Friday, August 06, 2010

planting a foot on it (a Wish - part 5)

We began at the various visitor buildings, where the Eldest was ceremoniously given a small bag of informative gifts. And the loan of Ranger Rob, a twinkling gentleman with an excellent understanding of that which is small and male.

Hi, said the boys, and gazed adoringly at Rob, his uniform, his walkie-talkie and his generally obvious belonging-hereness. Hi, said Rob. And twinkled.

I explained the Eldest's Wish to climb a volcano, and Ranger Rob and I considered the challenge. To arrive at the Volcanoes National Park, we had driven, well, up. A whole lot of up, more than you'd have thought, given the effectiveness of the doowwwwwwn. Erm. You are already at the summit, another ranger pointed out. (Sans twinkle.) But Rob was unconcerned. I'll take you to what I consider the real summit, he declared. Are you ready? By now, I was pretty sure that I knew the answer.


And off we went, up a dusty trail to the (ahem) summit of Kilauea - a summit not appreciated by the tourists, who hang around the nicely paved semicircle with the pay-per-view lookout glasses. The US Geological Survey likes it just fine, and even stuck a literal pin in the map on that very spot, noting the volcano's highest point. They also built a tidy concrete housing over their pin, and we plopped ourselves on top, the better to consider the view.

It is a view that takes some considering.

Kilauea is an uneven sort of place, with steam rising in a great gush from the caldera, and then in little dribbles scattered through the landscape. Clouds hung low, promising damp, then drizzle, before blowing away to let in a blazing sunshine. Greenery would explode upwards, before stopping abruptly on the edge of lava. Even the bare rock left the sense of someone opposed to housekeeping - a handy geologist (drawn in by the twinkle, no doubt) pointed out the caldera's bathtub ring, a ridge showing the lava lake's level, before the most recent eruption. And who would dare scrub at that?

Untidy - and uncertain. Rob's walkie-talkie crackled often, chattering about emerging or possible alarms, and next door, a lab bristled with measurements and instruments eyeing the volcano's every twitch and wriggle. A place to be, but not to settle in, I thought - but possibly that had somewhat to do with the rock digging into my bum. Or possibly with that threatening gush of steam.

It was odd beyond odd to watch a jogger go by, pony tail bouncing.

The geologist, Kelly, offered to take the Eldest to the Jagger volcano lab and observatory, where she showed us boxes of ash and lava samples. The geologists examine the samples for mineral content, among other things. Different minerals are present at different depths, and a new mineral can mean that lava - or ash - is coming from a different chamber, below the surface. They track an amazing amount of information here, Rob told me, quietly. The computers help assemble the information, and can even help us try to figure out what is happening, during a crisis. And yet, looking around at the piled-up boxes of samples and reams of data, I had the feeling that a crucial degree of volcanology was instinct; a half conscious assessment of information, experience and a coalescing judgement, trailing explanations in its wake.

Reliable science would be nice, but hey, instinct works for me, too.

These are Pele's hair - and tears - said Kelly, and the boys listened with their mouths open as she talked about the way that volcanic glass is spun as thin as a human hair. She held up a bag of what truly looked like hair, and picked out a tear. I found this in the parking lot, a few days ago, she said. (I considered moving the car) Oooo, said the boys, but the Eldest hunched his shoulders, worried by the idea of that much volcanic activity.

Is it safe?

Kelly smiled at him. We watch the volcano, she told them, and study everything we can. The Eldest's shoulders relaxed slightly, finding this comforting. And then forgot everything but awe when Kelly explained how they took the lava samples. Ash daily and lava weekly, she told them, and grinned when I asked why her shoes don't melt. Later, she pointed out some Army green flight helmets and bits of gear. For when we go to get the lava, she said, calmly. Rob nodded gravely, and I caught the whisper's edge of a twinkle in Kelly's eye.

Oh, I said, lamely. Oh, boy.

Kelly flickered another micro-twinkle at me, and led us out to a little gallery of stuff thought cool by the geologists. We gaped at these for a while, remembering the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. Geologists really do get to collect the very bestest rocks. But Rob wandered over to what ought to be the Man's favorite map ever; a geological map, showing the dates and topographical details of the various lava flows. Here is where people were evacuated in such a such a year, Rob pointed, and there is where the lava did this, crossed that town, that road. You could see why Rob was still a Ranger - he looked at that map and saw events, people and needs, where numbers and notations about who knows what were written.

People? rocks? I don't think you can really separate the two around here. But you can pick a focus as a lens for reading a given moment.

We walked past a bunch of bemused geologists (children? in the lab?) and wound up some stairs. Thanks for letting us break chunks off the olivine, said a poster, signed, Ms X's class. I grinned, and kept climbing. We emerged into a glass-walled Situation Room on top of the Jagger lab, complete with webcams and fantastic views. And maps of Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and goodness knows what else, from umpteen angles, dates and with an infinite number of teeny notations.

There is Mauna Kea, Rob waved. I peered at the omnipresent clouds. An eruption would show browns, and a glow. We'd see it, or an eruption around here, or there... He trailed off. And then, we'd respond, he said, simply.

Looking at the massive landscape, I didn't ask how, but suspected that the answer would depend on your lens.

We headed for the car, an annotated map in hand, slipping from specialness into anonymity. Waving goodbye to Rob and the tourist-aesthetic spaces, we looked for somewhere to get dirty.

It was time for a hike.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

elimination and observation

High on the list of things that someone should tell people before they have babies (not that they'd believe you), is the bathroom issue. Sandi, I hate to admit it, but I seem to recall that even in your wonderful book, no mention of the Bathroom Problem is included. I gaze upon you and the others who pregged before me, with that slightly sad, disappointed gaze that only a mother can bring to bear.

Right, then the Bathroom Problem. (At this point, certain readers might want to stop reading. Such as my father. And possibly the MIL and FIL. I'm not going to be graphic here, but I will touch briefly on issues that might make them uncomfortable.)

(My father now throws his hands up and stalks off muttering about daughters who nag him to read the blog and then tell him to stop. Right then, I think we're ready.)

Okay, so what you are not told is that, unless you are ruthless about your playpen usage, your child will want to accompany you into the bathroom. Which means that, while you are attempting to focus on your business, the baby is wandering around the bathroom, scattering tissues and - in one notable case - pulling up loose tiles.

Our babes loves toilet paper. We keep a basket of tub toys in the bathroom, but he disdains these in favor of good old t.p. He shreds the t.p., chews on it (I worried briefly about pica, but I think that's just him playing around), and flings it about. At this stage in the game, he is starting to understand me when I say things like 'not food,' or 'not for you.' It might not stop him, but he does look up and take note.

Some days ago, I was busy while he played his usual shredding games. He popped some toilet paper in his mouth, and I told him 'no, that's not food.' He considered this, then offered the t.p. to me. 'Nope,' I told him, 'that's not food for me, either.'

He thought this over for a while, and then crawled over to my knee. He stood up, and waved his bit of toilet paper between my knees. I laughed and hugged him. 'Yes,' I told him. 'That is what toilet paper is for. But Mummy likes to do it herself, okay?'

Clever widget of a child, that one.

enacting a metaphor (a Wish - part 4)

Are we ready? Well, yes. But facing the prospect of actually managing the hike, I admit to being a little intimidated. So we started small.

Steam vents, said the sign, and oh, maybe we could picnic there? said the mama. Well, no. The steam was oh-oooo-eep! hot, and the wind was happily sending the stuff around unexpected corners. It was rather like playing peekaboo with the volcano, and we ditched lunch long enough to tromp around from vent to vent.

When they ran out of steam to squeal at, or vents to nearly-but-not-quite fall into, the boys invented their own.

That's my boys, kicking a little ash, the Man muttered, recovering from a fateful of the stuff. Grinned. And informed me that the above should be the caption for the relevant photo.

Suddenly, it seemed, momentum gathered. Lunch in the parking lot, loin girding, map checking - and with a speed and dispatch unusual for Imperfects, we were off. A brisk tromp from the Kilauea Iki overlook towards the Thurston Lava tube. Which, with great restraint (and a lack of flashlight) we passed by. Instead, we headed for the caldera floor.

Nature's blacktop, the Man joked. But a distant blacktop - it was way far down. I peeked over the edge. Whoa.

Look what you did, I told the Eldest. You got us here - and now we're going to go there. He grinned. I tried to look plaintive. Yes, we are, he told me. And bounded off down the path.

A switchback trail leads down to the caldera, overflowing with opportunistic greenery, loving the volcano's warmth at this cool, misty height. Alongside the trail were even more holes in the ground for the boys to admire. Ooooo, we said, and peered at stubborn bits of green growing out of the sides of the gaps, as far down as light would reach. Cracks in the ground do not exactly inspire confidence in the trail, but small boys bounding around close to the edge of oh, many things, doesn't bring much zen, either.

The kids took endless enthusiastic photos, determined to get the best angles and views while the Man tried not to start shrieking. Too far, too fast, too oh dear - gahrgh - you are about to fall in/over/throughohcripesohhelloh oh oh who left the bungie cords at home? We counted to parental ten (today's ten clocked in at 63, hooray!) and tried again.

Let's buddy up, kids, said the mama, and the Toddles jumped at me. Um, being a buddy means not knocking the other person off the trail, hey? Helping each other, instead? Sticking together?

The Toddles thought it over. Okay, buddy, he said, cheerily. Let's run! No? Oh, buddy, said the Toddles sadly, and patted my arm. Shall we walk briskly, then?

We shall, indeed. And we did, to the Toddles' cheery exhortations (and occasional, breathtaking bounce), all the way down. Whew, said the Man, but we were all too busy staring to respond. The Toddles pushed back his hood and considered.

The caldera floor is an oddly alien landscape. Crisp horizons of pahoehoe (pronounced poh-way-way) stretched before us, dusty and clean of plant life. Here and there, a pile of stones, or amu, marked the path. In some places, a parallel set of amu defined it rather precisely, and with cause. Walking, we passed places where the pahoehoe crusts had collapsed, a silent admonishment to keep to the path. Do not, said the guide, build your own amu. I helped the Toddles jump a foot-wide collapse, and jumped myself. Not a place to go awry, this.

Unnerving as it was to see, these collapses allowed plant life to enter the landscape. Twisty little trees - the kind that is adored by the honeycreeper - grew in the gaps, promising a gentle, vegetative revolution. But there were no birds, nor insects. Clearly, they were waiting, patiently, for the trees and ferns to do their work. This made for a quiet space, nearly barren, in which our voices were the only noise, and the little trees provided a slight break from the lava's grey-back.

The caldera floor glimmered with heat, but the boys clung to their sweatshirts, maybe anticipating their return to the chilly, misty crater's rim. Or maybe, appreciating the deep pockets in their sweatshirts, which they filled with rocks.

Here, said the Eldest, oh, Mum, look here! You can see how the lava cooled.

Spiky rocks, rippled rocks, crushed rock dust all told stories as we tromped along. The boys loved every fragment, and filled pockets with beloved specimens. By the end of the hike, most of these would have crumbled into a rather coarse - but beloved - sand.

And onwards we went.

Almost suddenly, it seemed, the pahoehoe was replaced by a spikier spatter (not a'a) and rocks from the caldera wall's collapse, and we were climbing - just as the Toddles began weaving on his feet. We slowed, sacrificing momentum for a mellow, subtly careful walk. I'm not tired, the Toddles told me thoughtfully. But bits of me are very near to exhausted. Over his head, the Eldest shot me a meaningful look. I nodded.

Step by step by step by step, that's how we make the mountain small, we chanted. I slipped my arm under the Toddles' armpit, and we began to climb. The stairs were steep, and some had long since crumbled, making narrow perches for our feet. Step by step by step by step, said the Toddles, cheerfully. That's how we make ourselfs so tall!

And then we were at the top. Tired, triumphant and with the odd muscle jumping from weariness, we circled the last two miles of the crater's rim. We'd hiked a challenging 4-5 miles, and oh, we felt it.

Look what you did, I told the kid. He grinned.

Look what we did, I whispered to the Man. He glowed.

And kindly drove us the long way home, following the curving, lush edges of a (flatter) coastline.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

intermission (a Wish - part 3)

ow, ow, ow, ow.

I appear to have dry-roasted myself to an impressively glowing crisp. And while thematically, this ought to lead to a post about volcanoes, alas, it doesn't lead to much more than me keeping my arms straight (did you know that bending the elbow, or raising the arm pull on the skin at elbow and shoulder, respectively? I do).

But I can leave you with an unusual fact, and a photo:

Hawaiian Fun Fact:
While sunburnt skin is sensitive to heat from sources such as warm water, bedding, etc, it will also invite you to wince at the appearance of each goose bump, should you decide to supply yourself with a/c.

ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.

But enough whinging, let's have a pic, eh? I've mentioned the rather lovely roadside graffiti, and we were idly admiring it as we drove north, through the lava fields. There was not, after all, much else to admire - barring, perhaps, the wonderful blueness of the sky, which I was having a hard time enjoying, being already rather crispy.

By contrast to what seemed a fairly ruthlessly sunny sky, the Hawaiian graffiti was worth a gentle smile

and a rapid set of blinks.

Aloha, indeed. We pulled over, and I took my crispy self across the highway (two whole lanes, eep) and aimed the camera. The graffito had chosen a really nice, distant site so as to make for a good view from the road, and a nice little hike over crusty pahoehoe lava, should we want to edit it.

But the broken crusts of pahoehoe, and the impressively deep blackness between the lava's edges are enough to discourage any editor. Still, if I could, I'd at least add something: mahalo, Make A Wish!

The crackling of my various bits aside, I'm sitting on a shaded lounge chair, a quietly humming Toddles next to me, and looking at this:

Oh, my. The saffron finches are chattering, something is crooning in the palm tree near us, and on the horizon, the volcanoes and cinder cones are beautiful in distant shades of deepening blue.

And, lest I become too um, mellow, a small feathered being is informing me, in no uncertain terms, that I am far too close to his nest. Which might just be my cue to pry myself up and go make dinner.

Yep. Any minute now.

*mahalo = thank you.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Arrival (a Wish - part 2)

Another airplane - but then it landed, fussed in the usual airplane fashion before opening a door. Humid air swept in, oddly character-rich with humus, maybe? and salt. We had arrived at Kona.

Kona's airport is an outdoors affair, with little roofed walkways. We meandered towards the baggage claim, where a lovely lady with an armful of flora - and a clipboard - met us.

Oh, said the Eldest as he bent his head for the lei she offered. The more cautious Toddles fingered his, declining to wear it.. It is soft, he informed me. And lovely, I agreed. Flowers draped around our necks, we took lungfuls of air, scented with sea and green. We waited, sitting on small puddles of green grasslike matted stuff, while birds swooped around us, competing for seeds, perhaps? They were utterly different from any in Boston, and therefore, wonderful.

We gathered up bags, a rental car and headed off. Around us, Hawai'i unfolded, a stark landscape of lava in patchworked stretches of black, brown and even rusty red. A few twisting, low trees grew on the lava, alongside tufts of African fountain grass, a plant whose presence speaks much to Hawai'ian ecological challenges, as we'd learn. In places, the lava looked like thick crusts, cracked and sometimes fallen, revealing surprisingly deep holes. Elsewhere, it was jumbled and lumpy, but always a tribute to the volcano's implacable presence. Even the graffiti by the highway seemed to be a metaphor of the landscape, words spelled out in white coral on the dark lava rock. This is an island of the volcano, I thought, brutal and strong.

When we arrived at our rented condo, the kids ran outside as quickly as they'd run in - laughing, they rolled on the grass outside, gathering armfuls of fallen, scent-rich white flowers, and waxy long, green leaves. A golf course unrolled outside of our back door, crisply manicured and lovely, but with tufts of the inevitable fountain grass insinuating itself throughout the landscaping. Drying it up, almost, with poufs in a flammable shade of straw - and inevitably echoing the starkness that lies a mere birdie away. At night and in the early morning, we'd hear the sprinklers going, reminding me of the Negev. If they turn the water off, what will happen?

Unpacking my armfuls of avocadoes, pineapples, mangoes and greenery, I sniffed at human hubris. Bah - insisting on making so thinly veneered a paradise where none is meant to be. Bunch'a idjits wasting water, and who's buying it, anyway? Not us, that's for sure. The Man and the Eldest talked geology, volcanoes, and fingered bits of porous rock. The Toddles lined up his rocks, murmuring about colors and the size of the air bubbles. Stark and brutal, we reminded ourselves.

But then, we had not yet met the overlapping, teeming life at the volcano's

Sunday, August 01, 2010

a chariot - and a glow - await (a Wish - part 1)

There comes a moment when any experienced belly-acher recognizes that it is time to shut the hell up. Mine came at 4.20 am, after 47 hours of packing, staring at the itinerary, repacking, checking the various elevations of our activities, weather reports and oh yes, repacking. Pausing, then flinging
my hands up, tossing things at bags. Tetrising food into the cooler, too tired by then to remember that crucial note I had meant to write down, but, oh never mind because -

Is it time? Do we leave now? Are they here? a burble of boys tumbled in to our room, alarmingly bright-eyed. Bouncing, even.

Almost, I told them, and woke up their father.

It was full dark outside when we closed the door behind us. The street was quiet, the lamps glowing, and there was a long white limousine. The door was held open by a smiling gentleman, who also insisted on carrying our bags. Inside, a bar curved along one side, holding crystal glassware - and spring water. Are you ready? he asked, and as he started the engine, tiny lights began to twinkle from the ceiling.

Were we ready? Sitting in that improbable car, I felt adrift from reality. Anything could happen now, it seemed, and perhaps that was the point.

Driving through a silent, sleeping city, the Eldest looked out the windows, at the shining lights of the ceiling, and leaned towards me.

Mum, he whispered, oh Mum, my Wish is coming true.

I looked at his face, and threw away any squirms or wriggles I might have. Dug out the gigantic blue pins. Attached them to the boys' bags. We were a Wish family, the buttons announced. Something special was happening here, said the buttons, and we wore that specialness on our faces, and on our bags in a language that anyone could read.

The boys bounced through the airport, wrapped in a fog of their pleasure. People looked quickly, almost wincingly at their buttons, I thought, but some smiled and met our eyes. Wrapped in their glow, the boys didn't notice. When the plane took off, the Eldest's eyes were alight. It is happening, he breathed. My Wish!

It was a glow hard to sustain over the next 15 hours, but a quiet word with an airline attendant, and we relit the kid.

We are beginning our final descent, said the captain, and told us the local time and other bits of useful information. And I know you will join me in wishing the best of luck to one of our passengers....seated in this row, the Eldest is on his way to Hawaii, thanks to the Make A Wish foundation. His Wish is to climb a volcano and save some endangered species, and we wish him the best of luck.

There was silence for a moment. Then, applause. The Eldest's face shifted from startled to thrilled, and he waved at the cheering people around him. And graciously accepted the invitation to the flight deck, where he and the Toddles asked enough questions about the workings of the wings and navigation system to give the captain pause. He recovered swiftly, and offered thoughtful, crisp answers - but the boys could barely hear him over their determination to push every button and knob within reach. Not, thankfully, including the parking brakes. The Man and I fielded eager hands, redirected eyes towards the answers being given, and used the butterfly net to collect and direct the boys towards thank-you and our next flight.

That's quite a pair you have there, the captain told me. Something special? Behind him, an airline attendant raised her eyebrows and looked sympathetic. He grinned. Must keep you busy, eh?

Oh, yes, I nodded. And zipped off, following the Eldest and his glow.