A Volcano Hopper is Born…

Volcano Hopper at Kilauea Summit

I’m kicking the metal leg of my desk as I tip back in my chair. The clock is rolling backward, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to take before the teacher hollers at me to “Quit it!”

A spit wad whacks me square in the ear, ricocheting onto my desk and leaving a glob of ooze behind. I lose my balance and come thumping down onto all four chair legs. I earn a stern warning glance from Mrs. B and I send my best friend a vicious glare as he sniggers from a few rows behind me. That rat is toast when the recess bell rings. I’m gonna make him eat gravel.

Y’know. Assuming the recess bell ever rang.

I ruffled my fluff of blonde hair and dug my palms into my eyes. Why was school so boring? Wasn’t there anything out there in the universe that was slightly interesting? Anything at all? All those fiction books down in the library promised more adventure than… whatever the hell was in this musty old third grade text book.

“All right, class. Before we go to recess, I think we can fit some science in.”

It was all I could do not to face plant into my desk. If we had to go over the difference between solids, liquids, and gasses one more time I was going to puke. My fingers wiggled into my desk, feeling around for the novel I had stashed there. Maybe Mrs. B wouldn’t notice if… The hawk-eyed teacher swooped in and snatched it out of my hand before I could blink. Dang it. She casually tossed it on top of the “commandeered” pile behind her desk without missing a beat. One more of my books and it might break an elevation record or two. Well, there goes that plan.

“Turn to page 105. Today, we’re going to start learning about volcanoes.”

My ears twitched and I sat up a little straighter. Something about the word stirred me to the core and lit my curiosity on fire. A volcan-a-whoodie-what? What did that do? It sounded exotic.

Fantasies of recess were entirely forgotten as I flipped to page 105. There was a glorious full page photograph of fire spraying from the blackened side of a mountain in sweeping arcs of crimson, gold, and orange. Clouds of purple and blue haze floated around the streaks of flame. Whoa. Color me intrigued. I was mesmerized as Mrs. B started describing these mountains of fire. I’d never seen anything like it in Indiana. Cornfields, lakes, trees, more cornfields…yes. Mountains that went ka-boom, no. But it was a wide world out there, one that I very suddenly wanted to explore. Particularly this spicy little part of it.

Before the school day ended, we had field trip permission slips tucked in our sticky hands. I wasn’t usually stoked about a trip to the local museum; I’d seen every exhibit a zillion times. But this trip, I could barely keep my butt in the bus seat. There was a new IMAX movie in the lineup: Ring of Fire. Literally the hottest of the year. And it was about volcanoes. The two (count ‘em, two) books in the school library had only riled my curiosity further. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted, no, needed to know more. I had to see these beasties in action.

I sat squished between my classmates in the theatre, eyes riveted to the screen. Mrs. B’s bland description hadn’t done them any justice! These volcanoes, of all shapes and sizes and styles, were absolutely invigorating! There were bright fountains of lava bursting from Mauna Loa and Kilauea in Hawaii. Intense explosions from Japan and the Phillipines with clouds of ash reaching up to the outer edges of the stratosphere. Whole landscapes that looked completely alien. And each bit of vibrant footage took its turn in lighting my soul on fire like a helpless fern that had gotten in the way. As the IMAX camera swooped low over the summit crater of Kilauea, I fell hopelessly in love. That was it. Welcome to the Lost Cause Club.

While the rest of my class was busy wandering the exhibits in the museum, I sneaked in for the third, fourth, fifth time to watch the Ring of Fire film. I had my plan all laid out: ninja roll through the door, monkey crawl up the stairs, swipe a seat when no one was looking.  But as the usher didn’t seem to mind that my ticket had gone “missing”, I didn’t have to take such drastic measures. And it probably helped that I shared half of my Reese’s candies with him. A small price to pay to see those magnificent eruptions just one more time.

*

I’m kicking the metal leg of my desk as I tip back in my chair. The clock is rolling backward, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to take before the teacher threatens me with detention, along with dishing out a long spiel about how I’m going to crack my head on the tile floor and how he’s not cleaning up the blood. Yadda yadda.

I’ve survived to my junior year of high school so my balance must not be that bad. Though if I did tip over, maybe it’d get me out of class for awhile. Something to do other than die of boredom.

A spit wad whizzed harmlessly past my ear. I swiveled my head around and stuck my tongue out at my best friend. He scrunched his round nose and made it a point of shoving another torn up scrap up paper into his cheek. I hoped his aim didn’t improve this time around. I’d hate to stuff that rat into a locker. Not an easy feat since he was now a whole foot taller than I was.

I listened to the teacher reading over the study guide for final exams. It was the third time this week. Ugh. Just gimme the test now. My fingers wiggled into my binder where I had stuffed the course offerings for next semester. It found the green sheet of paper and I covertly tucked it into my bulky textbook. I peeked up; the teacher was blissfully oblivious and droning on like Ben Stein. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller… Yawn. Pretending to be engrossed with the study guide, I scanned the course offerings instead.

My gaze skidded to a halt on the brand-spanking-new science class. Geology! I lost my balance and really did almost topple over. I earned a warning from the teacher as I came down hard on all fours. Something about “do that again and you’ll get two days of detention.” But I didn’t care. My brain was buzzing in delight. I had been through all the books in the town library twice over and had even raided other town’s libraries while on vacation. But resources were a bit limited and, what with it being the era before social media and Google took hold, I didn’t really get to sink my teeth in. Finally! Here was my chance!

The bell rang and I scrambled out of my chair backward and leaped down the stairs two at a time. I nearly collided with my guidance counselor as I skidded into the front office. “Can I register for classes?”

“Not until next week.”

I pouted as I shuffled out the door and back into the melee. Fine. I could wait a week to sign up. But it was all I could do not to camp outside her office like I was waiting for a rock concert to begin.

*

I felt a sharp tug on my blonde ponytail. I glanced over my shoulder. “C’mon, time for lunch!” My best friend bounced on his toes.

“I’ve got to finish this lab project,” I answered, turning back to the rock samples stacked in front of me on the counter.

“You’ve done that project four times now. I know your grades can’t suck that bad.”

“Just making sure I’ve got the idea. They say repetition is the best way to memorize something.”

He dropped back onto his heels and rolled his eyes. “C’mon! Look at me. I’m wasting away. Food. Let’s go.”

I waved him off. “Bring me back a burger.”

He opened his mouth to whine in protest. The classroom door opened behind him and admitted the geology teacher.  A man in his mid-sixties, he stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of me and, with a shake of his head wandered up to his desk where he dumped a pile of books. They landed with a heavy thud. My ears pricked up. Ooh, what goodies were in there today?

“You know, I don’t know why I’m still surprised to see you in here morning, noon and night,” Mr. Y casually commented as he adjusted his bifocals and looked down past his nose at a few book titles. “But your friend is right. You should go get some lunch. You’ve got that lab down pat.” I opened my mouth to protest but he shoved a small pile of books into my hands. “These should keep you busy for a day or two.”

“You’re just trying to get rid of me,” I grinned.

His face wrinkled as he smiled. “Lord knows, I can’t get a planning period in unless you leave the premises. I have to bring book sacrifices just to keep you out of my hair for a few hours. But it is nice to have a student who just can’t get enough. You’ll make a good volcanologist someday.”

I beamed, hugging the books to my chest.

My best friend tugged impatiently at my hair again.

“All right, all right,” I yeilded. “Let’s go. Thanks, Mr. Y.”

“Sure thing, kiddo.” I watched his slow gait as he returned to his desk to get some work done. The guy was a gem. He had the patience of a saint, answering my daily deluge of questions. I suppose it was the least I could do to let him have a planning period to himself every now and again. And I was kinda hungry.

Of course, all this happened right around the time in a girl’s life where she’s expected to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of it. Seriously, what seventeen year old knows what the heck she wants? That’s why 75% of college kids switch degrees. I knew that I wanted to go into volcanology. But I also wanted to write. At that time, they weren’t exactly compatible. It was one or the other, and that was an extremely difficult decision for me. But, compliments of a few curveballs that life pitched at me, I chose writing.

That decision didn’t sate the volcanic cravings, however. I could feel the constant tug against my heartstrings and the lure of the mystic mountains that I had fallen so in love with.

I scraped up a few pennies here and there between paying student loans and the rent. I’d skip meals and dump the $5 I would have spent into the “volcano fund” jar. Finally, with enough gas money in my pocket, I hopped into my car and made my way to volcano #1: Sunset Crater.

To say I loved it is an understatement!  It was calm and quiet as I tromped over the trail, but I couldn’t get enough of the fiery mischief it had once caused. I studied the lava flows, the layers of cinder, the hornitos. My man joked that I was hopping over the volcanic field like a billy goat. Baa. It was every bit as fascinating as I dreamed! How could I possibly stand still? And it was so addictive, I had to find another one! So I hopped to another volcano, then another. And another. The Volcano Hopper had been born!

The day after I graduated college with my Bachelor of Science, my husband handed me an envelope. “Congrats, baby!” he grinned, rocking back and forth on his toes as he waited excitedly for me to open it. I slid the card out of the envelope and a piece of folded paper slipped onto my lap. I opened it. A confirmation number for two plane tickets to the Big Island of Hawaii. And a trip to Kilauea.

I don’t know that I’ve ever squeaked so loudly in my life. My cat’s head popped up, wondering why I was bouncing around in circles like a kangaroo. I was finally going to get to stand on the very slopes of the volcano that first stole my heart. I would be able to touch the black lava, feel her thrumming pulse between my feet. I had never been more thrilled!

I had aquainted myself with the other volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii before I reached her slopes. The tallest and largest volcanoes on Earth were right next door to her. They were massive, and massively impressive. But still, she called to me like a siren.

I perched myself on Kilauea’s crater rim as close to the summit lava lake as I could safely (and legally) get. A wide caldera stretched more than four square miles before me, and within that lay a second, smaller crater. Nestled deep inside that second crater, was an active pond of lava that splashed and spluttered up over the edge like a dragon was taking a bath in it.

The trade winds shifted for just a moment as I sat there, swirling down into the crater and whipping over the lava lake. They carried a blast of vog and heat up the caldera and rolled over me like a tidal wave. The sulfuric scent made my nose burn and the heat wrapped its tendrils tight around me before the wind carried them back out to sea. I laughed so hard I almost tipped over. Kilauea had just come running up to say hello in her own spunky way. I fell head over heels in love all over again.

While I seem to have a habit of booking tickets to Hawaii simply because Kilauea is there, it’s not enough to have a love affair with only that volcano. I’m hungry to explore every other volcano on, and off, the planet. It’s going to take awhile because, c’mon, there’s a lotta lava out there, but you don’t get anywhere if you’re standing still.

Time to hop to another volcano… and see what adventures we can get ourselves into!

Copyright © 2017 Volcano Hopper. All rights reserved.

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