Friday, June 8, 2018

Days 31 & 32: The Enigmatic Glacier and Home

The face of a sheep who wants something (in this case, her baby that she hadn't been feeding well which we adopted out).
This will be my last blog post! The thought of blogging made me pretty nervous in the beginning, but I soon came to like it quite a bit. I'll miss it, but not nearly as much as I'll miss Iceland. As it turns out, Grace, Carly and I will be the last UMaine students to work with Snaedis and Helgi at Hestur, as they will be retiring from the 600-ewe farm in January. They did an incredible job in the three years they ran the farm, turning it into something both they and the Agricultural University of Iceland can truly be proud of. I'm sure their drive and their high standards of excellence will translate well to anything they choose to pursue next. I'm truly grateful for the time I was able to spend at Hestur with them. Snaedis and Helgi really were a delight to deal with. Even with all their farm responsibilities in addition to being new parents they were always kind and approachable, and I learned a great deal from them. Thank you Snaedis and Helgi!
Peekaboo lamb.

For our last full day in Iceland, Carly and I set off in the trusty Lancer to explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula. I drove and she navigated. Neither of us had cell data, so we relied on a map and some instructions from Snaedis, just like everyone did 20 years ago (well, not Snaedis's instructions in particular, but you get what I mean). Since I was driving, I did not get any pictures of the landscape, but Carly did and either she'll send me some photos to add to this post, or she'll make her own post to showcase the pictures.

We took route 54 north from Borgarnes. The weather was generally cloudy, but not rainy. It seemed that the entire peninsula was enrobed in a dense layer of fog that concentrated itself around the mountains with the occasional tendrils reaching down into the valleys and lowlands by the sea. The fog added an appealingly mysterious quality to our surroundings, but unfortunately it also made sightseeing things farther than 500m or so away a bit difficult/literally impossible. We passed many farms, including one with beef cows, and lots of pastureland, along with stony ground spattered with low shrubby bushes, and winding marshland. Sheep could be found in all of the above. We had intended to go west along the bottom of the peninsula, circle around to the top, then drive east to Helgafell outside of Stykkisholmur, and then head back. However, I made a navigational error and continued on route 54, which headed through a mountain pass in the middle of the peninsula instead of turning left onto route 574, which would have taken us to the end of the peninsula.

Like most Icelandic roads, this mountain pass was just barely wide enough to accommodate a single lane in either direction, and had no guard rails. I was sure as hell not executing a 3-point turn on a narrow, curvy mountain pass in thick fog and with no guard rails, so we had little other choice but to continue onward and accept our new adventure. It would have been a lovely drive if we had a better view of the mountains surrounding us, but we had to make do with the occasional glimpse of a peak through the fog. In a moment of higher visibility, we did pass a small, possibly abandoned shack by a pond that was right by the road, and I can't help but admire and also be a little concerned for whoever had been intrepid enough to put it there.

Near the end of the pass, the road petered out into gravel, but it was well kept up, and the Lancer handled it just fine. We headed downhill, and suddenly popped out into clear air, with a view of the beautiful blue sea! We turned left and headed into Olafsvik, where we bought sandwiches for later. We continued west, admiring beautiful cliffs with nesting seabirds and still hoping for a good hiking trail or road so that we could see Snaefellsjokull itself (I suspect that on a clear day it would have been very visible from many of the places we'd visited, but alas). I took a likely looking road that turned out to lead to the oldest concrete church in the world, built in 1903 and located in the town of Hellissandur. It was cool but fell a bit short of 'big volcano surrounded by glacier with rumored psychic energies' cool.

Soon we were rounding the end of the peninsula and entering Snaefellsjokull National Park. While we were searching for a good hiking trail, Carly spotted a big volcanic crater off to our right. It turned out to be Saxholl, which has a nice set of steps on its side, so that visitors can climb right up and peer inside! (Spoiler alert: no lava) The wind increased very noticeably as we climbed, but fortunately the exercise of getting to the top kept us warm enough. We headed south again, noting a lighthouse and several large pillars of rock in the sea ahead. This turned out to be the location of Snaefellsjokull National Park's visitor center, which was small but had some good exhibits, including a 'sheep bath' historically used for dipping sheep in medicine to rid them of skin parasites. A staff member informed us that it was unsafe for us to hike too close or onto the glacier without a guide, and if we just wanted to see it, we would probably have better luck continuing east and trying a gravel road that veered to the north just past Arnarstarpi. When I asked if the road was safe (specifically for those in a borrowed 20-year-old car and no cell service), all I got was: "Well, the road is at your own risk." Thanks...
Top of Saxholl.

View from the top of Saxholl.

We continued to Arnarstapi, which Snaedis had circled on our map, although to our chagrin, neither of us could recall specifically why. It was a cute little town with a big statue of a mountain spirit... and then I noticed that past the statue there was a viewing area on the cliff overlooking the sea. As it was such an overcast day, I doubted the view would be particularly good, but we were there and decided to walk over and have a look anyway... and soon realized exactly why Snaedis had circled Arnarstapi.

Leaving Arnarstapi, we came upon the gravel road the visitor center staff member had mentioned to us. There were a few cars parked by the side of the road there, and several warning signs. Some of the writing was in English, perhaps because legend had spread of the crazy and/or badass American woman who drove up the glacier in a 20-year-old car last year (not going to name any names...). Had we more time, we would have followed suit of the other cars parked there and just hiked in a little ways, but it was mid afternoon at that point, so we just accepted that we would not see Snaefellsjokull in person and continued on, happening upon RauĂ°feldsga gorge which had us cheered up in no time flat. The fog and mist only added to its allure. There was a vast amount of unmelted snow inside that made it impossible for us to hike farther in, but we were happy to simply look. Birds emerged from their nests in the mist frequently, and a thick layer of moss and plants covered much of the gorge's surface.

I can only imagine the amount of water that flowed from the gorge to cause this.

Some plants intrepidly growing on the side of the gorge.

Because it was the shortest route back to the north of the peninsula, we decided to take the same somewhat scary mountain pass again when we came back to it. To our delight, some of the fog had lifted and sunlight was starting to pour through, giving us more views of the surrounding mountains and some power lines that ran through them (most electrical lines in Iceland are actually underground!). This time, we took a right at the end and headed east through Grundarfjordur. The landscape between Grundarfjordur and Stykkisholmur looked downright alien at times. We passed through desolate areas with red-streaked rocks where it looked as though nothing but mining took place, as well as a vast lava field that contained the Shark Museum. Having heard my harrowing description of hakarl (fermented shark), Carly elected to not stop there.
Cliffs near Grundarfjordur.

We eventually made our way to Stykkisholmur, unfortunately by the time where most of the museums and such would be closed. A bit of a shame, as it was a very cute town. Helgafell, a hill by the sea that is said to be sacred, was located on our way back from Stykkisholmur and despite being a hiking path, was also closed in the evening. At any rate, it was a lovely hill, and the drive there had been interesting. As we headed back home via route 54, we found that many of the places that had been foggy on the way up had cleared partially or in full, and the sun was starting to come out! We saw mountains and farms we'd had no idea were there on the way up. It was almost like driving a different road! Once back at Hestur, we found one of the nicest, sunniest evenings we'd experienced in our whole stay there. Snaedis had made a traditional Icelandic lamb soup with golden beets, potatoes, carrots, onion, and parsley (all of which can be grown on Iceland), although she kindly omitted the lamb for my portion of soup. Helgi helped us to brand some trimmed ram horns with Hestur's label for Grace, which was fascinating to watch but also produced much more smoke than I had anticipated.

In the morning, we said our goodbyes to Helgi, Myla, Dyri, and the sheep before heading to the airport with Snaedis and Yngvi. The weather was initially gloomy, but things brightened up as we headed in to Reykjavik. The ride itself was uneventful, save for us getting to hear more Snaedis stories. We spent much of the plane ride home worrying about getting the horns through customs. As it turns out, customs officials are very nice. We declared the horns and were gently pulled aside and had to wait in the back for our luggage, along with a couple who "made a mistake and brought a meat stick." I don't know what happened to the couple (and their meat stick), but Carly and the horns and I all made it just fine after the horns were inspected. Then I reunited with my family and marveled at seeing trees again!
Dyri judging me for admiring his cute widdle pawprints.

View of Hestur from the mountain it rests beside.

Heading away from Hestur.


House(?) outside Reykjavik.

Lava fields in Keflavik.

Bye, Keflavik! I hope I will see you again someday...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Day 29 and 30- Stones Horses and Cows

Day 29 

A foggy day began here for myself as I awoke around 330 pm for my 4-8pm shift. The power washing is officially done!!!!! So there was minor clean up to be finished at the barn, including putting fences back together and some sweeping. There has been a labor strike and the pregnant ewes have been holding on. A ewe did go into labor during my shift. She seemed to be straining and was quite vocal but there was no progress and or sacks appearing. I lubed up and found a nasty lamb tangle. After some untangling I looped the first ram with decent horn buds and pulled him, his brother was looped second and both are doing well!

No sooner where these two rams on the ground I heard a ewe making noises from the pregnant pen. Mind you there have been no births in the past few days..  I raced over and a ewe had pushed a single almost half way out with no warning, no pre labor at all. It was time for action! I jumped into the pen and removed her lamb, breaking the sack around its nose.  I kept the sack around him.  I held her lamb low to the ground and walked backwards, she followed across the barn to a jug. I did not put her lamb in with her. I raced around the corner and grabbed a triplet who needed to be adopted,  ran some hot water to warm the lamb up and then rubbed her against her new brother vigorously. I transfers the sack still on her newly born brother onto her back and around her head and neck.  I ran back to the jug with both lambs and reached into the mom for more fluid to cover the triplet, once I felt she was decently covered with sack and fluid I presented the triplet first, and then her actual lamb. Normally when a ewe who is confirmed a single starts to have early labor we will adopt a triplet prior to her giving birth. This situation was very stressful and time sensitive as their was no pre labor. Mom has since accepted both lambs, and is allowing the triplet to nurse. It was touch and go for a while as she would think about accepting her and then smell her and sense she was not hers. We placed both lambs into a bucket together so that they would rub and smell the same. Overall it was a lot of madness in 15 minuets after having days of quiet, and that is just how it goes!

After my shift I took a hike with Myla up to the mountain behind the farm. Here are some pictures of our hike<3 

While hiking I found many beautiful stones, lava rocks ect. One in particular... Is so beautiful I had to include a picture of it. I feel that the spirits of Iceland blessed me with this beautiful stone. I am beyond grateful. 

Day 30 

Today Snaedis was our lovely tour guide and took us to the University Stables and the University Dairy. IT WAS AWESOME 

Pictured of the stables are above with some beautiful Icelandic horses. With smaller horses the stalls doors were quite low. I know for a fact if I placed my Percheron/ Thoroughbred mare in a stall like this she would jump out.  All horses were happy to receive some scratches and I really didn't want to leave. This grey gelding below placed his head on my shoulder and I was happy to hold him up while I scratched his chest. 

Most of the younger horses had gone back home for the summer but here is a picture of two yearlings who's forelocks made me smile. You can just see the mischief in their eyes haha. 

Snaedis has a horse named after her! This mare ( Snaedis) was just lovely, so calm and grounding to spend time with her. 

The Dairy

 This white cow is also named Snaedis!

After this we took a short drive to the Dairy. This place was really great. A free-stall barn with an automatic/robot milker and poop scraper! I spent a lot of time at the University of Maine doing dairy work with computers and running programs and such, so to see an robot working and relaying so much information back to the computer was amazing. Milk production, fat and protein, somatic cell count, individual teat flow and so much more. $$$ Today specifically there was an average of 2.7 milking a day. 
Here is a picture of the robot using lasers to locate and connect each teat cup. 

 Here is each quarter being tracked. One really cool thing about connecting each teat cup individually is that they can be taken off as soon as the quarter is done milking. The computer tracks the output from each quarter and removes the cup when flow is decreased. This means that over milking a quarter does not happen, in comparison to a unit that only works when connected to all quarters. This farm had a very low mastitis rate.
I was really interested in their computer program and was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes walk through of milk production over time, breaking it down into lactation ect. Here are some of the graphs we pulled up for the rolling herd average. One really cool piece of this program is that motion is tracked with the collars the cows have on. Increased motion usually correlates with a heat. In the US mostly ovulation sinking protocols are used and or visual signs are detected. Having this motion tracker as well is just a really cool way to be notified with out having to watch the cows 24 hours a day. OK I am done being a cow nerd now. 

Here are some pictures of the beautiful colors these Icelandic cows present. 

 Here is a day old calf <3 

And finally the poop scraper.. I know from experience that pushing cow crap down the grates is less than enjoyable. 

These cows were really happy. Well fed well bedded and happy to be milked when they wanted to. Icelandic law states that dairy cows have to spend at least 8 weeks on pasture. US.. take note.... Later this week the cows will be let out onto the fields and Im sure they will buck with happiness. Really great experience to see this barn in action! 

Thank you to our lovely dairy tour guide Aith pictured here with the young stock. 

After the dairy we took a detour on the way home to see a beautiful lake surrounded by trees( trees are rare) I spotted a beautiful owl and was able to get some shots of it. I thought of my Grammy as she loves her owls <3 

Tonight when we returned Melissa and I decided to hike up the mountain behind the farm. Here are some more pictures of Myla and the hike, because she is just so awesome. Here she is looking out over the house and farm<3 Helgi's fields look great! 
Im am headed to grab a nap before my 2am- 6 am shift! The days are winding down only two to go. I am so blessed to be here.