At the edge of the ancient Gálgahraun lava field, about a 10-minute drive outside Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavík, a small group of local environmentalists has made camp among the gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss, and browning grass to protest a new road development that will slice the bucolic landscape into four sections and place a traffic circle in its core. The project, led by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration and the nearby municipality of Garðabær, will provide a more direct route to and from the tip of the Álftanes peninsula, where the rustic, red-tiled compound of the country’s president and an eponymous hamlet of 2,600 people stand.
The Hraunavinir, or “Friends of the Lava,” believe that any benefits from a project that snakes through Gálgahraun are cancelled out by its cultural and environmental costs. According to protester Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, the thoroughfares would destroy some of the “amazingly beautiful lava formations” and spoil a habitat where birds flock and small plants flourish. One of Iceland’s most famous painters, Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval, once worked on his canvases there, perhaps magnetized by the charm of the terrain’s craggy natural relics.
Not all of the arguments against the development are so straightforward. At least a few believe it will displace certain supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble, and fear the potentially dark consequences that come with such a disturbance. Jónsdóttir, a greying and spectacled seer who also operates an “elf garden” in nearby Hafnarfjörður, believes the field is highly populated by elves, huldufolk (hidden people), and dwarves, many of whom, she says, have recently fled the area while the matter is settled.