Can being in one place help you understand another? On Staffa, you stand on a volcanic island. A series of lava flows surrounded by water. We are in volcanic places. In Glasgow, I live near a forest of fossilized trees. When I leave, I am surrounded by volcanoes. Everywhere – gutted craters, casts of explosions, rivers of lava, columns of cooling magma, fissures filled to the brim like long spiny fossils embalmed in mud – only their backbones sticking out above the water line. Volcanic Acts. But really, now it only seems like rock. You have to be told Arthur’s Seat is a volcano, the Royal Mile a slick lava flow between the castle and another crater. Otherwise it is a hill, another hill, a street.
Just a few exits past my neighborhood are the remnants of Dumbarton Rock. This is the volcanic plug Andrew Patrizio points out in his volcanic eulogy to that and other volcanoes, and to his grandfather, who met Vesuvius at just the wrong moment but grabbed a handful of ash at the crater. Hand Held Lava.
I go to Iceland. I go to Hawaii. I go to Japan. Living volcanoes.
Skye, Eigg, Mull, Staffa – extinct at least in our sense of time.
At the Singing Sands, a long volcanic dyke cuts through stone which looks like hip bones and ribs from an ancient living thing. I am quite excited to be able to explain – here – like volcanic roadways – lava or some melted river of material – a channel cut through and down – different from the rock on either side. The more you look the more you notice them, like a pre-planned road system with routes all running in the same direction at very regular intervals.
Blond sandstone is covered in white fur, slicked down from sun and dried out sea water. What would it would be like to see this fur freely moving under water at high tide with the movement of the waves above, rolling in.
I found white quartz with a small black explosion of another material in one section – like exploded shards on infinite pause midair, surrounded by liquid which froze in an instant, suspending the event forever. Things made visible which are normally beyond what we can see – to see interlocking structures of air and matter together, with all the exact space between them.
Lastly, a cliff face, split in two halves to form a hidden hallway with no ceiling, held open by very small rocks which somehow support a huge rock wall. Tension and weight hold everything. I have a desire to go into this internal rock hallway as far I can, deep inside – like outdoor caving – but it is an Empedocles inspired desire (merging with the volcano/merging with the rocks) – as you cannot help but think – the small rocks will give way. They will have to give way at some point, how do they just sit there in the air supporting walls as thick as mountains? They will roll to the bottom of the precipice – and if inside in the interior architecture at that moment – you will become crushed between the two rock walls – now rejoined into a single rock with a small scar flitting across its surface – like the mineral formed in New York which was split into two, and then separated for 70 years, passed into different hands and sent across the Atlantic – only to end up in the same museum collection almost 100 years apart, and then become rejoined when someone noticed years later – these two pieces are one. Fits perfectly back together again, as if the seam between them did not exist.
Volcanic dykes, crossing Xs seen from a very high cliff above volcanic walls and trenches. Melted sandstone highways that are vertical and horizontal at the same time. I try to imagine the moment when all the dykes were molten, like lines of liquid fire crossing itself off the list.
Write about seeing remains of one phenomena in relation to its active counterpart.
- The basalt cliffs on Eigg vs. the candle wax cliffs in Hawaii.
- A river of lava entering the sea vs. volcanic dykes. Huge vertical fissures of molten sea that go up, instead of horizontal. In my mind I combine the lava entry ocean points with the volcanic alleyways I see around me in Scotland.
- A drawing of lava entering the sea in Hawaii vs. lava coming up through vertical fissures on Eigg, in a place that we now know as a beach, leading into the sea.
- Lava moving across land/lava moving up through the center of the earth.
Finding Belemnites at Laig Bay
Looking as closely as possible at piles of rocks, you tune your eyes, look for anomalies.
A slightly different glow = an animal from the Jurassic now in my hand.
Scanning…almost purple, others deep dove grey, smooth like pipes when everything else has angles. The main thing to notice is regularity amongst so much difference – perfect circles, even tubes and glow.
I met a woman today in her 80s down at the pier. She used to live in a bay way across on the other side of the island, and there she lived with her husband, and there she continued to live and raise her 5 children after her husband died 39 years ago. Now she lives across the island, far from the bay and the rough waves and wide sea. When I said I was from New York she asked if I missed home, to which I said yes and she said, yes – so do I – I miss the bay. The scale of a place, the scale of an island, the scale of the ocean, the scale of the earth are totally relative.
Driving through a valley of volcanoes on Skye, en-route to deliver Hand Held Lava, I think – this piece means something entirely different here. In every other instance, we spoke about eruptions, lava, encountering ash from the solid ground of cities that are not formed on fault lines or at the base of moving mountains, but on stable solid ground. On Skye, everything is equally still now, but the carcasses of volcanoes fill your peripheral vision in every direction you look. You stand and talk about volcanoes on volcanoes, near volcanoes, between towering volcanoes – and it feels different even though here the land is theoretically just as extinct as any other place we have given this same talk. But to talk about raw mountains and across deep time and formation where you can see the vestiges of that same action, you understand each experience and place differently – each place more – from the experience of the other – extinct mirroring alive. Active facing quiet remains.