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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Chiguluri

A New Perspective on Natural Disaster

There is a certain awe and attraction to the power of volcanos that I never realized until I was standing across from one's vent.

This past Summer, 2021, Fagradalsfjall began erupting in Iceland. I wasn't even aware of this until I was already in Iceland and being told by other travelers that I had encountered along the way that I had to see this historic moment.

Normally, when I think of erupting volcanos, I think of people fleeing. Danger. This is a view that had been shaped by my previous education and the media I have been exposed to. However, tourists were coming to Reykjavík, Iceland to experience the sights of bright red magma exploding out of the Fagradalsfjall vent and flowing down into the surrounding valleys.

It seemed to be something of a movie or book; a once-in-a-lifetime sight⁠—and I think that's why people were so drawn to this element filled with the power to destroy. I was surrounded by extremely powerful winds, the scent of magma, chatter in a myriad of foreign languages, and the deep exhales of my own exhausted breath. Nothing phased me. I just stood and stared.

It's extremely visible how natural disasters like this volcano have shaped Iceland, but in reality that's how our whole world has been formed whether or not we notice or appreciate it. There is a significant difference, however, in how natural disasters shape heavily industrialized areas of the world versus areas that are integrated more heavily within nature.

One day, I decided to talk to a man at the front desk of one of my hostels. I learned he was Czech, but had been working at the hostel during the entirety of the summer. He provided me with an interesting take on what he believed made Iceland so peaceful.

"When disaster occurs, there is a perspective that it's not the end of the world in the grand scheme of everything else," the man said.

He also said that he noticed many locals put energy towards preserving the nature they are surrounded by, and this seemed to impact their well-being positively.

With that in mind, I would agree that part of why Iceland is so peaceful seems to be because there is less constant fear of disaster. Instead, there is an appreciation for natural occurrences and life goes on. People find a way to come together and solve their problems. However, this seems to be easier said than done.

I was speaking to a fellow student at Washington and Lee University, Tara Trinley from Miami, recently about this topic. She said that she's very used to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, disrupting life. She said life feels like it comes to a halt for people in Miami when disaster strikes.

It's no wonder that life can be more peaceful when you work with nature rather than against it. Living each day with no expectations seems to be part of the key to living more peacefully, but unfortunately this does not seem feasible in places that are dependent on industry.

Across the vent of Fagradalsfjall during Summer, 2021, in Iceland

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