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Nature’s ways

Common GroundBill Kight

Our family stood reading the plaque at the end of the dirt road. My conversational Spanish is poor, but the two years of Spanish translation in college helped make out most of the words.”EN MEMORIA DE LAS PERSONAS FALLECIDAS A CAUSA DE LA ERUPCION DEL VOLCAN AREANAL 29 DE JULIO DE 1968.”Even my poor translation was sobering, “In memory of the persons whose death was caused by the eruption of the Arenal volcano on July 29, 1968.”Next to the locked gate was a sign in Spanish. In English it roughly translated to, “This is an area of high volcanic risk.” Below that in English was, “Danger No Tresspassing,” in red.The message was clear: “Do not go any farther.” Yet every year some tourist ignores the warning and perishes trying to get a closer look at the most active volcano in Costa Rica.The 78 villagers living in Tronadora and Pueblo Nuevo for whom the memorial was erected on the 29th anniversary of the day they died had no such warning.Rain prevented us from seeing the 5,435-foot mountain the three days we stayed in the vicinity of Arenal Volcano. But its presence gnawed at the back of my mind the entire time.A person can know too much about the possibility of nature wrecking havoc on us pathetically insignificant human beings. Probability aside, I still found myself entertaining the thought, “What if it erupted while we were here?”My family started kidding me about my concern for our welfare. “Gee, Dad, stop obsessing,” my oldest daughter chided me when I made them stop and read the warning posted at our hotel.”Oh, that’s a great evacuation and disaster plan,” I said. “Run if the volcano explodes.”Having been a safety officer on incident management teams for years makes one tend to look for worse case scenarios no matter where you travel … volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, brutal blizzards.My concern might also be a result of my geologist friend who worked in the field for years exploring the Yellowstone Dome. It’s one of if not the biggest volcanoes in the world, dormant – for now.He laughed one time when I asked what one could do if it exploded. “Living in Glenwood you’re right on the edge of it. But if it went big-time you wouldn’t have time to blink your eye.”There’s not much comfort knowing we have to live with Mother Nature and hope for the best.Our trip to Costa Rica over Christmas had been a great vacation. Linn, the two girls and I were relaxing in our room the night before leaving for home when the grim news from Thailand appeared on TV.There is no way our minds can comprehend such loss of human life, such randomness, such helplessness. It was hard enough thinking of those 78 villagers Arenal took.When we returned home we wrote a substantial check for tsunami survivors. It could have been us.That’s reason enough to care.Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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