Aloha. Initially, I didn’t want to address the situation currently happening on the Big Island, and was a topic I was avoiding like the plague. Mainly because my life is almost entirely consumed by it at the moment and I am literally living and breathing all things involving the volcano. I am speaking of the volcano Kilauea, home to goddess Pele. She lives in my backyard, actually. Pele’s home is said to be at the summit of Kilauea volcano, which is Halema’uma’u crater, and I can see a light gray plume of ash rising from it right now from my driveway.
It is fairly difficult to convey how big a volcano really is, or that the island of Hawaii (Big Island) is entirely made up of five volcanoes. Volcanoes are mountains, and these five Hawaiian volcanoes are very LARGE mountains. Mauna Loa volcano is actually the largest mountain in the world when measured from the sea floor. For a quick look at a basic map of these volcanoes and how together they form the island of Hawaii, click here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Location_Hawaii_Volcanoes.svg. When theses volcanoes are active, lava does not blast out of the summit like in the movies because these five are shield volcanoes. Since I live near the summit, I’ve experienced relatively small hazards, such as sulfur dioxide and ash fall. We usually only experience the sulfur dioxide when the wind direction (trade winds) change and thankfully it doesn’t usually last long. We have seen nothing even close to the devastation experienced down in the Puna district, where the lava and highly toxic gasses are coming out, many miles away, closer to sea level.
It has been highly difficult to make people understand that the destruction is only happening on a small portion of the island. Many people thought (and probably still do) that the whole island was under siege from lava, ash, rock fall, toxic fumes and earthquakes. This is absolutely not the case. Unfortunately, the whole state’s economy is suffering because major news outlets on the Mainland reported some extremely “hyped” news. One of the reports falsely stated that Kilauea volcano was on the island of Oah’u, and another that the whole island was going to blow up from an explosive eruption at the summit. Ill-informed tourists are cancelling their vacations hundreds of miles away from the volcano because they are buying into the fear that is being peddled on the news. Several tour companies on other islands have completely folded since this started because of mass cancellations. My sincerest appeal to anyone regarding any crisis, going forward, is this: If you want to find out what is happening during a crisis, anywhere, tune into local news sources, not national news sources. They generally are less hyperbolic in my experience. For local breaking news about Kilauea volcano, I often check Hawaii News Now because I know they are on the scene daily, and they have given correct information since the beginning. Check out their website at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/.
It is heartbreaking to see the devastation in the Puna district and to see so many lives affected and homes destroyed. Thankfully, throughout this difficult time, the community has been wonderful in coming together to support those who are displaced. There is much aloha here and the kindness shown toward others is overwhelming. Many of the folks who choose to make Puna district their home, do so because the spirit of aloha is very much real and felt by many. These feelings of sadness about the path of Pele ‘s destruction is often negated by the thought that new land is being formed and we are present to witness the birth and beauty of it all. Many people have expressed feelings of respect and gratitude, and have been hugely accepting of whatever Pele chooses to do with the aina (land). It is a perspective similar to realizing that you never really “owned” the land in the first place. It is a fiery and forceful display of nature that I have learned to never take for granted or try to control.
Contrary to how some might feel about it, I believe it is truly a privilege to live on an active volcano and share my home with a volcano goddess. We have the good fortune of being close enough to consider Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a part of our neighborhood and often spend many, many hours there. When the lava started emerging in Leilani Estates a few weeks ago, it still did not really sink in, that what was happening down near sea level, was doing so in tandem with where I am at, near the summit. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reported of a few structures damaged by earthquakes, and there were cracks in the highway running through the Park, but they were patched within a few days. These cracks were on a road already located in a fault zone, so it was not a big surprise when they formed from a sizeable earthquake. These cracks are also not the same types of cracks popping up throughout Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens. Additionaly, I’m happy to report that “business-as-usual” is continuing in Volcano Village all while being within a few miles of Halema’uma’u crater belching out ominous smoke.
The smoke and ash was not without it’s downright scary moments recently. The video above is something I captured last week while driving home at 11 a.m. on May 15, 2018, and it shows just how dramatically things changed at the summit in just the short time I was gone. It was scary to see the billowing dark plume in front of me when I was headed back. I kept myself focused on getting home to get to my dogs, and I was glad that when I did arrive, the ash didn’t cover nearly as much around our home as I had pictured. Even though we are fairly close to Halema’uma’u crater, we did not get much ash because the trade winds were blowing the particles away from us and down toward the town of Pahala instead. The dogs and cats were all brought inside and our chicken coops were covered with tarps. We had to close all windows and put plastic around them. We disconnected our gutters from our rain catchment system and turned off the water pump. A few days later, the Health Department gave out face masks to the Volcano community for filtering out ash if it should get too bad. So far, everything has been okay and I feel confident and safe to stay at home.
Some people have posed the question about this island way of life, asking, “why would you choose to live on an active volcano?” The answer is different for everyone, and perhaps dependent upon where you live, but not all who bought land in the East Rift Zone (Puna district) knew their homes could someday be completely devastated by lava. When the land for Leilani Estates was being purchased in a land-grab in 1960, and sold off into smaller pieces, buyers were being told that there was “little danger from volcanoes”. Civil Beat has a great article about this and other subdivisions, and the ‘pieces of paradise’ that were hustled to anyone with a small down-payment. Find it here at: http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/05/big-island-how-land-schemes-turned-lava-fields-into-subdivisions/.
There is no guaranteed way of knowing when Pele will stop flowing in lower Puna or when the ash plumes at the summit will settle back down. For now, we’ll just wait and see what she does. It’s really all we can do. The lessons here are subtle if you’re not looking for them, but more profound when you realize this devastating situation is better processed when releasing our fears and attachments, material or emotional. There is a certain freedom in letting go of expectations and how we think nature should ‘behave’, and it is possible to find comfort and aloha in the acceptance of almost any devastating situation. This acceptance can keep the human spirit going in tough times, and welcome new life to the aina and new beginnings to our lives.
To see a photo timeline, current information, and description of the eruption of Kilauea, go to the United States Geological Survey website at: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_chronology.html.