The video and photo attached will help you understand what is happening on our little slice of Paradise here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
We live in Kohala, as far away from current volcanic activity as one can get and still be on this island. It’s roughly a 3-1/2 hour drive from our home. So we are well out of harm’s way, though we did experience two earthquakes two days ago. Still, compared to 2006 when our town was actually the epicenter for a major quake that did significant damage in our community, these quakes were minor.
All of Hawaii is made up of volcanoes, not only Hawaii Island. O’ahu, Niihau, Kauai (which recently has suffered extreme flooding that has altered the entire north shore), Lana’i, Moloka’i and Maui are all comprised of volcanoes in various stages of dormancy or viability.
The Puna district, marked Kilauea on the map, has seen volcanic activity now for many years. I’ve also included (below) some photos taken when my husband and I hiked the seven miles in from Kalapana to view lava flowing to the sea. The photo of the rocks we walked over to get to the shoreline demonstrate how volatile the surface was in that area.
People who bought property in the currently affected area knew they were in the path of a live volcano. Some grew up there and this was the only home they knew. To the other extreme, mainlanders flooded in, looking for cheap land to build a home in which to retire or provide them with vacation rental income. The views were stunning, though insurance was extremely expensive if it could be gotten at all.
The above map of the island is, in another form, divided into lava zones. Any property owner knows his or her lava zone, as insurance rates (if even available) are based upon what lava zone one resides in. The Kilauea or Puna district is within zones 1 and 2. Kohala, where we live, is in Lava Zone 9, 1 being the most volatile, 9 being the least.
Eruptions of Kilauea have continued for decades. When we first moved to the island, we remember driving down Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes National Park at night to view lava streaming down the mountainside. It was jaw-dropping. The current eruption in Leilani Estates signifies a dramatic shift in activity, and is a reminder to never take the power of Mother Nature or in this particular case the power of Madame Pele for granted. Humans have long ignored the earth they so depend upon and lost the reverence and awe of their earliest ancestors. Sometimes I wonder what it’s going to take to re-awaken humans to their proper place in the scheme of this magnificent planetary ecosystem.
When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.
Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.
Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …
Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.
Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in. Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.
Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.
Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.
I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?
Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel.
Yesterday we had a shakedown for residents of Hawaii. A false alarm popped up on cellphones warning us of an imminent ballistic missile attack. I didn’t have my warnings enabled, but my husband showed me his phone. Our reactions were much the same. Well, what are we going to do about it? If it happens, it happens. We live in a crazy world. A provocative lunatic sits in the Oval Office. We would be surprised at nothing.
When this nation elected its current President, I could barely lift my head for days. I had the most ominous feeling of doom, not a sentiment easily conjured. Here we had finally raised a beautiful black man to the highest office in the land, something the flower child in me rejoiced at heartily. We were moving toward a more equal society. ‘Different’ people were crawling out of the woodwork to glimpse the sun, some for the very first time. It was not perfect, but it was a reason to feel promise in the bones. Then the Shadow emerged and is still looming large, insulting our humanity at every turn.
Jungian psychology might posit the Shadow to be a necessary part of the soul’s maturation. As we recognize the dark parts of our own psyches, integration is possible. We become more fully human and compassionate, understanding if for the first time that we all possess the ability to kill and to heal. Once we are mindful of our least acceptable traits, we are capable of choosing right action more often than not. I just mourned that it had to happen on this kind of scale in order to more fully awaken the collective.
So here’s the thing: What were your feelings? Your first thoughts or impulses? When one looks Death in the eye, priorities get quickly shuffled. The cards that rise to the top of the deck are those most worth noting. Did you feel fear? Anger? Outrage? Terror? Did your head spin, searching social media for a kind of discharge and/or comfort? Or were your contemplative feet rooted to the earth and did She give you a sense that there was nothing to panic about, knowing life itself is transient, that if this is your time so be it, it’s been a good life, no regrets, gather those you love close, I am ready to face whatever comes and I have taught my children to accept the same?
Knowing one’s last thoughts and sensations in the face of the worst happening is to know oneself more fully. It is an opportunity to embrace our own shadowy elements of anger and fear and really see how powerful it is when many occupy similar head spaces. Now that we are granted another glorious Hawaiian dawn, in Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
As if there could be too much rain
in a water-parched world we head out,
two spotted canines jostling for space
in the Scion’s passenger seat chasing bright,
leaving gathering darkness behind;
Off the highway we turn downhill
toward a squall-rimmed sea, heavy mist
dispersing over adjacent desert landscape,
kiawe and natal grass greening
under amassing gloom as we knock the car’s
bouncing bottom on a rough path
and not for the first time; spilling out then,
tails swishing time to swaying seed perched
atop long sturdy stalks and they disappear
into it, diving deep below old rock roadbed,
popping up to spot us and if dogs don’t smile,
it was a good imitation;
Apace we head back, borrowing time from circumstance
as the sky brushes watercolors over the now-calm
Alenuihaha while the knobbly Kohala Mountains stand
rooted fast, decked out in their very best emerald velvet;
Then home we go, tongues lolling that good kind
of fatigue, to the best dark cacao squares
and sweet potato subji made this morning
as the two collapse onto a thick pile of rug
under our feet content, as it were,
with an evening well spent.
Each day we inspire the damp breath
of our earth mother, we give thanks
for this precious existence;
Living as we do in the lap
of lovely Lemuria, we accept gratefully
the comfort of her fleshy brown hands,
voluminous lap; soaking up nurturance
in her round soundness, feeling
the free-flowing energy
of her infinite love;
Once I was raised to believe it was Father
God I needed, though structure and form were
innately imbued in my regimented mind as well
as the stultifying self hatred at not being
some version of myself that others found
In my garden I reign supreme,
yet this rule boasts no hierarchy, there
is no egoic right or wrong, some live or die
on their own terms despite my best intentions,
and we flow in harmony with birdsong,
flowers blooming in abundant profusion,
fruit hanging heavy on sumptuously
laden boughs, and it is Eden, I know
no wanting beyond this half-acre
which stills even the restless mercurial mind;
If there is peace on earth, there is peace
within it, hands diving deep
into rich volcanic soil where fecundity
arises from the mess of decomposition,
worms and bugs and excrement;
all of it, all – emerging from clouds of grey dust
blown out of Pele’s fiery nostrils
as thick braids of black lava stretch
ropy tendrils into a smoking turquoise sea.
Ragged cuticles rim blunt fingers familiar
with soil dug up in clinkers and clumps;
was it turned over to bury tree stumps, posts
from railroad iron serving as clothesline poles
strung end to end with necessary garments
scrubbed on a board, set in crude concrete
mixed by shaky brown hands creased
with good red dirt fused into long sheaves
of sugar cane cut by men with knives
still sold on these islands, melting pot
of workers brought from far away, promise
of a better life, only heaven knew the scale
upon which such an upgrade was tallied;
Hard times, yet still we walk
that same ocean path trod by families
with picnic baskets, headed for
cliffs fringing rocky shoreline, music
of voices glad for the end of day,
simple pleasures, family, friends, life
in and out of the moment;
Fast forward fifty years and a massive
backhoe guts the ground, revealing broken
bottle necks, china made in occupied Japan,
gaming marbles mottled in swirly hues
languishing now in a small handcrafted vessel
nested betwixt composite granite kitchen sink
and fiberglass screening, pitiful buffer
between possessions and provisions greening
and growing in an enclosure of earth
one claims as home in this hair’s breadth
In the silvery light of morning
when nothing else matters, save the thread
of a cock crowing in the distance; face
of my beloved etched stilly in that pale gleam
before sound, as might have existed
in the beginning, prior to clamorous tires
on asphalt; kettle set to boil dew-encrusted
leaves pinched shortly after sunrise
while the veil into worlds of the waking lifts
along with drowsy eyelids;
By the brilliance of high noon, ti blades
begin to droop, edges curling against
the intensity of tropical sunlight
while I contemplate the arbor,
uninstalled assemblage lying raw
and savage under dull tarps
and scattered leaves dropped
from deciduous overhangs, dappled
with rose and white blossoms lilting
on brisk breezes, harbingers of spring;
Come the waning shades of dusk, paragons pull
out paintbrushes to streak across
the heavens, sometimes carelessly,
though more often as if contemplated
from a distance, stroke here, blot there,
while white-winged egrets soar northward
to bed down in the ironwood-lined cleavage
of tiny cinder cone volcanoes decked
in velvety green.