As the Lava Flows

By Diane C.
Image of an Icelandic eruption and the northern lightsVolcanoes are spectacularly in the news now.  We’ve recently learned of a dramatic, unexpected eruption in Japan, and of ongoing lava flows in Peru, Iceland, and East Java Indonesia.  The one that most concerns me is the creeping leg of an offshoot originating from Kilauea Crater on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I grew up.  The slow movement of Pahoehoe (smooth) lava towards the small town of Pahoa evoked memories of the eruption that destroyed the town of Kapoho in 1960.  I was there then to see the fiery fountain and feel the intense 1000 degree heat. I had the most powerful front seat view of our dynamic earth.  The lava moving towards Pahoa is cutting through a wide swath of uninhabited forest lands at present.  Overland flights have captured the blackened forest trail through which the lava has meandered like some giant road project.  In the distance in some of the shots, the town of Pahoa seems to be right in its sights as it makes its way down to the ocean.  My friend, Wayne, said to me recently, “With the Hurricane, it was over in a day and we could start cleaning up.  With the volcano, we wait and wait and wait some more.”  There are no prognosticators in this process as the lava will move with the terrain and disappear into underground tubes, only to re-emerge in another breakout, sometimes fast and sometimes extremely slowly.  The progress is agony to thousands of residents.

Most volcanoes don’t offer the kind of viewing platforms that Hawaii’s volcanoes do.  Most films like Dante’s Peak or Volcano have its characters scrambling from utter destruction and mayhem.  Even most books for children like Eruption by Roland Smith or Jules Verne’s classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, are essentially heart pounding adventure stories that keep kids turning the pages.  To get to the heart of the matter, a new nonfiction children’s book called Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch is a notable source of good information packed with lots of illustrations and factoids.  It explains differences in types of volcanoes from the explosive to the shield volcanoes of Hawaii that very young children can easily grasp.  Older elementary children will still be drawn to a mainstay in the field, Volcanoes by Susanna Van Rose for its stunning photos and accessible science facts in the DK Publishing tradition.  For a bit of mystery and chills, seek out Hawaiian folktales, such as  Pele and the Rivers of Fire by Michael Nordenstrom, about the Fire Goddess Pele. Her image often is evoked in the red smoke and clouds during a volcanic eruption, when sightings of a disappearing, beautiful young woman in a red dress abound.  From reality to mythical, volcanoes are our ultimate creation story.

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