lava tongue

Oceanic basalt volcanoes (such as the Hawaiian volcanoes) produce fluid lava that may advance over these shield-shaped mountains’ gentle slopes in tonguelike flows. According to volcanologist Robert Decker, such tongues are typically a few dozen feet wide and a yard deep, flowing at speeds of from three to thirty miles per hour. Smaller flows are often called fingers. At the front of a slow-moving pahoehoe flow, molten rock pooling behind the cooling surface of the advancing lava wall constantly splits open the hardening crust, to emerge in glowing red bulbous toes. Humans have long referred to their own anatomy when describing landscape features, but the uncanny “aliveness” of a fiery, creeping lava flow perfectly embodies attributes of the Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele. In Hawaiian tradition, all aspects of volcanic creation and destruction, from flows that alter the landscape to the red ‘ohelo berry bushes that colonize recent lava flows, are considered kinolau (literally, “body forms”) of the volcano deity.

Pamela Frierson