Thursday, January 6, 2022

Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central, by Diego Rivera

The central section of the mural, with the Skeleton Catrina holding Diego Rivera's hand, as a boy, with Frida Kahlo standing behind him holding a yang yin symbol.  On her right she hooks arms with José Guadalupe Posada, the political cartoonist who created the Catrina's original image.
                             
In 1984 I made my first trip to Mexico City.  It was the year before the great earthquake which struck the city on September 19th the following year.  I stayed in a hotel off the Alameda Central Park in the Centro Storico that had a large photo mural of Mt. Hood in Oregon in its lobby.  The hotel I stayed in was destroyed in the earthquake.  One of the places I visited while there was the fabled Hotel Del Prado on the Parque Alameda Central, who's lobby contained the grand mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central" by the artist Diego Rivera.  The hotel had an art deco style and there were columns that obscured parts of the mural.

The mural as it appeared in the lobby of the Hotel del Prado

This was my second foray in to Mexico, the country where I honed my skills as a world traveler.  I was quite naive at that point and had never seen artistry on such a scale.  The work had a profound affect on me as I was swept up in the epic tales of Mexican history.

An advertisement for the Hotel Del Prado

The mural was originally commissioned by the prominent Mexican architect Carlos Obregón Santacilia for the west wall of the Versailles Restaurant, but it was later moved to the lobby because the wall was sinking because of its weight, causing cracks, and humidity in the dining room was damaging the painting.  Curtains in the restaurant also obscured sections of the mural, which could be closed perhaps because of controversial elements in the painting that offended conservative Catholics and Capitalists.

An old photo of the Versailles Restaurant with the mural partially covered by curtains.

Rivera painted the mural in 1946 and 47.  It is 15 meters long and 5 meter tall and weighs 35 tons with the supporting wall included.  The painting represents a dream, which allows it to cover 400 years of Mexican history, with 100 definable people incorporated in its narrative.  

A photograph from 1947 showing Diego Rivera working on the composition sketch for the mural

The 1985 earthquake registered 8.1 on the Richter scale, followed by two later powerful aftershocks which collapsed about 400 buildings and severely damaging a thousand others which had to be demolished.  The death toll was over 5,000 people.  The soft sediments that underlies Mexico City, which is built on what was once Lake Texcoco make for an undulating base during seismic activity.  The lake was subsequently drained in by the Spanish after the conquest of the Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan.  Mexico City has the most dramatically altered landscape of any city in the world.  The vibration of the ground was amplified in buildings ranging from 6 to 15 stories tall as they shook at the same frequency.  Most ancient colonial buildings in Mexico have survived a number of earthquakes because they are less than 6 stories tall.  I returned to Mexico City in January 1986 and was shocked to see so many buildings that were no longer there.

The collapsed Hotel St. Regis during the 1985 earthquake

The Hotel Del Prado was irreparably damaged and had to be demolished but the mural survived relatively unharmed.  It was padded with rubber mattresses and wooden panels and while being seranaded by Mariachis, was lifted by crane and relocated to it's new home across the street.  It took 12 hours to complete the move, and the building where it is housed today, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera was later built around it.

A photo in the museum showing the mural being transported to its new location.

The Museo Mural Diego Rivera

The mural represents a dream, which allows it to cover four centuries of Mexican history in a colorfully dramatic display.  It reads from left to right, beginning the the Spanish conquest of what became New Spain and ending with the relative political stability of the mid 20th Century.  

Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central

On the left side Conquistador Hernan Cortez is depicted with bloody praying hands, as his Catholic faith was the justification for the rapid destruction and subjugation of once great indigenous cultures.  Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop and leader of the Holy Inquisition stands next to him.  The poetess and early protagonist of women's rights, Juana Inés de la Cruz wears a nun's habit, next to the eighth Viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco II, who instigated the creation of the Alameda Central Park in 1592, on what was formerly and Aztec marketplace.  Looming large in the background is Benito Juarez who served as the 26th President of Mexico.  He was driven in to exile during the French invasion, when the Austrian Hapsburg royal family member Maximilian was declared Emporer of Mexico.  Maximillion was executed when Juarez regained control of the country after the brutal execution of 10,000 of Juarez's supporters.  He is depicted in significantly smaller size with his wife, Empress Carlota to the left of a cluster of colorful balloons.  


This side of the mural shows the conquest of New Spain, the Inquisition, the French invasion, petty thievery, and two borrachos on a park bench, oblivious to it all.

Los Borrachos

The Alameda Central is considered the oldest public park in the Americas.  It was created as a green space on the Western edge of the growing city with a formal layout of straight interesecting paths marked by fountains.  The name Alameda is derived from Poplar Trees (Alamos) which are planted throughout the park.  The park used to be half the size of what you see today and was just an open space called El Quemedero, that was used as a place to burn heretics during the Inquisition.  A charming beginning for the first park in the Americas.  By 1770 the Inquisition had come to an end and the plaza was demolished to enlarge the park.  It was expanded again in 1791 and a wooden fence was built around it to make it exclusive to nobility.  Mexico declared independence from European rule in 1821, and the park became a popular place to celebrate freedom from colonial rule.  When General Santa Anna rode in to Mexico City he ordered the fountains in the park be filled with alcohol.  That must have been a messy party.

A design plan for the Alameda Central

There are five fountains with round basins containing French designed statues with Roman themes.  One of them holds a muscular figure of Poseidon wielding a trident that I fell in love with on my first visit in 1985.  I always walk by it when I return to the park over the years as if visiting an old friend.

A statue of Poseidon in Alameda Central

The park as you see it today was mostly developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century and by then had become popular with all social classes.  The mixing and resulting struggles between the rich and poor and European and Indigenous peoples is clear in the mural.  In 2012 the park underwent improvements with the paving of the paths with smooth marble tiles and modifications to some fountains with popular jets of water spouting from the pavement for children to play in on hot days.

Alameda Central today is a gathering place for people from all walks of life.

The center of the Diego Rivera's mural has interesting dynamics.  The centerpiece is the Calavera de la Catrina.  Catrina was a nickname for an upper class woman who wore European dress.  In 1913, political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada created an etching depicting Catrina as a skeleton, as death is the great equalizer.  

Calavera Catrina, an etching by José Guadalupe Posada

Noble classes surround la Catrina, flanked by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Guadalupe Posada

Diego Rivera replicated this etching in homage to the cartoonist who died in obscurity.  He wears a dark suit and bowler hat and affectionately locks arms with the Catrina on her right hand side.  She wears a feather boa with a snakes head, a representation of the god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent which is frequently represented on Precolombian religious structures.  Her belt buckle is ornamented with an Aztec symbol.

Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent from a pyramid at Teotihuacan, Museo Antropoligia, Mexico City

Rivera painted himself as a boy, the boy who has the dream, holding hands with the Catrina on her left.  Behind him stands his wife of 25 years, Frida Kahlo, with one hand resting protectively on his shoulder.  In her other hand she holds and yang and yin symbol, which speaks to the dynamics of their troubled relationship.  Frida Kahlo was bedridden from a serious trolley accident during the time he was painting the mural which may have influenced him painting himself as a boy, expressing some insecurity.  Yang and Yin represents male and female duality, dark and light, good and bad.  The dream is also a nightmare.  She referred to him as the Toad, one of which he carries in his pocket.  He holds a vulture headed umbrella in his right hand.

Diego Rivera as a boy, Frida Kahlo, and la Catrina

The noble classes promenade in their Sunday finery under the protective gaze of dictator Porfirio Diaz, decked out in an elaborate military costume and a plumed hat.  A soldier with a club confronts a finely dressed Mayan girl in a gesture of segregation. 


The struggle between classes is clear throughout the mural.  Diaz's dictatorship is overthrown in the Mexican revolution, which lasted 10 years.  A Zapatista (follower of revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who inspired the agrarian movement) rides a horse while another shoots a man in the head.  Even though democracy and reforms brings Mexico in to a new and more hopeful era, the classes are still segregated by police forces according to class.  Beyond them in the trees in front of a Mexican flag, President Francisco Madero tips his hat.  He assumed the presidency after the fall of Porfirio Diaz's 6 term dictatorship, starting the Mexican Revolution.  But he violently opposed the Zapatistas and was later assasinated in a coup during a period called the 10 tragic days.


But as the mural moves further to the right side, there is a more peaceful resolve that comes perhaps from hope for the future, intertwining with the branches of the trees.  The dome of the Palacio Bellas Artes is seen the background, along with the Torre Latinoamerica.  The workers wave flags, while menacing gazes lurk amongst the crowd, who all have identities and significant meanings in the political struggles that followed the fall of the Madero government.  Men with stacks of money represent the corruption and disparity of the distribution of wealth.  In the bottom right hand corner, Diego as a middle class boy eats a Torta de Jamon purchased from an indigenous woman sitting at a table.  He is surrounded by his family as he dreams them, including his daughters Ruth and Guadalupe Rivera Marin and their mother Guadalupe Marin, the second of his four wives.



And so the epic dream of a Sunday afternoon in the oldest public park in the Americas plays itself out in the never ending drama that is the history of Mexico.  Its been overwhelming but very educational to research this essay and I have a vaguely improved insight in to the history of the republic.  I love this country and am so happy to have the opportunity to revisit and explore its many fascinating and beautiful landscapes, ruins, cities and towns over the years.

Diego Rivera with an assistant working on the bottom right hand corner of the mural

Thanks always for reading, Jeffrey

Sueño de una Tarde Dominical el la Alameda Central viewed from the upstairs balcony

A girl photographs  a section of the mural with her cell phone





Thursday, January 28, 2021

I love lava

A mandala offering to the New Year, 2021.  Isaac Hale State Beach, the Big Island of Hawaii

Its the beginning of the New Year, one that many hope is a reprieve from the previous one.  I've been flying away to some far flung destination to escape Oregon winters for almost 4 decades.  The past winter I would have returned in mid March from an overland journey from Paris to Crete.  I  made it as far as Nice on the French Riviera when my beloved Mother suddenly passed away on New Year's Eve.  Needless to say, this was a drastic change and shock to suddenly be back in my home town to process everything Mom had accumulated in her lifetime.  What a way to start the year.  Though it was a difficult time, I feel like I maneuvered it in a way that was meaningful and often beautiful.  Then Covid arrived.  I had flown to Mexico City for a month of sun in the mountains and beach as I needed to regain my sanity.  I flew home mid March, just as everything was going in to lockdown for the first time.  I live alone and spent a few weeks hunkered down, enjoying my cleaner than usual house and garden.  I created a sanctuary for myself in my home and garden in preparation for such times.  It has paid offl.  

A waterfall trickles over a lava cliff on the east side of Mt. Rainier, Washington

As the weather warmed, I began to venture out on solo camping trips that I normally didn't have time for.  Oregon and Washington are beautiful states with vast wild spaces and there is so much to explore.

A lava assemblage wall at Peterson's Rock Garden, near Redmond

I was born and grew up in Eugene, Oregon, 100 miles south of Portland, the beautiful city where I have lived since 1982.  To the east, running north to south from British Columbia to Northern California lies the Cascade Mountain Range, known to geologists as the Cascade Volcanic Arc.  It's North America's section of the Ring of fire, a string of volcanoes that fringes the Pacific Ocean.  A few times a year my parents would drive us over the mountains on a highway that passes through lava flows to visit my Grandparent's in Bend on the east side of the mountains. 

Mt. Washington and Jefferson rising above the lava flows at McKenzie Pass

 The old McKenzie Highway passes over a major flow that was once used as a training ground for astronauts preparing to land on the moon.

My Grandparent's Elmer and Edith in front of a lava rock fireplace he built in their garden in Bend

On camping trips we hiked through forests growing on lava, and fished in lakes surrounded and sometimes formed by lava.  The road to Bend follows the McKenzie River, one of the most beautiful in the American West.  It emerges from the Great Spring, flowing in to a lake that was formed when a lava flow blocked the river.  Clear Lake is known for its clarity and the drowned forest seen in the transparent depths.  From there it makes its way to merge with the Willamette River near my home town.

The Great Spring, from which the fabled McKenzie River emerges.

Clear Lake was formed when a lava flow blocked the McKenzie River, about 3,000 years ago.  It is 120 feet deep.


The McKenzie River flows out of Clear Lake breeching the point where the lava had blocked it.

When I was 16 I got a summer job working as a boat man at East Lake Resort, which was owned by friends of the family.  East Lake is one of two sizeable bodies of water inside Newberry Crater.  The crater is actually the caldera of a huge shield volcano, the largest in the what is called the Cascade Volcanic Arc.  The extent of its lava flows cover 1,200 square miles.  It is massive compared to any other mountain in this entire subduction zone.  Geology is a hard read when you try to do research, extremely technical and geeky, so I am copying and pasting this description from the Wikipedia page on Newberry Volcano.    "The origin of the volcano remains somewhat unclear; while some scientists believe it originated from an independent hotspot, most evidence indicates that it formed from the subduction of the oceanic Juan de Fuca and Gorda tectonic plates under the continental North American Plate. Eruptive activity at Newberry Volcano began about 600,000 years ago and has continued into the Holocene, the last eruption taking place 1,300 years ago. Unlike other shield-shaped volcanoes, which often erupt basaltic lavas only, Newberry Volcano has also erupted andesitic and rhyolitic lavas."


Paulina and East Lakes, separated by a cinder cone and lava flows, inside the Newberry Caldera.  Paulina Peak and the Obsidian flow are at the top of the photo.

We rented very heavy old wooden boats and gas motors, which I carried across the beach an inhumane number of times from dawn to dusk so that fishermen could try to hook one of the legendary Brown, Brook, and Rainbow trout that ply the deep blue waters.  Underwater thermal vents provide for a rich aquatic food source that produces record breaking sized fish.  .Near the lake, the world's largest obsidian flow sparkles with black glass in a thick flow at the base of Paulina Peak, the tallest remnant of the caldera rim.  I used to climb all over it, which in hindsight is rather dangerous.  Obsidian makes the best points for spears and arrows and blades, so this was an important destination for native people who have inhabited this region for 12,000 years.  I found two arrowheads on the beach, a rare find.  Again I'll let Wikipedia explain what Obsidian is:

"Obsidian is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. It is commonly found within the margins of rhyolitic lava flows known as obsidian flows. These flows have a high content of silica, which gives them a high viscosity. The high viscosity inhibits atomic diffusion through the lava, which inhibits nucleation of mineral crystals. Together with rapid cooling, this results in a natural glass forming from the lava.  Obsidian is hard, brittle, and amorphous; it therefore fractures with sharp edges. In the past, it was used to manufacture cutting and piercing tools, and it has been used experimentally as surgical scalpel blades."

Newberry Volcanic National Monument was designated by congress in 1990 and covers 54,000 acres, and is well worth visiting.  There are amazing lava tube caves, flows that made casts of trees, and cinder cones that dot the high desert landscape.

Crack in the Ground is a mile long gap formed when the ground collapsed during an eruption of craters connected to the super volcano Mt. Newberry

When I was 18 I got a summer job working for the concessionaire that ran boat tours on Crater Lake.  The lake is the centerpiece of Oregon's only national park, and is in some ways the most extraordinary body of water on Earth.  This is another caldera of a large volcano that collapsed after a violent eruption that covered the entire west in ash about 7,800 years ago.  The depression when the mountain fell in to itself was 4,000 feet deep, and it took about 750 years for the caldera to fill halfway with water, making it one of the deepest lakes in the world.  Precipitaion in the form of rain and the heaviest snowfalls in Oregon keep the lake at a fairly consistent depth of 1,949 feet.  The sides are nearly vertical and there are no streams flowing in to the lake, making the water some of the clearest on Earth with visibility to nearly 150 feet.  A cinder cone that formed inside the caldera emerges from the water as an island, with lava flows forming small bays and pools, the only shallow areas in the lake.  The spectacular boat tour takes you from Cleetwood Cove at the bottom of a steep switchback trail on the opposite side of the lake from the Rim Village and Lodge, where all the facilities are.  We drove around the lake every morning in a van and we hiked, often with a hangover down to the impossibly blue water.  The water is really cold but its incredible to swim in this seemingly bottomless lake.  I was usually dropped off at Wizard Island to be there to meet and tie off the boats when they pulled in to the dock and help passengers disembark so they could hike to the top of the cinder cone.  Its one of the more unusual places to work that I can think of, being surrounded by 2,000 foot walls and often being entirely alone.  Up to that point "working inside a caldera"made up most my job resume. 

Crater Lake, with Wizard Island

In March of 1980, Mt. Saint Helens exploded in a massive eruption that gave me a first hand experience of the potential fury a volcano can unleash.  Everything within an 8 mile radius was devastated.  Ash covered 22,000 square miles.  including the city of Portland, which is only 50 miles away.  The mountain used to be a 10,000 foot tall symetrical cone like a smaller version of Mt. Fuji in Japan.  3,000 feet were blown off one side and it looks very different today from what it once was.

A postcard showing the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens from Portland in March 1980

I've mentioned many times in my essays that my grandparents were rock hounds.  They came out in to the lava lands of Eastern Oregon to dig for minerals to cut and polish to sell at their small rockshop and at gem shows.  They were very knowledgable and we would go out to places that held promise by geologic structure to look for special stones.  We also hunted and fished so I got to know the mountains and lava encrusted high deserts landscapes intimately,  I am still exploring places in this vast expanse I hadn't seen before while revisiting others.  Because of Covid and the cancellation of my Spring garden projects, I decided to go car camping every week by myself.  My first adventure was to Central and Eastern Oregon, stopping at Peterson's Rock Garden, and Fort Rock southeast of Bend.  

A bridge encrusted with black obsidian at Peterson's Rock Garden

Oregon is big, and I covered hundreds of miles, to the Steens Mountains in the far southeast corner of the state, and north through vast lava formations surrounded by forest and forests surrounded by lava as vegatative islands.  I continued to go on an adventure every week for 4 or 5 days exploring parts of the Pacific Northwest I'd been wanting to experience.  Most of the land here was formed by volcanic activity.  Fort Rock isn't all that far from Newberry Caldera but I had never seen it in person.  Again, I'll use the Wikipedia description of its geologic formation:  "Fort Rock was created when basalt magma rose to the surface and encountered the wet muds of a lake bottom. Powered by a jet of steam, molten basalt was blown into the air, creating a fountain of hot lava particles and frothy ash. The pieces and blobs of hot lava and ash rained down around the vent and formed a saucer-shaped ring of lapillituff and volcanic ash sitting like an island in the lake waters. Steam explosions also loosened angular chunks of black and red lava rock comprising the valley floor. These blocky inclusions are incorporated into the fine-grained tuff layers at Fort Rock. Waves from the lake waters eroded the outside of the ring, cutting the steep cliffs into terraces 66 feet (20 m) above the floor of Fort Rock Valley.[4]

The wave-cut terraces on the south side of the ring mark former lake levels of this now-dry lakebed. Southerly winds, which are still predominant in this region, apparently drove waves against the south side of the ring, eroding the soft ash layers, breaching it, and creating a large opening on the south side."

The well preserved woven sagebrush sandals found in a cave in the formation date from as far back as 13,000 years, making them the oldest known in tact footwear in the world.  The people who lived here reached the island by canoe, whereas today it sits dry above the high desert.

Fort Rock, Oregon

On my Mother's birthday in early October I took her ashes to the Headwaters of the Metolius, a truly enchanted river that rises directly from a spring at the base of Black Butte, a giant cinder cone.  The emerging river flows over a bed of lava rock and cinders, through towering Ponderosa Pine forests towards Mt. Jefferson, a 10,000 foot volcanic peak off in the distance.  

A painting of the Headwaters of the Metolius River and Mt. Jefferson by my Grandmother Edith Hudson for my Mother in the 1960s

It was her wish to be a part of what she called God's Country.  The dust of her remains swirling off in to the rippling current to mingle with the lava.  It was a beautiful, moving experience to fulfill.  While there I hiked for 3 days along the banks of the crystal clear river, watching countless fish preparing to reproduce in perfect spawning habitat.  The cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, never-ending.

The Headwaters of the Metolius River on October 6th, 2020

I've always tried to incorporate meaning in to my work, including expressions of our relationship with the universe we inhabit.  My first stone projects were built using native basalt, which is the primary local material quarried in the region.  Basalt is the most common form of rock formed by volcanic activity, making up 90% of the igneous rock on the planet.  It is common on the Moon and Mars as well.  When thick flows of lava cool, fractures can form creating columns.  These are usually but not always hexagon in shape.  Columnar basalt when exposed has a dramatic character.

Columnar basalt forms a vertically striped band in contrast to a variety of lava flows in the Deschutes River canyon in Central Oregon

One of my favorite rock quarries is outside of the town of Corbett in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland.  The tall vertical basalt columns are blasted from the slope and sold as columns or broken up in to blocks and slabs for building stone, or even crushed to make gravel.

Basalt Columns in the Corbett Quarry

I would love it if somebody would commission me to design and build a Stonehenge type project with standing columns.  Basalt columns are popular and can be purchased from many good stone yards in the Pacific Northwest.  

Basalt column pieces with dished tops are sold as hefty bird baths 

We bought a selection of basalt pieces from the above quarry that I had cut in to sections and blocks.  I used these to build a circular wall around a mosaic of a spiral galaxy, with cut marble circles representing the phases of the Moon.  The wall forms a round seat for people to gather and meditate on the mosaic and my client has begun to hold rituals in the garden on the full moon.

Arranging cut basalt pieces for the wall around a mosaic representing the Phases of the Moon

The wall has niches at the cardinal points in which to place offerings and candles.  The moon has a number of volcanoes and vast lava flows, all of which are currently dormant.  A detailed description  of the volcanology of the moon can be found here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanism_on_the_Moon

The finished seat height wall, a mixture of basalt and river stones

The Ring of Fire is an epic chain of volcanos that makes a horseshoe shape around the Pacific Ocean.  I've traveled the full length of the Andes in South America, which has a number of active volcanoes. 

The 16,480 foot Tungurahua Volcano south of Quito, Ecuador is a dramatic sight when erupting.

I've visited the World's second largest crater on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos.  I've watched smouldering volcanos southeast of Mexico City.  

The Caldera of Sierra Negra on the Island of Isabela in the Galapagos is classified as the second largest in the world, after the supervolcano that makes up the Yellowstone Basin in Wyoming.

I hiked up to hot steaming sulpher vents and spent a week on beautiful Samosir Island in Lake Toba, which lies inside another giant caldera.  Mount Merapi on the island of Java is erupting as I write this.

Samosir Island in Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra, Indonesia

Europe has volcanoes too.  In February 2013 I took a ferry to the island of Santorini in Greece.  It was another pilgrimage trip for me, to see a massive caldera similar in ways to the ones I worked at in my teens.  Originally the island of Thera, the volcano underwent a violent eruption that blasted out it's center, altering the climate of the planet in a prolonged winter.  Earthquakes and massive tsunamis wiped out much of Europe's earliest advanced civilization, the Minoans centered on the island of Crete.  I'm going to refer you to Wikipedia again for an in depth description of the event, as it is fascinating.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoan_eruption

The massive caldera filled with sea water on the Island of Santorini

The steep walls and deep blue water reminds me of Crater Lake in Oregon.  The thick ash deposits have been carved in to cave dwellings over many centuries since the eruption, creating the famed whitewashed cliffside towns that make Santorini famous.  

The whitewashed towns of Oia on the left and Thira on the right looking like snow on the caldera rim

Lava and red cinder collected from along the shoreline is used to and build walls, that are usually stuccoed and painted white to reflect the intense Summer heat.  Some old roads are still paved in lava and cinder cobbles.

Oia flows along the slopes like lava might.

Mortared cinder walls of a church that was destroyed by an earthquake shows the mortared cinder and lava structure that would later be stuccoed.  


I had rented a small cave apartment for a week online, and by chance was moved to another unit, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed.  Building by digging in to the ash, and using rough stones for walls and stucco makes for a splended curvaceous organic architecture that compliments the dramatic natural landscape.  The walls in my cave were all soft curves.  A steep set of stairs leads down the slopes to a blue domed church seen in countless photos taken from around my porch of one of the most famous images in Greece.  

The view from my porch is one of the most famous in Greece.

Winter is a great time to visit the southern islands of Greece as there are few tourists and the weather is pleasant.  Santorini had the most tourists of the 12 islands I visited but it was still very quiet.  There was one excellent restaurant open in Oia and breakfast was provided by hotel that rented me my little cave.  I rented a car one day and toured the island with a woman from Latvia I met at breakfast.  We visited the ruins of Akrotiri, the Minoan settlement on the island that was buried in ash.  Like Pompeii, the ash preserved ancient frescos and artifacts frozen in time in an instant.

Fresco found during excavation of the ruins of Akrotiri


A pebble mosaic parking area in the town of Thira

Vesuvius and Mt. Etna are the best known volcanoes in Europe and are something to behold when traveling to Napoli and Sicily in Italy.  The city of Naples is a potential ticking time bomb if the mountain were to have a major eruption again, as approximately 3 million people live within 20 miles of the crater.  

Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD rises above the city of Napoli in Italy

Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily is the largest active volcano in Europe, and is currently has lava flowing from its crater.  The glow can be seen from the city of Catania 26 miles away.  In 1669 a massive eruption created lava flows that reached the city.  The fortifying city walls diverted the majority of the flows which  then filled the harbor.  

This image of Mt. Etna was taken on January 17, 2021 from a news story.

A massive earthquake 24 years later destroyed the city, which was rebuilt in a unified plan using the local black volcanic rock and white limestone.  This redevelopment is considered the first example of a cohesive urban planning design in Europe.

The current eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater on the Big Island of Hawaii from the Kilauea overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

When winter came this year it was the first time in ages that I didn't have a plane ticket somewhere exotic.  I stayed home for as long as I could bear, and then decided to go to Hawaii for the first time.  It has a low covid infection rate and if you had tested negative within 72 hours of flying you didn't have to quarentine for two weeks in a hotel room.  The Big Island is essentially the largest volcano on the planet, and if measured from its undersea base to the top of Mauna Kea is 1,050 feet taller than Mt. Everest. 
 
Mauna Loa Volcano from Kilauea Iki Crater

The island is the youngest and largest in the Hawaiian Islands chain and Kīlaeua is the most active volcano in the world.  

An incredible aerial view of the Halema'uma'u Crater.

I had never been to Hawaii because I like to get out of the US and away from Americans for at least a few months every year.  Its nice to not have to listen to people using the word like in every sentence.  Coming to the Big Island now has been fortuitous, as tourism is down, and I have been able to visit people who have built some extraordinary gardens. 

Nurseryman Tom Pierigrossi made this concrete path to mimic Pāhoehoe lava, which is found in other parts of the garden.

The Big Island is very active volcanically and just two years ago, massive flows buried entire subdivisions and the famed shorelines of the Puna area where I am staying, creating new spectacular lava landscapes. 

A lava flow in 2018 buried the road to Kapoho on the south end of the island.

The Goddess of fire and volcanoes of Hawaiians is Pele.  There is so much lore attached to her that again I will refer you to wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pele_%28deity%29. I was told repeatedly by friends on the mainland that I must not bring lava stones home with me as they might provoke Pele's wrath.  I learned that cinders are quarried and exported in large quantities and used in planting mixes.  Hopefully your potting soil won't bring you bad luck!

Goddess Pele mural in the town of Pahoa

       The late December eruption of Halema'uma'u Crater in Hawaii Volcanoe's National Park

There are two types of solidified lava found on the island, and everywhere else there is lava.  A'ā is rough and jagged, with lots of air bubbles.  It is very difficult to walk on.  This is the kind most commonly found in Oregon.  It is formed by the speed the molten lava is flowing and how much air is mixed in with it, and the speed with which it cools, which creates the the porous rough texture.  

A'ā lava is distinctive for its rough jagged air bubble pocked surface.  It is hard to walk on.  This is the floor of Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Pāhoehoe lava formations along the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Pāhoehoe is much more liquid in appearance with pillowy and ropey textures.  It can take on the most fantastic forms imaginable, smooth and shiny or twisted and rippled like solidified liquid.  It is much easier to walk on and is fascinating to behold.  A number of endemic ferns and the red flowered Ohia Tree, Metrosideros polymorpha evolved to colonize the flows, showing remarkable tenacity.

Fantastic flowing forms of Pahoehoe lava along the Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In 2018 a major lava flow buried entire sections of the coastline in the Puna area south of Hilo, which was famous for its snorkling pools and black sand beaches.  The beach in Isaac Hale Park now ends in a 40 foot high flow that pushed stones and sand in massive quanities along the shore, creating a new coastline and hot pools.  The largest is where the boat launch used to enter a bay, now hundreds of yards from the new shoreline.  This became my favorite part of the island, with its lush forests and dramatic coastline.

Churning seas and tropical vegetation fringe the beautiful Pune coast

A map showing the 2018 lava flows in red.

The new rock beach and lava flow at Isaac Hale Beach Park at Pohoiki.

Pretending to use a now defunct beach shower at Isaac Hale Beach Park, the former beach now covered in a thick layer of lava.

The newly formed hot pools became my favorite destination for evening soaks, heaven on Earth to me. 

This pool is where the boat ramp once allowed fishermen to launch their boats in to a bay, now hundreds of feet from the new shoreline.

The crashing waves shape broken pieces of lava in to wonderful beach stones that captured my attention for many hours, perusing their fantastic shapes and textures.

Lava has been tumbled by the pounding surf in to beautiful rounded stones at Isaac Hale Beach Park

I met a number of people on the island who's properties were destroyed or dramatically affected by the flows.  An old friend of mine I visitied lost his Macadamia orchard and for a time lived in a park until taken in by friends.  Toxic gases from the hot flows damaged or killed a variety of plants in people's gardens.  Seeing what survived and quickly bounced back was a study in botanical resilience.  With substancial recovery and replanting these magnficent gardens are once again resplendent technicolor wonderlands.

A curvaceous red cinder driveway snakes through a breathtaking collection of tropical plants in the garden of Davis Dalbok in Puna.

It is surreal to drive through areas that were once subdivisions or forests now black with thick flows of lava.  There were heavy rains, more than 30 inches while I was there and the water percolation in to the flows rose in plumes of steam from the still hot rock underlying the flows.  New roads had to be cut through the lava to access neighborhoods cut off from the town of Pahoa.

A new road through the Wa'a Wa'a area near Pahoa steams after heavy rains.

I made several trips up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to explore the forests and craters that pockmark the region.  The day after Christmas I hiked with a group of friends across Kilauea Iki Crater, an amazing experience, as this was once a molten inferno.

Hiking across the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater

Red cinders mark a vent hole in the bottom of Kilauea Iki Crater.

The Chain of Craters road is a wonderful drive from Kilauea Crater down to the sea, with many turn outs to see deep craters and the expanse of massive lava flows.  

Pauahi Crater on the Chain of Craters Road

Massive flows from eruptions that happened between 1969 to 1972 blanket the slopes in an incredible gallery of geologic sculpture.  Being the geology geek that I am I took endless portraits of the beautiful forms that resulted from lava as it cooled.  

My rental car from a hike out on to the lava near Mau Loa o Muana Ulu on the Chain of Craters Road

Smooth shiny Pahoehoe contrasts with the rough surface of A'a lava

The beautiful stone work found in National Parks is one of the inspirations that made me want to work in this medium.

A crenalated wall at the edge of a crater on the Chain of Craters Road

A none too bright goose native to the Hawaiian Islands, the Nēnē barely escaped extinction when its numbers dwindled to 50 birds due to invasive mammal predators.  A captive breeding program has increased their numbers and allowed them to be released back in to the wild, although the one I saw hardly looked wild as it wandered up to my car begging for handouts.  Don't feed them!  Native Hawaiian species make up 25% of those on the endangered species list in the United States.

An endangered Hawailan Nēnē Goose

It was a wet day when I drove down to the sea on the road, which made for few tourists and everything was glossy wet.  I kept pulling over and hiking out on to the flows in wonder of this hallucinogenic landscape.  I was quite a distance from the car when a squall hit and instantly destroyed my umbrella.  I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got back to the car.  A hundred feet onward and I was pulled over again and wandering out in to another wonderland of lava.  




The shapes and patterns and ropes and wrinkles are utterly surreal.





The Pacific Ocean shines through a squall in the distance beyond the expanse of massive lava flows

As the road draws close to the sea cliffs, a kilometer long trail leads to a low hill of old Pahoehoe lava pocked with petroglyphs.  The hill, called Pu'u Loa contains over 23,000 symbols carved over the centuries by the Hawaiian people.  Chisled with a stone harder than the soft lava, the predominant markings are simple holes in which the  pika (umbilical cord) of newborns was placed to invoke  the spiritual guiding energy of the venerated hill as a blessing for a long healthy life for the child.  A ring around the dot indicated a first born child.  Two rings represents the first born of a ruling chief.  Symbols are also believed to communicate about journeys completed around the island, with human figures and circles, arcs, lines, abstract zigzag lizards and boat sails.  




The rain and light that afternoon made the markings contrast nicely with the shine of the surface of the Pahoehoe lava, perfect for studying and photographing them.  You can feel the presence of generations born and moving through life in this sacred place.  

A human figure, perhaps dancing

A storybook of abstract forms telling the stories of many generations of Hawaiians.

The skies can be so beautiful in Hawaii in the winter, with clear rainwashed air and dramatic clouds, making the walk back to the road yet another magical experience.  .


A short distance further on the Chain of Craters road ends at the sea, which pounds relentlessly at the vast thich lava flows that once poured molten in to the sea.  It is a very dramatic juxtaposition of water, stone, and air.  

Near the end of the Chain of Craters Road.

                             Waves crashing in to the lava cliffs at the end of the Chain of Craters Road

I was the only one out there, perhaps because of this sign, but I stayed back from the edge.


The road ends at a parking lot and a popular trail to the Hōlei Sea Arch, which I avoided because thats where everybody was.  Here are more images of Pahoehoe lava from the 2018 flows from the Puna coast.  It is so fascinating to behold.

Back near the village of Kalapana, close to where I stayed is the Lava Viewing area, where you could watch the molten lava flow in to the sea.  For now this has stopped but there are more wonderful formations to ogle.




An elephants eye



Pele's hair







Rope Lava







The strangest subdivision I have ever seen is near Kalapana.  The raw lava has been divided in to harsh but affordable house lots that have been developed in to a hellish piece of paradise.  This is a great article written for Honolulu magazine about this unlikely neighborhood.  https://www.honolulumagazine.com/the-lava-dwellers-big-island-hawaii-these-people-live-on-one-of-the-most-active-volcanoes-on-earth/

Humble abodes dot the Pahoehoe landscape at Kalapana Gardens

Waa Waa is another area inundated by flows a couple of years ago, once a populated area close to Pahoa.




A casualty of molten lava

The shoreline along the Red Road leading from Kalapana to Pohoiki

I did bring a number of stones back to the house I was staying in to make the gardens more beautiful.  After all it is the main local building material.  Everything here rests on a bed of lava.  Roads are flanked by lava walls stacked with the stone that needed to cleared for the paths.  Usually these are just piled, but I did see some creative constructions in my travels.

Lava gate posts on the Red Road in PunaI 

 I am a consumate beach comber and I gifted a few extraordinary stones I found to people I visited.

A bowl shaped stone I found on a beach that I gave to Davis Dalbok for his birthday

A dog checks out an arrangement I made for my friends Mathew Mercury, David Davenport, and Robert Welch, who tend an extraordinary garden next door to where I stayed.


Colorful Bromeliads can be planted directly on to lava rock.  The garden of Robert Welch and David Davenport in Puna.


The ancient Pu'u'ō'ō Trail connecting Mauna Kea and Kilauea Crater

It was not easy to leave the paradise of Hawaii.  I was transfixed by the variety of landscapes and the stark beauty of this young land forming in our lifetimes.  I loved the nearby black sand beach down at Kahena where I would swim in the blue sea with nudists and sea turtles.

Kahena Beach on the Puna Coast

And the lure of the hot pools at Pohoiki will stay with me as long as I have memory.

Pele's Hot Pool at Isaac Hale Beach Park, Pohoiki

I made a mosaic on the beach at Pohoiki to show people what I could do with hand picked lava beach rock just in case somebody might like to hire me.  I didn't get any takers but who knows...

A lava beach rock mosaic I built one afternoon to show its potential.

Like so many others captivated by the magic of the Big Island, I looked at real estate.  The cheapest land is in those areas that are most likely to be covered by future flows.  I don't think I could endure the surreal subdivision on barren Pahoehoe flows near Kalapana where I found a lot for $9,000.  I didn't end up buying anything but I had to look.  I reluctantly flew home rather than embark on the creation of my own piece of paradise.  I already have one of those at home that I can hopefully continue to flee during the winter months, returning to the floral explosion of Spring in Oregon.

My last drive down the Red Road after a final soak in the hot pools.

Mahonia x Arthrur Menzies eruption in blooms in my garden in mid January

It takes a fair amount of time for me to complete these essays.  I've been home for two weeks now.  Its been the mildest winter in history in Portland, which is alarming but pleasant.  We haven't even had a frost yet.  Unseasonably warm sunny days arrived with my return after deluges of rain that ended as my plane landed in heavy turbulence.  One lovely afternoon I drove out to the Columbia River Gorge, where the mighty river cuts through thousands of feet of ancient lava flows.  The gorge was scoured to its present form by as many as 100 catastrophic ice age floods caused when a glacial ice dam would form a massive lake in what is now Montana.  The thousand foot deep walls of water that raged down the canyon cut the steep walls of the gorge east of Portland and created the largest concentration of high waterfalls in North America.  I leave you with this video of Latourelle Falls, one of my favorites, in part because of its columner basalt lava formations.  I won't go in to the geeky process of how those are formed, but I so love lava.  Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

                                           Latourelle Falls in the Colombia River Gorge, Oregon