A following wind saw us arrive ahead of schedule at the little port of Heimaey in the Westman Islands off the southern coast of Iceland. The narrow entrance to the harbor was spectacular, with a 36-year old lava flow on one side and steep lava cliffs on the other. This little fishing community made headline news around the world in January 1973 when, without warning, fountains of lava began to erupt on the edge of town.
Although the morning had dawned gray, the sun shone as we toured the island. From a steep grassy cliff, we watched puffins fleeting in and out of their burrows and diving gannets plunging headlong into the sea. But the highlight must be the volcano of Eldfell, known as ‘Mount Fire.’ In 1973 the lava flow threatened to engulf the town and block its harbor. Holding a handful of the hot ash on the volcanic cone from which it erupted brought home to us how recent the volcanic activity had taken place here. All around us were signs of the power of the Earth: concrete tanks broken and overwhelmed by the lava; electricity pylons disappearing into the rock and the remains of buildings protruding from the flow. Today was a day when we really saw the power of our planet.