Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Coolest Thing I Ever Saw

Spoiler Alert: It's real live lava. (I thought I should give a spoiler alert so as to not psych you up in such a way that some of you think, "...all this hype...for that?!")

We had been walking for over half an hour across jagged undulating ground--to a place the (Kilauea National Park) ranger said that civilians are not supposed to go...after which he proceeded to explain where to go. We were within 100 yards of the ocean. It's mostly cloudy. At the horizon, to the right, is a band of yellow orange where the sun is going down, sandwiched between a purplish cloudy sky and a blue gray ocean. Up the slope to the left, the hillside is largely veiled in clouds, although strips of the light of lava poke through in a couple of places, probably a half a mile away. It is starting to rain, but only lightly. We're in the tropics, so the air is sort of warm. It's December, so the rain is sort of cool. Finally we see a gathering of people directly in front of us, on a large sort of balcony at the cliff's edge. We get there and look at the crashing surf. (Most of the action is off to the right.)  The rock formations--which are actually gigantic masses of cooled lava--make a raggedly cliff line against the ocean. At various points, say, a hundred to three hundred yards away, lava is pouring out of holes in the cliff sides into the ocean. There are perhaps a half a dozen flows going to the sea. The lava is a yellowish light, getting seemingly brighter as we head into twilight. It flows at the speed of slow syrup. The ocean waves that crash onto the flows are vaporized immediately, sending up huge columns of steam. The sound of the surf just barely drawns out the sound of the perpetual *hiss* of water against molten rock.

A few people are leaving this makeshift lookout to walk over a littly farther along the "path." Curous, I follow. Another hundred feet awayis a lava flow--the size of a small brook, if you will--that you can walk right up to. And there I stood, mesmerized for what seemed like a a really long time. I couldn't get closer than about eight feet without it feeling too uncomfortably hot. I did however find a stick about four feet long that I used to poke the lava just so I could say I did. It was like standing close to a really really hot fire. My whole body was pulled back because the heat was so intense. I quickly stabbed the tip of the stick into the lava, saw it burn, and then I couldn't stand the heat anymore. I stepped back and just continued to stare.

The experience was very interesting as so many senses were in play. The dirty yellow orange light of the lava was the most profound. And as night fell, the light of the lava, both here at my feet and everywhere in the distance, grew increasingly brighter. Feeling the heat radiating off the lava was particularly interesting because, at the same time, I'm feeling the cold of the raindrops. There's a bit of the tropic humidity combined with the wave-against-lava steam, while wafting on the air is a not-so-pleasant sulfuric smell from the lava, which, in turn, is interspersed much less intensely with the more familiar salty scent of the sea. Compounding the myriad sensations is an intermittent light breeze.

Deciding to write about this experience has me analyzing why I remember it so fondly and, more specifically, why I think it's the cooles thing I've ever seen. I think that it wasn't just what I saw. It was what I experienced with all my senses, simultaneously wrapped up in a memory that, at first glance, was seemingly only visual. The combined sensations totally heightened the experience. I'll even concede that it's entirely possibly that, insofar as we were advised not to go so close to lava, the element of danger may well have played into the stimulation.

So, back to the point...the connection to art? Hmm...Maybe some questions ought to be posed: What can be put in your creations that optimize the sensory experience? Is it more detail? Is it doing something more to bring out the main subject? Is it to be sure the scene captures the mood so well, by, say, effective composition and attention to detail, that emotions are meaningfully stirred? Sure my own art is two dimensional, so sensory possibilities can't stack up so well as seeing the aoutflow of an  active volcano. But can having thoughts, such as these, arouse one's passions to be a catalyst for a more sensory-charged creation?