Monday, January 6, 2014

Frozen Lakes and Lost Places

Frozen Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis
Kilauea caldera, Hawaii Big Island

"Why do you live in Minnesota?--The winters are too cold. You should move."

I hear this from a person who brought up a family in a Minneapolis suburb. When her husband retired, they moved to a new subdivision in the Arizona desert. There is no good response because I was presented with a false dilemma. Any response would only sound defensive or absurd.

I was pondering that dilemma yesterday. With Arctic air building, I walked across a frozen Minneapolis lake thinking about walks across frozen lakes in warm places.

Hawaii Big Island, 1983

One of my first impressions of Hawaii was a frozen lava lake.

I flew in to Hilo on the Island of Hawaii (Big Island) from a land of white, frozen lakes. Warm, moist, fragrant air greeted me, contrasting with Minnesota's desiccated winter air. In darkness, I drove up from the airport to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where I pitched my tent for the night. 

Next morning my senses were turned upside down as I walked through a lush subtropical rain forest which gave way to a black, frozen lava lake.

Over the years since, I've hiked on lava many times. I've admired its beauty, its different forms, and the tenacity of plants and animals as they quickly establish themselves on new land.

Pahoehoe lava

Life taking hold on lava

Hawaii Big Island, 2009

In 2009, we explored a site of continuing eruptions: the town of Kalapana, or, to be more precise, the lava field that had engulfed the area about 20 years earlier. 

Kalapana was a functioning town when I first visited the Big Island.

The two of us walked around the "do not cross" barrier and headed out over the lava field. There was some risk, most likely a grazed limb from losing traction on the rough and occasionally unstable surface. We were careful to stay up-wind, and well away from current eruptions. 

This is an area of high seismic activity. Later we learned from the local newspaper that while we were clambering across the lava field, there was a 5.0 magnitude earthquake followed by aftershocks. The epicenter was just 14 miles away. 

We were in a place where there were once streets, homes, and the Pacific Ocean. An old street map I had loaded onto my GPS allowed us to walk the line of the streets and imagine the community buried several feet beneath our feet. 

Our GPS tracks
School bus

Along the way we found connections with the world beneath, even as the lost world was being reestablished on the surface. A rusting school bus lay trapped in the lava while, nearby, houses had been built off-the-grid on the recent lava.

Some residents clearly have a strong sense of physical place. Even though their homes were destroyed, they are culturally connected to their spot, connected with family, friends, and community. They needed to return and re-build.

Even on a frozen lake, life wants to establish itself.

Houses on recent lava, 2009
 Ice fishing on a Minneapolis lake, 2014

Minneapolis, January 2014

On a day like today, with a forecast high of -13 Fahrenheit, some ex-Minnesotans in Arizona are comfortable in their choice to sell up at age 65 and move away from family, friends, and community. They spent a lifetime working hard in Minnesota, planning for the day they could bring themselves to a warmer climate.

Walking across a frozen Minneapolis lake, I'm appreciating the opportunity to think freely, the textures of the seasons, the different sounds of snow and ice beneath my feet, and the multitude of activities going on around me. Skaters are playing ice hockey, ski sailors flit past, propelled by kite-like sails aloft, a group pulls a toboggan, laden with ice-fishing gear, a cyclist speeds past on fat tires. It's exhilarating to walk and run in this happy place.

Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis: snow monster and cyclist

Impermanence, contrasts, discoveries, and sensory surprises all contribute to a good journey. I start that journey right from my home, whether it is a walk to a lake, a ride to the airport, or prototyping a Lego Mindstorms mechanism.

I can bend with or against the weather. Today, I choose to bend with the weather and stay inside: Lego wins.

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