Peace and Ferocity: Living in the Shadow of a Volcano [Eastern Sicily + Stromboli]

Stromboli: the Most Active Volcano in the World
Yesterday we departed Stromboli, one of the Aeolian islands, after living on the island for three days and climbing the volcano two nights ago.

As you would imagine, this island is dramatic, the volcano very much playing the role of lead character. Black rock/sand beaches line the island set against white adobe houses, dotted with blue and red windows and doors. Our place was pretty sweet, with views of the water and the volcano, and a beach we could drop down into. 

The volcano looms eerily above. It is the most active volcano in the world, puffing grey smoke almost constantly, and spitting out fire every twenty minutes or so. But the only time you can witness these explosions is at night. The sun sets and you are privy to a fireworks’ show of red sparks emerging from its crater.

The hike up was not so bad – about two hours of steep uphill, but doable. It was a night hike, and as usual, our kids were the only kids on the guided hike (you can no longer ascend the volcano to the highest viewing point without a guide). As the sun began to set, we noticed a looming cloud threatening our remarkable views of the volcano. Alas, the gods of weather were not pleased that night: total fog-out as dusk descended. Oh well! We turned back to go down the mountain around 9:30 pm, got a peek about halfway down of the pyrotechnics as the fog lifted, and finally dragged ourselves into bed at 11 pm. We were beat.

The next night we did about a quarter of the climb again, up to a restaurant where you can eat pizza and drink wine on the terrace while watching molten magma spew out of the volcano. What magic.

Living – even only for three days – on a tiny island that is essentially all volcano is truly awe-some. I have always been an ocean person, awed by its enormity, mystery, power, and contradiction of quiet and ferocity. I have never felt that deeply for another natural phenomenon until my brief stint on this island. While I have visited other volcanoes, this one felt different. Alive somehow.

[And yes, it did inspire many conversations about what is life, is a volcano alive, what constitutes sentience, is there a spectrum of what we perceive life to be, etc.]

Residents of Stromboli basically live almost at the summit of the volcano; two miles tall, only the very top of the volcano is above water. It looms large, peaceful, and grounding, yet utterly unstable, dangerous, and wild.  

I recently read a 2021 New York Times article on Stromboli. The article cites an inhabitant of the island, who works with scientists to present and share their work: “… residents get to know the volcano, and its personality, as if it were a living thing. 'It’s strange. It’s like a person,' he said. 'You really miss it when you leave here. You feel lost.'"

I can’t explain it, but I really felt that.

Other Adventures in Sicily
Last we left our heroes, I was getting my feet wet in the transparent waters of Sicily. It’s been a minute over here! Before Stromboli, we spent a week in Siracusa, traveling to: 

  • Oritigia/Siracusa: lively market, crumbling facades, ancient remains of Greek/Roman theatres/buildings in Neapolis Archaeological Park, incredible cannoli and first sips of granite, touring an ancient Jewish mikvah dating back to the 6th century BCE. [When the Jews were forced out of Ortigia at the Spanish inquisition’s orders, the Ortigian Jews - 25% of the population at the time - covered the mikvah in dirt. It was only discovered in 1987!]

  • Noto: processions, art lining the long-stairways, markets, eating/drinking at the famous Caffe Sicilia for granita and brioche, and then a drive to a local beach, Spaggia Reitani, where we ate Italian sushi (with tomato and basil on top!)

  • Necropolis of Pantalica: now this was a doozy. Thousands of rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BCE. Hiking cliffs. No one there. Spooky and exhilarating. Avoided the release of the looming thunderclouds. Freezing dip by Emmet and Chris in the river.

  • Taormina: reveling in our White Lotus fantasies, glitzy, an incredible meal, ancient theatre, eel sighting in the waters of Isola Bella

  • Catania: dropped in for dinner, what a cool city! Lively square, graffiti mixed with ancient, happened upon a Catholic procession – boys clothed in white, Virgin Mary paraded, tubas belting out their tuba sounds

Final Thoughts on Schooling Abroad
Most of you know that we were doing ‘school’ through a program called Self Design, which really meant that we were homeschooling since the program itself provided little support. Throughout the week, we would informally but consistently do math, daily writing, lots of reading, and then of course studying the places we explored (geography/history/religion/art/science).  We concluded our year of homeschooling about two weeks ago.

Another branch of the worldschooling community is unschooling (the world is your teacher / you follow the kids’ leads in their learning). We were not doing unschooling for a variety of reasons, namely not wanting the kids to miss a year of school and likely our less-than-radical personalities. That said, what has been interesting is that about a week ago, freed from the shackles of everyday ‘school,' the kids had an idea for an app while traipsing through the ancient (and largely un-signposted) Neapolis Archaeological Park. They saw an unmet need for worldschoolers around gamifying travel education and – on their own – worked together to create the concept for an iphone app, draw out possible screens, prototype it, and continue to learn coding in order to build it. The flame might die tomorrow or maybe it continues to live on. Who knows!

What is more interesting to me is that the kids found their inspiration on their own when we took the have-to out of school. I will never be an unschooler for a variety of reasons, but it does illuminate for me some of its potential: that the creation of space can reveal inspiration.  

That said, am I so excited to expunge from my resume the role of formal teacher and for them to be back in school next year????? Give me a ‘hell yaaaaaasssss!’


Totally agree! What a great job you did despite not loving the role. What an education these boys have had!!
As always, love to hear all this!
Understand your feelings completely.
Sicily is so beautiful! Great photos!1 Thank you so much for sharing!
Never-ending adventure.... man, I wish I could be on the Italian coast right now! It looks so... relaxed.
Wow, look at all that gorgeousness and the power of nature. Thanks for the window into your every-changing days!

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