Mt. Kilimanjaro is called "the roof of Africa" and is one of the largest volcanoes in the world. The mountain has three cones or vents - Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo - and was formed more than 750,000 years ago. Although now dormant, Kibo is the most recently formed cone and is thought to have been active as recently as a few hundred years ago. It is located, along with other large volcanoes in the Rift Valley - famous for the discovery of the remains of hominid ancestors including Lucy.
Movies and books about the prehistoric earth have fueled my imagination, and it's easy to picture volcanoes spewing lava and gases and the earth shifting in cataclysmic movements sparking fear in ancient beings.
Then, the earth moved under my feet on April 4, shaking the ocean front bluff where I was hiking, making me feel as if I were balancing on a tilting skateboard. A couple dashed past on the trail - they looked scared - but I'm not sure where they were planning on running to safety. The undulating stopped, and I learned later I had experienced a 7.2 earthquake centered in Calexico, Mexico, about 100 miles southeast of San Diego.
The other day, a volcano erupted in Iceland beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. (I listened to a report on the eruption - hoping to learn how to pronounce the glacier's name, but the on-site reporter did everything he could to avoid saying it!) The volcanic ash cloud was so large it could be seen from space, and as it drifted over Northern Europe, air travel screeched to a halt stranding many. Volcanic ash apparently does not mix well with airplane engines or windshields. The television news report said the last time this particular volcano erupted - in 1821 - the eruption lasted for a year.
We no longer walk barefoot on the dirt every day or drive a cart on a rutted path or ride horses as our usual modes of transportation. We live in air conditioned/heated houses, drive in cars with anti-freeze and defrosters, sheltered from the most inclement weather. Many of us get our fresh fruit from pyramids carefully constructed at the local supermarket by produce workers. When I was a teen, I tried to milk a cow on my great-grandmother's South Dakota farm, and failed miserably. The thin, warm white liquid tasted funny to me.
And yet, the earth shifts and slips, a tidal wave surges, a volcano erupts and thousands are killed or injured or forced to stay put. We are reminded how fragile we still are despite our modern advances, how easily the rhythms of this active planet can disrupt and frighten us. How puny we really are.