Devil Winds for Halloween

Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween

At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.

The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?


“Wind, Water, Stone”

A Poem for a Very Windy Day

As the lights are going out in parts of Los Angeles because of high winds, I am reminded of a poem by the Mexican Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz (1914-1998) entitled “Wind, Water, Stone.”

Wind, Water, Stone
By Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

for Roger Caillois

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.

The poem makes me think of the game of Paper, Stone, and Scissors. I love the final stanza which brings the three elements together into a satisfying whole.

I Am Blown Away

I Thought It Was Curtains for me....

I Thought It Was Curtains for Me….

If you read about the places to visit in Iceland, you will hear about the bird cliffs at Látrabjarg, the westernmost point in Europe (if you except some of the lesser-populated Azores Islands far to the south). Some nine miles in length, the cliffs average over 1,300 feet in height.

It was not easy to get to Látrabjarg using public transportation. Three times a week, a Sterna bus left Isafjördur at 9 a.m., returning twelve hours later. More than half the trip was over bumpy volcanic cinder roads between Þhingeyri and Brianslækur and between Patreksfjördur and Látrabjarg. Along the way, it stopped twice for the arriving Baldur ferry from Stykkisholmur and Flatey. I knew it would be a bear, but I took the bus a week ago today.

Some days in Iceland are beautiful and clear. Last Saturday was not. As the bus parked at the foot of the cliffs, we all learned we had a mile to hike to the top. A gale-force wind was blowing with light rain, from east to west. As I climbed the trail to the top, I felt the wind tugging me toward the edge.

Twice, I was blown down by strong gusts—each time distressingly close to a plunge to my death over the cliffs. (It happened once last year to a German backpacker.) To protect myself, I dropped down, being unable to make any forward motion in the wind.

Eventually, I made my way back to the bus. The Icelandic driver obligingly let me in an hour before the rendezvous time and informed me that it was like this about half the time. Other times, it was beautiful; and the cliffs abounded with puffins and razorbills. Today, the birds knew better than to try to fly into the teeth of the wind.

Do I regret the trip? Was it a wasted day? By no means: I saw parts of the West Fjords that—in an entirely different sense of the word—took my breath away. And I got to see the wedding-cake-like Dynjandi Falls twice. Just for the record, here is my best photograph of it:

Dynjandi Falls in the West Fjords

Dynjandi Falls in the West Fjords

In all, I saw the falls three times. It was worth it. Sure I got tired out. When we rolled back into Isafjördur around 9 p.m., I stumbled into the nearby N1 Gas Station and ordered a pylsur (that’s hot dog to you) and skyr. Then I somehow tottered over to the Gamla Hostel across the street and fell into a deep sleep.


Iceland 2001: Surviving the Fierce Winds

In a Land of Fierce Winds, Corrugated Steel Siding is Required

In a Land of Fierce Winds, Corrugated Steel Siding is Required

How windy is it in Iceland? For one thing, there are no tall trees on the island. The joke among the natives is the answer to the riddle, “What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest?” The answer: “Stand up!”

More of the land used to be forested, but centuries of sheep herding and gathering wood for charcoal and building had depleted the original forests. In the medieval sagas, most of which were written in the thirteenth century, much is made of who has the legal rights to claim driftwood that has washed up on the beach. (Cf. The Saga of Havard of Isafjord.)

One of the things I found most curious when I landed in Reykjavík were all the houses with painted corrugated steel siding. The above house is in Heimaey on the Westman Islands, but the general principle holds: Protect it with steel or the wind will blow your house in, if not away. The same goes for the roofs: A shingle roof would not last a month.

The painted corrugated siding does add quite a bit of color to a land which would otherwise tend toward the grey and gloomy. The following is a photo of the Bautinn, my favorite restaurant in Akureyri:

The Colorful Bautinn Restaurant in Akureyri

The Colorful Bautinn Restaurant in Akureyri

Whole neighborhoods in Reykjavík and other cities feature buildings whose siding has been painted in bright colors.