Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fire in the hole

NASA Earth Observatory / Rob Simmon
This view of the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula shows 52 volcanoes. It came from the MODIS imager on NASA's Aqua satellite. The names have been colored to match official activity status according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Green means no activity, yellow is "advisory" with activity possible, orange is "watch" meaning an eruption is close. Those uncolored don't have monitoring equipment on them.
For some reason this statement from a teacher has stayed with me since the seventh grade. In a Latin class (yes, I am old enough to have encountered Latin in a public school) we were studying Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. The stiff, very proper teacher, an imposing presence with her perfectly coiffed white hair told us with all her authority that there were no active volcanoes in the world any more. We believed her. None of these kids in Western New York could refute that and mostly we weren't curious enough to look any further into it. Also, we didn't have Google where we could have found out quickly. If you wanted to know about something that happened since last year's Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook came out, it was a monumental task.

In fact at least three volcanoes around the world erupted in 1954, Kilauea in Hawaii, Ngauruhoe in New Zealand and Bam, which killed 25 people in Papua New Guinea. I am not sure about the others in that class but I lived on in perfect ignorance, believing what she told us and never hearing or reading anything to the contrary. Volcanoes never really came up in my life for a long time after that. Still in the back of my mind somewhere there lurked the suspicion, the wondering at how a person could say something so absolute about something as fluid as the natural world, a world that included lava. And, why would volcanoes just go dark en masse. I guess now in my mind it was linked somehow to something like the extinction of dinosaurs.

I am not sure when I noticed the first eruption of my experience. I do know when the first eruption affected me. That was in 1975 when Mount Augustine in Lower Cook Inlet, Alaska, blew its top. That sent an ash cloud over Anchorage and was the first time I stretched women's stocking material over the air intake for my car's carburetor to keep that fine caustic dust out of the engine.

And right on cue this happened June 2. The Alaska Volcano Observatory 
upgraded Pavlof Volcano in the Aleutian Islands to RED / WARNING 
status. An eruption was occurring and pilot reports indicated ash had 
reached 22,000 feet. According to the AVO,seismic tremors increased 
starting about 3:00 p.m. AKDT June 2. Satellite images showed a 
plume extending over 50 miles east of the volcano.
Since then I've been aware of several eruptions including a few that dusted my surroundings. And, every time one does that I think back to that seventh grade Latin class and the woman who said there were no active volcanoes left in the world. In fact, I now live near what is sometimes called the Pacific rim of fire, a string of volcanoes part of which runs along the south coast of Alaska and through the Aleutian Islands and follows faults between tectonic plates. It seems like one or another of them is at least steaming or smoking almost any time you look.

Though obviously they can be very destructive, volcanoes in the neighborhood are one more element that adds to the lure and mystique of Alaska. And in them lies the constant reminder of how absolutely wrong some of what we heard in public education was in the 1950s. There was a warning  going around later during the social eruptions of the 1960s that would have fit the volcano situation and certainly applies now with anyone who wants to saying anything they want to on the internet or on supposed news shows, and that is: "Question everything."

It wasn't until my mid 30s when everything I knew for sure began to unravel. The volcano statement being just one example. I found many things I had held as gospel weren't true or at least were only partially true. I remember telling a friend the older I get, the less I know for sure. It seemed my black and white knowledge had turned into several shades of gray. Of course a lot of this involved science, given all the discoveries since the 50s. What I began to see was an ever-evolving, shape-shifting, multi-colored, vibrant, alive flow of knowledge that took constant upgrading on my part to remain relevant.

This map calls it the "Ring of Fire" we call it "Rim," same thing. 
Those three volcanoes that  erupted in 1954 are in the same ring.
A line from William Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life" comes to mind, the one where one guy at the far end of  the bar, occasionally rises to proclaim "there's no foundation, no foundation all the way down the line." With my body of knowledge now questionable, I was finding little foundation where I could stand. Eventually we have to adjust, reassess what we know according what we learn and to current conditions and move with the flow or be left behind in a sucking swamp of half-truths, untruths and even outright lies. One only has to listen to the same news item reported on a few different programs to see how difficult it is to pin down the truth; somehow we have to develop filters to understand.

In the process we need to decide what is a fact and what is questionable.  I started with the fact that there are active volcanoes, lots of them, and at times they do erupt. I have a jar of volcanic ash on my desk at the East Pole to prove it.

Alaska Volcano Observatory

A FRIEND MET ANOTHER VOLCANO DENIER, HERE'S HER STORY: "I will always remember the out-of-state piano teacher my son had when he was learning the Suzuki method at a summer camp on the Alaska Pacific University campus.  The young woman who was teaching came from Missouri, and she was well-meaning, but she made a mistake.  She had given the students, 9 or 10 years old, a homework assignment to make up a short piano piece based on some aspect of Alaska nature.  The next day she asked each of the students to play what they had come up with.  My son had created a rather dark and heavy-handed piece to represent the volcanos.  I was sitting in the back of the room, so heard her reaction.  She said, "That's not what I was looking for.  The assignment was to create something about Alaska.  There are NO volcanos in Alaska."  My son just looked down and did not say anything.  As an observer in the back, and mother of the poor kid, I did not feel it was appropriate to say anything, so I didn't.  I talked to him afterward, though, and felt he had handled it in an okay manner. I gave him some tips on how and what he could have said.  There would have been little point in arguing with her and as the teacher, that's disrespectful. He was never going to see her again anyway.  It still bothers me though."


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Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

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