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Molten lava

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Standing under a rumbling volcano, most people will notice their pulses quicken, their brains filled with fear and excitement. For John Calderazzo, a professor of English at Colorado State University, the feeling is closer to rapture.

"There's something in getting lost in this immense power of nature," he said. "That's a solace."

The self-described "volcano junkie" and author of two books on volcanoes traveled to Washington state recently to watch Mount St. Helens threaten to blow its top.

"I just wanted to see it," he said. "I had hiked on its slopes, but it wasn't rumbling. Now it was." He calls the experience of volcano watching "being in thrall of something larger than yourself."

The blast-furnace rumblings radiating from an active volcano, to his ears, thunder in unison with the drumbeat of humanity. "The whole history of this world is completely interconnected with nature," he said.

Calderazzo explores the deep connection between volcanoes and human culture in his newest book Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives published last summer. For the book, he traveled to Italy's Mount Etna and Hawaii's Kilauea, among other locales. In the book he describes the human rituals that grew around volcano worship, including human and animal sacrifice. For example, he says, in Peru scientists have discovered on almost every high Andean peak the remains of sacrificed children. "Those clichd stories about throwing virgins into volcanoes," he said, pausing, "there's a lot more true truth to that than I thought."

Humans, Calderazzo says, can be spiritually changed in the experience of a natural phenomenon much larger than their lives. "If something blows," he said. "Boy, everyone changes."

-- Dan Wilcock

photo courtesy of John Calderazzo

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