157. Volcano!

I have always been interested in volcanoes. Not the science part; I took watered-down geology for my science requirement in college, but none of it stuck. But I am intrigued by the way the earth can just seize up, erupt, and in an instant bury all of us just going about our business.

Those aren’t fluffy clouds; they’re two active eruptions

So being in Sicily, Mt. Etna was a must-do stop. And it was well worth the detour. The largest volcano in Italy and the most active in Europe, its first eruption was thought to occur a half million years ago. It is still actively erupting now, with more than ten major summit and flank eruptions in the 21st century. Amazingly, since people started keeping track, fewer than 100 people have been killed, although buildings and whole towns have been destroyed by the lava flow.

The sign marks the lava’s height in the 2001 eruption

On the day of our visit, the volcano was “active,” as they euphemistically put it. On the first day, we hiked about a mile and a half up two craters. The next morning, we did the standard excursion, of taking a cable car to a bus to another bus, then hiking up to the rim of the Laghetto crater.

On day one, we walked along the rim of this crater
Heading up, up, up

Here’s what I’ve learned about volcanoes:

Volcanoes are not just a mountain with a fiery hole on top. Etna itself extends over 459 square miles, and with eruptions busting out sideways and straight up. In 2021 alone, it erupted enough lava to raise its height by 100 feet.

The lava, at least Mount Etna’s, looks like huge clumps of dried black mud. Up close, it can also be a lot of loose multi-hued gravel, making it very hard to climb or descend without a lot of slipping and sliding.

Lava, up close

On a hot May day, there are patches of snow on Mt. Etna, even though a few feet away, there’s a steaming hole that is hot to the touch.

At Laghetto, the ground feels hot…
… yet there’s snow a few feet away.

Active volcanoes make a low roaring noise. Every ten seconds or so it sounded like a wave crashing on the beach. It’s as if it’s saying, “I don’t choose to crush you now, but never forget, I’m always there.”

Having a spiritual moment with pot, dog and bongo drums

One thought on “157. Volcano!

  1. Hi Gigi–
    Like you, Emily Dickinson was interested in volcanoes (though she never saw one up close, as you did!)
    I have never seen ‘Volcanoes’ –
    But, when Travellers tell
    How those old – phlegmatic mountains
    Usually so still –

    Bear within – appalling Ordnance,
    Fire, and smoke, and gun –
    Taking Villages for breakfast,
    And appalling Men –

    If the stillness is Volcanic
    In the human face
    When opon a pain Titanic
    Features keep their place –

    If at length, the smouldering anguish
    Will not overcome,
    And the palpitating Vineyard
    In the dust, be thrown?

    If some loving Antiquary,
    On Resumption Morn,
    Will not cry with joy, “Pompeii”!
    To the Hills return!


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