I’m running from lava and there is nowhere else to go but to the sea.
I am surefooted from years of repeated escapes but still I have to concentrate to ensure I place each step with unwavering accuracy. Dashing in a blind sprint, there is always a danger that I might forget how slippery my well-traveled routes away from the eruption may be. Even in this instant, I am carefully observing my thoughts and well as my physical agility. I must stay clear-headed – there are obstacles – large bushes, fences and inert, discarded objects from the past, abandoned in the tall grass. At this high velocity, old seemingly harmless garbage could be deadly if I inadvertently slam into it, or worse, it could stab me, sticking to my body, reattached and unintentionally gathered up again, dragged and slowing my stride. My mind must be focused only on what is ahead. It’s best not to look back at the eruption, as dazzling as it may be.
Rising before me, I see an abandoned bicycle from childhood, left where I dropped it during another magma explosion. Back in those days, a different caldera was active. A memory floats to the surface of that blast and with that knowledge, my stride becomes larger and I hurdle over the bike with ease, sailing through the air in a thrilling moment of lift off. I land again on the other side with grace neither breaking my gait nor changing my speed. The miracle of integrated memory has once again saved me from colliding with this old scar and reopening a gash. Running from each fusillade over the years, I have dropped or discarded many different items in my haste to survive, so I know there are countless randomly scattered personal land mines lying hidden in my path. I must remain on the look out, even during this all out dash for my life.
As I continue my sprint, the ground beneath my feet rumbles, moans and cracks, steam vents firing around me. I dodge these boiling plumes of vapor, as a slalom skier would, weaving with high-speed turns in my descent. I think about the other, older mountain where I used to live, its seething liquid stone erupting for years before I ever appeared, defining and revising the shape of the world to be. That’s just one of many amazing and confusing things about life here; it is all the same location, but the landscape is constantly changing. Volcanic hills, cones and vents appear and disappear – they don’t always look the same – but the molten rock beneath the surface remains constant. I can see the old precipices in the distance but they have become dormant now, my own wreckage, such as the bicycle I just jumped, scattered about as the only evidence of their past volatility. Currently, I live in the shadow of a very active ridge that’s going off, and I must return my focus and place each dazzlingly quick step gingerly. So I stop thinking in reverse and continue to draw instead upon the tools I have gained from facing the flame-driven paroxysms of the past.
I am conditioned for this environment. I was born by the grace of an exploding bluff, the mystery of a paradise existing on the surface of a destructive subterranean force the only life I’ve known. It took me years to admit that I am drawn to always return again to these sources of power, despite the potentially deadly quality of living so close to such utterly cataclysmic violence. However, I know that it’s not the mighty and powerful peaks that attract me to dwelling here; it is the heat of the chambers of fiery stone beneath the surface that pull me in, subconsciously, the proverbial troubled moth to the purifying flame.
Despite their many attempts to annihilate me, I feel tremendous compassion and even love for the turbulent hills I’ve lived among. I understand and have witnessed firsthand the tremendous pressure required to raise temperature enough for any given composition of rock to pass the solidus and melt. There are tremendously traumatic exchanges of energy rumbling in the bellies of these beasts, the radioactive decay of their own wounds liquefying the otherwise stable core stone. Any surface cracks or crevasses draw the pressure out and may lead to yet another painfully glorious explosion such as the one from which I am bolting this very moment.
The volcanoes themselves are not solely responsible for my occasional misery and vulnerability to disaster. I do keep returning by my own choice to dance with them in between detonations, happily playing in the tropical warmth life here affords. However, this alone does not determine the scope of my culpability - I am not completely innocent. The fact is, I’ve discovered something beneficial about existing in this violent environment; the soil here is rich, fertile. Each desire sewn in these slopes has grown tremendously and among the debris left in my previous escapes, I am also surrounded by the beauty of new creation, sprouting gloriously in the nurturing loam that often only a fiery, pyroclastic flow can create.
I have also been doing the unthinkable; after each flare-up and subsequent release has subsided, I’ve moved a bit higher up, settling closer to the caldera, the heart of the massive, granite creature. The further I move up the butte, the better the view and the more potent the earth beneath my feet becomes. Each time I move, I set up a new home, digging into the flesh of the hill, laying my foundation deeper and deeper still. With each of these excavations I run the risk of uncovering another fissure, a crack in the surface of the mountain never seen before and each new chasm I’ve exposed is a potential exit for the river of heated rock and pockets of scalding steam just below the surface. When this happens, I will accept my responsibility, knowing that I sometimes clear fury’s next path, drawing the mountain’s anger directly towards myself.
My volcano is aware of my presence, too. It has not been lost on me that each convulsion of damnation I survive and subsequent move further up the peak seems to calm my mountain somehow, for the eruptions are becoming fewer with longer stretches of time in between. I believe the angry hillside knows I love it and each time I return bravely after another howling discharge, the mount’s internal fury seems to settle a bit more. Each time I come back, I move closer to the heart of the turbulence. Yes, I whisper to it softly, I see the liquid, heated destruction within you and I will love you still; and yes, I know who you are and what you will do.
In times past, my fear would overcome me and if all truth is told, I have died here, something I know to be possible even though few others would believe it. Nevertheless, I must report and do so with complete integrity that I have been caught and consumed several times by flaming magma.
The raging inferno has overtaken me and I’ve tumbled along with the rivers of rock and ash as they made their way down the slope. My body has been incinerated, skin shrinking and peeling, my fat rendered, every bit of tissue destroyed. I’ve screamed as the air from my lungs was replaced by a blaze fueled by my own internal organs bursting into flame, the heat dissolving my lips as the torrent escaped my gasping mouth, the last echoes of my voice silenced by a corona of fire. I’ve suffocated in the lava, its heat igniting my skull, my eyes boiling and exploding, spitting their liquid centers skyward, instantly vaporizing in the superheated air. I’ve heard with the flesh of my burning ears the sound of my bones snapping and popping as the flames ate them, the antimatter between the molecules winning the magnetic tug of war, the atoms separating and vanishing. I’ve been turned to ash and then have disappeared, becoming one with the eruptive flow. Annihilation is terrifying; I never know if I will live again – nothing is for certain. But even when losing my body to the molten madness, I have learned to surrender, to let myself become of it. At these moments of utter abrogation, after all, there is no alternative.
Of course, when I am overcome by the holocaust, this letting go is extremely difficult. The first few moments of being burned out of existence are tenderly painful, being cremated alive the ultimate in horrendous agony. When the initial moments of torturous engulfment have passed and I am nothing but invisible particles of energy, my consciousness still resides within the savage frenzy and together we rumble toward the cooling waters below. Being scorched and removed from reality, taken down to the very essence of sentience, I once again learn that I am eternal and therefore, indestructible.
On our way to the sea, the lava and I continue our crash through the beautiful, verdant growth of the island, destroying the living matter and absorbing the life force of everything we engulf. Together as one now, we incinerate many of my discarded objects of the past, permanently removing them from the landscape.
We continue our unstoppable, flaming rage, relentlessly sliding down until, upon hitting the surface of the ocean, we burst into plumes of steam, where my quintessence becomes part of the water molecules as they explode upward, into the atmosphere. The prevailing winds will then blow me onshore and I will drift slowly back up the incline of my volcano, as a mist. As more and more of my soul locked within this liquid vapor coalesces, the droplets containing the building blocks of my new being will become heavy and a healing rain will begin to fall. I am in the water as it drops back to the surface, splashing on the fertility of the soil, which soaks me up and then, I will rest.
There is always the chance that at the moment I become water vapor, a different breeze could catch me, taking me away from my hot-blooded island. I might drift away as a helpless cloud and the drizzle of my being could ultimately fall on some other land, the new shores less volatile, to be reborn again, thousands of miles from my furious home. If that happens, I will always have the choice of remaining on the new, calm shores or taking the long and arduous journey back to my explosive partner, if the island would have me again.
Alternatively, I could leave of my own free will, perhaps signaling what appear to be rescue boats as they pass by unaware of me or the white-hot tempest that boils inside the landmass as observed from the safety of their decks; but I never do. This is all theoretical – so far, the precipitation of my released soul continues to be caught by the gusts that return me to my internally heated mountain and each time I return to saturate the familiar ground. I am the dampness in the soil, which in turn, ignites the spark of new life.
The return to being always starts with the tiniest of particles, driven by the violence of attraction, recognizing, gathering, reorganizing and joining. Atoms begin spinning, tiny galaxies of consciousness, pulling on one another, slowly forming the corporeal universe of me. As cells are formed, dividing and multiplying, I begin to notice myself again in the darkness and quiet of the cool earth. My shape begins to reset; arms, legs, torso and head, growing beneath the surface. I draw blood from the soil, the red fluid filtered to purity by the dark, coffee-colored mud. I’ll feel my body again, nearly complete and I’ll jab an arm upward, piercing the surface of the ground. I’ll grab the nearest vine or tree trunk I can touch, sometimes even pulling myself up by grasping some old discarded baggage. I burst through the earth, myself a gush of fleshy magma rebirth, an eruption of organism still steaming in the cool air, breaking through the volcano’s skin, always a bit higher up the peak and without fail, stronger than ever and thirsty for air, resurrected once again.
The current upsurge has subsided and this time, I successfully eluded the torrent of destruction to a safe location on the shores. I reclined afterward on the beach looking up at him as the ash-filled smoke around his peak dissipated. There were occasionally aftershocks that followed the initial blast, but each diminished in size as time passed. My body was shaking from my strenuous efforts and I also slowly began to become stable once again as I rested on my side. In my hurry, I was scraped a few times by some old debris and even picked some back up and then subsequently dropped it again but thankfully, nothing in my path was able to trip me up or pierce the surface - a few minor abrasions here and there, that’s all. It seems this has turned out to be a minor occurrence in comparison to the venting I’ve experienced before. Once recovered, I begin my hike back up the mountain to choose a new spot higher on the side of the slope. I feel lighter, having dropped God-knows-what in my gallop to safety.
As I walk I know with certainty that for now, I still love him - the big, roaring solid tower with the hot, flowing center. We both remain to ride his combustions together another day. He will draw healing, cooling and stabilization from the release of long, suffered pressure and I will be clarified by the barrage and less encumbered by the past each time I run temerariously through the slippery, tall grass of my passionately fertile home.