Saturday, January 4, 2014

Twelve favorite images from 2013

Halemaumau crater at night. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston
 This blog post was inspired by Jim Nickelson's top 10 images of the year.  But I couldn't choose just ten, so I chose twelve.  Right now the Halemaumau crater is my favorite of the year.  It isn't large enough here to see the stars in the sky, but they are clearly there giving a celestial majesty to the reflection of lava in the moving clouds.  I went up to the crater to shoot three different nights before I captured this image.
 In Kalapana on the Big Island of Hawaii I got up each morning to meditate with the sun rise.  This morning, the rains came in instead, and they were every bit as beautiful as the sunrise.
Rainrise in Kalapana. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston

I took Jim Nickleson's Night Landscape class at Maine Media Workshops in October, and learned a lot about night shooting.  He is a gifted teacher, and although night shooting can be pretty technical, he makes it very accessible.  We went up to Acadia the day that the national parks re-opened after the government shutdown this fall.
Nightfall Acadia. October 2013. (c) Meg Weston

In February, my friend Deb Pfeiffer and I took a long weekend excursion to Iceland, met up with Einar Erlendsson of Focus on Nature Tours, and did a whirlwind 3 day visit - a 7 hour drive up north to Akureyi to catch a glimpse of the aurora.  What an incredible trip - and Einar is amazing at finding all the right places at the right times and singing and dancing in the car while he drove!
Aurora near Myvatn. February 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Mudpot Iceland. February 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Mt. Battie Moonrise. October 2013. (c) Meg Weston
Lava Tree Madonna. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Kalapana Moonrise. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Self-portrait as Eve. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston
Since the beginning of the year, the moon has figured prominently in my images this year.  In Iceland, Maine and Hawaii we are all looking at the same moon, under different skies.  It is a way we are all connected.
Moon over Snow. Iceland February 2013. (c) Meg Weston
Nightfall Halemaumau Crater. November 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Iceland Aurora. February 2013. (c) Meg Weston

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First Hike Out to the Flow

It took us a week to build up to our first pre-dawn hike to the lava flow. I'm not sure why.
We talked to a lot of people. We went to the county viewing area three times. We had lunch with volcanoman. We took a boat ride that came good and close. I did a phone conference with the East Coast one morning. We slept in another morning. Finally, on Saturday morning, a week after we'd left home, we got up at 4:00 a.m., put our flashlights in our packs, had dark chocolate and passion fruit for breakfast, and headed out to the flow.
We drove to the parking area for county viewing, slipped under the "DO NOT ENTER" barricades across the old paved road, and walked straight ahead. There was a light rain and the stars were clouded over. After a short distance, the road dead-ended in an old flow of lava about four feet high. We climbed onto the flow and looked around. Dead trees lay scattered about. The plume was just barely visible to our left – we headed that way.
A flashlight appeared in front of us. Someone else was out here. A woman appeared out of the darkness, an apparition of the ‘60s, wearing a fringed suede skirt, headband, and I asked Ken later, was she even wearing shoes?
“I’m so glad to see you,” she said. “I was getting lost.”
“Were you out at the flow?”
“Yes. I go most days. But today I don’t have a good feeling. Something isn’t right. Be careful out there. Thank you for helping me find my way.”
And she disappeared into the darkness in the direction we had come. We continued on. I was wondering if we’d met the volcano goddess, Pele, or was my imagination on overdrive?
“I think someone built a campfire out there,” Ken said.
I laughed. It wasn’t a campfire. It was the light of the lava flow reflected in the plume of steam rising into the sky.
The walking wasn’t easy. The black lava is rough, uneven, and sharp, with cracks sometimes a foot wide or so. It flows up and down like waves, with troughs and peaks. If you trip and fall, the lava will cut your hands like glass. I go slowly. Ken walked ahead, eager, and not quite recognizing the dangers until he tripped, and cut his hands up a bit. Then he slowed down just a little, still not quite as deliberate as I am. He was finding our path, towards the glowing light of the lava entering the sea. There were other pinpricks of lights, other people out there.
We came across a big trough with no clear path across, and worked our way down into it, deep enough to lose sight of the plume before we climbed back out the other side. We almost stopped there, to wait for more light. Ken told me that he “underestimated the creepy factor” of walking on lava in the dark.
Then we found we were walking on sand. Hot liquid rock meets the cold water of the sea, and in the explosion is spun into glass and shattered into fragments of sand. The long thin strands are called Pele’s hair. This was the newest land on earth that we are walking on. It crunched beneath our feet, but that’s barely audible because of the repeated littoral explosions of ocean and rock in front of us, throwing liquid rock high into the sky, painting the steam cloud with a watercolor wash, highlighting the spray of flaming red and black.
We were walking across the tube, the area where the lava was traveling under the ground. As I looked back towards the cliffs, the tube was visible in a line of sulfurous steam rising through the earth. The steam felt warm on our legs. The earth beneath our feet wass a rough combination of sand and larger tephra cinders. We climbed to the edge and looked over.
“I’m scared,” I said. This is as close as I’ve ever been. I know these sand castles of tephra are built up and collapse into the lava and boiling sea beneath us. I know this land is as unstable as life itself. That thought relaxed me a bit. Safety and security are an illusion whose pursuit only increases anxiety. It helped that I’d stated my fear out loud.
“You’ve been to a lot of lava flows before,” Ken said to me, surprised that I’d said I’m scared. “How would you rate the danger, code yellow? orange? red?”
“This is RED. All RED. You are standing on top of a fragile tube that might crack open at any time. You can fall into that 2000 degree red river of rock. Or this whole bench of new land could collapse into the boiling sea below us. This is all RED.”
“Oh,” he said, and picked up his camera to take an incredible picture.
Later I see him describe the experience. “I was high. I was seeing creation.” He gesticulates with his hands. His voice rises. His audience is listening intently. He is changed by this experience, and I understand why.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Feels like so long ago

Solstice on the flow seems like another lifetime ago - a time warp away from New Year's day, ice skating on a pond when the temperature was 8 degrees before the wind gusts came from every direction to blow across the ice. I wore my mother's skates, that are likely as least as old as I am. They are like stained, supple gloves. I am not smooth on the ice, or as flexible as my skates, except perhaps my ankles, which bend as they always have, and never should. But I love the crispness that burns my cheeks red like apples hanging on a tree branch against the white snow. I like to glide with one foot lifted off the ice, and to sail with the wind.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Solstice Lava Flows

Solstice in the flow. We saw the sunrise on the solstice while watching lava pour into the sea. This time, we weren't 600 feet away, or on a boat, we were in the flow (or on top of it at least), viewing creation.
The sun rose and the boiling hot sea spewed water spouts; sometimes several funnel clouds at a time were spinning over the smoking water.
We were reluctant to leave, not only because we were headed home that evening to below zero temperatures and two feet of snow dumped by a Nor'easter blizzard. We kept being drawn back, just one more photo, one more look, one more reminder that this earth is truly a miracle in action.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Continuing the adventure

On Tuesday we hiked back in to the county viewing area to see and photograph the lava entering the sea at sunset. From this location, about 600 feet away from the entry point, the plume is visible all day, however, as the light begins to fade, the glow of the red lava is reflected into the steam clouds and the fireworks begin. Each night, a crowd grows bringing snacks, picnics, cameras, videocams, etc., to sit and watch the earth put on her nightly show.
On Wednesday morning at 5:00 a.m. we went aboard a dive boat that took us even closer to the flow. For an hour or so, we rode the swells in front of the plume, listening to Pele's activity before us and below us. The lava travels from a vent at the top of the pali (cliff's), underground in tubes that empty at the sea, creating new land. Some deposit under the waves, and some explode at the surface of the water and air. The exploding hot rock spatters into fireworks of red lava, black ash, offset on a background of white steam, as the sun rose behind us.
This is Pele's best show at the moment. The plume at the summit crater of Halemaumau began to subside about a week ago, although you can still see a weaker column of mostly blue smoke emitting sulfurous particles right below where the visitor's platform once stood. The road to Halemaumau is currently closed because of the hazards of inhaling this "vog" (volcanic fog), and the bombs Pele throws from this new vent. It's a gaping hole in the side of the Halemaumau fire pit where scientists have been able to hear the gurgling and occasionally glimpse the lava lake below. Most of that magma appears to have drained back down to lower levels currently.
Today we may climb to the summit of Mauna Loa where it's been snowing the last few days (not that I miss the snow, but I've never been to Mauna Loa's summit crater). We'll see how I hold up to the vicissitudes of altitude (13,000-14,000 feet I think).
Yesterday we spent time with Brad Lewis, "volcanoman," whose photography of volcanoes I've admired for years. Check out his website at for incredible images!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lava Flows Into the Sea

Day 2 and we're seeing the lava flow into the sea. The day began with a downpour. We got up at 3:30 a.m. to see whether we could hike in for sunrise where the lava is entering the sea, but to no avail. We dawdled through the morning downpour, and finally headed out to the county "viewing area" which is a well-marked trail, about 3/4 mile long, where you can go to see the plume from quite a distance away. Towards sunset, the viewing area fills out with families bringing their picnic dinner, a group that proceeded to sit cross-legged, palms to the heavens, and chant to the goddess Pele, and tourists from all over the world. As the sky darkened, the volcanic activity increased, and the glow of the red lava could be seen reflected in the steam cloud. People ooh'd and ahh'd like they were at the fireworks on the Fourth of July!