I was an architect, she was an actress. I drew the Eiffel Tower upon her dress. So we could see the world… The flash burnt our shadows right into the wall. But my best friend and I will leave them behind in Hiroshima. I will keep her secrets, I will change my name. My sweetheart and I are saying goodbye to Hiroshima.
—-My Favorite, Burning Hearts
I have been taking too much pleasure in the NBA playoffs and as always happens when you take too much pleasure in something it all went to shit. My team, after a fantastic start, crashed and burned and went down to humiliating and ignominious defeat.
My lesson learned, again, I turned the game off and switched over to the always reliable backup – The Criterion Channel (the best streaming money you can spend). I cruised through the copious selection of marvelous and recherché moving picture shows and settled on a classic that I have never seen, Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Resnais had made his reputation with a string of documentary films, including the first-rate Night and Fog, about the Nazi death camps. He was approached to make a similar nonfiction work about the Hiroshima bomb and traveled to Japan to start work. He realized that he could not make a simple documentary about that horror, especially for Western audiences (who, in the 1950’s, generally thought of the bomb as the end of the war) and proposed he make a fictional film instead.
He hired the novelist Marguerite Duras to write the screenplay and made a groundbreaking film. The surface plot is about a French actress (played by the luminous Emmanuele Riva) in Hiroshima to make a documentary about the bombing – she has a brief but intensely passionate affair with a Japanese architect (played by the equally riveting Eiji Okada). They have only thirty-six hours before she must go back to Paris.
But time in the film isn’t the same as it is in the real world. The story is told in conversations between the couple, in flashbacks, in dream sequences, in bits of newsreel footage.
The fourteen minute opening sequence is an amazing kaleidoscopic montage surrounding a scene of two naked bodies writhing in passion while radioactive dust falls from the sky and sticks to their sweat-drenched skin.
The film is full of questions, symbolism, conundrums wrapped in enigmas, doubling (the actress has had forbidden affairs with soldiers of both of the West’s enemies in WWII) and all the other accouterments of the French New Wave.
Despite all this, the film is watchable to anyone tired of the MCU. If nothing else, you can look at Emmanuele Riva and her expressive face (at eighteen and thirty four) as she is buffeted by history, war, the past, and the passion of today.
Decades ago I stumbled across an obscure New York band called My Favorite. I have been a bit of a fan ever since. Watching the movie I realized that one of their “popular” songs, Burning Hearts, was inspired by the movie. Cool.
After Dwayne returned to the mission group from working at the volcano with Chaix he felt he had come back from an alien planet – a different world… and he felt that he never fully returned. Everything had a surreal aura around it. Colors were sharper, smells were stronger, yet his fellow travelers seemed unsubstantial and blurred – their speech almost unintelligible and completely uninteresting. He began to worry, would the rest of his life be like this?
He felt that he was living a half-life, that something had been revealed to him that he not only didn’t understand – he couldn’t even comprehend what it was.
At night, beside his hammock in their last few days on the mission trip, he tried to explain how he felt to Suzanna.
“But I don’t understand,” she said, “You climbed a volcano, you saw some butterflies. What’s the big deal?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to explain, I don’t know. Something’s changed and I can’t figure out what it is, or what I should do about it.”
“I think that maybe you breathed a few too many fumes from that volcano,” Suzanna said.
Of course, these feelings faded over time, especially after they returned home. Still, it was always there, the small knot of surrealistic doubt that remained like a stone in the pit of Dwayne’s stomach.
He graduated and went off to school like everyone had always expected him to. He floundered around, changing majors every semester or two, until he ended up in biology. It felt like an accident, someplace random, until he sneaked away from a particularly boring lecture and, following some little-used dim passageway, ended up in a storage area in the bowels of the Natural History Museum, where his class had been held.
He wandered into a large, open room, lined with what looked like miles of identical shallow metal cases with hinged glass lids.. These were filled with specimens of butterflies. Thousands of them, dead, dried, pinned and labeled. Rank upon ran of bright fluorescent tubes burned down overhead. The walls of the room were mirrored, which gave the illusion that the room was endless.
He looked down at the specimens in the cases and their little tags perched on thin steel pins next to the specimens. There was the mysterious latin name in bold lettering – Colias eurytheme, Phyciodes campestris montana, Polygonia satyrus, Vanessa virginiensis… on and one. Under the Latin Name was the common, or English name: Crown Fritillary, Nevada Silverspot, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur, Boisduval’s Marble.
Beneath the name there was a date, a country of origin (and there were lots of these) and finally a person’s name – next to the word collector. These too were widely varied, but as he moved down the row he noticed that one name kept reappearing with regularity, one person seemed to be primarily responsible for the collection – Haiden Flynn.
He wasn’t sure why, but he felt a kinship with this Flynn.
Dwayne thought he was alone in that vast and strange place, until he was gazing at the mirrored end of the room, trying to figure out exactly where the boundaries were, when he caught a glimpse of motion down at the other end. Turning, he followed his eyes to where the movement must have been and noticed a man in a white lab coat, bending over a case. In total silence, the man’s arms worked at something and then Dwayne saw the case’s lid rise. He immediately moved to where the man was.
It was an old, old man. He was completely bald on the top of his head, the smooth skin reflecting the light from the fluorescents overhead in curved lines. On the side of his head were thick knots of pure white hair, extending out in on each side.
“Excuse me,” Dwayne said, “I didn’t realize anyone was here.”
The old man hesitated for a second, then raised his head and looked at Dwayne. He was wearing some sort of complex compound glasses and had swung a magnifier over each eye, which made his deep blue irises loom large and buglike in the glass. The old man was holding a gigantic iridescent blue butterfly specimen. He moved it slightly in the bright light, and the wings shed a shower of colors. Dwayne noticed the label on the man’s lab coat, it said Prof. Flynn.
Flynn flicked the magnifier lenses off to the side and his eyes shrank down to small beads of blue. He barely seemed to notice Dwayne until he realized that Dwayne was staring at the iridescence of the specimen’s wings.
“Aha!” Flynn cried in a surprising loud and melodic voice, “Morpho didius, commonly named Giant Blue Morpho.”
“You,” Dwayne stammered, “This is your collection?”
“But of course it is,” Flynn said, “Who else would it belong to? Now this magnificent Morpho here… I collected it on a small village farm in the high Andes of Peru. I love all my… little friends here.” Flynn waved across the room in a sweeping gesture, “of course, but I do have my favorites. And this would be one… one of many.”
Dwayne realized at that time that he had no choice but to become a Lepidopterist.
Flynn was such an odd bird that rarely would an undergraduate stoop to work for him, let alone a graduate assistant, that it was easy for Dwayne to transfer, take as many classes under Flynn as he could, and work for research credit in the dark catacombs of Flynn’s collections.
His parents were concerned, especially as he laid out his plans for continuing his studies in graduate school.
“Now, these butterflies are all nice and good,” his mother told him as they sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee over spring break. “But we’re concerned for your future.”
“We’re not rich, you know,” his father continued. “We want you to be happy, but you’re going to have to earn a living sometime.”
“I can always teach,” Dwayne said.
The only reply from his parents were to compress their lips into a tighter line.
Back at school, he sat down with Suzanna – who had followed Dwayne to the university.
“Don’t worry about it Dwayne,” she said. “I’m about to graduate with an Engineering Degree, I’ll make enough for both of us.”
Dwayne wanted to ask some questions – he didn’t quite understand what she was talking about. Still, if this was a way he could pull it off…
They were married three months after graduation and settled into a nice but spartan apartment a mile off campus. Suzanna, true to her word, found a research position with a petrochemical firm that paid enough for them to live and for Dwayne to continue his work under Professor Flynn.
Dwayne began to settle down, but there was one big problem that continued to bother him, enough to keep him awake at night.
It took almost two years, but finally Dwayne sat down with Flynn and told him the story of the trip to the Boca Diablo volcano and the orange butterflies. Talking about it for the first time in half a decade felt like a giant weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
As the story went on, he became more and more excited, animated, and the memories came flooding back, the details sharp and clear.
Finally he finished, let out a deep breath, and sat back to see what Flynn would say.
“Well, son, that’s quite a tale.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s completely impossible.”
“You see, son, I know every genus and species of butterfly in the world. Nobody else knows half what I know and while there may be something out there I’ve never seen, there is always more to learn, there couldn’t be something like that.”
“What do you mean ‘Something like that;?”
“Something like a bright orange butterfly living in a volcanic crater. Species of that color are very rare and there are none that size, none close to that size. And, especially, none in that country, or even that part of the world.”
“But… but I saw them, I really did.”
“Maybe what you saw is more related to how long ago it was and the smoke from that crater.”
“That’s what Suzanna said?”
“Suzanna, my wife.”
Dwayne realized that over the years he had worked with Flynn, the old professor had never met his wife, and he had mentioned her so little that Flynn didn’t even remember who she was. And he didn’t seem to care.
“So you are completely sure that there are no bright orange butterflies in that part of the world.”
And Dwayne immediately knew where he had to go and what he had to do.
“When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written “He dies.” That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is “He dies.” It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with “He dies.” And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it’s only natural to be sad, but not because of the words “He dies,” but because of the life we saw prior to the words. I’ve lived all five of my acts, Mahoney, and I am not asking you to be happy that I must go. I’m only asking that you turn the page, continue reading… and let the next story begin. And if anyone asks what became of me, you relate my life in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest “He died.” ― Dustin Hoffman
I rarely remember my dreams – but last night I had a dream so realistic I woke up convinced it had really happened. I dreamed that Dustin Hoffman had died. I remember reading the word “Suddenly” in the article. It was so vivid that when I woke up I had to look it up to see if it had happened. I’m glad he’s going to appear in “Our Town” once Broadway opens back up.
Why did I dream of Dustin Hoffman? I have no idea. While I respect his impressive body of work, I never was a particular fan (I actually didn’t like Tootsie).
I do remember reading that because of his death Ishtar had shot to the top of the streaming charts.
They finished placing the instruments sometime around the middle of the afternoon – with everyone circling back around the crater to where they had parked the trucks. One of the workmen pulled two steel buckets filled with ice and beer out from beneath a tarp in the pickup bed and the two of them, along with Chaix, sat down on the bumpers and began to drink.
“Come on, have a cold one,” Chaix said to Dwayne, offering a glass bottle beaded with condensation. “You’ve earned it, we all have worked hard.”
“Thanks… but I don’t think so. Go ahead and sit, I’m just going to walk around, explore a bit.”
That’s what Dwayne wanted to do. While he had been working down along the crater wall he kept glancing upward to a high green wall that surrounded about a third of the caldera. This expanse rose above the gray ash and white smoke, gleaming bright in the afternoon tropical sun. It seemed like a pull to him, he wanted to take a look.
“Sure, I guess,” said Chaix. “Explore to your heart’s content. I’ll send these two back in a while, but I want to stay ‘till sundown. Then we can check the seismographs while they are running on batteries… plus, I want you to see the crater in the dark. It’s quite a show.”
With a not Dwayne started to walk up the steep green slope to the top of the ridge. It was easier than it looked, the layers of volcanic ash and hardened lava were under a thin layer of grass and he was able to get good traction. He would climb for a bit, then pause to catch his breath and look back over the territory he had covered. The two trucks and three beer-drinking me were shrinking fast, until they looked like toys along the curving drop of the crater.
Even the caldera itself seemed to shrink in size, now that he was high and far away enough to see it as a full circle. The evil gray pit spitting its thick column of yellowish smoke was less menacing as it withdrew into the distance – it became a geometric construction with its own strange beauty rather than a gaping void with its own steep path to hell.
Before long, Dwayne had reached the top of the slope. He realized it was a very thin curving ridge, with a faint path, probably worn by some animal, along its bending edge. Looking beyond, Dwayne could see the extensive reach of the black lava fields that, from this height, looked like a giant ink-blot upon the earth. These reached out in irregular shapes in all directions. To the South he realized they flowed down into a crescent-shaped lake, with a city perched on the cliffs on the opposite side. That lake, the low spot, protected the inhabitants in that direction from the deadly lava.
In all other directions he could make out the range of hills that marked the outer edge of the greater caldera – the entire complex of volcanoes and vents that inhabited this weak spot in the earth itself – allowing the molten rock to leak out like a vast unhealed wound.
As he walked along the ridge, he came around the curve and noticed that there was another crater, much smaller that the active one, that sprouted off the outer wall of the mountain. This crater was obviously much older than the main one and had been extinct for a long time. Its walls were eroded and green, covered in vegetation like the slope that he had climbed.
The bottom of the crater came into view. It wasn’t all that deep – it looked like a lot of material had fallen from the walls into the bottom, filling it partially up.
Not only had this process raised the bottom of the crater, but it had obviously formed material that was beneficial to plant life. A thick circular area of tropical forest had grown up in the center of the crater, with the sides of the crater dropping down to meet the walls of greenery. Its emerald color was so bright and lively that, after having spent the day staring at the gray volcanic rock of the crater, it hurt Dwayne’s eyes.
The circular grove was depressed in the center to the point that Dwayne thought that it might be open there, or at least covered with low bushes instead of trees. Something about the thicket attracted him – it seemed such an unlikely occupant in such a place he felt an irresistible urge to climb down and explore the greenery himself.
The walls were eroded to the point they weren’t any steeper than the ridge he had climbed, so after a bit of walking and examining the slope from several different angles he picked a route and began to climb down.
Within twenty minutes he was at the edge of the trees. They were much taller than they looked from up above and very thick. The impenetrable tops meant that no light could reach through to the ground. Very little could grow there and Dwayne was surprised to find that everything was open and once he pushed through a barrier of some tough bushes he was able to walk and explore the area without any trouble.
With the sun blotted out it was still, but shockingly cool. It felt like being on a completely different planet that the hot black and gray world of the rest of the volcano. He instinctively pushed his way toward the center of the crater, wondering about the shallow area he had seen from above.
It didn’t’ take very long until he found what it was. The very center of the crater was filled with water, a stagnant pond rimmed with thick mud. Bleached-white trunks of fallen trees lined that area. Dwayne figured that the water and mud would not give the trees enough purchase for their roots and once they reached a certain height would tumble in a violent storm. Beyond the barrier of the fallen trunks was the silvery expanse of still water interrupted only by clumps of scrubby bushes that rose out from the liquid. There was a flash of unexpected color from these bushes, then another, then more. Something numerous, small, and brilliant was moving around on those bushes. It was too far for Dwayne to make out at first, but he had to find out.
He worked his way slowly and carefully through the obstacles of the fallen trees. He found that the mud was firmer around the upturned root balls and he could scramble on a log that was laying the right way and advance his journey. Finally, covered in muck and breathing hard, he reached the edge of the water. The sunlight came through uninterrupted onto the watery bushes and he was able to make out clearly what was flittering there.
It was a cloud of bright orange butterflies. They were large, and the most brilliant insects he had ever seen. At first, he thought they restricted themselves to the water and the shrubs, but as he watched he would see one fly off into the trees. As soon as the wings reached the shade, the brilliant orange color faded and they seemed, like magic, to blend in and disappear.
Entranced, Dwayne stared at the spectacle of the brilliant insects, until, glancing up and out from the watery clearing, he saw that a shadow was quickly descending along the wall of the crater towards the interior forest. He knew he didn’t want to get caught down there in the dark, and, with terrible strength of willpower, tore himself away from the sight and retraced his steps.
It was harder to get out of the trees than in was to get into them, and it took longer. By the time he reached the eroded slope of the crater, the sun was to the horizon and he was climbing out of a broad, dark, void.
When he reached the ridge above the sun was gone and the sky was darkening rapidly. There was not much twilight in the tropics. He wished he had brought a flashlight, but as he moved around the curve was glad to see that Chaix, far below, had turned the Land Rover to face the ridge and turned on the lights. There was no sign of the pickup, but between those headlights and an evil red glow that came from the main active crater, Dwayne was able to pick his way down the slope, yelling out to Chaix on the way.
“I’m glad you found your way back,” Chaix said, “I saw you disappear over the ridge and was worried that you wouldn’t come back.”
“I climbed down into the crater beyond, the little one.”
“Oh, I know what you’re talking about. They call that Crater Arbol – the crater of the trees. I’ve never been into it. What did you find?”
“Nothing. Only trees and mud.”
“I see that,” Chaix said, gesturing at Dwayne’s filthy clothes. “I’ll catch hell for that.”
Dwayne did not mention the butterflies, though he had no idea why he felt that it was important to keep them a secret.
Chaix picked up a powerful torch that he had placed on the bumper of the Land Rover and switched it on. He waved the beam in the dark sky and Dwayne could see the beam cutting through the clouds of smoke swirling in the dark above like a searchlight below a bombing raid.
“Come on, Chaix said, let me show you what an eruption looks like in the dark. We’re not sure why, but they seem to be more violent when the air cools a bit. It’s spectacular.”
He began to walk toward the crater with the torch making an elliptical pool of light on the ground in front of them.
“Be careful, we don’t want to walk over the edge.”
Suddenly, the light disappeared over the edge and Chaix put a hand out to stop Dwayne, who was now transfixed by the sight of looking down into the crater. Chaix made sure Dwayne was on firm ground then switched off the light.
Without the sun covering it up the crater was filled with an evil red light that came up out of the vent in the center. It seemed to swirl around with the smoke and paint the walls with a hellish, unnatural tint. Dwayne couldn’t see the source of the light, it was too far down the throat of the vent, but the world seemed swallowed out by its glow.
“The seven minutes is about up,” Chaix said.
As if on cue, the vent began to howl like a jet engine on takeoff and suddenly waves of bright glowing rocks came shooting up out of the vent. It was like watching a fireworks displace from up above, except instead of booms and explosions, there were screaming whooshing noises and crackling retorts as the rocks cooled and split.
The two of them stood there until the display waned and the vent returned to its quiet state. Still, the red glow poured out. Chaix turned on his torch and pointed it into the void, which swallowed the tiny light like it was not there. Finally, he tapped Dwayne on the shoulder and they turned and walked in the ellipse of torchlight until they reached the Land Rover.
It was slow and tricky but the truck had extra running lights and they were able to cross the rough lava road and reach the highway by midnight.
Weekends should be for recharging, not for catching up on work we didn’t get to during the week. This includes housework. While we like the end result, cleaning the house (for most of us) isn’t a fun or relaxing endeavor. To get to your housework to-dos before the weekend, commit to cleaning for 15 to 20 minutes five days a week. Then welcome freedom — and a tidy home — when Friday night comes.
Getting in shape isn’t easy. But after all that hard work, how long do we actually maintain it? Turns out that even the great effort we put into training, taking a bit of time off can mean that we become “unfit” much faster than it took us to actually get in shape.
A Beginner’s Guide To Buying Great Coffee
I did not set out to be a coffee nerd, really. But I realized that I liked good coffee better than bad coffee. And that is a rabbit hole. I’ve found James Hoffman’s Youtube videos to be very educational – if sometimes a little too much… but you can learn a lot from a little too much.
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
One cool thing, for me, was when one of the two point-of-view protagonists, Tengo, went into a Tokyo bookstore, Kinokuniya. I liked that because there is a Kinokuniya bookstore in Plano, Texas, not very far from where I live, and it’s one of my favorite places.
I stumbled across the bookstore online and knew I wold love the place. It’s not so much the books… it’s the other stuff. The place is a cornucopia of pens, fountain pens, art supplies, notebooks, paper… all that sort of stuff.
I had a tough time finding it the first time I went up there. It’s actually a big room off of the food court of a big Asian grocery store at Highway 75 and Legacy Drive. It’s packed with cool stuff. I’ve bought a couple pens there, some ink, and, especially, a few packs of fountain pen friendly paper (Tomoe River ).
The place is crowded… chock-a-block with cool stuff. I could look for hours. So what I do is set goals for myself and start setting a little bit of money aside. When I reach my goal, I’ll drive down to Kinokuniya and treat myself to something with the cash I’ve accumulated.
“Now for a good twelve-hour sleep, I told myself. Twelve solid hours. Let birds sing, let people go to work. Somewhere out there, a volcano might blow, Israeli commandos might decimate a Palestinian village. I couldn’t stop it. I was going to sleep.”
― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Boca Diablo (part 1)
Dwayne was the only young “vacationary” that could sleep in a hammock. He tied it up between two rough wooden support poles on the vast front porch of the mission where he enjoyed the slightly-cooler night breezes while the rest slept in standard bunkbeds inside. The others thought he was nuts.
“You’re only a few feet from the dirt street,” Suzanna said, “Plus all the bugs and crap flying around.”
“I’d rather deal with that than all those snoring kids inside… and that’s after they quit horsing around and go to sleep.”
Suzanna was from his church back home and he knew his mother had asked her to look out for him. He didn’t appreciate that at all – but supposed that it wasn’t her fault.
Though he was comfortable in the hammock, he couldn’t sleep tonight. He rocked gently side to side, thinking about all the work he had done, the weekend carwashes, the letter writing, essentially all the begging, to earn enough money for this trip to Santa Pagua. Up until that evening, it had been a waste – more of a teenager week at camp than the serious expedition into a foreign land that he had hoped for. Most of the male kids spent their days out in front of the mission scrabbling at the rocky entrance road with no real effect. The girls repackaged vitamins from giant bulk containers into little ziplock bags – counting pills to distribute somewhere unknown.
“Be sure and throw away the moisture packet,” the leader would shout out, again and again, “We don’t want anyone eating those.”
“What a waste of time and money all that was,” Dwayne mumbled to himself. The disappointment and bitterness had melted away though, replaced that afternoon by the excitement that was keeping him awake.
He had come in from digging at a particularly stubborn rock with a pointed iron bar, dripping with sweat, and was getting a Coke from the refrigerator when he noticed a man speaking to the Reverend Martin. The man was obviously a local, dressed in the straw hat, loose collared shirt, and light cotton pants adapted to the tropical climate – but his English was impeccable. He had been making a impassioned point, waving his hands in the way typical to Santa Pagua, to the Reverend – who simply stood there, passive, and looking around. Finally the Reverend replied.
“Of course, Mr. Chaix, we understand your needs and appreciate your objective, but you must know that we are here doing God’s work, and his work is never finished.”
Dwayne was instantly interested and boldly walked up to the pair.
“What does he need Reverend Martin?”
“Oh, Dwayne,” the Reverend began, condescension dripping in his voice, “This is Roberto Chaix, a local geologist. He is looking for some free labor in helping place some seismographic equipment around an active volcano.”
Dwayne felt his eyes grow wide. An active volcano! This is the sort of thing he had been hoping for.
“What volcano?” he asked Chaix directly, ignoring the Reverend.
“Well, you look strong enough to be of help to me,” Chaix replied. “It’s called Boca Diablo. It’s a low cluster of collapsed structures about fifteen clicks south of here. You can see the smoke rising on a clear day.”
Dwayne had noticed that column of rising smoke. He had read about Boca Diablo in his research before the trip. It was one of the most active volcanic vents on the planet, alternately spewing lava and collapsing back into itself since recorded history. The early Spanish explorers had called it Boca Diablo, thinking it had to be a portal into hell itself.
“Oh, please, Reverend Martin, please let me go.”
It took some time to get Reverend Martin to relent and agree to loan him to Chaix for a few days. After the Reverend had acquiesced Chaix simply said, “Be ready at six thirty tomorrow morning, out in front of the mission.”
Dwayne wasn’t sure if he had slept at all when the sun began to splash purple and gray phosphorescent figures along the horizon. He slipped out of his hammock, untied the knots, and rolled it up into a tight packet, hiding it behind a planter. Since he knew he was up before anyone else, he slipped off his clothes and dipped himself in the barrel of water that caught the runoff from the mission roof. The other kids would take conventional showers but he had come to enjoy the natural softness of the aqua pura.
He quickly dressed and moved out into the street away from the mission to wait. He didn’t want the Reverend to come out and change his mind about letting him go.
Chaix showed up exactly on time, driving a heavily dented British Land Rover. Following behind was an ancient junky looking pickup truck piled with gear. Dwayne sat in the ‘Rover beside Chaix and the two trucks set off for Boca Diablo.
It was a day of hard work. The first order of business was to get the vehicles across the lava field that stretched between the volcano and the highway. Some semblance of a road had been dozed through the jumble of rugged jet-black slag, but it was not passable. The razor-sharp glassy rock broke and shifted and they had to constantly wrestle the vehicles through tight or loose spots. Dwayne understood why Chaix had come to the mission for help, the two workers from the pickup were strong, but lazy, and would take no initiative themselves, simply standing around until someone told them exactly where to stand and what to do.
The obsidian lava caught all of the heat of the rapidly rising sun and soon the heat became unbearable. The workers in the pickup were sneaking beers from a cooler hidden under their dash and quickly became even more useless. Finally, a little before noon, they reached the volcano itself.
Dwayne had always imagined a volcano as a symmetrical cone of a mountain, something like Mount Fuji in Japan, rising up above all the land around. Boca Diablo, however, wasn’t like that at all.
Chaix explained that most volcanoes went through cycles of eruption and collapse and at Boca Diablo – the collapse won out.
“It’s a down volcano,” he explained. “The actual vent is a long way below the level of the surface.”
There was an oval ridge that surrounded the complex that was a lot smoother than the lava field and the vehicles climbed the last mile easily. Then they parked and walked up to the edge.
The sight was so unexpectedly stunning that Dwight felt dizzy for a second. He was staring into a vast, deep void, a huge cylinder cut out of the very crust of the earth – possibly a half-kilometer wide and just as deep. The bottom was smooth – a jet black sea of recently solidified molten rock. In the center, a smaller crater dropped down even farther, and a constant column of white smoke rose from the vent high into the sky above them. This pillar of smoke would move around in the wind. When it approached the side they stood on it would stagger them with a horrific rotten-egg, sulfurous odor.
“Sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, mixed with sulfuric acid and steam” Chaix said. “We have to be very careful, that stuff can be deadly. We must stay out of the smoke at all costs.”
As he explained the dangers, a low rumbling sound came up from the vent. They felt it in their feet as much as heard it in their ears. Chaix glanced down at his watch.
“Oh, here it comes. Every seven minutes, like clockwork.”
As they looked down into the vast crater, a sound like a jet engine began to whine out of the vent. Then, without warning, a swarm of bright orange specks began to shoot out of the smoke, arcing across the space in the crater, then splattering against the rock floor.
“Lava, shooting out from a pool down in the vent,” Chaix said. “For years it’s been doing that, surprisingly steady. Sometimes it shoots more, sometimes less – but every seven minutes.”
Then they all started in to work. After some instruction from Chaix, Dwayne was able to understand how the seismographs worked – how to set them in place, how to arrange the solar panel that provided power, how to turn on the radio transmitter. Dwayne took one of the workers and Chaix the other. That way they could each carry two instruments, and then walk off around the crater, placing them. The idea was to put sixteen seismographs spaced more or less evenly around the crater. They would run for a few months; then be picked up.
I remember when all this went down. A weird combination of wasteful government largess, corrupt partisan politics, big-time science, and Texas giantism. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and still don’t know if it was a good idea or not. But, it would be cool if it was built now – shame… I guess.
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, August 11, 1997:
The sun has set where we are camped. Set early because of the giant shadow of Boulder Mountain (13,528′).
But over my left shoulder is the huge triangular mass of Mount Antero. It’s still bright with the evening sun. It is barren, rocky, dun colored. The surface looks like speckled gravel, but I know these are huge car-sized boulders, not little rocks. Distance, height, perspective can be very confusing in the mountains.
From where I sit I look straight up a V-shaped channel – with two rounded mountain shoulders on either side. The channel is bare; I can see the violence of rock slides down its steep trough. The two shoulders have trees – they end right about at the highest treeline. The evergreens up there struggle. I see lots of brown dead sentinels; a lot of gray dead wood on the ground.
Above the shoulders the peak ridge itself cuts into the sky. The pointed main peak flanked by two rounded subpeaks. It is a world of steep rock, now turning orange as the invisible sun sets. The sky above is still blue- the deep purple blue of high altitudes (we’re camped at about 11,000 feet – we have over 3,000 more to go). Little clouds boil past; impossibly fast, impossibly close.
Tomorrow morning we will attempt to scale the subpeak on the right, after following the jeep road, the old mining road as far as we can. Sitting here, I don’t see how it will be possible. It is so high, so far, so rocky. I can see the scree slope which stopped me the last time. I’m now two years older, in no better shape. What makes me want to throw myself on that awful rock again?
“To live meaningful lives we must die, and not return. The one human flaw that you spend your lifetimes distressing over mortality, it’s the one thing that makes you whole.” —- Number Six, Battlestar Galactica
I’ve been looking for things to watch on my television that I can put on while I ride my spin bike. Something loud and entertaining, something with some quality but not too much, something to make the time go by. I think I’ll re-watch Battlestar Galactica – the 2004 series. It’s streaming on TUBI – for free, with commercials.
I’ve seen it before. A couple of years after it came out, I binge watched it on NETFLIX.
This was when NETFLIX was cool – when they would send you disks in the mail. Your membership would get you three disks and I would order the next three episodes. There was a thrill when those red envelopes appeared in the mailbox and a sense of closure when you sealed them and sent them back.
It was a great way to binge-watch a series. There was a rhythm… three episodes a week or so. It kept you from staying up all night streaming show after show – yet you didn’t have to wait very long either. It was the best.
Now, I watched the original, hokey TV show too. It had its own rhythm – one episode every Sunday night. 1978 – the year I was out of college. I was working in a small city in central Kansas and didn’t really know anybody. I rented the top floor of an old house.
It had been used as a rooming house over the years and my apartment had two bathrooms. One small one had a stand-up shower, which I used every morning. But the other bathroom had a huge, cast-iron, claw-footed bathtub. I used it like an early hot tub.
I had a small black and white television. I’d prop it on the toilet tank, cook a frozen pizza, and fill the tub with hot water. I’d watch Battlestar Galactica from the tub and eat pizza, manipulating the tiny taps with my toes to keep the water hot.
I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a lot of hype about that show. It was only a couple years after Star Wars and space opera special effects were all the rage – even on a tiny black and white portable tube set. It didn’t take long for the gloss to wear off, especially once it became obvious that they were re-using all the special effects shots over and over.
Still, it was a ritual. I’m not sure how many weeks I kept my bath-pizza-television habit going, but it was not the worst time.