High schoolers vs. the volcano

Recently my Icelandic publisher canceled its planned publication of one of my novels. This had nothing to do with the volcano, “Eyjafjallajokull.” For those of you who see an intimidating array of letters and syllables in that word, it is pronounced just the way it looks: vol-kay-no). The novel was canceled because of the collapse of the Icelandic economy, and I only mention this because it must be a real drag to live in Iceland these days. Your economy is in tatters and everyone blames you for the chaos that closed the skies above Europe and, among other things, postponed a trip to Greece by 32 students from Champlain Valley Union High School.

Instead of flying to Greece last Tuesday as planned, they spent six hours at the Montreal airport before being sent back to the U.S and told (politely) to try again later in the week. At this point, they are scheduled to leave May 4, with the understanding that if the airline needs to bump them again, they will simply watch that rollicking movie musical “Mama Mia,” because we all know ABBA was inspired by Sophocles.

In any case, the students from CVU showed enormous character. The teacher who is leading the trip, Joe Greenwald, told me, “There has been a great deal of disappointment among the kids, but they’re handling it terrifically.”

Amelia Munson, a junior at CVU and one of the students on the expedition, said, “It certainly has been quite the bonding experience. Because of this obstacle, our group has really tightened. It’s a great example of how struggle can bring people together. We all want to go to Greece so much, and we’ll appreciate it that much more when we finally get there.”

Greenwald has taught at CVU for 26 years and led six groups of students to Greece. He saw an international irony in the students’ predicament: “We’re a Vermont group bumped off a French airline by a Canadian airport because an Icelandic volcano was interpreted as dangerous by a British scientist and, therefore, we couldn’t meet a Greek ship to make our appointment in Crete.”

This volcano is clearly the worst thing to happen to Iceland’s reputation since Bjork wore a gown that looked like a dead swan to the Academy Awards in 2001. Incidentally, Bjork is pronounced “Eyjafjallajokull.” I like Bjork because she has a name almost as unpronounceable as mine.

Still, it is only a matter of time before someone suggests dropping the self-proclaimed celibate Lady Gaga into the volcano to quiet the flames, because volcanologists have known for years that the best way smother a massive, erupting volcano is with 110 pounds of human flesh wearing 210 pounds of latex, feathers and fright wigs. I’m kidding, of course. I enjoy Lady Gaga’s music — and even if I didn’t, I would not suggest she’s a candidate for volcano-quashing human sacrifice. I reserve that role for Rush Lambaugh, who might actually be large enough to cork a volcano.

But Eyjafjallajokull is not the end of the world. I mean that. This week I have heard people wonder aloud if the earthquakes and volcanoes we have experienced this year are an indication that the globe is literally coming apart at the seams. I have tried to reassure them that our neighbors in California annually endure earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, drought, and fashion even more disturbing than Bjork’s ever since Paris Hilton launched her own clothing line.

That doesn’t mean that the volcano isn’t a nightmare. It is. As a parent, my heart goes out to the CVU kids who still don’t know if they will get to Greece. Likewise, I felt bad for the travelers stranded for days at airports and distant cities, either trying to get home or to work or to vacation destinations. I even felt bad for the airlines that were, once more, losing their shirts.

But I take comfort in my belief that this isn’t Armageddon. I can already see the bumper sticker: Volcanoes happen.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 25, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.