Living on Lava

Coast Watches: Twelve Meditations

Prior: Wa-to-to: Shades of Blue, Shades of Green

December 26

There’s no shifting sands here, not in Miroco. Here impervious black basalt meets the restless sea.

Some basalt mounds up in lava domes and pockets, as at the point below my house, and some rises in sharp planes, like the crenellated rock we named The Castle, protruding from the sea halfway down Rocky Creek Way.

Other cliffs twist and bend upward, semi- circular volcanic vents of pegmatite ridged in pentagonal crystalline shafts fifty or a hundred feet long.

Some of these ridges lie nearly sideways to the sea, like the pleated under-throat of a humpback whale, while others rise perpendicular, like a facet of the Devil’s Tower.

Because of their five-sided structure, the sea cracks and erodes them along these facets, leaving jagged edges along the cliff trails above the sea. In places deep cracks fissure the basalt.

Some fissures lead to underwater sea caves and spouting horns, while other cracks open into narrow canyons of pegmatite steps, as if some human architect had ordained a stairway here, leading down to the tide pools and rocky shelf resting just below the waves.

Some cliffs are pentagonal crystalline basalt mixed in with rough and rounded lava flows embedded with chunks of basalt, a wild landscape of dips and humps leaping steeply into the sea, and in the rush, leaving behind pockets of trapped sea water.

Tide pools. Small basins in unlikely places high above the sea, full of cracked white shells glinting in their depths, as if seagulls had been there washing with soap slivers.

Large lower pools full of sea anemones and starfish and tendrils of seaweed, rinsed twice daily by the tides.

And in between, a lava wasteland of knobs and lips and petals and mushroom protuberances, once flowing in hot red curves, now tamed to a fairy meadow frozen black in time.

Living on lava is so different from living on sand. When the storm waves crash, the whole cliffside shudders. Our houses, bolted to the rock to survive wind and waves, shake from the pounding, trembling from aftershocks as in an earthquake.

Yet I feel secure and solid during gales, to be so anchored to the core of the unbending earth, knowing I will not blow away. Lava lasts.

Lava lasts so long it makes me feel ephemeral. As I walk on the ancient lava flows above the sea, I am humbled by the knowledge that I am standing on the slopes of an extinct volcano, one that extends deep into the sea.

A volcano which created Cape Foulweather, a volcano still raising its throat to the sky. Its crater, now dormant and eroded, its western edge eaten away by Highway 101, still forms a giant C.

The other day I parked at the Otter Rock lookout, walked across the highway and climbed up into the crater. At the top of the pile of rocky debris, I could look out westward at the boundless Pacific, yet I felt enclosed. Overhead was a hole of blue sky.

It was as if I were inside a hollow Devil’s Tower, encircled by pegmatite columns, a pleated collar of stone. Impervious to the blatt of semi-trucks braking down 101, in this hushed arc I could feel the ancient creative power of lava rising from deep in the earth.

Next: Hearing the Waves Crack

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