Midnight in the Garden of Fire and Ice

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief
And the dry stone, no sound of water. Only
There is a shadow of this red rock,
(Come under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

– T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). The Wasteland 1922

It is 11pm and I am at the base of Reykjadalur, one of Iceland’s geothermal valleys. The path leads up the volcano in between two streams. One carries boiling water; the other is ice cold. The guttural noises from the trembling pots can be heard across the valley. It sounds as though something large and violent is tying to push its way out of the ground.

It smells like a newly cracked bottle of Pro-Active. The sulphuric air is cold and fresh and promises of a warm bath at the top. That is what is keeping me going along this lunar landscape. Many people flock to these naturally occurring geothermal baths for their alleged healing powers. And, I could use some healing.

The mountain goats have moved onto the path thinking that the last travellers had gone. They seem annoyed at the though of moving for the last lowly tourists seeking the cure.

Iceland has an abundance of hot springs that have been used by her residents to heat their homes for the last century. Today, geothermal energy heats more than 90% of the homes in Iceland and produces 25% of the nation’s electricity. The remainder is produced by hydropower, making this country one of the cleanest in the world. Through research and innovation, other countries are slowly beginning to follow suit under the guidance of the International Geothermal sector, led mainly by Iceland’s leading Directors in the field. Major kudos!

By midnight, under a clear-blue sky, we reach the “big show”. Cue the lights, start the smoke machines, bring out the dancing penguins! Okay, so there were no dancing penguins, but the smoke lifts off the volcano like a bomb has just exploded. All around us are deep pock-marks filled with boiling water. Interestingly, each one is a different colour. They look like pots of witches’ potion in hues of black, red, blue, and green. The jagged crown of the obsidian ridge juts out overhead and seems like it has been frozen in mid-explosion. I don’t feel like swimming anymore.

This place gives off a chill that is not just the result of the arctic winds. It’s time to turn back. I’ll settle for a warm shower: it’s coming from the same place anyways.

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