Taking stock of all there is for which to be thankful as another birthday passes, I keep thinking of Mount Merapi’s record eruption, its death toll and what I’ve witnessed of the Indonesian volcano’s unfathomable power.
It even postponed President Obama’s repeatedly rescheduled trip to his boyhood home of Jakarta and Southeast Asia, as ash from the eruptions — as with Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull — threatened to thwart air travel.
Along the paved streets of my own New York, construction crews continually tear up centuries worth of concrete in the never-ending quest to create anew. Yet not even the most massive dig sites I’ve seen at home compare to the geological forces a volcano on the island of Java wreaks unencumbered by anything humans could possibly build.
Gigantic trenches of mud and molten lava snaked across the dark, fertile soil of the small village my guide, Yunus, and I hiked one foggy morning. The scarred earth was quiet then, but the path along which the volcano had burrowed across the landscape spoke of a geological violence unleashed over the millennia.
Homes ravaged and mostly buried lay silent behind a fence that reminds visitors of Mount Merapi’s destructive force. I can still vividly recall the bunker embedded in the ground, intended as temporary shelter from falling ash and debris, which nevertheless was used during the last explosion by rescuers seeking refuge from the liquid rock that poured from the volcanic slopes.
The bunker, which was not designed to withstand the thousand-degree heat of molten lava nor protect its inhabitants from it, delayed only by a few seconds the fate that followed for the volunteers.
Although I am far from there now, I made a birthday wish for the safety of any local Javanese who might still be in harm’s way. I will e-mail Yunus and ask if there is anything at all I can do.
For more information about the International Red Cross’s relief efforts in the area, or to donate, please click here.