The Bearded One smells it first. “Sulfur,” he says. The 2000 degree Fahrenheit lava is only a few miles west of the highway now.
His Majesty is driving, the Bearded One is shotgun, and I’m in the back with the gas cans. We’re on Highway 130 leaving Pahoa, 7-8 miles from our house, and going south toward Kalapana, where lava last crossed the highway back in the 1980s. We’re taking His Majesty back to Kalani Retreat Center where he works in the kitchen and teaching yoga, and imagining what it might be like in the next few weeks if Mt. Kilauea’s June 27th flow makes it this far and cuts off all of south Puna from civilization.
I look out at the scraggly ohia trees lining the 2-lane highway as it winds downhill 10 miles to the ocean. Warm wind blows my frizzy hair and I, too, get a whiff of rotten eggs, the sulfur dioxide that surrounds flowing lava and pollutes the air downwind. Vog, they call it. It lasts less than a minute as we pass through it at 60 mph.
“Peee—yew!” I say loudly over the wind and wait for His Majesty to smile. Which he does. It’s what we said every time we passed the pulp mill in Everett, Washington.
I remember the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980. This is not that volcano. I was 23 years old and had just moved to Seattle the year before. Some people in Seattle heard the colossal bang that Sunday morning, but I was in church.
It went off like a nuclear bomb. This one is more nearly a determined trickle, a relentless march to the sea.
Highway 130 veers and I see the immense ocean ahead, dark blue, defining the horizon at an impossibly high level. We are descending the one currently active shield volcano on the planet, Mt. Kilauea (Kill-uh-Way-uh). One of low elevation but massive girth, shaped like a warrior’s shield lying on the ground. One currently riddled with lava tubes and streams of oozing lava that take 5 years to cool. The word Kilauea means “spreading” or “much spewing” in Hawaiian. And, culturally speaking, Kilauea also happens to be the body and home of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes.
We get to the bottom and the Wizard of Oz sign that actually says, “END OF THE ROAD.”
You can see the barren twenty year old pahoehoe lava fields in the distance. Pahoehoe lava is smooth and swirly and looks like intestines. It’s heavy and dense. A’a lava, lightweight and full of air bubbles, is the rough, spiky kind that’s 10 miles in the other direction, at Kapoho, from the 1960 flow.
His Majesty turns onto the Red Road and it’s just 5 more miles to Kalani. He spent the previous day at a training for emergency workers (CERT), one of 15 from Kalani. We talk about the community meetings and the newspaper articles about evacuation and blocking or bombing the lava flow.
The native Hawaiian community is against these as being violations of Pele’s will. The scientists agree that stopping or even attempting to redirect the flow is dubious at best.
The ocean sparkles and the layers of blue mesmerize. I feel grateful to be riding in this truck with the Bearded One, who turns 59 this week, and His Majesty, who is the same age I was when I married his father, 23, and who has his father’s eyebrows, calm temperament and math brain. We three have moved to an active volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
We hear the Kalani campus before we arrive. It’s the Ecstatic Dance program they sponsor every Sunday morning. The music is rocking the large EMAX building that’s usually a yoga venue. We wave to the attendants, park and hug His Majesty good-bye. I watch the Ecstatic Dancers for a few minutes while the Bearded One buys us organic sandwiches.
The young bodies gyrate and pulse in the heat, I am struck by their beauty and intensity, but I have no interest in joining in. I’m literally in the second volcanic eruption of my life – this is as ecstatic as I get.