Sunday, 9 May 2010

Phil in Philadelphia

Each time I'm on the final approach to Philadelphia International airport, the distinctive skyline of the city and the snake-like meanderings of the Schuylkill river signify I'm about to touch-down on terra firma. Given that I have never been a fan of flying, this cheers me up greatly. This past year has had my travels drag me between pillar and post, carving out a carbon footprint of a small country. I am really not proud of this. Occasionally I find myself day-dreaming of bygone days when an Atlantic crossing by ship was the most efficient passage to North America. The idea of idling away long days onboard a vast liner, in the absence of email, internet and the 21st Century, is most appealing. The bump of touchdown abruptly reminded me of my dislike of flying and once more I was wading my way through a plane load of folks intent on not missing connections. I felt lucky that we were in Philadelphia at all, not from my unreasonable fear of flying, but for a geological force of nature to be reckoned with.

The Icelandic Volcano that has recently been causing chaos in UK airspace provided a short window for the take-off of my flight to the USA. I was grateful for this, as I had a lecture to deliver at Penn on the next day. The said volcano, often referred to by the media as 'the volcano with the unpronounceable name' had once again started spewing ash into a northwester bound for UK shores, but thankfully a gentle blast from the Urals sent the ash cloud spinning back into the Atlantic. The volcano has occasionally be named Eyjafjallajökull, but alas...the media missed the fact that this translates from Icelandic to 'Island-mountain-glacier'....whoops! The glacier sits atop of what appears to be a volcano with no name. The last time the volcano with 'no name' blew its top was from 1821 till 1823....but this was sporadic series of eruptions and the absence of any air-traffic had the event pass with little attention. Its curious how suddenly we can be so interested in historical eruptions, now that we have to deal with a wakening force of nature in the 21st Century.

Having spent last month hiking up and down the volcano Mount Tiede in Tenerife (off the coast of Western Sahara), I already had a healthy respect for these splendid reminders from the Earth, that we only think we can control nature. Occasionally, the Earth sighs and we all feel the repercussions.

I'm grateful that the volcano with no name did not disrupt my journey....but I would be untruthful if I did not admit that volcanic dust and jet engines were not engraved on my thoughts as I took off from Manchester!

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