Hawaiian Journal
page 15


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Return to Kilauea


So I did go to Hilo after picking up a couple of cowrie shells at the gravel beach just north of Spencer beach. I washed laundry, bought food, hitched to Volcano, and here I am again on the rim facing Halemaumau Crater. Why do I like this place better than anywhere else I’ve been on this island? Cool air and wilderness, maybe? I’m glad to be back here anyway.

Here I am eating ohelo berries and feeling good. I’m closer to Halemaumau than where I made the sketch, and farther from Pu’u Puai, a cinder cone made by the great 1960 Kilauea Iki lava fountain.

What’s making Hawaii, anyhow? Continental drift may explain how a hot spot made all the volcanos from Midway to that submerged one southeast of this island, but why the hot spot? All the other volcanos are where plates come together or separate. These volcanos are in the middle of a plate, and much less violent than any others.

I see some devastated forest on the southwest side of Pu’u Puai. I wonder what makes Pu’u Puai that boiled egg yolk greenish-yellow? I’ll see it closeup tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 3, 1981

Okay, the small tree ferns are ama’uma’u, Sadleria cyatheoides. The ferns that have leaves in pairs are uluhe, Gleichenia linearis. The large tree ferns are hapu’u, Cibatium glaucum. All are unique to Hawaii. The ordinary-looking ferns that grow in cracks are kupukupu, Nephrolepsis exaltata, and grow in many warm countries. This sketch doesn’t do the beautiful hapu’u justice, but it’s a plausible diagram.

From Waldron Ledge overlook, the 1974 lava flow looks like a cracked, frozen ocean of black tar. This is the flow that makes the frozen lavafalls you see near Byron Ledge Trail.

Twenty one years ago, I was entranced by lava fountains in the National Geographic. Here I am now walking around the bottom of Pu’u Puai, where the fountain was, around the edge of a whirlpool of aa, rocks with contours like scribbles, all the shades of black still void of life. I’m walking on the surface of a pool of lava, a pool with a bottom forever concealed.

And here’s the vent of Pu’u Puai. The sign says that the fountain at its highest rose to four or five times as high as Pu’u Puai, and that most of the lava slopped back into the vent. Okay, so where did all the lava on the crater fall come from? I presume since I’ve seen no spatter cones that the main flow obliterated them all. I thought the main flow came from here. Some of these pieces of pahoehoe are the prettiest I’ve seen yet, iridescent like the inside of abalone shells.

Oddly, the vent itself has the only green in the area, some of those ferns that like to live in steam vents. I see no steam now, but probably some steam in the past hastened erosion here and enabled plants to grow.

From here on it’s pahoehoe lava, and there are ferns in the cracks. It’s like ice chunks, like a glacier bending and cracking. It looks less like pastry here. I’m glad I took this walk across Kilauea Iki’s floor. I haven’t seen lava flows like this before. If other flows were like the sea, this one is storm waves. I guess what happened was drainage of lava beneath, and the unsupported floor cracking.

This’ll have to remain a vignette. I guess the largest rock in the foreground, left side, midway down, is about eight feet in diameter. The rolling pahoehoe in mid distance is about twenty feet long, the background is the bottom of a mound of pahoehoe between here and Pu’u Puai vent.

Farther from Pu’u Puai, the lava sea is calmer.

Pu’u Puai, with Byron’s Ledge and Mauna Loa behind, the pahoehoe plain in front, from the floor of Kilauea Iki crater.


And immediately on walking out of Kilauea Iki crater, I’m introduced by a sign to a new kind of tree, the olapa, Cheirodendron trigynum, the fivefold leaves like madrone leaves arranged like buckeye leaves. But most of the trees are ohias or hapu’u tree ferns.

I drew the hapu’u wrong. The branches of each frond, the leaves of each branch are alternating. I drew them opposite.

Here’s a sprig of ohelo, with the berries.


Wednesday, February 4, 1981

Last night two people from Oregon named Barry and Karen took me to the movie at Volcano House, all about the 1969-1975 eruption of Mauna Ulu (Growing Mountain). I would have named it Pu’u Ulu (Growing Hill). Near the end of this eruption was the 1974-1975 lava flows in the Kilauea caldera itself, crossed by the present Halemaumau and Byron Ledge Trails.

Ah, I got Barry and Karen to give me a ride to Halemaumau parking lot. In morning’s low light, sulfur steam vents in front of a licorice lavafall. From here Pu’u Puai looks like a smooth, olive-yellow dome.

I feel like stopping, because I’m tired, though there’s nothing here but miles of fine gravel and ohelo bushes. I’m on Crater Rim trail, between Halemaumau trail and Keanakakoi Crater. Kilauea’s north rim is steep and four hundred feet high. The south rim is less than a hundred feet high.

Here in nowhere I’m burning with anger, imagining an encounter with an ex-lover. I’m angry about being alone, Ruth says. But I do make myself alone. I retreat inside myself.

It’s absolutely silent here, except when the wind passes my ears, except for my feet crunching the gravel.

Frozen lava falls into Keanakakoi Crater. This crater is about two hundred feet deep and a quarter mile long. I guess it was deeper before that eruption. But where did this lava come from? It’s the same flow that makes the lava fall into the main caldera.


While sketching the lava trees on the 1974 flow near Keanakakoi, I looked up and saw two nene geese flying low over my head. The effect of this new, blueblack lava with traces of brick red against softly modeled gray clouds is almost monochrome. There’s a lot of these lava trees on this flow.

On the broken off lava trees the lava is about three inches thick around the hollow where the tree trunk originally was. The southern transition between arid and humid is more abrupt than the northern. It’s here at Keanakakoi.

Here the ohia forest begins again. The ohelo berries on some of the bushes are so big and tightly-clumped that they squeeze out the leaves. Again I hear lots of birds.

The lichen growth here, the stuff Michele called old man’s beard, is phenomenal, big patches of it on the gravel, plate sized and over an inch deep. There’s a lot of dark-colored moss, and some stalks in the lichen with reddish orange sporangia.

Again, sudden transition. Now there’s hapu’u tree ferns and uluhe ferns. I didnŐt notice when the grass started and the lichens stopped. There’s an ama’uma’u. These have one less order of branching in their fronds than hapu’us.

Now that the sun’s out, I’m really into the sights. These uluhe are beautiful. They spread like vines over the lower trunks of ohia trees.


Crater Rim Trail

In slow hours of cloud and sun
I walk the miles of trail
around Kilauea’s south rim,
silent but for wind in my ears
and feet crunching pumice.

At last I see ohelo berries,
watery sweets of the caldera,
handfuls on the smallest bushes.

The trail crosses mixed metaphors
of a recent lava flow,
a choppy sea and waterfalls
of licorice bread with cracked crust,
like an iridescent beetle.

Six years ago, lava slopping
on ohia trees made these molds,
black rough columns without a temple.

Birds whistle in the forest
beyond the flow.
Hearing the flap of heavy wings,
I look up at two nene geese
low overhead. One of them honks.


I’m at Thurston Lava Tube. I’ve just finished walking the stretch of Crater Rim Trail I hadn’t done before, so now I’ve walked the whole trail at least once. This sign in the Devastated Area has the explanation for Pu’u Puai’s structure. The 1960 lava fountain made Pu’u Puai, which was immediately downwind, and filled Kilauea Iki crater with a lava lake four hundred feet deep, some of which drained away back down the vent. From up close Pu’u Puai looks black. Why does it look so yellow from far away?

It looks like this part of the trail was part of Crater Rim Road before the 1959-1960 eruption.

Where the cinder-spray wasn’t so intense, the trees were burnt but not the roots. A bunch of short ohia foliage surrounds a taller, bare silver trunk. The top of Pu’u Puai is yellowish, but whether from sulfur stains or grass I can’t tell from here. So far this looks like an area growing back from a forest fire, which in a way is what it is.

Here’s whitish-green lichen on dead silver wood on black gravel.

A sign here says that new plants grow in the shade of dead ones because water lingers more there. And this one says some ohia and ohelo survived even though all their branches were burnt, as I just observed.

Pu’u Puai actually is yellow on this side, sulfur I think, maybe a bit of iron too. These chunks of lava gravel glint golden in the sunlight.

And here I am, for possibly the last time in this life, crossing a short distance of the shiny black floor of Kilauea.

The moss on this uppermost end of Halemaumau Trail is incredibly beautiful. It grows stems several inches long, which lie close to the ground and interlock. Since the tips are lighter green than the other leaflets, this makes a most pleasing pattern on the ground.

Now there’s no more of this moss. The change was sudden.

I was right. The primitive plants I keep seeing are Lycopodium. I won’t bother with the Hawaiian name.


I have $113 left, I’ve cashed two checks, I’ve spent $327 in 30 days to average $11.23 a day.


I got a ride back to the campground from a young military man. He was impressed that I walked 13 miles today and went out of his way to take me all the way back.

Then I talked to a woman named Bunny and her two friends. She believes that consciously or unconsciously you make everything that happens in your life happen. I have doubts about that, but certainly the more you believe you can control, the more you can control, so why not assume you can control everything? She says the people from Findhorn believe that manifesting a major miracle is no more difficult than a minor miracle. It just seems that way.

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