Risk, Reward: Hekla By Allison Bargabos, Ryan Gulbransen, Nicole Logrieco and Rachel Renders

Rubbing tired eyes, I move though my apartment after a long night’s rest. While sunlight warms my back,  I turn to pour cereal into a bowl when I hear an announcement come over the news. “For those just tuning it, Mount Hekla has started erupting at 18:19 GMT, nine years after it last erupted.” The screen switches from the reporter to on sight footage of the erupting  volcano. My mother and I turn to the television and watch in awe what appears to be a curtain of fire blasting out of a large fissure in the volcano’s surface.  Ashy smoke pours out from its summit, filling most of the sky. That image became etched into my brain and from that day forward I was hooked. Hekla has erupted without fail every ten years since 1970. I decided to dedicate my time and studies to these volcanoes while waiting for the next forecasted eruption.

Fast forward fifteen years, I now stand at the base of Mount Hekla accompanied by three of my close friends from my undergraduate of volcanology. Ever since that infamous day my focus has turned to volcanoes, specifically the ones in Iceland, and trying to absorb all the rich pools of information they have hidden away. More than anything, I yearn to see one of these sleeping giants in action again. The relationships I have formed from studying this passion will last a lifetime, even more so if we all experience this eruption together.

We decided to travel to Iceland together, since Hekla has surpassed its ten year anniversary without an eruption.  Every year since 2010, the geologists who study this region have stated that Hekla is on the cusp of erupting. Tension builds as each year passes – both within the volcano and the public. Some papers I have studied state that the magma chamber is full and that small tremors have been detected signifying movement of the magma below the crust. We are all teeming with excitement in the months and days leading up to this trip, each passing day bringing the eruption date closer.

Hekla, unlike many other Icelandic volcanoes is classified as a stratovolcano, meaning it’s created by layers upon layers of lava, ash, and rock fragments building on top of each other. The eruptions are characterized by ash, cinders, blocks (a chunk of rock over 64mm that is blown from the top), and lava bombs (lava that is ejected, then solidifies in flight before reaching the ground). Stratovolcanoes can be easily set apart from other volcanoes by their relatively steep pointed tops, although Hekla looks more like an capsized boat than a pencil point. From the base of the giant, we all admire Heklas distinct shape. Carving up into the blue sky, I could imagine huge plumes consuming the clear air above its summit.

We all adjust the straps of our hiking packs, as the tourists surrounding us fumble with their rented, unfamiliar gear before heading to the top.  I wonder if they realize where they stand.  At any moment, Hekla could blow, and it is unknown if it would be gentle or explosive. One of my friends explains to a bystander that a gentle, or effusive eruption would produce thinner lava where gas can easily escape, leading to a relatively non explosive scenario. This would still be extremely detrimental to anyone unlucky enough to be standing on the volcano at the time of the eruption. An explosive eruption is more likely given the volcano’s current state and time frame since the last eruption. The stagnant magma crystallizes into a more silica composition, which is relatively thicker and leads to a compressed gas buildup below.  Hekla is now five years past its theoretical date of eruption and has been a ticking time bomb that struck zero years ago. This act of being tardy is creating more tension for the volcano since the internal magma is building on itself increasing the pressure. Just like bottling your feelings too long may lead someone to erupt in anger, the more the magma builds, the more explosive the eruption can be.

The tourist asks my friend what could change the type of eruption, and she gladly explains that the composition of Hekla also accounts for it’s type of explosion. She picks up one of the nearby rocks and describes that it is a  basaltic andesite. These somewhat glassy rocks, which look  as if they have been stabbed with pins, sit in large chunks described as blocky flow. This type of structure shows that the lava had a thicker consistency and flowed more like molasses down the mountainside. Compared to other volcanic rocks in this region, these basaltic rocks are abnormal in their high silica level, these high levels increases the magma’s explosive tendencies.

Years of preparation have built up to this day. Armed with all the knowledge I could muster of this geological masterpiece and close friends by my side, we are ready to begin our ascent. With fingers crossed, we wind our way up the hillside, each step bringing us closer to the summit. A few missteps guide me to bring the group to rest for a while. I catch my breath. Everything is still if only for a moment. Gradually I begin to feel the vibrations below, and see ripples in the water beside me. We all exchange uneasy but excited  looks. Could this be the moment we have been waiting for?

Sounds of Writing

New Oxford American Dictionary:
Write: (no obj.) have the ability to mark down coherent letter or words.
Writing and words have a strong association, being that writing is made up of words thrown together to create sentences. But to write a word, one needs to spell a word. To spell a word, one needs to know the sounds of the letters. And that is exactly my problem, I don’t always know the correct sounds of letters, or more specifically, the sounds letter make together.
I am a self-described dyslexic person (as in it just took me three times to even spell correctly the word dyslexic). This has only been a recent realization, but after reading the signs of dyslexia in teenage/adult years and realized they mirrored my own issues, it seemed to make sense.
I have poor sound-letter association. As in I will say a word in my head or aloud with the wrong syllable stressed or incorrect pronunciation. This will then trick my mind into thinking that the wrong letter fits with that sound. For example, I used to always think the word “supposed” was spelt “suppost” as in the ‘d’ sound turned into a ‘t’. This is common for me for multiple sounds. ‘A’ and ‘O’ are frequently switched, so is ‘I’ and ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘C’ (as in a few lines ago I tried to spell ‘recent’ as ‘resent’) and many other switching of individual letters or even short combinations of letters.
This isn’t because I’m uneducated or don’t care how to spell things, it is because my brain legitimately doesn’t realize the switch of letters. I can say a word in my head and not realize I am pronouncing it wrong. I will then try to write out the word the way I am hearing it. But because I am pronouncing it wrong, I can only spell it wrong. It has become an issue in speaking as well. I have said words the way my mind believes it to be pronounced correctly and don’t realize that I am saying an incorrect word. This is especially an issue with words that have similar letters and sounds. Such as an issue today in trying to say “monogamy” by instead said “mahogany.” (And yes in trying to spell those words, I misspelled both, and actually needed to phone a friend in remembering how to say ‘monogamy.’)
That is the other issue, if I don’t know how to say it, I don’t know how to write it. This comes up when I am presented with new words. I have a hard time knowing the association with the letters on the page and how their sounds relate to one another. The phrase “sound it out” doesn’t work in this case because I don’t have the ability to know the sounds in the first place.

Not only do I deal with these struggles on a daily basis, but I then try to write freely. There are countless times where I will get caught up trying to spell a word. It is unbelievably frustrating to stare at that little red line under a misspelled word, so badly misspelled that even auto-correct can’t help you, and be dumbfounded that the word isn’t spelt how your phonetically hear it. It is even more frustrating when you know that you know the word but can’t manage to spell it because the sounds are off. And with that it is embarrassing when you misspell a word, but the misspelling is a real word, so you keep using the wrong spelling and never realize. For the longest time I spelt “half” as “haft” and even submitted a piece where “budge” was substituted in for “budget.”
The absolute worst, is getting so stuck on a word and try to spell it correctly, that you forget the rest of the sentence that you were trying to write. To compensate, I try to just streamline thoughts and correct the spelling mistakes after the sentence or paragraph is completed.
Unfortunately for me, there does not seem to be a solution to my sound association problem. There is nothing, that I know of, that can teach my brain to resister and remember sounds the correct way. But do I give up writing because of that? No. This just means I take it slower, memorize more spellings of words and use thesaurus to give me alternatives.

From Hot to Cold and All the In-Between

In twenty-four hours I went from swimming in a pool, to walking on a glacier.  In twenty-four hours I went from wearing a tank top and thin sweater shirt to three layers and a winter-time beanie. Within two hours I went from snapping pictures of a waterfall to that of the snow covered hills.

How is any of this possible? I found myself asking in my head as I stuffed my hands deeper into my pockets not willing to admit that I should be wearing gloves.  I was just walking up hill away from a waterfall, sweating in my long sleeves, and that was even after I had removed my coat, but now?  Now we are etching GENESEO into the snow as we make our way to a glacier. 

We file back into the car and I rub the redness away from my face. It blew my mind how quickly the climate and landscape could change in just a little bit of time and some strips of pavement, or in our case- dirt roads.  The car bumps and shakes as I stare out the window.  It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  I have been to both coasts of the U.S. and I have unknowingly walked on inactive volcanos and lived on old glacier beds but that was nothing compared to what Iceland holds.  There few places in the world that have glaciers and even fewer where volcanos sit nested near them and hot springs spill out of the same mountains. It’s almost as if nature is an artist who took their best paintings and smooshed them all together into one large canvas, somehow it fitting seamlessly.

Sitting with wet socks and muddy shoes from when the glacier water had tried to suck us down, we stop and file of out the rain streaked car, pausing to take photos of the rainbow that had appeared connecting the dirt road of the glacier to the dirt road of home.  In a few moments the rainbow is gone and in awe I board back in the car imagining what the next section of nature’s masterpiece will be.

Why Place Matters to My Writing

The same walls, the same faces, the same everything, day in and day out, all equates to the same writing.  With no change in environment or with no new concepts or ideas flooding in, it is hard to create something new.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can easily lead to repetition. Sure some places, cities, for instant with their hustle and bustle can lead to an ever expanding well of creative ideas.  These ideas though, would be primarily centered on city life.  This is not to say that someone living in a city can’t write about farm life, it’s more to say that with little firsthand knowledge of an environment the accuracy of the writing is in question.  Yes, one can read book after book and soak up all written ounces of a location, but there is such a difference going that route than actually breathing in a place’s air.  There are aspects of life that are so hard to put into words and even harder to completely understand even if written with accuracy.

I’ve never lived anywhere else but my split-level house on Long Island.  I’ve never travelled abroad, or been skiing, or on a cruise.  So I can’t, in a clear mind, write about them.  I can’t tell you the troubles of culture shock, what it feels to be racing down a mountain or to sail around on a slow moving boat.  I can’t tell you, because I simply do not know.  I’d just be guessing and rambling hoping someone won’t spy a hole in my tale.

But I can tell you what it’s like to live ten minutes from the water.  I can tell you all about life in suburbia, where everyone’s grasses are green and the neighborhood adults play tennis on Fridays.  There is more that I can write besides the place I’ve grown up in, I can write about experiences and places I’ve been.  I can write pages after pages of farm life, or at least what I know of farm life from my annual visits to a bed and breakfast dairy farm.  I can write how streams of light are scattered through the corn fields and how the air has an earthier scent while Long Island air is salty.  These aspects, these tiny details, ones I wouldn’t think of, that is unless I had lived it.  I can write short stories to the mountains and valleys I’ve climbed from Yosemite and Sedona to Acadia.  I know how the serenity of Yosemite and Sedona are almost destroyed by the constant flow of tourists with hiking shoes who have learned that feeding the squirrels gets them close enough to pet.  I have rejoiced in the memory of the magic of timing when give the opportunity to board the steps of the watch tower in Acadia, a privilege only open to the public a few times a month for two hours a piece.   I can only write and imagine what I know from the places and experiences I’ve lived. 

Writing, most writing, builds on the truth adjusting only aspects to create a new story.  Maybe it’s the setting that is real, or a situation, or character, but it all comes back to where you are.  It’s where you are and where you’ve been that gives you access to new ideas and new experiences.  It’s the film in your head that records your sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that allows you take pieces of it to create something new. It is with the smidgen of reality that the inspiration for a story comes alive.