Age 16, With Parents, Brother and His Girlfriend, December 1976

Island of Hawaii
We were given a lei greeting and a hello kiss, then put into a double limousine and taken off through Hilo. Hilo is warm, tropical and sprawling. There is a healthy scent to the air.  Most of the ground is black volcanic rock, and the vegetation is widely varied but of a tropical nature—palms, tree-ferns, enormous banyans and many flowers—including poinsettias. We drove through Liliuokalani Gardens and stopped at Wailuku River Park to see Rainbow Falls, a respectable waterfall off a black cliff. I, as usual, wandered off by myself and found myself in a jungle—but a curiously innocent kind of jungle, without the tangled, messy undergrowth of some jungles (Mexico), rather just enormous vines and other unmistakable jungly growth. A banyan tree first hand is an amazing thing…While driving through Hilo we saw a Japanese Buddhist shrine, a Methodist church and a Chinese temple all in quick succession—it was amazing. The variety in architecture was also amazing. As we drove out of Hilo, we ascended in elevation. We passed sugar cane fields, anthuriums growing in the shade of tree-ferns, Bird-of-Paradise fields, Japanese bonsai gardens, bright flowers…and just general greenery. Up higher we ran into the ohia trees.

In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park we arrived and settled in Volcano House, perched on the edge of the Kilauea Crater.

Kilauea Crater: U.S. Geological Survey.

I mean right there. We looked out our window and POW! There it was. Black and steaming, set into the land below, it’s an enormous depression with a distinct caldera within itself. If I listened hard enough, I could convince myself that I could hear it—a low, contained, constant rumble. There is a feeling of suppressed energy, of power lying within the earth just waiting to burst out. Steam constantly oozed out from rocks all around us, including several “just holes” quite near the hotel spewing sulfurous steam. In the back of the hotel, we found our first native birds: apapane, lovely little red birds that flitted about constantly, and an albino strain, even more striking in pure white, red and black. The sun was setting, but I put several gorgeous flowers on my list for tomorrow. The caldera is imposing—it inspires a compulsion just to gaze at it. Close by is the gentle hump of Mauna Loa. The surrounding vegetation is beautiful—a sight for sore Midwestern-winter eyes…

At 6:30 a.m. (the next day), it began to get light outside and I awoke and hopped out of bed.  It was a beautiful clear morning and the sun was not yet up. Outside I wandered a few of the local trails around the Volcano House.  It was very still and fresh-smelling, with the apapane being quite active. The sun gradually moved from the first place it started, the top of Mauna Loa, downward to the far edge of the caldera and inward until finally the entire crater was in sunlight. I began a walk down the Crater Rim Trail, which promised to take me to Steaming Bluffs in 0.4 miles. I had to be back for breakfast at 8 a.m., so I hurried. The original ferny forest broke open into a scrubby, busily ohia-tree area, with open spaces of bracken ferns and many ground orchids.  The view of Kilauea was always there and fantastic. I photographed some of the dew-laden orchids, fresh and lovely in the newly-risen sun. I didn’t make it to the Steaming Bluffs themselves, but I did reach an area of large steam vents bellowing enormous amounts of vapor into the air.  The vents themselves were merely holes.

After breakfast, we drove up the Mauna Loa Strip Road, leading 10 miles up the slope of Mauna Loa. It went from the scrubby, ohia-tree land to a mostly koa-tree area at the top (elevation: 6,800 ft.).  It traveled through several kipukas, that is, stands of older vegetation that has survived as isolated patches as lava flows wiped out the neighboring vegetation. In the kipukas, the trees were much larger and the overall plant life greater than in the surrounding newer parts. Along the way were many house finches. One area had been blackened by fire. At the top, we could see the whole of Kilauea below us, stretching all the way to the sea. Walking the trails right off the bat, we were treated to a look at two i’iwi (pronounced ee-ee-ve), bright red birds with black and white wings, black tails and red down-curved bills—they were gorgeous. Also present were the amakihi, small yellowish-green active birds. Among plant life was the loa tree, with petioles instead of leaves, the a’ali’i, a shrub; the ohelo, with red berries; the kukanene, with black bright berries; and the pukiawe, with pinkish-white berries.  Beyond the grove of trees. … was a lava flow.  The two major types of lava are pahoehoe, generally smooth or ropy; and the aa, the chunky kind. Most of this was a reddish ropy and folded pahoehoe, twisted into strange and interesting shapes. It wasn’t a bit hard to imagine it as a liquid flow. Growing on this bare outcropping of lava were assorted shrubs and much lichen. The lava rock itself, of course, is very light, porous and full of holes. It varies greatly in color from black, brown, red, orange to yellow and everything in between. I forgot to say that the i’iwi were nesting in the nearby grove because of an abundance of mamane trees, which have a nectar-rich yellow flower that they feed upon…We drove to a lower spot where a fairly recent lava flow of the aa type had occurred.  Someone spotted some bleached bones here and we went down—cautiously— to inspect.  We decided upon a baby goat as being the original owner of the bones. Again, looking up the slope it wasn’t at all hard to imagine it molten and moving. Close inspection of the lava revealed a fascinating surface of holes, mini-caves and stalactites, with the only living things being a hardy lichen.

Island of Kauai
Our pilot was a suave-looking dude with a big afro and long eyelashes. Helicopters are neat—no long take-off, just whst! And you’re up. On the earphones we listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. We buzzed over the Princeville Ranch and Hanalei Valley, then up over a ridge and several valleys, forested with kukui and ohia. Very soon, we were in the Alakai Swamp, a large wilderness area of a high-elevation bog. We landed in a small open area where our leader (who had preceded us on an earlier trip) was waiting. He led us down a rather muddy, boggy trail, where tennis shoes became plastered (and thongs were buried). The Alakai is not a swamp in the generally accepted sense. It is wet, alright, but more on the order of a bog. There is no high swamp grass or any noticeable insects like mosquitoes. Instead, it is like a type of rainforest with twisted ohia trees and a lot of thick green undergrowth—a lot of moss and slime molds, staghorn ferns, and mud. It’s supposed to be one of the wettest places in the world; yet while we were there the sun shone and the sky was blue.  The first bird we saw was a cute immature elepaio feeding just a few feet above us. A little farther away, in a little more open place of ohia trees, we heard several birds and were fortunate enough to see two of them.  First, the tiny, bright yellow-green Anianiau, with a small straight bill. My brother found another bright yellow-green bird, the akepa, which has a black facemask and a comical, almost-crossed bill. Both were feeding in the trees and would just pop out for a second of a view and then hopped back in the leaves. Our leader said we were pretty lucky to find these birds so quickly.

We had to head back toward the open area pretty soon, swinging around trees to avoid wallowing in the mud. … I really liked the Alakai Swamp, though we saw it in an unusual aspect—sunshine.  It was a real feeling of isolation, waiting there in the wilderness area with the nearest point of civilizations—the Kalalau lookout we’d visited yesterday—11 miles away on a tough trail.

The helicopter arrived with the third group, and we left our leader with them and took off. We first flew out of the swamp and into the northern portion of Waimea Canyon, which was very beautiful, unclouded and colored in reds and oranges. Falling great heights from the Alakai into the canyon were several lovely, ribbon-like waterfalls. Soon we headed out a side-canyon, which turned into a valley that opened up to the sea. It was really neat to fly through the valley and suddenly be out on the Na Pali Coast, flying along high brown cliffs and alternate white beaches and shores of black rock.

Na Pali Coast, Nā Pali Coast State Park; Kauai, Hawaii

Very soon, we buzzed into landing at the Mololi Beach, which is a state park, and accessible only by small boat or helicopter. A party of three had been here for several days already and had pretty well combed the beach, but still, patient looking revealed many beautiful and perfect shells, if a little on the small side. There were cowries and conches, augers and cones, and many others, ranging from the biggest of about 6 inches to near-microscopic ones. The colors on them were lovely—lavender cones, beige and purple cowries, red spirals, and even a green shell that I found, a very unusual color for a shell. There were several small hermit crabs, and I found a (tiny) dark purple hermit-crab shell. … It was a good deal of fun to search the beach for the shells, never knowing what would turn up next…

We had all day to spend here at the beach, but it was difficult to decide what to do next.  The beach was in a shadow because the cliff behind us was so high it hid the sun, but gradually the sun crept onto the beach, starting on a kind of promontory and spreading. … Our leader arrived, took his snorkeling stuff and hopped into the water. The water here, although it had a sand beach, turned into a coral reef very quickly in the water, and it was difficult swimming, but marvelous snorkeling… (After lunch), I lay back and relaxed for a while. So peaceful—the sun and sea are tremendous soothers…(Our leader) came out of the water with one lobster tied to his detergent-water float.  He’d forgotten his spear but was determined to catch some lobster for our New Year’s Eve party tonight. He asked if I wanted to try snorkeling and I jumped at the chance.  There was no way I could wear his flippers, so I went without. This was a little dangerous —snorkeling alone without fins or foot protection in a totally unfamiliar place—but I gave it a shot. The first thing I saw as I set out among the coral was a lobster on the bottom below; the second thing I saw was a 3-foot-long skinny green thing. It was a little thicker at the head than the tail, and the first thing I thought of was an eel.  It was entirely light green and was either a sea-snake or an eel of some kind. Whatever it was, it scared me to death and made me realize how alone and unprotected I was out here, in a strange environment that I knew very little about. It was plenty deep enough for sharks, and even after my previous experience (at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), I decided I’d prefer not to see another one right now. When I thought of other things, the moray eels, I got a progressively deeper love of the land; but the world below was too fascinating for me to leave just because I was scared. The coral shelves rose to as much as 20 feet, and the water itself was pretty deep, though I wasn’t too far from shore. The coral on top was alive, unlike Hanauma (Bay at Oahu), and gorgeous—in greens, blues, purples, reds, and oranges—a fantastic variety. There were green slime-mold look-alikes, pink knobs, spreading iridescent purple patches, shelf coral, brain coral, even some staghorn. It was fascinating just to look at the reef, but that wasn’t all.  On the reef were some sea cucumbers, and around the reef, fish.  Not in as great a number as Hanauma, but the same variety—manini, wiki, sturgeons, wrasse and some other new ones.  I swam across a deep channel where the boats come in, to the other side. Here were not nearly so many fish and higher waves, but the purple coral was especially beautiful. After spending some time here, I decided I’d been out long enough and someone else might want to use the mask, so I headed leisurely back across the channel to where all the fish were. For one thing, I know that often when there is an absence of small fish in an area, it means something big has invaded, and it’s not a bad idea to get out of there.  This may sound unusual, but if I just floated on the surface, I could hear a lot of little crackling, popping noises—fish talk? Back among the fish, I saw a big red rockfish for a second before it flopped under a rock. Then I swam right into a huge school of hundreds and hundreds of small fish with one horizontal stripe, but they were darting around me so fast that I never got a good look at them. Absorbed by this, I did a very stupid thing: without realizing it, I got too close to shore and before I knew it was among the pinnacle of coral only a few inches below the surface, with strong waves breaking over them.  I was in trouble—a wave could very easily dash me up against one of these huge coral rocks. I could only try to swim in the deep, narrow channels between the coral and hope to get out. Soon I was pulling myself along the coral with my hands in a desperate battle with the waves. I swam right into a large school of silvery mullet. Then, suddenly, I was out of the coral, into an area or smooth rocks, and I got out the water to find our leader there ready to lend me a helping hand.  “I didn’t know you didn’t have fins,” he said.  “That’s hard to do without them!” I felt lucky to be in one piece—I’d come out in a very dangerous place, and everyone had been watching and worrying as I came out. But wow, what an experience!

I walked down the east side toward a mess of tidal pools. …These pools were fascinating —beautiful corals, many sea cucumbers, and plenty of fish—manini, wiki, and a tin green fish with white eyes.  I also found a few spaghetti-like, 2-foot-wide from tentacle-to-tentacle sea spiders, and two 4-foot-long, flat brown-speckled sea slugs—big snails without shells.

Let’s face it, I adore coral reefs and reef life—it’s something that has always fascinated me, whether the reefs off of the Yucatan, Australia, or Hawaii, and I also love diving.  Someday, I’d like to learn scuba.