As many of you know, my good friend, Kim Moss (see previous post A Very Mini Artist’s Colony in New Mexico), and I took a road trip over to Valles Caldera recently. While there, we hiked off the trail, up over a ridge to an outcropping of rock Kim had visited many times before. But this time was very different for him.
He’d not been there since last summer’s major burn and was shocked by the devastation he was walking within. Never having seen it myself as a lush, thriving forest, I witnessed a kind of stark beauty in the straight black trees rising up to the sky. They etched vertical black lines over the panorama of the Caldera, much like the lines that cut up through many of my paintings. I was captivated.
And then an amazing thing happened. Because there was no ground cover, but only a charred forest floor, I started to see glistening black rock everywhere I looked. It was like broken glass littering the ground and, in a way, that’s what it was. I found myself standing in the middle of a rich deposit of obsidian.
For those of you who don’t know, obsidian is what I’ve always considered “nature’s glass.” It’s one of the materials prized by the ancients for the making of arrow heads and other sharp tools. In modern times it is still used to fabricate extremely sharp surgical instruments. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it: “Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass… It is produced when lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth.” Yeah, a little dry when you consider this is describing a rather GORGEOUS ink black, shiny rock–a stunning bit of the earth’s history.
I’ve now come to understand, after some intensive Googling, that areas of the Valle Caldera are comprised of rather large obsidian flows. I was standing in an ancient flow of black glass that had been exposed by fire. Kim’s response was this: “What an unusual feeling to walk through the burned forest, its charred floor totally absent of any ground cover now, with the great green caldera showing below between vertical black bars of dead ponderosa… that floor glittering with pieces of obsidian now standing in relief from the dusty velvet dark of the char. It was as if the stupendous volcanic explosion had only recently happened and cooled. Picking up a hand-sized piece of volcanic glass just as perfect and smooth as the day it was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago, fired my imagination in the extreme.”
And let me tell you, just to stand there, on the inside slope of a volcanic crater, surrounded by the remains of a series of eruptions that took place one million years ago, is an awe-inspiring experience. They say the volume of material ejected by the eruptions was more than 500 times greater than the May 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens. I was standing amongst the climax of more than 13 million years of volcanism in the Jemez Mountains. And it occurred to me that I had witnessed the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, first hand, from my deck in Seattle. And here I was, standing in the aftermath of the Caldera’s collapse. Talk about getting a sense of my place in history—a tiny spec in the whole scheme of things—and yet, at the same time, a vital part of the earth’s history, here to make my own eruption, to leave my own mark.
Love to you all,
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