Mark Millican: Volcanos, videos and hoot owls

Mark Millican

After clicking on the link “Mount Etna Erupts in Spectacular Fashion,” the images poured forth last week — literally. Smoke boiled out of Sicily's fearsome volcano, and fiery lava was rolling down its slope. In the foreground stood the domed cathedral of a basilica-like building, although The Weather Channel app on my phone said no towns or villages were threatened.

It reminded me of "sailing" through the Straits of Messina aboard the USS Inchon in 1980. Some Marine buddies and I stood outside the skin of the ship as we navigated north toward Naples, site of a U.S. Navy base. It appeared benign smoke was curling out of the top of Etna, which stood out as the preeminent peak in a stairstep chain of mountains.

Teresa was not with me watching the tiny volcano video, so later that evening I pulled it up again. By then, someone had gotten drone shots at night, and we marveled at the tall plumes of orange-red lava that shot skyward in intervals. The amount of damage a prolonged eruption could cause might prove cataclysmic, I thought, and it reminded me of traveling to Italy in 1979 on my first Med cruise, courtesy of the USS Barnstable County. I had taken a tour of Pompeii south of Naples, where the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. destroyed the town that has since been unearthed.

With our early-warning systems of modern times, surely such devastation of people's lives won't happen again — will it?

It seems to be a year when Mother Nature is putting on displays, from the long-interred cicadas to flowing lava. And they're not always so “large and in charge” as these phenomena of nature. Just after midnight one day last week, for example, I was up late and then up again way too early in the morning. It was real good quiet time for reading my Bible. Then outside, just as it had around three hours before, a hoot owl renewed its unmistakable call.

The lyrics from the 1975 song “Wildfire” came to mind: “Been a hoot-owl howling outside my window now, 'bout six nights in a row.” Said Michael Martin Murphey, interviewed on NPR about the evocative songwriting therein: “My grandfather told me a story when I was a little boy about a legendary ghost horse that the Indians talked about ... I had a dream, and I dreamed the lyrics ... the song is very much about escaping hard times.”

Since this column seems to be evolving from natural wonders to animals, I'll share another experience that wraps back around to videos. We streamed a movie called “The Ride” later in the day of the morning I heard the hoot owl. It's somewhat of an “oater” (that's crossword parlance for a Western, get it?) with some knockout scenery and featuring Michael Biehn. Known for his intensity in the roles he plays — such as Kyle Reese in the sci-fi thriller “Terminator” series, and as Johnny Ringo in “Tombstone” — Biehn brings it again as a down-on-his luck cowboy who is challenged by a boy with cancer to teach him to ride a rodeo bull. The transformation is incredible, and to borrow from Ringo, I didn't know he had it in him.

Speaking of videos, a musical one making the rounds on phones, tablets and Apple Music now is “Talking to Jesus” by Brandon Lake with Elevation Worship. Whether it's escaping hard times or dealing with sickness, I can't think of a better listen.

Life doesn't have to be a series of eruptions and tough luck. There is peace for the seeker.

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Daily Citizen-News.

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