Our guide, Eddie, proved to be a man who could spot an edible mushroom 60 paces from the window of his speeding Land Rover, while “laboring” under the light demands of his paying passengers. On the bright side, we learned nearly as much about woodland fungus as we did about the currently sedate volcano he was hired to show us.
To milk the volcano of tourists dollars, the Sicilians have dug roadways through a swath of recent lava. Rod is standing a the edge of the flow. Whatever the mountain engulfed in burning rock is lost to history, but there are many examples of farms and towns snuggled unwisely at the edge of a previous flow, saved they think by the almighty, whose fiddling with the laws of nature must blunt scientific inquiry. Eddie took a blurry picture (probably because he saw a distracting mushroom) of us four, showing that there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel…at both ends. OK, it probably is not a smiley face that Eddie is drawing, but I forget the science lesson.
Why there are so many birches on the slopes of Etna was never explained, however, Stephanie told us that the search for the largest living organism on earth has been reduced to two candidates—a mushroom or a birch. What you see in the lower cluster, cleverly disguised as a half dozen trees, is actually a single individual growing from one root system. You can see a couple of places where enterprising miscreants cut regular sections of white bark for use as canvas, like scrimshaw. This petty theft is unlikely to injure the tree, but it is an unnatural scar on nature. My walk was diminished. boo hoo
For billions of years volcanoes have been resurfacing the earth we trod today. During the last 500,000,000 years or so, life on the surface has been covering the basalt assault in a rock-paper-scissors struggle (sans scissors) by covering the seemingly lifeless rocks with invaders from at least two kingdoms, plant and animal, narrated by a naturalist wannabe.
Up close, one can see lots of bits of vegetation, but the overall look remains bleak. How can a few trees have grown to maturity? The ridge hikers appear ominous, like marchers in a Pink Floyd video.
The mountainside forests have the common nut trees, chestnut and hazelnut. Chestnut, we did not know, are protected from the uncovered hand like a porcupine.
After leaving the mountain, we were treated to a lunch with wine tastings, where I tank for drew, Rod taking only the smallest sip of each. The vineyard’s view from our table was outstanding. The wines and cheeses were perfect. Everyone else additionally got some form of cold meat. I just got loaded.
The grounds, soaked by a rain during our lunch, were richly verdant.