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These beautiful volcanic eruptions will blow your mind

Fire; watch with me

Gif from Martin Bassler's video

I like volcanic eruptions for the same reason I like a lot of things that make me feel insignificant: they evoke a sense of wonder. Volcanic eruptions — even the slow drizzly lava flows — are astonishing. Our world has these weird pimples that shoot forth liquid rock and toxic gasses! This is sometimes deadly, but also very beautiful. I mean, yes: volcanic eruptions can be terrifying natural disasters. They can cool the weather for months or years by releasing particles into the sky. Pompeii and Herculaneum were both buried by Mt. Vesuvius, along with the citizens who choked to death on fumes.

Horrifying as they may be, I can't dismiss their beauty. Maybe it's the use of color — the shooting bright yellow that fades as it cools. Maybe it's the strange, molasses-like movement of a lava flow. Maybe it's just my long-standing interest in explosions.

But there's something else there, I guess, that fascinates me about nature generally. It's so inhuman! I live in a place where most things are tailored to my needs — imperfectly, for sure, but tailored nonetheless. There's easy food access and clean water, too. I'm not likely to fall off a cliff or accidentally drown. I'm vaccinated and have access to antibiotics. I won't be hunted by a lion, or trampled by a moose. A lot of the random threats  — the little reminders that I am fragile, that I can be hurt, that I will die — are out of sight and out of mind.

Scary and horrible and so, so pretty That doesn't make me safe, though. I live in California, and while it is not going to slide into the ocean, the big one will eventually hit. At a previous job, I walked by the "tsunami zone" sign every day; if a big earthquake hit the ocean, I was in the splash seats, I guess. I cross the Bay Bridge — the site of an earthquake death in 1989 —often, and I think of the 1989 quake every time. The big one will happen, and I don't get to know when.

Watching videos of volcanic eruptions is, in its way, a kind of disaster preparation, but for a disaster I won't have to experience. (It's a related one, though. Volcanoes often form along fault lines; the San Andreas fault is just the wrong type.) It reminds me of geologic time and scale, two things that are inhumanly vast. Not as a threat, though, just as a reminder: here is the seething heart of the seemingly solid ground you stand on. Magma is scary and horrible and so, so pretty — much like life itself, I suppose. Watch with me: