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What Kind of Volcano am I?

Spending the day hiking up the volcano Acatenango in Guatemala, there was a lot of anticipation about seeing her neighbor, Fuego, erupt. It was from the cold, damp basecamp of Acatenango that our group was set to witness what was one of the best natural experiences I have had - Volcano Fuego, her neighbor, spewing hot, molten, glowing red lava into the sky and down her sleek sides. This was, to put it mildly, the most incredible, natural nighttime fiber optic display that I had ever witnessed.

The prospect of being near an active volcano was something to seriously behold. Even amid not being able to see it at first due to evening rain and cloud cover, one could still hear and feel the thunderous booming vibration of eruptions every 15-20 minutes. (This also contributed to the whopping grand total of 45 minutes of actual sleep that was acquired before waking up at 3:45 AM to continue hiking to see the sunrise.) When enthusiastic cries from a few members still sitting around the expiring campfire called the rest of us to the clearing skies, the amazing evening firework spectacular was revealed, providing an awe-inspiring display.

It was only four years ago when Fuego had gushed forth its lava explosion catastrophically in the most intense eruption Guatemala had seen in over four decades, killing 165 people, wiping an entire village off the map, and impacting more than 1.7 million of its citizens. This made me wonder about the volcano we were climbing. It turns out we were hiking up (and up and up) an active volcano. Yes, its last eruption was 50 years ago but in the grand scheme of things, that might as well be yesterday.

As with most things in life, there is no one existence or qualification when it comes to considering volcanoes. Dormant volcanoes, like Acatenango, are also considered to be active. Dormant does not mean extinct. It simply refers to an active volcano with the potential to erupt again. (I will remember this when I forgo a run for watching Netflix. "I'm not dormant. I still have the potential to exercise again.")

Not unlike my fitness regimen, volcanoes may still be active but in a state of dormancy with long intervals between eruptions. As it turns out, these types of volcanos are often considered riskier than their active siblings due to the "mounting pressure" that builds inside of them.

Can I interest you in an analogy, maybe?

Anyone who has been on social media has probably been exposed to one of those addictive and distracting personality tests. You know the ones that help you identify which Harry Potter house you belong to, the kind of pizza you are, what your pet (or lack thereof) says about your personality or which Disney character you are. (Why am I always the warthog?) I'm not interested in any of this - especially since learning that it is just another insidious way for companies to micro-target their algorithms to manipulate what we see. However, I do question what type of volcano I am. Am I active? Am I dormant? Am I, (gulp), extinct?

I can subscribe to this metaphor because it helps me think about how I approach the world and how it may be taken by others around me. Perspective is important. There are those who know you and those who think they know you. Depending on one's level of self-awareness, the same could be said for how we may recognize ourselves, as well.

I consider myself an active volcano. I try, though don't always succeed, to be consistent with my eruptions and keep them within reason, not unlike Volcano Fuego. I am not insinuating for a single second that I cause anywhere near the same level of awe and inspiration; simply that there is a consistency in frequency, intensity, and predictability. I erupt, sure, but try not to cause any damage or destruction, (emphasis on the word try). This is a work in progress, admittedly, and will be for the rest of my life. My kids live in the closest village, if you will, and they probably could tell you if they feel the need to monitor activity or it's under control. Sometimes, the eruptions fall flat. Sometimes, they go beyond the perimeters of the well-established slopes that are meant to keep me grounded.

In the past, I was more dormant than I am today. My volcano appeared active or extinct, again depending on one’s perspective, but that was not the case. I worked hard to conform to the systemic parameters that most of us do not have any input into creating but informed how we were raised, accepted (or not), hired (or not) and valued/considered. Apart from a few close, trusted people, I kept many opinions to myself, (though this may be hard for some to believe). I worked to reframe and tip toe around viewpoints that differed from mine but were more in line with well-established, understood and sometimes unspoken rules that were rewarded, to stay safe, protect myself and do my best to not just survive, but also "succeed".

Suppression, however, did not mean there wasn't active rumbling taking place. Eventually, unsettled environs can no longer stay dormant and could lead to an unexpected eruption. This mounting pressure was and is more dangerous than actively controlled, monitored and deliberate discharges any day of the week.

We are not volcanoes, though. We are an entire ecosystem of which eruptions are just one component. The real question, therefore, isn't what type of volcano you are but perhaps, do you admit that eruptions are unavoidable?

There is a natural wonder, beauty, and necessity for disruption to make way for something to evolve that is healthier, more vital, and even more glorious. Yet in our daily lives, the discomfort with the disruption often inhibits the natural order to live out as it is intended, rather leading to eruptions that are more dangerous.

Standing at basecamp at Acatenango and observing the fiery explosion so close by, it was clear that in the unsettling, in the rumbling, amidst the roar and the fire of vivid eruptions, there was, time and time again, immense beauty. I don't think it has to be any different for us.

Until next time,


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2 comentarios

David Roth
David Roth
28 jun 2022

Hey Mark, I've got my hmmm face on, trying to process this metaphor. I think I get it; however, I'm thinking a thesis that aspires to an outcome characterized by health, vitality and beauty may need a deeper dive into the distinctions between words like eruption, disruption, and destruction. And may need to leave room for more subtly in the potential states of being beyond extinct, dormant and active, especially since active in this case carries such dire connotations. Great topic for further conversation. That said, the awesome power and terrible beauty of Fuego are undeniable, and remind us that maybe we are headed for fuego this time around.

Happy Trails,


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29 jun 2022
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Well said. I'm still in middle school on the metaphor curriculum but think you've given me something to aspire to as I enter the high-school years :)

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