Poet Craig Arnold Disappears at Volcano

Time running out for poet Craig Arnold amid search on remote island.

May 2, 2009— -- Chris Arnold is embarking on the journey of a lifetime to help save his brother -- prize-winning poet Craig Arnold, who disappeared on a remote volcano in Japan five days ago.

The poet, a 43-year-old assistant professor at the University of Wyoming went missing April 26 on the island of Kuchino-erabu, where he was studying volcanoes for a new book.

Chris Arnold thinks his brother is still alive.

"My brother doesn't have a great sense of direction and uses a GPS to find my house in Brooklyn," he said. "But he's not a person who takes stupid chances. He is lost and he needs my help."

Japanese officals have said they will end their six-day search on Sunday, the day Arnold's brother arrives.

"I'll get there right at the end [of the official search]," said his brother, a New York filmmaker, while waiting at JFK Airport for his noon flight Friday.

He will travel 30 hours by multiple planes and by ferry to reach the island.

"It's pretty scary, and I wish I could be there sooner," Chris Arnold, 38, told ABCNews.com. "I'm just trying to stay focused, and my main goal is to get there faster and to get more boots on the ground."

The search for Arnold has been complicated not only by the limitations on the search, but a five-day holiday that has kept the American embassy closed.

Arnold's footprints were found going up the path to the mouth of the inactive volcano, but there was no sign of his return. The island is remotely populated by only a few hundred residents and is densely wooded with deciduous trees and bamboo.

Literary Community Galvanized

The literary community has galvanized around the poet, posting the latest information on Web sites, like the the Poetry Foundation and The New Yorker. The University of Wisconsin has involved the state's congressional delegation and the State Department.

Arnold is the author of two award-winning volumes of poetry: "Shells," chosen by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Young Poets in 1999, and of "Made Flesh" in 2008. Today, he is a fellow with the U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Exchange.

He has been described as "one of the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation" by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

"He achieves a distinctive cadence of desire and interdependence," Pinsky said. "His writing about what holds one person to another articulates a tremendous emotional underworld, distinctive and memorable."

"It would a great loss to American poetry," said Mark Strand, who was poet laureate from 1990 to 1991, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, "Blizzard of One," and mentored Arnold at the University of Utah.

"He's not a frail guy at all," Strand told ABCNews.com. "But I'm not surprised if he got lost. He gets very engrossed in things."

Easy-to-Climb Volcano

Arnold's family said he was physically fit and had lots of experience hiking mountainous terrain in Europe, and Central and South America.

Kuchino-erabu is considered a relatively easy volcano to climb, earning a 2-out-of-10 rating for difficulty.

"He's a tough guy and a smart person," said his brother. "He's visited a lot of volcanoes, and this one is a breeze."

Last Saturday, Japanese time, Arnold checked in to Watanabe, the only inn on the small island of Kuchino-erabu.

Leaving his bags at the inn, he was driven to the path leading to up to the volcano with only a nylon jacket and a walking stick, expecting a two-hour hike, according to his brother. Arnold had an iPhone, but reception was spotty on the island.

Police have told the family Arnold's footprints were found ascending, but not descending, the mountain path. The one-mile diameter caldera -- or summit area -- was extensively searched and nothing was found.

Authorities suspect that Arnold may have wandered off the trail into dense forest that would have darkened at nightfall. The inn owners called the fire brigade at 9 p.m. when he failed to return, searching until midnight.

Rescue teams have used infrared techniques to look for body warmth and searched the holes and depressions where Arnold could have fallen. Locals with knowledge of the landscape are helping.

Search Extends to Six Days

The Japanese called off the search after three days, but U.S. officials pushed to have the search extended another three days. They have told the family there is no danger of exposure with spring-like temperatures and that fresh water and food sources are available.

Arnold's mysterious disappearance poses as many contradictions as the last entry in his blog, "Volcano Pilgrim: Five Months as a Wandering Poet."

There, Arnold wrote about the plant angelica, a member of the apiaceae family, which includes both the sweet herb cilantro and deadly hemlock, which he noted killed Socrates.

Japanese rescue workers think Arnold may be hurt.

"Naturally, I don't want to believe that," said his brother. "But he may be less mobile, which would explain why he is in the woods."

Poet Has Safety Protocol

Because Arnold has traveled so widely, he has a safety protocol with his partner of six years, Rebecca Lindenberg: If she doesn't hear from him in 48 hours, get help.

In this case, it was the Japanese authorities who contacted her.

"I was in complete and total shock, almost nonfunctional with worry and anxiety," said Lindenberg, 31, who is a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah and agreed to be the person to "stay on the ground" in the United States.

"We take it a day at a time," she told ABCNews.com. "It's quite mysterious, and nobody has been able to reconstruct a narrative for what has happened to Craig.

"He's not an enormous risk taker," she said. "He knows he's not a volcanologist, he's a writer."

As Chris Arnold heads off to Japan, Lindenberg is finding ways to "honor Craig as well as keeping him alive," creating a Facebook page to update friends and university colleagues.

"What has also been amazing and unfathomable and unexpected is the outpouring of concern from the literary community and others that just encircled us," she said.

Poetry Explores Nature Experience

The circumstances under which Arnold disappeared reflect the themes of his poetry -- "the vivid tactile and sensual nature of experience," according to Lindenberg.

"He is a poet who is, in the words of one of his own poems, 'full out to the skin,'" she said.

As she awaits news about his fate, she thinks of the last line in Arnold's poem, "The Singer," referring to a bird song:

And what they sing so lovely and so meaningless

may urge itself upon you with the ache

of something just beyond the point of being remembered

the trace of a brave thought in the face of sadness.

Arnold's sister-in-law, Augusta Palmer of Brooklyn, N.Y., is also reminded of his poem, "Couple From Hell," hoping that he, too, is only in hiding and will soon re-emerge.

His philosphy, Palmer told ABCNews.com, is "poets should go where ordinary people can't or won't go to tell what experience is like."

As Chris Arnold endures his two-day journey to Kuchino-erabu, his wife said the family hopes "something will happen in transit and they will have good news, and he can show up to greet his brother."

"We told our 4-year-old daughter that Uncle Craig didn't hold anyone's hand," said Palmer. "My husband is taking that advice to heart.

"Clearly everyone is worried," she said. "Time is running short. But people survive for long periods of time even without food and water. He's a really tough person, and he's likely still out there."