climbing pacaya

Scrabbling for an hour at sunset up the rubbly, near-vertical incline of Pacaya’s volcanic cone was hard. Hunkering on still-warm igneous rock, seated like a spectator at an outdoor concert, listening to the deep crater rumble and roar, and watching it fling hundreds of flaming newly-formed rocks into the velvet night sky again and again from no more than a hundred yards away was beyond description. The air at the summit was deeply clean and cold, the dark valley below filled with clouds. Pacaya, home of the watchful Mayan fire-god, stands as a monument in my travels, all that have been and all that will be. Above all the fields where human beings struggle, fight and fail, where we torture and disappoint one another, where we have our small, transitory victories, it is a place where the earth itself is being recreated, where the rock that will still exist when all our descendants are dead is being born.

Imagine taking a boulder’s eye-view. An individual human lifespan becomes an unnoticed microsecond of its immense existence, like the life of one of your own bacteria would be for you. As if in time-lapse you would see buildings collapse and others be built around you, tens of thousands of lives flash by like swarms of may-flies, civilizations rise and disintegrate to their archaeological remains. Then abandonment, silence; a coastline disappears under the sea. You would sink with it, softly, unceasingly eroded by the waters to a single grain of sand. There you would rest, waiting to return to the molten core and be reborn—how many times?—before the single spinning rock out of which you are fashioned vaporizes into the expanding frame of a dying star.