Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Puff the Magic Dragon

By Mark W. Danielson

The song said Puff the Magic Dragon lived in Hanalei, and while controversy remains over whether this song is about a dragon befriending a child or one about drugs, I’m taking a different approach, claiming that Puff is really a magical volcano who created Hanalei’s birthplace in Kauai, pictured above. But my tale is really about a much bigger picture, for our world has many “puffs”. The Ring of Fire that encircles our globe is alive and well with fire-spitting volcanoes and ground-splitting earthquakes. Take away the fear and the subject becomes fascinating.

A few years ago I was writing a novel about an earthquake on California’s Hayward Fault. This fault parallels the infamous San Andreas and is just as deadly. In fact, one could argue that a major quake on the Bay Area’s Hayward Fault could cause more chaos than one of the same magnitude on the San Andreas. To get a sense of this, I visited the University of California, Berkeley’s seismology lab, which sits directly atop the Hayward Fault. The seismologists there showed me how they and the US Geological Survey both monitor the Earth’s pulse 24/7. During a follow-on visit to USGS’ Golden, Colorado, branch, I witnessed a major earthquake in South America that killed over five hundred people. It was numbing to watch, knowing that all they could do was pinpoint the epicenter and accumulate data. Whether volcanoes or earthquakes, seismologists may warn that something is imminent, but there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it.

Right now, the Ring of Fire is quite active, but its cycle is endless. Seismic events are the result of constantly shifting tectonic plates riding over a magma core. As such, we should welcome the smaller “Earth adjustments”, for they relieve pressure and help prevent larger ones. The quakes and volcanoes we hear about in the news do not signal the end of the world, but rather create life, as they did in the Hawaiian Islands. Only our ever-increasing population has made these natural occurrences so devastating.

Alaska’s Mount Redoubt is an example of a volcano that has caused serious economic ramifications, even though all it’s done is huff and puff. Located near Anchorage, this volcano has yet to blow the house down, and yet its talcum-like fallout has caused countless flight cancellations because it can damage jet engines. As a major Asian transportation hub, whenever the volcano re-routes flights, Anchorage’s economy takes a huge hit, as do businesses like FedEx, UPS, Northwest Airlines, Alaskan Airlines, and many foreign carriers. Normally the FedEx ramp has eight to twelve airplanes parked there, but mine was the only one when I flew it in the other day. The next day we had three planes, but I had to be at the airport two hours ahead of time in case the volcano blew. These days, Mount Redoubt has made it a crap shoot for airline operations into or out of Anchorage.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about global warming. No doubt we can do a lot more to clean up our air and use our fuels more efficiently. However, one large volcano eruption can send enough pollutants into the atmosphere to block the sun and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. I don’t mean to cause alarm, but rather remind people that our mountains, canyons, plains, and seas are all the result of ancient seismic activity. To put it bluntly, our planet is as stable as a suicide bomber, so accept it.

The best non-fiction fiction book I’ve ever read is Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. To this day, I’ve never seen another novel with such an extensive bibliography and footnotes. If you have any questions about the Ring of Fire, then read this book for its entertainment value, and then review the bibliography for its available resources.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is to understand that mankind is no match for Mother Nature. As such, rather than panic or worry as the media would have us do, we should be grateful for every day we have. As a writer, I take pleasure in jotting things down to document the things I’ve witnessed. As a husband and father, I do my best to enjoy the time I have with my family. Each day we make the choice of either living or going through the motions. Since no one can predict what tomorrow will bring, then live for today while planning for the future. Most importantly, don’t sweat the things you can’t control.

(All photos courtesy of Paul Danielson)


Jean Henry Mead said...

Beautiful photograpy, Mark. I lived through many earthquakes in Los Angeles and northern California, and I'm not as fearful of them as tornadoes. You're right, the planet is a very unstable place but it's all we've got, so we might as well relax and enjoy it while we can. :)

Anonymous said...

What a great post, Mark. I've been keeping an eye on the Alaska volcano since I have relatives in Anchorage and Juneau.

And speaking of volcanos, one of my memorable travel experiences was a visit to Pompeii. I wondered about the Italians -- who create a mini-riot over a traffic jam but lie down every night to sleep in the shadow of a volcano.

Perhaps it's as you say,they don't sweat what they can't control. (-:


Mark W. Danielson said...

Mother Nature has fun keeping us humble. She cares not about who you are, no one can escape her wrath. Perhaps that's her greatest lesson in equality.

Beth Terrell said...

Mark, these are absolutely stunning photos.

Mother Nature does know how to keep us humble.

Mark W. Danielson said...

My brother Paul has been an avid amature nature photographer for years. I keep hoping that one of these days he will publish a calendar. These are his first photos ever to be published on the web. Of course, he retains all rights.