Chasing Pele #1

Oct 4, 2014 – Saturday
HNL, inter-island terminal


San Francisco from the air

I can’t see clearly now…

It’s a rare occasion you get to fly out of San Francisco with absolute clarity.

Saturday was such a day: weather-wise perfect, Indian Summer, hot cloudless skies.

The pilot was a kind creature who flew the A330 out of SFO via the scenic route. Those on the left of the plane got shimmering views of the City, while those on the right were afforded masterful views of the Golden Gate and beyond.

Ditto the arrival in Honolulu: sunny skies, clouds perched over the midland mountain range, where housing communities cascade down the valleys like lava flows.


Honolulu from the air

By contrast, my mood upon departure and arrival was a medley of fatigue and anxiety from things past and present (drought, a hurricane, the novelist’s due ) and things unknown (the vicissitudes of work and an encroaching lava flow).

“Feeling misanthropic. Sick of airports and screaming children. Sick of the crowds. Sick of the same TSA announcements played over and over at every airport. Ebola. ISIS. Ritalin riddled, maladjusted kids with firearms in their desks back at home tromping through public in pre-explosive gaits, some future jeopardy awaiting them and all the rest of us at some perilous juncture.

I’m sick of Starbucks and Pumpkin spiced lattes (in paradise??), especially those brought to you by the over-extended brand of Oprah Winfrey.

Sick of families who think the world is their living room. A word of warning: the next three year old that shrieks at the peak of her ear-splitting lungs without a reprimand from its parents will make a handy sacrifice to Pele.”

Not a pretty frame of mind at the gateway to our Paradise.



Born to be…[?]

When I first met my physician he asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer. He looked over his reading glasses and then gently rolled his eyes: “Born to be unhappy.”

He explained that he lived with a writer for almost twenty years and it ended some time ago – for the better, I assumed.

(Years ago my mother offered up a similar, if less overtly stabbing, observation: “You used to be such a happy child; you were the happiest  baby…”)

Perhaps I’m a nasty old codger and all these years of what I thought were gainful self-awareness were actually a fiction of the delusional sort.

Born to be unhappy. Did he write that on my chart, I wonder?


HNL Gate 54

It’s true, we’re a difficult audience. Difficult to live under a roof with. Difficult on ourselves. Especially those of us who were raised on the cheap white bread of country club romanticism. I think it’s because there’s some perilous perch between reality and romanticism that writers are compelled to hang out upon. To try and navigate. Which we do clumsily, ineffectively.


Hawaii is kind of like that. Puna, at least. Our Puna: the Lower Puna District. Puna is sort of like that perch in between reality and romanticism. It is very much a real place but it’s also subject to romanticized notions and pre-conceptions because it’s located in Hawaii.

We work from Puna, and when mainlanders on a conference call find out where I am and all chuckle and joke that I must be down at the beach drinking mai tais I kind of laugh it off and let them know that the beach is a solid two hours away.

Oh, and on top of that…



Four more hours to Truthville

The inter-island terminal at HNL was packed with people. The poor servers at the Stinger Ray’s restaurant by gate 57 were running non-stop. Despite the crowd we snagged a table at the fake outdoor patio and I secured my ritual usual: a kahlua pork sandwich and a tall Longboard ale.

Top of mind was, of course, the lava flow. The US Geological Service calls it the June 27th Breakout because that’s the date the flow went rogue and started heading northeast towards the Kaohe Homesteads and Pahoa town. Because of its first target, I prefer to call it the Pahoa Flow.

Since late August we’ve been tracking its progress daily through the USGS website, the Facebook pages of our Puna ‘ohana, and Big Island Video News. It’s pretty much assured that within the near future, the Highway to Hilo and potentially a newly graded alternate route (Railroad Ave) will be overtaken by lava, effectively locking in lower Puna.  (More on that here.)

The slow-moving, three hour layover at HNL was made all the longer by lava anxiety. Now that we were on Hawaiian soil, the reality of the coming flow was becoming tangible, much less an academic discussion from 2500 miles away. It made for restless waiting for the fifty minute flight to Hilo. 


Hilo Intl Airport (ITO)

Take me home…

4:30pm. We arrived in Hilo to grey skies and intermittent sprinkles. Our modest airport, which on the busiest day seems lonely, looked in a state of mild neglect. The planters of anthuriums that normally line the terminal hallway upstairs along the gates were gone: empty shells. Reconstruction of a doorway or stairwell was incomplete, covered by tarp and tape and left there as a bemusement.

A neighbor picked us up and we drove the 30 minutes to Lower Puna getting caught up on things lava and otherwise.  The grand entryway to our neighborhood used to be a mile-long stretch of road canopied by striking, airy acacia trees, which formed a sort of tunnel, like a secret passageway. At the end of the tunnel the sky opened up and the road forked and that acted as a topographical welcome sign: there was only  the last brief leg of the  journey ahead before arriving at the gate to our communal road.

That was before Iselle.

Pahoa-Kapoho Road, before and after Iselle

Pahoa-Kapoho Road, before and after Iselle

The hurricane hit our neighborhood dead-on. Though many houses were damaged, the most visible impact was to the abundant albizia trees that used to rise above Lower Puna like graceful giants.

A huge number of them fell during the storm. Albizias are an acacia with a very shallow root system, trunks that grow easily up to 6 feet wide, and they rise to 70 feet tall or more. From time to time a big one would fall; more often, they’d drop limbs on the driveway or roads. At night, during rains, we’d often hear a “crunch” in the forest: another limb down. This time, though, the trees came down en masse.

The ones that didn’t come down along Pahoa-Kapoho Road were chainsawed by the County, leaving our once canopied sanctuary wide open to Jesus, the sky and everything else.

Fallen albizias along the driveway

Fallen albizias along the driveway

During the last stretch of the journey home, the discussion turned away from the lava and onto Iselle. It was as if we’d forgotten there’d been a tropical storm. (Truth is, we’d seen footage of the road and were deeply curious what our albizia-free Puna now looked like.)

The landmarks leading up to the driveway were all gone, one of them having smashed the gate in fact. Along the drive, the remnants of the nearly dozen trees that had fallen lay severed in the jungle.

We had an early dinner with the neighbors that night : wild sheep, sautéed amaranth greens, and a salad. A glass and a half of prosecco and a glass of red. A regaling of the howling winds and crashing trees during Iselle.

9:00 arrived. One half of the couple said to me : “You guys need to go. You’re tired.”


Puna midnight had hit hard. The day was pau.

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