Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine for My Muse: Danger Ahead!

By: Kathleen Pickering  http://www.kathleenpickering.com

My muse returns to the spotlight for Valentine’s Day, not because I love writing more than I love my husband (please, let’s not go there) but because when I decided to join my husband in courting danger, I did so for my Muse—and only for my Muse.

volcano1It all started with this volcano in the resort village of Pucon in southern Chile. The approximate elevation of Volcan Villarica is 9,750 feet from sea level. Villarica is smoking. She is alive, well and dangerous. As a matter of fact, the photo above of Villarica with smoke billowing from her crater was taken from Pucon by my sister-in-law at the time we were approaching the top.

Now, in all fairness, Villarica has been smoking for a very long time. She belches now and again. Last lava flow was 1984. This photo shows its last path:


Our guide, David (shown in the picture) promised that there is seismic equipment to detect impending volcanic activity enough in advance that we were free from danger of an eruption. However, when they give you tools like hard hats, ice axes (which he said would be our best friend on the climb—and was right!), crampons for your boots, and cold weather gear for a five hour climb to the top, you sort of figure you’re not going on a picnic.


I tell you what. When my Muse and I rode the first leg up the mountain on a chair lift with no seat belt, I held on for dear life (I’m terrified of heights) while my flighty Muse started jumping around the chair lift, wanting to take off. You see, Sam Wilson in my Mythological Sam series will have a demon battle on a volcano at one point, so I took my girl up there to really test her wings. As I had expected, she started pulling in scenes from the moment I pulled on my first boot.

While I cavalierly mention the danger factor, I have to admit that when I agreed to make this climb, I hadn’t considered danger. I’ve hiked so many less grueling places before that the words volcano, toxic gas, rock slides and fissures in glaciers were terms relegated to National Geographic, not my physical well-being. Reality started to settle in when they gave us instructions on how to use the ice ax to keep from sliding off the glacier should we lose footing and fall. I mean really!

volcano2Here is a fissure in the glacier. Not a place to lose one’s footing!

volcano3 This photo shows Inside the crater with sulfur dioxide gas seeping through the surface.

volcano33Friend, Gustavo, is holding his breath on the crater rim here. (Crazy, I know! At least I knew enough to get off the edge.) The gas literally burns the inside of your nose. Can’t imagine the lung damage should one breath in those fumes for too long. The buzz word here is toxic. We were lucky there wasn’t a wind shift.

On the flip side of all this danger, when walking in a slow, steady rhythm in single file across the glaciers or up the rock faces, I found myself one-on-one with nature, once again, renewing my awe in her Presence. The captivating views sent my Muse soaring. In my mind, I was out there flying right beside her.


These spectacular vistas changed my point of view from ground level, for sure!


Once we came off the glacier and arrived at the rocky climb to the “false peak” just below the crater, the unexpected (in a good way) happened. The closer we traversed to the top the more colorful the black lava became. The photo below doesn’t do justice to the iridescent colors of the lava rocks littering the peak . . . glittering with blue, orange and gold colors like jewels in the sunlight. I couldn’t resist. I scooped them up by the handful. That mountain with it’s layers of lava flows, glacial formations and different rock types is a geologist’s dream.


So, when my heart finally stopped pounding, I was able to catch my breath. We actually reached the top without incident, except the gas had me scrambling back down to the glacier edge, toot sweet. What we didn’t see? Animals. Not a one. Except for a lone bird at the top—and that’s a story for another time.


For the return, the group was rewarded  with a two and a half hour slide down the glacier. No joke. Curving channels like toboggan runs were cut shoulder deep into the glaciers just wide enough to accommodate a person seated on a plastic disk with a handle attached at the waist. I wish I had a photo of one of us descending in those channels. It cut the descent time in half and the laughter made up for all the labor spent on the challenging climb up.

I’m thinking this trip covered all three rules for keeping Muses happy: love, feeding, and letting her fly.

Then why a Valentine’s gift, you may ask? Because I don’t usually put my tail in danger to prove my love for my Muse. This adventure was like a box of bon-bons on steroids, and given my fear of heights (which has lessened now, I must say) I took her higher than she’s ever flown before, at least with both feet still on the earth.

Since we just got home, I’m taking all of today to recover. My Muse is full and happy. Now, I just hope my husband will understand (and laugh out loud) when I hand draw him a Valentine’s Day card and order take-out—delivered. We’re staying in!

If you’d like to see more volcano pictures, please feel free to visit my Facebook album: Climbing Volcan Villarica. (You may have to sign in first for the link to work. Otherwise, visit: www.facebook.com/kathleenpickering.)

Then afterwards, let me know what you are doing today for Valentine’s Day . . . is there any Muse involved?

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, and most importantly, Happy Writing!


  1. Omg, those beautiful vistas are AMAZING. But you are certifiably INSANE. HA! Love this post, girl. Happy V-Day.

  2. Brilliant! What a refreshing change from mushy Valentine's Day entries... sorry if I am offending anyone, but I grew up in a culture without Valentine's Day and think we should show our love more often than once a year. Loved the pictures and the story. Mad, bad and dangerous to know, your muse seems to be!

  3. Outstanding post, Piks!

    I'm so charged this morning living vicariously through you with these photos, and your story of visiting the Volcano, Villarica.
    (and I thought I'd stepped out with our recent kayak adventure down Wikki Watchee Springs with the Manatees last month!)

    I can only imagine where Sam the Man is headed for his next adventure, and I can't wait to see what your Muse does to him in the next book.

    If you guys haven't read Mythological Sam: The Call, by Katherine, please treat yourself. It's a good read, and quite the adventure.

    Happy Valentine's Day folks.

  4. What a travelogue! I want to hear the story about that lone bird sometime, Katherine.
    Happy Valentine's Day to one and all.

  5. Whoa, what fun! Thanks for sharing.

    John Gilstrap

  6. Thank you for sharing your wonderful, beautiful and absolutely amazing adventure!

  7. One of the fun things about being a writer--on site research. Cool.

  8. I used to say my muse was the mortgage.

  9. Holy crap, Piks! I am so proud of you for conquering your fear of heights, and letting your muse soar. Beautiful pitctures - and I'm so glad you made it back in one piece, lol

  10. Jordan and Marina-- I mentioned it once before: I am insane. That way I need no excuses for my behavior. LOL!

    Paula--Thanks so much for the plug for Sam. I do love this series. :)

    So appreciate your ladies stopping by and commenting!

  11. Joe-- that bird was the answer to a question I posed to the volcano. When in Hawaii few years ago, my tour guide told me I had to ask Pele (goddess of the volcano there) if I could take some black sand from the island. Pele said no by stubbing my foot on a rock that almost broke my toe.

    So, when I found the rocks at the peak, I remembered Pele. So, I asked this volcano god(dess)if it was okay if I took those pretty lava rocks. I said, if it's okay, show me a sign . . . like a bird or something. (Since there was no animal life on the peak.)

    Twenty minutes later, I'm propped against the slope and my husband points to a rock above my head, snaps pics and says, "Holy crap. A bird. What's it doing here?"

    Yeah. Gotta love being one with the universe. I took the rocks. LOL!!

  12. What a fabulous experience! And how brave you were! It just so happens that the story I just finished also has a demon battle at a volcano. LOL. Great minds think alike! Mine is in the tropics on a Pacific island, though.

  13. John/James--on site research. Yes, indeed! Do enough of it and the mortgage becomes non-existent! :)

    Sandra/Traci -- Hello, fellow romance writer friends! Thanks for stopping by. This was an amazing trip to Chile, I'm happy to share it. Lots of story ideas!

  14. The story of the bird is absolutely amazing and if you did not have a photograph of it I would be a Doubting Thomas! Birds have such sensitive respitory systems that it could only have been a sign that it was okay for you to take the rocks. Your trip must have been truly blessed...and I hope that bird get the heck out of there quickly after that so not to breath in any more toxins.

  15. Sounds like a lot of fun. I'd love to do something like that myself. Of course I don't actually have to leave the house to enjoy toxic fumes with three sons around. Even worse when my muse makes homemade kimchi or denjang guk (fermented bean paste).

    it's the price I pay for living with such a hot wife

  16. Nancy--mine is too! LOL!

    EJ: I know! The bird look just as confused at being there as we were to see her. :)

    Basil--LOL!!! I thought I saw you pass us at one point. Had to do a double take.

  17. You have a lot more guts then I do! But it sounds like you had the time of your life. Good stuff to draw from a literal explosion and the muse juices are flowing, huh!

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  19. Wow! Kathy Pickering, what an incredible adventure. I would have been freaking out and I don't know if I would have had the courage to do the climb. (I too have a fear of heights.)

    Love the pictures, and chuckled at a few of you.

    You go girl, you and your Muse.
    Debbie Andrews

  20. I guess there is, in the sensible writing-dens of most writers, the spirit of a Hemingway trying to nudge us out of the numbing comfort of our rooms and into the craziness of an adventure. At least he's been tying to do that to me for years. But until I have opportunity and time, I'm just glad there is someone who can dish me out the artistic immediacy of all the good stuff sans the sore muscles. Hemingway would be proud!