Thursday, August 8, 2013



Time is relative when you live with a geologist as I do. When I admonish my husband for running late, he responds, "What does an hour or a day matter in terms of the geologic record?" Other events can make time relative. For example, how do I fathom the two years of time that have passed since my nephew Thomas Schowalter died? August 8th is the anniversary of his death, and for those of us in his family who have been managing his absence, time indeed has been relative--sometimes speeding up and other times slowing down.

Today, my husband, Tony Martin, and I are commemorating Thomas's life by posting photographs of our visit with him in 2008, when he was a twelve-year-old boy. Along with his mother Liz and father Steve, who is my brother, we left their home in Oahu, Hawaii, and went with Thomas to the Big Island to hike in volcanic terrain.
ERODED BASALT. Uncle Tony: This looks like an old basalt lava flow that underwent a lot of weathering since a volcano put it out onto the earth's surface. Here, Thomas shows his curiosity about the rock. He was a youth fascinated by something with such antiquity. Aunt Ruth: It was so much fun exploring with Thomas. He loved being with his Uncle Tony, a paleontologist, and asking lots of questions about volcanism. He also seemed to find a lot of living creatures to investigate along with the volcanic rocks.
THE BEGINNING OF SOIL. Uncle Tony: Once these basalt flows are weathered and eroded long enough, they begin to turn into fertile soils. These cycles of new rock are followed by weathering, which are then followed by their blooming with life. Aunt Ruth: Thomas and his mother were a pleasure to watch. Both curious, they would discuss their findings with the greatest of scientific interest. What breathtaking scenery, and to see fragile human life in the midst of such striking geologic vastness!

HIGH LIFE. Uncle Tony: Thomas was enjoying both a gorgeous view from above a volcanic plain and the chance to stretch himself on a rail. Rails are normally meant to hold us back, but this one gave him an opportunity to play. Aunt Ruth: Thomas was the youngest of my eight nephews and nieces, and I felt so fortunate to spend time with him at this alchemical time in his development. At twelve, he was still a boy, not yet a teenager. His energy was exuberant, his curiosity endless, and he still liked spending his time with adults. In fact, he seemed to adore being with his Uncle Tony and Aunt Ruth!

ATOP PAHOEHOE: Uncle Tony: The fresher lava flows on The Big Island preserve the ropy texture of melted rock, but also have been uplifted in places, inviting adventurous souls to climb. Aunt Ruth: Seeing Thomas run up this lava flow and strike the "conqueror's pose" made my heart sing! We spent the entire day with him and his mom walking out to the edge of the lava flow to where it met the ocean. We ate lunch near an active part of the volcano where there were volcanic flames. The Big Island in Hawaii is still growing. Where we ate lunch, the land collapsed some months after we were there.
YOUR CAR HAS BEEN TOWED: Uncle Tony: Or, maybe it's under the lava. Thomas loved the humor posed by this sign and insisted that we take his picture here, between us, the rocks, and the sea. Aunt Ruth: What an adventure we had with Thomas. In geologic time, it was miniscule, but that day hiking that lava flow with our young nephew will be forever preserved in our memories. We have the photos which document his laughter and play. What an odd relationship we humans have with the forces of nature and deep deep time of the evolving Earth.
COMMEMORATING LIFE: Uncle Tony: Here Thomas poses near some petroglyphs, made by native Hawaiians hundreds of years ago. Aunt Ruth: Human behaviors become extraordinary when documenting significant events. Just as these photograph document and celebrate Thomas's life, these petroglyphs commemorated important moments in lives of the indigenous people. Making marks to REMEMBER is an important endeavor.
BIG CRATER. Uncle Tony: Just outside of the visitor's center of the national park on The Big Island is a huge crater, formed by collapse. Aunt Ruth: How splendid it was to intersperse our hiking of the Big Island with gathering information. We had such a grand time with Thomas!

TRAIL TO US. Uncle Tony: Given enough time, the basalt weathered, became soil, and hosted lush, green life, through which we walked with Thomas. In our minds, Thomas keeps coming back, just like life. Aunt Ruth: Thomas, thank you for all of yourself that you gave us in those few days on a volcanic island in Hawaii. Like your Uncle Tony said, you keep coming back, and we welcome your presence.


  1. Wonderful post, Ruth. Thank you for sharing these photos of a beautiful boy who's life was too short.
    The contrast you set up between his moment in time with you and Tony, and the vastness of the geological time on the island is profound.

  2. I appreciate your sharing in this memorial to Thomas with us.

  3. What a bitter sweet post this is...Thank you

  4. Thank you Darlene for reading this post about Thomas and sharing your feelings with us.

  5. Ruth, Thank you for introducing me to my new friend, Thomas.

  6. In geologic time, 5 years is such a small amount of time to have passed....We hold you present in our lives still Thomas.

  7. Very moving. The Big Island does seem like a place suspended between two worlds.

  8. this is a wonderful post Ruth. Thank you for sharing. Your nephew came a live for me through this post and now I miss him too.