The Billowing Earth

“Imagine it – imagine a coal-black sky shivered into a tangled network of angry fire!”

– Mark Twain, The Sacramento Daily Union, November 16, 1866.

Many of my most prized travel experiences are from journeys to actively erupting volcanoes. I’ve never planned a trip with the expressed purpose of volcano-chasing, but it so happens that I’ve seen four active eruptions in person and each has been an awe-inspiring experience.

My first was Loowit (Mount St. Helens) in southwest Washington during the dome-building eruption that lasted from 2004-2008. But most deeply imprinted on my mind is my first glimpse of Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii.

I’ll never forget that first look from Crater Rim Drive as the view opened up to the cauldron of creation that is Halema’uma’u Crater, revealing a plume of vog and ash reaching to the sky and merging with the clouds as though it were their very source.

Lower on the slopes of the mountain, the cone of Pu‘u‘ō‘ō was erupting vigorously, lava spilling down the flanks of the volcano and pouring into the sea. My friend Erin and I watched the glow of that lava as it plunged into the ocean, extending the landscape with a fresh, dark scab of basalt. It was the first time I ever felt that the very Earth itself was alive.

Since that trip I’ve seen two other active eruptions. One from the sky as my plane flew just south of the Fagradalsfjall eruption in Iceland in 2021 and one in 2022 from the flanks of Acatenango in Guatemala as Volcán de Fuego sprayed molten stone hundreds of feet in the air in an irregular rhythm that shook the landscape and illuminated the night.

It’s a privilege to be alive and be able to travel at a time when so many active and accessible volcanoes are putting on their shows. If you have an opportunity to safely visit one, I recommend you make it a priority. They are ephemeral beauties and they’ll leave an impression on you for life.

Prints of this image are available in various formats at RedBubble.

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