I could feel it in my eyes. This sensation of impending brilliance. It’s a feeling very similar to butterflies in the stomach, but it rests deep behind the iris of the eyes, pretending that it wants to make you burst with tears. Not sad ones. Genuine excitement. But the moisture never releases, the tickly of it just sits there and makes you wonder why this would be something you almost cried about.
Darkness, 5AM in the gravel lot of a beach park on the other side of the jungle. The boat was out of the water on the shore and we needed a ten foot ladder to enter the elevated perch. I follow my parents up the ladder – I’m insanely impressed with their adventurous spirit at this very moment; just moments before Captain Shane had given a warning that went something like this,
“You are about to be thrashed around on this boat, you will get soaking wet, you will be riding and flying over large, messy waves, you will be breathing volcanic gas, you will feel the heat from a volcano on your face. Now is the time to tell me if you want your money back.”
My Mom and Dad didn’t turn around, they just went pee, zipped up their matching blue puffy jackets, and tightened their fanny packs.
Darkness still, we jetted out of the tiny boat harbor and launched over the incoming crash of curling swell. We sped into the unprotected nearshore waters of south east Hawai‘i island, no barrier reefs to break the incoming storm swell, the air thick with clouds that I couldn’t see and that weren’t yet producing any rain. The port and starboard lights, flashing their red and green locational signals to ward off a crash into any other ocean goers, were the only semblance of light until I looked over the side into fast passing warm waters. This is where the eyeball sensations surged towards the front of my face. Flashing in the disturbed water was a litany of bioluminescence – the ecosystem builders of phyto and zooplankton whose shimmering magic ignites with phosphorescent aqua fireworks. When not lit, these nearly invisible organisms provide life to the ocean, they provide life to the world. Their mini firework show was the precursor to the fireworks that we are on this wild ride to see – another foundation of life, the breath of Pele, the rising magma of the center of the earth, the spectacle of seeing land created in the middle of the ocean.
A faint light began to seep through the grayness of clouds and a thin mist hit our faces as the boat rounded down the coast of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The whole boat, which had been silent in the violent darkness of morning, was stirring with anticipation, a plume of immense smoke rose into our collective vision. Anticipation gave way to reality of the moment. It’s something so unthinkable to be living on an island in the middle of the blue planet where land masses rise up from the sea over millions of years, but even more unthinkable that despite billions of years of geologic time passing, we could ride to this point and watch as an island burped its fiery insides from the depths of its belly only to be met with the cooling effects of wind and water – a coupling effect that extended the shoreline of black sand beaches and pahoehoe lava rock. Simultaneously the oceans are gradually moving higher onto the land as prehistoric glacial water melts thousands of miles in the distance. I feel small here, but I do feel alive.
The giant plume of smoke illuminates with an orange red I have never seen, it flashes repeatedly, and then smoldering rocks erupt and are sent skyward from the cloaked shoreline, lighting up the last remaining fragments of darkness. The boat goers shriek with delight, the awe is touchable, the energy, the mana, erupt with the same veracity that Kīlauea is showing us now. We all feel the heat on our skin, but it doesn’t burn, it’s the warming sensation of creation itself. Kīlauea's meaning... "spewing" or "much spreading."
For thirty minutes we are able to pass back and forth in front of this greatness. There is nothing like these moments. I can’t put my camera down. I can barely speak, only passing looks of amazement to my parents, who grin with the excitement of these extraterrestrial moments. When the boat finally faces back towards our starting point in Puna, the light of morning has arrived and beams of sunlight radiate through breaks in the grayness on the horizon.
The ride home is a roller coaster ride, the boat completely leaving the water below, from time to time as it hops off the crests of waves before falling into the troughs on the back end of the swell – with the same motions the passenger’s stomachs move to their throat and back to their belly. I look down the barrels of the ocean’s blue mouths before they crash hard into the rugged coastline and explode in frothing white magnificence. I am on the doorstep of the some of the most exceptionally powerful forces known to mankind. I feel it and I won’t forget it.
Despite this Earth’s might, our human force has become strong on its surface and our impacts recognizable. Perhaps we all need to be walked or boated to the edge of creation to rekindle a communal connection to this place because the disconnect grows strong from these origins. The ‘ōhi‘a lehua colonizes, sprouts, and grows with little available resources from the newly formed land that the lava created, but humans are resource dependent and we cannot expect that destructively flowing across the landscape with lava force will allow our species to flourish and grow into strong trees for many more decades, let alone millennia into the future. If we strive to continue to create, to harness the power of the natural resources that breathe life into the biodiversity of the world, we must return to being stewards in our creation. This can only be done from the individual up and then extend through a series of community levels. This is the essence of empowerment, the knowledge that simple changes to our individual actions can lead to a better world.
I was gifted the grand ancestry of Tina & Eugene Schwartz, souls deeply connected to earth, ‘āina, its creatures, its gifts of abundance – souls whose lives reflected respect and obligation to teach about, protect, and cherish the gifts of land and sea. I ask my friends and readers – have you found your kuleana, your personal sense of responsibility, your calling to give back to this magnificent planet that feeds you life? Do you take time outside yourself to understand the intricacy of connectivity that abounds, but is under threat from our humanness? I would love for you to share below (in the comments), tell me and others what ways you find to serve the land, the ocean, the soil, the microorganisms, the macro fauna, or your personal ecosystem of life. We can all learn from talking story, from engagement.