Lagniappe for Askja post

Leonardo Antonio Avezzano/Shutterstock

Today’s Askja post.

Its lagniappe in full:

Briefly, on Friday somebody quickly responded when I forwarded a tweet of theirs, about the latest science update on Askja, adding the comment that Viti’s crater lake is open. (My updates on unrest news are here.)

Their response was simply that Lake Viti has a high sulfur content and is usually in the low 20s C — roughly 68° to 75° F.


That definitely explains it — the place would be a hydrothermal tourist attraction if it contained less sulfur, so people could swim in it, and wasn’t waaaaaay out in the subarctic winter boonies!

That was all; the rest of this describes a quite separate chain of thought it triggered based on other things I’ve noticed recently, including but not limited to:

  • Over twenty-some years, scientists appear to have shifted from “damage control” mode when publicly discussing dangerous volcanoes — as in, for example, ‘NO! Yellowstone isn’t going to blow!’ — to engagement, as in, ‘Well, someday Yellowstone probably will have another supereruption but not any time soon, and in the meantime, look at all this neat stuff!’

    It’s almost as though the boffins have been reading and writing articles like this!

  • A large segment of the public is only interested in sensationalism, but they’re losing ground to the rest of us, who are quite willing to be entertained by tales of UFOs hovering above Popocatépetl, etc., but who also take serious threats like dangerous volcanoes seriously; as we are learning more facts and starting to glimpse the big picture (“look at all this neat stuff!”), we want more detailed information.

    And if you’ve followed recent public outreach work by volcanologists — for example, at Taupo supervolcano, Mauna Loa and Mount Merapi Decade Volcanoes, and of course, the evergreen Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles and Volcano Watch — you know we are getting that info. 😍

  • Why are only a few scientists, like Dr. Thordarson and those quoted here, talking to the media about Askja? I have no idea, of course, but that put me into a ‘what if?’ mood.

I remember a few sensational rumors about Askja’s potential violence back in 2014, before and during the Bardarbunga/Holuhraun eruption. I don’t recall any official mention of possible explosiveness before or during that gorgeous effusive event.

That the possibility was taken seriously at the time has been mentioned in later research papers, including the one quoted in the Askja post.

Today’s public Askja hysteria is so strong on YouTube that I can hardly find decent videos. Again, most officials aren’t commenting on this round of volcanic unrest at Askja, though a few knowledgeable individuals are.

What if those officials, rightly or not, don’t trust us with the thought that an explosive eruption might be one — just one — of the scenarios if — a big if — unrest at Askja escalates into an eruption, as it did quite peacefully in 1961?

Don’t we all lose something by that?

And yes, there’s the possible economic effects to consider if Askja explosions ever happened, disrupting international air traffic, but let’s face it: some Icelandic volcano is going to do that, as Eyjafjallajokull did in 2010.

If not Askja, then Grimsvotn, Katla, or any one (or more) of a number of other volcanoes.

So what? It hasn’t been a hundred years yet since Lindbergh first made it to Paris — there’s still plenty of room outside the box to think up solutions before the problem hits us.

If we dare, as Lindbergh did.

I’m raising questions here that have no good answers only to explain why the tweet sequence about Lake Viti Friday, catching me in a thoughtful mood, also helped me decide what to do about an excellent but terrifying video I had come across while searching for this week’s Friday-cat-post guest video.

Segue/bridge: Explosive eruptions like Askja 1875 are awful, doubly so in this air-travel age, AND huge spiders are terrifying.

Askja Volcano seems to be a good center for of all sorts of “-sophy” and “-ology”: philosophy (jargon alert); geology (above linked Askja post); and, I think, biology (below).

[SPOILERS, or is it CAVEAT?]

No, the volcano isn’t mentioned in this video, which has over a million views —

— but something scary is: the bit about that bird-eating spider.

I can imagine the director and other decision-makers planning that one out:

B, C & D: GAH!

A: People will watch it — we’ve shown other grisly examples of predation here.

B: But it’s a bird-eating spider! I’ve had to call my therapist TWICE since watching it go after Tweetie!

A: Well, nobody knew the cage was open; the canary got out —

C: I don’t think we should present arachnids as creepy — they’re just animals. I forced myself to watch a tarantula in a New Mexico parking lot once and realized it’s just another natural –

A & B: Shut up! Everybody wants ‘creepy’ with spiders. Anything else would feel fake.

C: But it’s real! People shouldn’t be scared of the real thing, just careful.

D: How ’bout a mouse? They’re used to video scenes of cats preying on rodents, right?

A: Well…we could stage something, maybe with a nest of mice babies and the big spider approaching…


A, B, C, & D: Faked!

A: Somebody go put that Thing out in the sun for a while.

C: I want the ending to be a little girl safely laughing at a nasty-looking spider!

Doubtlessly, the actual making of this video was quite different, but that spider section is hard to take, even though you can see that the spider is nowhere near the actual nest, separated from it probably by several glass plates.

Nevertheless, we all feel the mouse parent’s fear and horror — which is the reality of nature that no one otherwise can film.

There are so many other good things in this video — the cheetah segment, for instance, showing the cat’s muscle power as well as its speed, like a linebacker gracefully clearing hurdles during a track event.

The spider ruined this as a feel-good Friday video, but I kept watching. They eventually got to humans and I was ready for the trite “we’re destroying everything” message. It never came.

It’s an excellent ending, and that last scene totally justifies the spider section, though I cannot express why in words, any more than this philospher, quoted by Pall Skulason (jargon alert), could describe Askja’s effect on him:

At my first glimpse, I had to look away. Nothing like that has happened to me before or since, to be struck dumb by landscape. But there is some magic attached to Askja, some awesome, disturbing force that took me unawares and that I could not at first withstand, there in my solitude. I have never seen anything as astonishing or powerful. It was as if the magnificent view which I had enjoyed just a moment before had been erased from my mind, and with the terror of animate flesh, I was confronted by this awesome wonder of inanimate nature. There is no hope of describing Askja in any meaningful way. Who can describe a great work of art? Words and images are like the mere clanging of metal or the beating of a bell. And the same applies to any attempt to describe Askja.

As G. K. Chesterton put it, in A Defence of Heraldry, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.”

It’s too bad that people try to sell us stuff through that road — the same medium as the one our intellects use for news and entertainment.

Additionally, it’s hard to engage our intellects when there is an active volcano stirring our eyes and heart.

That is a human thing, applying to scientists and laypeople alike.

Then we all have to function, and everyone moves out across the spectrum — volcanologists heading toward the “intellect” extreme, some YouTubers & Co. romping off to the “sensation” end — but, hopefully, with most of us clustering somewhere near the middle.

That works out best for everybody in the end.

As for the imaginary dialog above:

  • Some folks on YouTube and elsewhere online and in other forms of media are like A and B, above. They know what grabs attention and cater only to that.
  • I’m C — yes, I forced myself to look closely at one of the brown tarantulas crawling across a Tucumcari parking lot one day in 1987 and saw it, for the first time, as a fellow animal and a wonder. (This did not send me to the extreme of keeping one as a pet, but it cured me of any tendency toward the other extreme: unthinking arachnocide.)
  • D? Well, it just seemed to fit; you know, somebody who can communicate with the intended audience and who knows that it’s necessary to somehow work this messy thing into a picture they can show to others. It could be a scientist, as D is using their intellect, eye, AND heart.

    Or it could be a philospher like Skulason:

    The task ahead is to elaborate the concept of wholeness in order to make us capable of overcoming the ideology of efficiency and prepare for a much healthier world, where we humans learn to make peace with the powers of Nature – in our minds and in our actions. And for this task, we all have to find our own Askja.

A Personal Note: Stalking

August 24, 2022: This is not something that I want to mix up very much with my professional life, but it is probably a good idea to get a few things out in front of the world, as I have been (and continue to be) stalked by people I believe to be birth family and possibly also my adopted brother David since the late 90s when my adoptive (and also biological) father Ed Beier died, in McCalla, Alabama.

I don’t know if this considered incorrect speech in 21st-century America, but the truth is that he was a mean, snobbish, psychologically wounded and psychologically cruel German-American and I suspect that during the 1950s, in New England, he had somehow gotten involved with a really messed up Irish-American family who was not without its own cruel twists, as well as influence and money.

I was the result. Somehow Ed got custody of me at age three, and I think the birth family was so obsessive about me that everyone tried to use me as leverage on them.

I don’t know and it really won’t matter until I can get some investigators to look into it. The practical result was that no one told me anything about my background, and I grew up sort of as a Marilyn among the Munsters (cultural reference from those times).

This was aided by my own burial of memories of some traumatic events in childhood.

In the late 1970s, I got the heck out of that awful Beier family, screwed up big time out in the world on my own, but was helped and encouraged by the first authority figures I’d ever encountered who sincerely cared about me, and my life took a new and positive path that has borne much fruit ever since.

This is not a biography, but that setup is necessary for me to make the following points in public:

  1. I never went back to that Beier family after leaving it (actually, it broke up in a messy divorce; I orbited Ed at a distance but had nothing more to do with Marge and briefly made contact with David in the early 90s but locked him out for abuse of something I had trusted him with and have had nothing more to do with him since).
  2. I don’t know anything definite about the birth family except for what I’ve been able to infer from birth certificates. (Massachusetts lets you see your preadoption certificate.)
  3. My personal life has basically been hell since Ed died in the late 90s; I think these stalkers are the birth family and possibly also David, but they’re very good at stalking and I can prove nothing yet.
  4. I am socially isolated at the moment, as well as living on Social Security, but with the help of my New England backbone of granite, innate optimism, and solid practice of Theravada Buddhism, I’m okay and know that, despite those diehard Munsters, this Marilyn will eventually take her place in the wonderful state of Oregon as a happy, socially busy citizen and as a successful professional writer.
  5. I do need your help though. I think the stalkers are trying to avoid responsibility for their criminal actions — and hoping to solidify their control so they can dish out more abuse in the future — by making this out to be a “family affair.”

    It is not, and yet I have found a peculiar unwillingness in others to believe what I say when I have looked to outside sources for help. That is a classic stalker move, and it is very difficult to counter.

    It’s asking a lot, but if anyone has communicated with you in any way about me, saying things that don’t jive with what is mentioned above, please document it in a way that will convince an investigator to take my case — I’ve been to the police a few times and got nowhere — and contact me about it at

    I don’t care how true whatever they might be saying sounds. Test it yourself; or imagine me there, saying to these people, as I will say to them, if I can ever get them on the witness stand under oath: ” Who are you? What is your basis for intruding into my life?”

    People who really care about you are delighted to introduce themselves to you. People who have valid reasons to meet you aren’t afraid to show them and, if challenged, prove them.

    Just to sum up everything I’ve experienced from these stalkers over the last 2-1/2 decades, these people are not those people.

    And I want to get their names, expose their slander and other crimes, and put an end to this once and for all.

    This is not easy to do when faced with such hatred in such a cult family.

    They haven’t had custody of me since 1956, and I have healthcare affidavits on file in the 2020s that, while necessarily vague, hopefully will prevent them from regaining that custody if I get ill.

    But I’d much rather skip all this aggravation and grief, continue writing about wonderful things, enjoy my gray years as much as possible, and maybe, just maybe see a volcano erupt (a little).

    Thank you in advance for helping me get this stalking stopped, if you ever find yourself in a position to do that.

    I won’t respond to questions, business offers, or anything like that, but if you email me with anything solid, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Update, August 25, 2022: I couldn’t get into the legaloffensive account; please use To confirm it’s really me, that’s the account I use for YouTube videos on Hunga Tonga optical effects.

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Where Cats Come From: Draft

This definitely is a work in progress. Last summer, I blithely set up a simple outline of the book I am trying to write about how cats evolved. Then I started to do some research and, basically, got ambushed by the Precambrian.

I know that sounds weird, but a lot of stuff happened back then; it’s interesting enough to cover and still relevant today, but there are a lot of uncertainties about those ancient times.

I’m still working my way through it now.

I have been doing some posts meanwhile, originally intending them as chapters, but as I have learned more about the Precambrian, I also can see that these will all have to be redone at some point before resuming the expected flow of history with the tetrapods.

This page brings together those posts; while individually they’re interesting to readers, there is no overarching narrative yet. Only recently, with the supercontinents, did things really start to come together for me.

In the meantime, welcome to my work desk!

Update, May 10, 2022: Getting the Columbia/Nuna chapter together has really helped focus my thoughts. I can see now that everything before that must be rewritten/condensed into just a chapter or two, but I will wait until finishing the Gondwana to do that., public domain.

HOLD THE EUKARYOTES BRIEFLY (It’s okay; they actually did hang out, not doing much, for about a billion years before taking a dominant role)! GEOLOGY COMING THROUGH!


  • Ediacaran Times.
  • The “Cambrian Explosion.”
  • The Age of Fish: Jaws and other neat features.
  • A “thriller” mass extinction.
  • Tetrapods.
  • Mammals vs. Dinosaurs: Round 1. ($)
  • Mammals vs. Dinosaurs, Round 2. ($)
  • Mammals vs. Dinosaurs, Round 3. ($)
  • The K/T (K/Pg) Extinction.($)
  • Paleocene Mammals and Dinosaurs. ($)
  • Carnivora.($)
  • Eocene Saber-toothed “Cats.” ($)
  • The Big Freeze.($)
  • Oligocene Wildlife.($)
  • Cats and “Dogs.” ($)
  • Miocene Saber-toothed “Cats.” ($)
  • Miocene Cats, With and Without Saberteeth. ($)
  • The Miocene-Pliocene Toll Bridge. ($)
  • Smilodon and Homotherium.($)
  • Main Character: Felinae, the “Cone-tooths.” ($)
  • South America is Invaded.($)
  • The Ice Ages Begin.($)
  • Seeking Refuge. ($)
  • Plio-Pleistocene Wildlife. ($)
  • Main Character: Us. ($)
  • The End of Sabertooths and Most Giants. ($)
  • Choosing Hard Work Over Life in Eden. ($)
  • Domestication of a Little Wildcat. ($)
  • Mercy.


Updated March 9, 2022.

Volcanism: A Main Character?

That’s the caldera of Santorini Volcano behind this beautiful little poser.

Now put on your hard hats — it’s time for a little chemistry.

Very little.

In fact, just this: “What do you get when you remove the oxygen (chemical symbol O) from H2O?”

Okay, so there’s really no need for special gear (unless you want to follow a working geologist out into the field to collect and study some of the world’s oldest rocks).

You get H2 — hydrogen — of course.

Believe it or not, this answer is closely tied to the origin of life on Earth. So is volcanism: source of the heat energy powering that and other chemical reactions necessary for emerging life.

Continue reading “Volcanism: A Main Character?”

Main Character: Plate Tectonics

That tiger — and the little avian dinosaur in the foreground, keeping a respectful distance away from the cat — are walking along one of many river beds that cross the Terai, a flat grassy wetland that runs along the feet of the Himalayas in Bhutan, India, and Nepal.

This particular river is in Nepal, according to the photographer.

As you can see, Terai soil is deep and fertile, but mountain floods can slash through it easily. They also bring down the nearby towering range piece by piece as rounded boulders and cobblestones.

Thanks to plate tectonics, though, the Himalayas continue to rise despite this constant assault by rain and ice.

Down in the flatlands, a young Ganges River flows through the Terai, gathering in lesser streams like the one shown above and growing in size and volume as it travels more than a thousand miles eastward and then south to the distant Bay of Bengal.

India and Nepal established important nature preserves here in the early 1970s. Bengal tigers are also protected elsewhere in the region, including the Sunderbans: a vast mangrove forest that covers the Ganges Delta of India and Bangladesh.

What does all that have to do with plate tectonics?

Well, this:

A few caveats to this excellent video: Per sources that I have read, other factors were also at work during the great greenhouse-icehouse transition, but let’s save that for Chapter 18. As I understand it, there is consensus on the evolution of whales, but otherwise the India-Asia collision and its effects on plant and animal life were very complex, as this abstract shows. Not all experts agree with Dr. Hughes. In a later chapter, though, we’ll look into another, even more controversial hypothesis: that big cats might have evolved in Tibet!

Cats and Plate Tectonics

Take the part in this video where they mention cooling, for instance.

Based on how cats behave now and the ways that behavior has shaped their anatomy and that of their fossil relatives down through time, it’s likely that Family Felidae evolved to fill a predator niche in an ecosystem that existed in between the forest’s edge and an open plain. (Martin).

That was ideal! There was sufficient cover to sneak up on prey (and trees to scoot up into when danger threatened), as well as just enough open space for a short sprint and deadly pounce. (Werdelin)

Now try to imagine a place like that in Late Cretaceous times.

Continue reading “Main Character: Plate Tectonics”

Main Character: Earth

Great news!

A spacecraft has found definite signs of life on a habitable world!

Well, it was Earth and the craft was a probe named Galileo that flew past its home in 1990 for an equipment check before sailing on to explore the Solar System as far as Jupiter. (Here’s how that turned out.)

This isn’t from Galileo, but it is definitely cool. In 2020 NASA turned some of its data on Earth into music and released the video. Check out which instrument is “playing” atmosphere, water, etc., at the YouTube page.

Still, congratulations to the rocket scientists!

And even though our focus is on how cats evolved, we do need to look at Earth and ask the basic questions: where did it come from? What makes our planet such a good stage for, and cast member in, that ensemble play we call Life?

Only then will details in later chapters make sense, for instance, why cats have four legs and a long tail (mammal predators do have other options); the whole cat-dog thing and whether T. Rex ate any of their direct ancestors; why cats have pretty fur but scary claws and teeth (compared to our own flat fingernails and chompers), and so forth.

Continue reading “Main Character: Earth”

Does Life Exist Elsewhere?

Whatever happened with that news last year about finding life on Venus? Something about phosphine, whatever that is.

And what about the cigar-shaped space rock with the unusual name (Oumuamua) they found in 2017 and called an “interstellar visitor”? Aliens, right? Where’s the follow-up on that?

The shortest, simplest answer to both these versions of the Big Question is that scientists are working on it.

Their scientific method is a very useful tool for getting to the root of things, but it takes time. Too, jargon and the technical details involved do not make for reader-friendly stories.

That’s why journalists usually wait for results to be announced in simple language.

Many years can pass in between press conferences. And sometimes other research teams come up with different results in the meantime, which the journalists also must report.

“…the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” — Carl Sagan via Wikipedia.

This extended, open-ended process generally leaves us laypeople feeling confused and a little put off by Science — except when the topic is “Life Out There.”

THAT always gets our attention.

It appeals to our gut feeling that, if humanity keeps searching long enough, we’ll find ET someday, looking back at us and glad to discover that it’s not alone in this huge universe.

Is that a valid hope or are we just projecting our social selves onto the cosmos?

Alien life isn’t impossible

I’ve found out something cool while reading through the sources for this chapter of the series on how cats evolved.

Continue reading “Does Life Exist Elsewhere?”

What Is Life?

Trigger warning for people who have been traumatized by or become anxious around animals.

Adalbert Dragon/Shutterstock

Life is incredibly precious, you realize seconds after meeting a cat like this and knowing that you might come out on the losing end here.

The usual way we see our lives — as something to get through each day — evaporates under this jaguar’s frank stare.

Welcome to the food chain, pal!

Like it or not, you and I are part of the great web of life.

Individually and as groups, we try to avoid the scary and unpleasant parts by insulating ourselves from Nature as much as possible. This often works, too.

However, Nature is bigger than us. Bottom line: like any other species, H. sapiens eats and can be eaten.

Now for the good news.

“Cave lions suck!” “Bears, too! — Prehistoric people. (Image:
EOL, CC 2.0)

Human beings have been dealing successfully with predators like this jaguar and even worse for hundreds of millennia.

The survivors of such encounters have passed along to us a built-in emergency mode that gives our famously big brains a chance to think their way through a crisis.

Continue reading “What Is Life?”

Time: Human vs. Geological

Life on Earth is strange, and I don’t just mean physically. It’s odd how life goes on here.

In terms of time, we are so out of sync with our planet!

About 75% of the Earth’s outer crust, where we live, is composed of rock similar to this. (Image: James St. John, CC BY 2.0)

First, look at our natural surroundings — steady as a rock (most of the time, anyway).

And usually very, very old.

Then look at humans, or at cats — each born helpless; struggling to reach maturity; struggling more to survive and reproduce; and then aging and passing away.

It all happens quickly, too (at least to an outside observer: parts of our own lives seem to take forever).

In the wild, cats don’t live long, maybe five to ten years, or a little more if they’re tough and lucky.

More beautiful than any rock. (Image: SantiPhotoSS/Shutterstock)

Exceptionally elderly people might live for a hundred years, but even this is short compared to the social fabric that they are wrapped in. While often resembling a patchwork quilt, its history goes back many centuries.

The current British monarch, for example, is in her mid-90s. That isn’t very old, considering how long her royal house has been around, and it’s positively youthful compared to the age of her kingdom.

Still, what do centuries and millennia mean to a multimillion-year-old rock?

Nothing, of course. It’s inert, although there may be something living underneath it or even inside. The rock’s components — silica, oxygen, and various other elements — are just chemistry, facts for nerds to ponder.

Biology is where it’s at, and we’re at the top of the heap!

This delusion is so powerful that most of us need a strong reason to ask the really interesting question — what does that multimillion-year-old rock mean to us?

Continue reading “Time: Human vs. Geological”