SUNDAY, JANUARY 7, 2001
We slept for 12 hours (except for my time writing in here) and both felt much better about ourselves, our trip and what we wanted to do with the brand-new day. I thought it was very cold so I put on my long pants, long-sleeved t-shirt, thermal shirt but Heidi just wrapped her sarong around her bare legs. I was taken aback to see her 'going native' when I was back in my airplane traveling outfit.
After cocoa and cereal (me) croissant and green tea (she), a bit of clean up, a trip to the campground bathroom (to conserve our water) and I was out of those heavy clothes and into fresh shorts and tank top. We decided we needed to take care of some housekeeping so we went first go to the store in Volcano Village for necessities like bottled water and chocolate. Heidi was leery of trying to get into and out of the few feet of parking space at the tiny store so she drove around the block (on and off of Route #11) waiting on me. Back in the RV we drove to the Volcano Hotel where the guidebook said we could get a key for the showers in the campground. I was waiting in the RV catching up on my journal while Heidi went for the key. She was angry and bummed out when the lady told her the deposit for the key was $20 (instead of the guidebook price of $10) which Heidi agreed to, and then the lady refused to give it to her because she said the cabins were full until Tuesday. We knew better because we had slept across the road from them. While crossing the parking lot, Heidi saw a group preparing to guide people out on the lava. Back in the van she made a call to the hotel, got the price ($97.00) and made an appointment for their next trip on Tuesday.
We sat at the table pushing brochures around, dog-earing pages, as we tried to preplan our next two days until she could get out on the lava. The only place for us to be, we felt, was at the bottom of the Chain of Craters Road. I had listened, the day before, as the ranger lady explained how difficult the road was to travel and noted all her precautions. It sounded very risky, yet we both felt that was where we should be. So we began preparations for going to the end of nowhere. First we had to go back to the store for more food. This time we also needed gas so we had to drive under the little roof to get to the gas pumps. Now the tiny parking lot was full of cars, full of people wanting to get on with their vacation as quickly as they could. As we eased into the gas station, a guy with a broken leg was weeding the flowers between the pumps and the street. He hopped around on his one good leg as he waved, and smiled and encouraged Heidi to drive forward. While Heidi pumped gas I headed for the grocery store. As I looked back I could see about one inch of daylight between the air-conditioner and the steel awning. I lost all appetite for food and it was only when Heidi joined me that I was able to find the jerky, the nuts and chips we wanted. I think I was not breathing the whole time the guy eased us out of the gas station. I am sure he had no idea, from his position on the ground, of how close we were to touching that overhang. I accepted the miracle and was glad when Heidi seemed to be pleased with her accomplishment with a huge smile. Breathing deeply again she admitted that driving in and out of the gas station had scared her more than the idea of the hike across the lava. Our laughter lightened the air in our little world.
Also, being back in the Jaggar Museum seemed to put her in the best of moods. Again we watched the seismographs as if they were live fish in aquarium. The ranger reported high amounts of 'vog' (a word they have coined for smog and fog – the farts of volcanoes) in the air and we could taste the sulfur in our mouths. But the sky was absolutely clear and the choking feeling did not bother us much – then we began our clockwise trip around the caldron of craters called Kilauea.
At the Kilauea Iki overlook we were able to see behind the reddish cinder mountain we had seen to the left side the night before. Suddenly the term 'cinder cone' took on the meaning of reality. Even though this was the result of an episode in 1959 (when I was having my second baby) it was still smoking and delighting me. We decided to take the hike along the caldron rim to the lava tube which was a great idea because along here we finally got to see some pristine rainforest up close and personal as well as varying views of the changing scene on the crater floor below us. I was surprised to see groups walking over it and even more surprised to note the well worn paths generations of tourists had made among the small smoking holes.
moving over the caldron
have no idea of
how small they are
Even up here the smell of vog was so pervasive and frightening, so I wondered how those, down below, stood it. Perhaps, the lack of trees there permitted more breezes. I think Heidi was as much thrilled by the size of the parking lot as I was of the lava tube. And the tube did not thrill me as much as the glory of the rainforest above it did. I felt I could not pull enough into my eyes as we walked along the path. I actually resented having to go down into the ground even though it was quite a thought to think of this cave being filled with molten rock that had flowed along here like a river to the sea. As we descended into darkness I kept hoping the tube was very short. At the bottom of the stairs was a chain-link gate with a sign on it. "This end of the tube is 334 feet long, but is unimproved and without lights. Do not enter without flashlights." As we turned left all I could think about was to wonder how long this end of the tube was. As we scared each other by making spooky sounds and guessing how many bats lived in here I was searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.
As we approached the opening we saw that somehow we had taken the wrong turn and had gone into the tunnel from its exit. I was so happy to see the light of day, and the rainforest decorations I wanted to have a photo. We waited while many people came into the tunnel before we could leave. Only then, with their sharp voices cracking on the walls, did I realize what a gift we had been given to be able to be in there alone.
As we climbed back up to the road we found the air was smoggy and now it felt much harder to breath. As we looked out toward the craters there was only thick fog. The scenes that we had looked at before were as completely obscured as if they never existed. It was as if we were seeing the world before the craters were created. Heidi offered to take the walk back to get the RV because that way she could go along the road and alone she would walk faster than if I was huffing and puffing beside her. Together again in the RV we began the descent on the Chain of Craters Road. The rangers had scared Heidi silly with how dangerous and difficult the road was so she drove silently and with great concentration. She did take the time to stop at every lookout point, walk it and let me take my snapshots. But when I wanted to stop for lunch at Kealakomo the Steiner in her came out as she patiently explained why she 'needed' to get to the end of the road early before the parking lot filled up. So I opened a bag of jerky and forgot about lunch.
When we got to the steep part of the road (down the cliff that overlooked the wide flat plain) Heidi was coiled steel. I sat forward in my seat trying to help her drive or at least look for the dangerous places. As we finished the couple of hairpin curves, she said with a sigh of relief, "That road is not 1/10th as bad as Tioga Pass!" The road was so wide and smooth and the grades were less than most of the ones we had lived on. We realized that we had not driven into a place that would block us in with its difficulty. We could easily afford to drive up and down this road as much as we needed. My greatest joy was the cool, clean air with no funny smell that made my chest ache.
At the stop for the Holei (Holy) Sea Arch Heidi spied a pristine black sand beach on the other side. This was in a perfect place for moonrise shot! So she went into work mode while I went on to investigate a small grove of palms. They were right on the coast and I felt there must be a marvelous view of the coast from there but as I approached them I felt something very scary. There were lots of fallen palm leaves on the ground. I was afraid there might be rats living in and under them. I was afraid to walk under these palms trees although they were so attractive. For a long time I stood between the road and the palm trees trying to get up the courage to wade through the debris on the ground in order to go see what had been and why nothing else was but the trees. Only later did I read in some park information that a fishing village had been here but one day, a tidal wave, caused by one of the many earthquakes, had risen up and swept the whole village away. I had no idea that a tidal wave could have reached clear up here and still be strong enough to carry away everything.
We drove to the ranger station that had been established at the end of the road, where the lava had closed it by flowing across it in a ten foot high mass. They had a huge turn-around (for the big tour busses, we found) but Heidi was eager to park the RV as far from any chance of getting bumped, so we went back to a wide pullout that we called 'home'. Here we had our real lunch (cheese, bread and V-8 juice). When Heidi could sit still no longer we agreed to walk down to the ranger station. It was only a couple of trailer bodies made into a nest for the rangers and a display area with huge graphic instructions on what to take out on the lava, what to wear, what to expect, how to call for help. The only thing missing was an altar on which to give up one's soul. It was very intimidating. The message was meant to make the merely incautious more aware, but for the two us who are so rule conscious, and safety orientated, these seemed like the Ten Commandments before God and everyone. Heidi was already wearing her hiking boots so she was eager to try out the walk, for just a little, to get a feel for it. I sat on the picnic table (made of plastic I found) where I could listen to the red-haired ranger woman, warn group after group of the dangers "out there".
Someone yelled, "Look!" and everyone, without instruction, turned in the direction of the cliff where we had been told the lava was flowing. Before we could see nothing but a little silver glint on the hillside that we were told was the molten lava as seen by daylight. Not much. But now we saw a tree at the edge of the silver burst into flame. Evidently the lava had broken through the air-cooled crust to flow red and glowing into the trees. Now, without binoculars, in addition to the flaming tree we could see a rim of glowing red-orange pushing into the sparse forest. This was all happening about four miles away and it was nothing like the spectacular photos and movies in the visitor center, but we could see a bit of flowing lava even in the daytime and we were totally jazzed.
This was too much for Heidi. She talked to the ranger about going in and after a few checking questions, it was agreed that she could go in and stay after dark! We nearly ran the mile back to the RV because it was now 3:30 and the day was going fast. I sat back out of the way as Heidi checked her gear, loaded and unloaded her bags as she chose what to take and what to leave. Her backpack weighs over 50 pounds and the four bottles of water would make it even heavier. She taught me how to use the walkie-talkie, put in all new batteries, drank a bottle of water, and psyched herself up to this adventure. It was hard to remain calm as her excitement floated around her in great glowing clouds. I was greatly comforted to see how careful she was, how she was preparing for any and all eventualities. Somehow I had always thought of her as the risk-taker, the one who would do anything for a photograph, the thought that had often scared me silly as I only heard of her exploits on the phone. Now I could see that she was very cautious and able to take good care of herself and this made me feel calm (a bit more calm).
To not be just hanging out here alone, I began to write up in the journal. She left the RV at 4:15 and at 4:40 she called in when she passed the one-mile marker. The park service had put up a blinker light on a road sign as signal for the hikers after dark. It looked terribly small in the distance over the rough lava.
To hide my worries, I began to clean up the RV. That took about five minutes and things were straightened up. I still hated the dirty ugly upholstery (this van has to be older than two years to be so awful) so I got out all our sarongs for instant furniture coverings. The woven basket on the table, the shell lei and flowers we had gathered began to transform the space from a rental into our place. This was the first time I had the time and quiet to smudge the place, fill it with prayers. Out doors I borrowed one of Pele's bones (a lava rock with the proper hole in it) for an incense burner. I offered prayers to Pele for a good show for Heidi while at same time sending Heidi safety and protection. Even as I prayed I wondered if these two requests were mutually exclusive. To let the prayers go, I began to photograph the new look inside the RV.
In front of me, out the right window, is a lightly ruffled sea. The ranger said that the wind usually howled out here near the very edge of the world, but for the past few days there had been no rain (also unusual) and only the gentlest of breezes. Out the left window I can see the mushroom cloud of Pu'u O'o. (Translation according to my dictionary: "ripe pimple") This is the vent sending down the current streams of lava as it has been doing the past three years. The ranger lady (a Leiberman from San Francisco) had said that the past few nights the lava flows had so drastically diminished that there was almost nothing to see. When she saw people turning away from her little talk in disappointment, she quickly added that this was a good sign because it meant that the lava would break out in a new place or that channels were being created. At this point, no lava is flowing into the sea so we do not even get the distant view of steam rising from the coast. No benching, no blasts, no flares. Nothing. All we had gotten were just promises and other peoples' photos.
What do I do with myself until dark when I hope to be able to at least see a tiny glow again on the hillside from here (nothing is there now) and until 10:00 when I expect Heidi back.
6:00 and it is now dark. Heidi called asking if I could hear her. That was all. I answered but got no answer from her. And there was no other message. I tried going outside hoping the reception would be better. I called and called and there was no answer from her. I remembered the times when the children were little. We had a house rule that when the street lights came on everyone was to get home as quickly as possible. One night, when I was home alone, Hans and Bambi soon showed up, but there was no Heidi. I stood on the porch calling and calling to her. I wanted to go off looking for her, but felt I could not leave the other two younger children alone in the house, so I called more and more urgently for her. Finally, as I edged closer to panic, I made Bambi and Hans sit on the couch and commanded them not to leave their places until I came back. I walked out in the soft darkness of the desert night filled with all the horrible things that could have happened to Heidi. I walked around the block calling, and calling to her. As I returned to our porch, planning my call to the police, I saw a small blond head moving under the streetlight. I ran to her. Now all my concern for her safety turned to anger. I grabbed her arm to hustle her into the house. Without letting her explain why she had not come home sooner I began to spank her. I rarely spanked my kids because I had hated my parents for spanking me and I feared that my own violence could spill out unchecked as theirs had done. The only time I had threatened then with spanking was when I felt their lives were in danger. And now, I truly felt Heidi had put herself at risk by disobeying the rule to come home at dark. I grabbed up a wooden spoon from the jar by the stove and began to whack her on the butt and legs. She and the other kids were horrified as the spoon broke. The splintering of the wood cut across my reason saying that I was spanking her far to hard. To get myself to stop I yelled that everyone had to go to bed. More I do not remember. It was years later when Heidi, who never forgot being spanked until the spoon broke, told me the reason she did not come when she was supposed to was because she was helping her friend find his lost rabbit. She felt it was more important to find the rabbit before it was completely dark than for her to be home.
Going out the back door for some air. . . what a surprise! I can see several spots of glowing red on the hillside. As I sat on the step I could see that the glowing was spreading out. In the growing darkness the spots and streaks increased. I could actually watch as one flow changed direction to move across other darkness.
the hillside bright
the hillside alight
with candle trees
sometimes even the earth
seems to celebrate
over glowing lava
a full moon
Yes, the moon had risen out of the small row of clouds lying off the coast. I hoped the little light it spread around the steps of the RV would be more helpful to Heidi walking over the blackness. Even in the moonlight I could see:
Hawai'i's pure air
yet lighter still a plume
from the volcano
bright with red lights
cars leaving the lava
At dusk many cars had come down the road to park closer to the ranger station. People then stood in the road and on the little rise to get a view of the glowing spots and stripes off in the distance. But they could only enjoy the view for so long before some reasoning turned them back toward their hotel rooms off in either Kona or Hilo.
I was so thrilled with my view; there was no way I thought I would want to leave it.
to Pele payoff
in a great display
for someone else
who gives her gin
a rosy glow
guiding the lava
in the sky
the newest land
comes again from a star
from the volcano
a rosy fountain
Pu'u O'o's plume
taking the moonlight
higher in the sky
As my neck cramped up from turning to see the glows I began to see in the darkness the many other sights of the day.
voice of birds
shaping the songs
of the birds
(We had regretted not bringing a tape recorder into the rainforest because the sounds and songs of the birds were so incredible. The magnitude, the multitude the richness of the sounds was like nothing we had ever heard before.)
even in the dark
even sleepy birds
continue to sing
the tourists wish
the day lasts longer
Was I hearing echoes of the rainforest out here on the desert of lava or were there actually birds still singing in the dark? I never knew.
the violent birth
Thank goodness the walkie-talkie was lying beside me. 7:23 and Heidi says she is starting her way back.
Now feeling easier and yet cramped from being huddled on the steps, I moved to a more comfortable seat on the newly upholstered couch.
Much later, I felt I had heard a sound without my ears. Extremely cautious I went to the still-opened back door to look out. There, like a lighted birthday cake was a huge ocean liner right off the coast directly beside the RV. The sea was spangled with moonlight as the lighted ship slowly moved closer and closer to the shore and the glowing lava. Wanting to see the view I walked out on the road. I felt how wonderful the night was. So often I have been afraid in the dark, but here it was warm and inviting, friendly as if it never held a terror. My spirit spread out in all directions. Flying over the moonlit water to ride in the cruise ship, floating over the most rugged lava flows, springing up the cliff like a plume of smoke, zigging and zagging as something of mine followed each cove of the coastline showing me all the wonders in the dark. Such warmth in a night gives one the feeling that everything is possible; that one's fate is truly in one's own hands.
Suddenly I was tired of huddling in the dark of my fears in the RV so I got my walking stick and headed down the road to the ranger station to meet Heidi. The rangers had all retreated to their quarters somewhere else. But the picnic table was still there in the dark. I was happy to be on the same spot where I felt I knew the world from the afternoon I had sat here. Fairy lights wavered out in the darkness. Only when I heard the voices did I realize I was watching other groups coming across the lava fields. Unable to see their dark faces above the brightness of their flashlights as they came down the road, I could only judge who they were by their movements of darkness before the shine of the moon. I kept hoping that Heidi had teamed up with another group so she would not be out there walking all alone. There were only two groups that passed my inspection before I saw one lone, rather high light moving over the darkness. With a jolt I realized that was my child out there wearing her headlight. I wanted to start out across the lava toward her but I thought how it would be for her to successfully make her trip and then end up in the hospital with me and a broken something or other. So I forced myself to sit quietly on the table giving her the time and peace she needed to finish her hike.
She was breathless as she flung herself, still harnessed in her backpack, on the picnic table. Before she even caught her breath, she wanted to tell me what it had been like "out there". She would say a few words, stop for breath, and start somewhere else in her memories. We sat there in the dark piecing her story back together much in the way we had made quilts together.
She had gotten a late start and saw that her destination still seemed far off in the distance as it began to get dark. Anyhow, she found the rays of the setting sun glinting off the twisted ropes of lava adding to the patterns so much interest that she simply stopped and photographed them as long as the light lasted. When she put her gear away she turned around to find the whole hillside behind her was on fire. She shot up the rest of her film from there and started back. It was now 9:30 and about 20 cars were still parked along the road. We could see people curled up asleep as they waited for other views or the hope of greater lava flows. Why should we drive back up to the campground when they were staying here? Without questioning our decision we decided to spend the night in the turnout we called home. All night we heard people's cars coming and going by our sleep.
(You can check out the volcano conditions today.)
Next day -MONDAY January 8.
Hawai'i with Heidi Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.