Thursday, 24 July 2014

Mother Nature

Sunshine filters through sky-high ancient pines. Shadows dance on the blanket of leaves below. The air is fresh and cool. There is a backwash of green, blue and brown hues, and in the distance - steeped in ash from eons before - stands a smoking peak.

I inhale and pause for a moment. This is special. This is really special.

All photos by Jason Di-Candilo @billthebadger

Born some 300,000 years ago, this beauty – the tallest active volcano in Europe, otherwise known as Etna – stands 3329m above sea level, with pride, with stealth, with honour.

She is powerful and she has a story to tell. She is the ‘mountain of the mountain’ as her name translates; a source of food, renewal and spiritual guidance for the Sicilians who speak of her with fondness and respect.

Standing in her presence, I can’t help but feel abundantly insignificant in the spectacle that is Mother Nature and there is real grace in that.

Walking in the heat, focused on not losing my footing on the unsteady volcanic rock below, our guide Ezio recalls his first eruption. “I was three-year-old and I was with my dad and our friend’s dog. The dog began to act oddly. He reacted before we knew what was happening, which signalled us to take cover.” This is one of many memories Ezio shares.

With the Africa and Europe tectonic plates continually clashing below the earth’s surface, earthquakes are frequent in Sicily, as are eruptions.

We walk some further and stop to marvel at the picture before us. The pines, which were so lush and green and alive some several hundred metres back, stand here bare. Skeleton outlines. Ghosts from the past. The soil is pitch black and there is no sign of life. 

We stare at the silhouette portrait. The deserted expanse. The empty space.

For the past five years, Ezio has been guiding scores of people up the slopes of the unbridled volcano, educating tourists and locals alike on the place he calls home.

“Etna is part of me. She is a huge part of my life and sharing her with people just makes sense,” he explained.

And when I say Etna is active, I mean it. She has five distinct craters surrounding her summit and more than 300 vents at lower altitudes.While most eruptions occur at the summit, far from life and civilisation, 'flank' eruptions from these many vents also take place, threatening villages and small towns inhabiting the lower slopes. Since the year 2000, Etna has had four flank eruptions (the most recent in 2009) and four summit eruptions (the latest in 2012).

"I remember when Etna blew her stack more than once in 2002. The explosions were continuous, lava spilling into the forest and streets below, destroying anything and everything in its path. It was the scariest time of my life," Ezio shared.

“Then in 2004, I was skiing on the mountain when it began to tremble, one small eruption after another.”

“In 2006, I was leading a guided walk with 11 other people and we had a very close encounter with sulfur oxide, which can kill you.”

“Another time, my shoes began to melt.”

Not your ordinary 9-5 job. But Ezio is no ordinary man. Even the word makes him pull a face. Outside of his volcanic adventures, he is a teacher of bee keeping, a chemist at a university and a repairer of sail boats.

We reach the 2300m crater and take in the enormity of the scenery. There is no one else, no other life up here, but us. 

I am reminded of the fragility and sheer sanctity of life. How Mother Nature is magnificent and cruel, divine and fierce, and far greater than ourselves. 

A gust of wind brushes the back of my neck. My arm hairs stand on end, not because I’m cold or scared, but because of the realisation that this very moment – where all I can hear is the dead of silence in the face of the smoldering summit - will be remembered long into my years.

Can you recall a time spent with Mother Nature that left traces of something in you? Memories that will be nurtured and adored long into the future? Share in the comment box below. I can't wait to hear how Mother Nature has touched you.


  1. This is awesome!! You go girl xx

  2. Wow! I visited Sicily in May and spent some time in the villages around Etna but sadly didn't make the journey to the volcano. How lucky you are to experience something so fascinating and beautiful.

    1. Next time you're in that part of the world, definitely take a wonder up those magical slopes. And yes, I am super lucky for this experience. So very grateful xx

  3. This is such a beautiful read, Leah! I feel inspired to dive back into my travel journals and get sharing. :) And of course to go on another adventure!
    I'm currently soulstorming ways to feel this connected with Mother Nature, to create more of these beautiful experiences, to really connect with life. Top of my head, I'd have to say that a week in Switzerland was an interesting one. Hiking up the humungous mountains was grounding and also incredible humbling.

    1. Doesn't Mother Nature just crack open our hearts and souls just that bit more? I totally agree, and am always looking for ways to connect some more with her. Thank you Savannah for your kind words. So happy it sparked something inside you, and you're hike in Switzerland sounds AMAZING! Can't wait to get to that part of the world xx

  4. Ah, so gorgeous! Yes, Mother Nature is such a healer. I feel so at home surrounded by water or mountains (or both!). It's so peaceful knowing that they've been here far far longer than I have and are able to embrace me with their beauty & openness. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. My golly gosh she is! And I hear you. Give me ocean, mountains and jungle any day. I love how you describe peace here, by "knowing that they've been here far far longer than I have"…. There's a real sense of trust and being held when we let ourselves sink into her presence. Thank you for your thoughts xx


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