Awesome volcano

I’ve been fascinated by the photographs and video of the recent eruption of Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. The glowing fissures, the dramatic up bursts of hot lava, the advancing lava all fascinate me. It is good that we have modern technology and lots of pictures, because going to look at the volcano in person is just what is not needed at this time. Civil Defense workers have done a good job of keeping people safe despite the unexpected nature of the eruption. According to the news that I can find this morning 35 structures, including at least 26 homes, have been destroyed as a dozen fissures have formed, including at least two new ones yesterday. The seismic activity has slowed a bit, which may be signaling a decrease in activity. It may not be signaling anything, however. That is one of the things that is so fascinating about volcanoes. They are unpredictable.

Over the weekend we were discussing the phenomena with our son and grandson over Skype. We spoke of the people who were forced to evacuate on relatively short notice. Our grandson, speculating on what it would be like to have to evacuate, stated that he would take a blue bin and load up all of his lego bricks. His father suggested that it might also be a good idea to take some clothes, which our grandsons acknowledged, but returned to the importance to him of saving the lego bricks.

We all have our priorities when disaster threatens. Thinking about such an event helps us sort out what is really most important to us. We’ve been pretty stable for a lot of years. Although the biggest natural threat to our lifestyle is probably wildfire, our house sits in an area that is fairly defensible and so far the fires have been most destructive in places far from our home. We’v lived here long enough to have collected a lot of things, including things that are not really necessary for our day to day life. There are a few items that we would easily grab and take with us if we had to evacuate. Photo albums, medicines, computers loaded with additional images and memories, a couple of keepsake items and the like. It would be easier now than in the days when our house was filled with children and pets and elders. We’d likely hook on to our camping trailer and take mobile shelter with us were we forced to evacuate our home.

We don’t have any close friends who live on the big island of Hawaii. A friend of a friend works at the Mauna Kea Observatory, one of the largest astronomical observatories in the world. I would guess that the biggest problem for the scientists who work there would be the volcanoes. I don’t know how severe they are at the summit of the mountain, but it is hard to imagine that having an erupting volcano on the island where you live and work is sufficient to gain your attention.

I suppose that every place on the earth stands in the path of some potential natural disaster: earthquake, hurricane, mudslides, tornado, volcano, wildfire, flood. We’ve seen a lot of disaster pictures over the years. Civil Defense and Federal Emergency Management agencies are fairly good at responding to disasters. People, however, never seem to be truly prepared. There are always losses that are grieved. I understand it. It would be terribly sad to lose our home and its contents. There are items in our home that have been passed down for generations. Although most of the things we have are not valuable in the sense of money, many of them have emotional meaning for us and we enjoy having those items in our life. The essentials - food, water and shelter - seem to be fairly easy to obtain. We’ve invested much of our lives in pursuit of the extras: photos of children, mementoes of trips, artwork that has meaning.

Maybe one of the values of our interconnected world where we can watch disasters in other parts of the world in real time is that it gets us to thinking about our own lives and what is most important.

Disaster impact aside, the photos and videos of the lava are stunning and beautiful. The raw power of this planet is incredible. The things that we humans make - houses and cars and other objects - seem pretty insignificant in the face of the great forces of the natural world. Especially beautiful are the images that have been taken at night where the sparks and glow of the flowing lava really stand out against the dark background. The raw power of this planet is awesome. It genuinely does inspire awe. And awe is something that can be hard to come by in our somewhat jaded world. We are so used to technological innovations and smart devices that we sometimes convince ourselves that the things that matter most in our lives are the products of human creativity. We have the power to make things and we are often filled with our own sense of power and importance. But humans are only a small part of the vastness of this universe. It existed before our planet was populated and it will continue with our without us depending on our ability to adapt and survive in changing circumstances.

Once in a while we gain an open window to the power and wonder of this universe. Looking at pictures of volcanic fissure and hot lava emerging from the depths of the earth is a powerful experience. So I look. I find myself going to the computer to check to see if there are new images. I wonder what the sulfurous fumes smell like. I wonder what the rumble of the earth sounds like, I wonder what the heat of the lava feels like. Looking at the images on my computer is not the same as being there, but the images are powerful enough for me to know that it is an incredible moment in the story of our planet.

May we all find ways to experience awe in this life.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!