I just walked across an alien landscape. I couldn’t help feeling that way, as I descended down the jungled pathway into the volcano crater on Big Island, Hawaii. At first it was like any other nature walk through the trees and the underbrush. I could see a plain of flat, black rock in the distance, with some steam rising from the crevices. But that was still too far away to make a real impact on me.
It wasn’t until we rounded a corner at the bottom of the trail and walked out onto the field of broken, shattered stones that I felt I’d been transported to the moon, or to Demos, or some entirely unknown and alien world. A heavy mist hung in the air, limiting our distance vision, but as far as the eye could see there was just an endless spread of sharp boulders and mounds of rock. At random intervals there would be geisers of hot steam shooting out of vents: it was impossible to even get very close, because of the heat they generated. The shapes around me were all hewn from natural processes, but it still felt alien to me: as though the boulders were too sheer, or the piles of rocks mounted too high, to be quite right for planet earth.
Yet of course it was earth. So maybe, by being thrown out of my normal setting–the day to day of cities or even forests that I’m accustomed to–I was seeing earth the way an alien would see it. A new planet! A new type of nature. Familiar in the generalities (because nature is always nature, after all), but not in the specifics. I felt like I was exploring a new world, like one of the places that I’ve transported myself to by reading science fiction many times. Except the new world is Earth, and the alien is me.
As it got closer to evening time, I was able to look into the distance and see a stream of lava flowing into the ocean: glowing and exploding with eerie power. It truly was planet earth as I’d never experienced it before, and it was beautiful.