Lava Tree Park

I have a lot of favorite spots in our new ‘hood. There are particular trees, stretches of road, rocks, buildings: things I don’t get tired of looking at. One of them is Lava Tree State Park. It’s located off highway 132 just before you run into a massive wall of lava that blocks access to Kapoho and Pohoiki. The tree trunks featured in the park were engulfed in a lava flow in 1790. The lava that engulfed the roads to Kapoho and Pohoiki flowed a few months ago. Nature is both powerful and humbling. And enduring. And repetitive.

During last year’s lava flow, the park was closed. The lava never got as far as the park but there was earthquake damage and the air was noxious. The website said the park was closed due to lava and ‘we do see the irony in that.’ Impressive. When was the last time you saw a government website with a sense of humor?

The park is an oasis of civilization in the middle of virgin forest. There’s a concrete path (wheelchair accessible, it is a state park after all) that meanders past petrified trees alonside new growth, winding vines and exotic flowers. The occasional mongoose darts through the undergrowth. The path is less than a mile long so it’s a nice leisurely stroll even grandma can probably handle.

So far, the setup is very family-friendly but here’s where it gets interesting.

Next to the parking lot, there’s a storage shed. Next to the shed, there’s a fenced-in area topped with three forbidding strands of barbed wire.

The enclosure isn’t locked.

Every time we go there I wonder about the enclosure. There’s something slightly Jurassic Park about the area’s trees and other vegetation, so I thought it might be a velociraptor or T. Rex cage. On the other hand, I couldn’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure both are still extinct.

The only other use I could think of was locking up naughty children. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a public service outside of disused Walmart stores in South Texas.

On a visit today, we discovered a government maintenance truck parked by the storage shed. A friendly looking fella was sitting in the driver’s seat so I asked him what the enclosure was for. He heaved a sigh and said it was a rather long story. In a nutshell, he said, it was meant for parking his truck but they put the gate in the wrong place and it only opens halfway, so there’s no way to get the truck inside. He shrugged and said maybe someday he’d get some goats to keep inside it. Or maybe chickens.

And so there it sits, as useless and fascinating as the lava tree trunks, both evoking awe and wonder, monuments to the power of nature and the foolishness of humanity.


Fresh Eyes

Our first guests from Japan were here this weekend, two lovely ladies I have known for years and worked with many times. Even though we haven’t even been here six months yet and Tokyo is much closer than Pennsylvania, at times, our Japan life seems very long ago and far away. So it was a great pleasure to see Junko and Yoshie and welcome them into our home.

They had asked to see the ocean and some lava, so we drove along Beach Road (where there aren’t any beaches) as far as you can go until you abruptly run into a 20 foot wall of fresh lava. Along the way, the narrow road winds and twists through lush greenery that even Walt Disney would have had trouble imagining. We stopped a couple of times to stare at the craggy rocks and crashing surf that make up the Puna coastline. As we sailed through tunnels of trees, at times we expected Alice and the White Rabbit to peep out from behind a gnarled tree, at others a velociraptor to jump out of the Jurassic looking foliage.

To cap off the afternoon, we took a stroll through Lava Tree State Park, where I took a photo of Rochi taking a photo of Junko taking a photo of Yoshie taking a photo of all of us. That big lump of lava behind Yoshie was once a tree. Hence the name of the park. But you got that, right?

It felt strange to be driving, stranger to be driving while speaking Japanese, but we all felt relaxed and comfortable together and it was a delight to see our world through their eyes. Puna is nothing like the image of Hawaii that everyone carries: white sand beaches and pretty girls doing hula dances under waving palm trees. Puna is rough and wild, exotic and awe-inspiring but also quiet, still thinly populated, a backwater in some ways. Junko and Yoshie live in Tokyo and could keenly appreciate the airy space of our house, the exotic plants and flowers in the garden, the earthy damp of the virgin forest and salty scent of the pristine ocean.

In the morning, they tumbled out of bed, rumpled and sleepy. Both headed straight for the deck to stretch and breathe and take in the miraculous morning freshness which still moves me nearly to tears every single day. I told Junko that I’ve wondered again and again if we made the right decision, to dismantle our Japan lives and start over here, but the longer we stay the more I know we were meant to be here. Hawaii wants us here and we want to be here. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.

Fool Me Once

Tuesday was a true day in paradise…almost. First thing in the morning, I went to yoga at the Hawaiian Sanctuary, where the name speaks for itself. In the late afternoon, we drove to Keaau where we signed up for taiko drumming lessons, something we’d both wanted to do for years. It doesn’t hurt at all that the lessons take place in a Buddhist temple.

Hongwanji

Yes, I get the irony that we had to move to Hawaii to study Japanese drumming. It’s the same irony by which Lava Tree State Park is closed due to lava. Life’s little quirks are what make it worth living.

In between yoga bliss and drumming delights, though, was an endless phone call with health insurance people, or at least that’s what they called themselves.

I was nervous about this, having heard what a nightmare healthcare has become in the States, and knowing I was spoiled by my Japan’s socialized medicine system. But the rate they offered was just expensive enough to seem legitimate and yet not outrageous. As I sat there answering questions, giving away personal information, I had an inkling that I was being scammed but was unable to do anything about it, like slowing down to look at a wreck on the highway. Unfortunately, I was the wreck. Nobody wants to admit they’re being scammed; on some level we believe that makes us stupid. I got passed along from Kind Keri to Gentle Jimmy, feeling more and more stupid as time passed and when I finally started to object, they switched me to Chris the Dickhead.

Chris: I’m sorry this is so confusing for you.
Me: I’m not confused at all. You keep contradicting what Keri and Jimmy said.
Chris: Yes, I understand that you’re confused.
Me: Stop being so condescending. You’re the one who doesn’t have his story straight.
Chris: I’m not being condescending.
(“I’m not hungry,” said the Big Bad Wolf as he swallowed Little Red Riding Hood.)
Me: Fine. But you’re not making any sense, either.
Chris: Sweetie, if you would like me to explain it again, I’d be happy to.
Me: Did you just call me ‘sweetie’?

If it had been my grandmother who said that, or even YOUR grandmother, it might have been all right, but instead it was a nasty, knuckle-dragging, kindergarten drop-out who had decided that bullying was the way to get me to agree to this policy. I was incensed and therefore grateful when he switched me back to Gentle Jimmy. I suppose that’s all part of the strategy. These people know what they’re doing.

By the time I got back from drumming and read the documents and did some online research and gradually realized how completely I’d been taken in, it was too late to call them and argue. It didn’t matter, though. The damage had been done and I knew I would have to do some fancy footwork to get out of it. That meant getting up early to call my bank where I cancelled my debit card and then call the fake insurance people who cancelled the policy, or so they said. The phone rang and rang but nobody ever answered at the number they told me to call to confirm my refund.

Exhausted, I stared at the ceiling and tried to understand what had happened. Basically, they said I qualify for a good rate because I am healthy, unlikely to need drug or alcohol abuse treatment nor have babies, which means I wouldn’t be needing to use the insurance, which only covers preventive testing anyway. So that means they wanted me to pay more than $300 a month to NOT get hurt or sick. In other words, I would be paying for being healthy. In yet other words, I would be paying for something I already own.

Lesson one: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Lesson two: All future telemarketers who want to sell me insurance will be informed that I am Amish and therefore do not own a car and do not believe in insurance*; they’re probably too stupid to realize that I don’t have a phone, either.

 

 

*Kudos to the brilliant mind of Joyce Watkins Gardner for this one.

orchid

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning, Hawaii time, which is some other time everywhere else, the rain had stopped, the humidity dropped and the morning sky was the blue of a wildflower petal stretched like a tarp across an endless sky. I had an indulgent morning of yoga and coffee, then we headed for the farmers’ market. The past two Sundays had rained out so it was a treat we were looking forward to.

Farmers' market loot

Our first stop was the balsamic vinegar lady. When we went three weeks before, I bought some of her obscenely expensive bottles of bliss and wanted to thank her. She had told me that she spent weeks perfecting each of her concoctions with dozens going in the bin for each one that made it to her table. I believed her. I tasted a few and my favorite by far is the Habanero coconut lime. My morning tonic:

Fresh squeezed lemon from the tree in the garden, grated ginger, half a teaspoon of turmeric honey paste, a bit of organic apple vinegar and a dash of the Habanero coconut lime. Add warm water. Sip slowly and be grateful that the world allowed you to be a part of it.

Lunch was a falafel sandwich slathered in hummus, cucumbers in yogurt, pink pickled daikon and a slice of spicy pepper, proudly presented by the Lebanese man who hands out tastes to waiting customers while he creates his magic. One sandwich is enough for two and barely leaves room for a scoop of vegan coconut ice cream.

It seems that the volcano is calming down; a few days ago, they closed the ops center up the road from here. It had been filled with military versions of news gathering trucks and ominous-looking unmarked vans, but they removed the “Be prepared to stop” sign and most of the scary vehicles, so we thought it would be all right to go exploring to the south.

Just past the entrance to Leilani Estates, there are signs saying, “Do not stop”, “Keep windows closed”, and “Metal plates ahead”.

metal plate lava smoke

It was, literally, metal plates, which appeared to be covering what is left of lava paths running across the road and into the dense vegetation growing close to its edges. There are no signs of lava except for wisps of smoke rising on either side of the road, like the dying embers of a campfire or the ghostly tendrils of dry ice winding their way along the floor of a fun house. We didn’t stop or open our windows.

When you get to the end of route 130, there’s a park where you walk across lava formations to get to the ocean. The undulating rock reaches into the distance, seemingly endless, its random bumps and blobs giving way to elegant swirls and waves, as if a celestial baker had been nipping at the cooking wine and kept nodding off as he attempted to ice the world’s largest chocolate cake.

sky so big Only the very brave, or very foolish, would dare to swim there. Watching the surf pound against the black sand and rock as ocean spray wet my lips and lashes assured me of the majestic power of nature. I sat on a rough hewn log expecting to feel humbled. Instead I felt that I was part of something much bigger than myself, an essential part, as if the whole would be less if I wasn’t there. At first it was just an inking, but it grew into something warm and glowing, perhaps the beginning of the internal white light I’ve heard about in guided meditations. I felt centered in the universe, centered in me. I somehow knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Perhaps the shattered, scattered pieces of me are coming back together.

cairn