I jumped out of the van, into steady rain, holding my hood tight to my hat, and making sure my binoculars were covered. Water beaded on my royal blue shell, down the back of my head and down my arm, in rivulets and mini streams from shoulder to waist.
My pants were closer to water resistant than waterproof and soon the black deepened and I felt the wet chill on the prickled skin of my thighs.
I stopped for a moment to look at the steam rising from a stone opening, but as our stop here was very brief, I bounded towards the overlook for the full view.
As I leaned over the railing, beneath me, through the white endless mist and thick fog, I could make out the surface: black and patterned, a river of long ago. I couldn’t see the beginning and I couldn’t see the end, but as rain poured down my face I felt the energy of space here, peering over the edge of the crater. Below me, evidence of what formerly flowed.
Our first night there, we stayed at this incredible place called Kilauea Lodge and the moment we stepped out, I felt I had been there before. I felt I was in a mountain lodge on the Hudson Valley or in Shenandoah Park, Virginia. My aunt and I swooned over the fireplace in our room, and I eagerly put on the terry cloth robe, enjoying the cool air and constant mist. I wanted to sit on the porch wrapped in a blanket and read a good book while sipping hot chocolate, serenaded by the Coqui Frog and Apapane’s songs. This felt like home amongst the trees and wood.
I took a picture of the Lodge brass sign and closed my eyes for a moment, making a silent wish to return.
On the morn, we headed out and spent the first half of the day at Volcano National Park. The rain was very heavy at first, but as it eased up and eventually stopped, the expanse and breadth of the lava flow began to take shape. We drove along the road and signs marked the years of each flow, some during my life, and some from years before. I took video from the van, the landscape filled with the hardened history, and while the road we drove upon divided the flow in the middle, it appeared to drop off into the sky on either side.
We stopped for a moment and I bounded out quickly to take some pictures of the beautiful swirls and shapes, formed in charcoal hues. After standing on a rock and holding my arms wide for a photo taken by my aunt, I jumped down and saw amongst the black, small fingers of green peeking out.
I lowered down to see them up close and took a picture of these new plants growing from the ash. Seeing the image captured, I smiled at this evidence of life. Nature is an incredible miracle.
We drove along the road for quite some time until the end and came upon the sea. We had descended thousands of feet and the rain had completely cleared. I took off several of my layers and stepped out of the van into the sunshine. Walking to the lookout, I peered to witness the Holei Sea Arch.
Examine nature’s creative handiwork, from the lava-forged cliffs to the wave-battered Sea Arch standing sentinel against the coastline. Each is a testament to island birth, growth, and decay. Sea arches, characterized as erosional remnants of a once-continuous sea cliff, are found along many of the world’s most rugged coastlines. These wondrous features, formed by the persistent and relentless power of wind, wave, sand, and rock, have intrigued people for millennia.
Indeed, I stood silent.
As we ascended back up the road to exit the National Park, the footprints of each lava flow stood out like black waves on the mountains. From this vantage point, we could see the full path, making it’s way down to the sea. Like long fingers of the volcano’s hand, the trails were everywhere.
We headed across the island to Waikoloa Village, and when we arrived at our hotel, the weather was considerably warmer, greeting us at sea level with late afternoon sun and blue skies. I took off my hiking boots in my room and hung my rain jacket in the closet, changing into sandals and pink jeans for dinner.
Had I really peered over cold, rainy, misted railings hours earlier?
Our last day of the tour, we took a hike on the Pu’u O’o Volcano Trail. Our main objective was to see the rare Hawaiian endemic, the ‘Akiapola’au. Roughly 1500 still exist of this species, and we could only see it here on the Big Island. After walking along the trail for about a mile, the landscape changed from all jagged rock to complete vegetation, all growing upon the lava. The guides stopped us in front of an island of trees, to explain we were about to enter a sacred space.
We needed to ask permission.
Though our guides were from Canada and North Carolina, they asked us to form a single line, facing the trees, men on the right, and women on the left. In the middle were the eldest, with the youngest on the ends. The North Carolinian, a naturalist named Taj, began to sing a traditional Hawaiian chant, his voice ringing out in the afternoon wind. I was enthralled.
In the silence after his song, we stood there facing the trees, waiting for any loud noise or clap of thunder to signal denial of passage. And yet, we were greeted by sun and welcome.
As soon as I entered the mini forest, I felt I was back in the woods of Virginia, my boots walking along leaf-lined paths and my hands touching the bark of familiar trees. Then we heard the cry of the juvenile ‘Akiapola’au, and within minutes all of us stood with binoculars raised and wide open mouths, smiling, exclaiming in wonder as we bore witness to this rare bird.
I stayed an extra day after the tour ended to enjoy the beauty of Waikoloa and relax. I hugged my aunt and parents goodbye, and enjoyed time on the beach, journaling, shopping, and watching the Merrie Monarch annual Hula Competition on TV.
I booked a deep tissue massage through the spa in the hotel, and descended the carpeted stairs to the waiting lounge. The massage therapist came out and upon flashing my smile and shaking his hand, he immediately said,
“Do I know you?”
I had never met him before in my life, but I did feel a wonderful energy. He introduced himself as John, hailing from Colorado. He took me into the private room, and I settled into the soft white sheets, my head facing down. John came in and placed his hands lightly over my spine, instructing me to breathe. Over the course of 50 minutes, he worked through my neck and upper back, pulling the tension out my arms and fingers, in long waves of spiraling energy. It was beyond glorious and as my body lengthened and released, I shared with him parts of my past and soon John and I were bonding over meditation and body awareness.
I noticed my right forearm was much tighter than my left, and I mentioned my right-sided dominance. John took my left arm and began to circle it in wide arcs and said,
“ Your right side is your giving side. Your left is your receiving. You’ve given enough, now it’s time to open.”
I laughed out loud as I realized my scoliosis was on my left side, and remembered being diagnosed with a unilateral weakness there. This happened in my late twenties, and began the journey of pilates that brought me to yoga that brought me to meditation. I had never thought of it in terms of giving and receiving, but looking back now, clearly saw my patterns to control through giving.
Receiving is far more vulnerable.
And yet, through these last few days, since landing on the Big Island, I felt an amazing resonance seeing the life forming from the black paths of former fire. I was fascinated by the scope and landscape, and brought back home in the trees and nature. I saw my own strength and journey in the ability to grow from destruction and loss. Somehow, I have been here before, maybe not physically, but looking at those ferns I knew intimately their will to live.
Before John left the room, he massaged my skull, releasing my now limber neck onto the padded frame, and gently said,
“Blessings of Pele to you.”
I slowly made my way back to the lounge area and there on a long coffee table lay a local magazine with an image of a Hawaiian goddess, her long hair cascading down on either side to form the outline of a volcano, and in her red and glowing hands, she held a beautiful globe, the earth, in the center of her being. Above her the sun, and below the sea. I drank deeply from my full cool cup of water, settled into the couch, and closed my eyes to rest.
Mother Nature, by Sarah Week