced in deep and wind torn valleys, perching on steep cliffs above the angry Arctic ocean or just underneath the mighty glaciers hanging onto a piece of land periodically flogged by devastating floods. Sometimes you drive around desolate mountain plateaus or charred volcanic ridges and you are thinking - no one could possibly build a farm here - and then you spot it. There it is. A silent monument to the endurance of man. A clenched fist thrust defiantly deep into the solar plexus of a frowning mountain.



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