Fire in the Sky above a Tormented Land
November 15, 2013
The land is tormented amidst the beauty of the tropics. It speaks of a time when fire burst forth from deep inside the trembling earth, exploding with unbridled anger and flowing with destruction toward the sea.
The time has not passed.
The earth still trembles. The nights light up with burning embers that have become spectacles of nature’s own fireworks display.
And the tormented land remains as part of the beauty itself.
The archipelago of Hawaii rises majestically from the ocean floor, its rugged highlands birthed by the sudden fury of volcanoes. It was, according to those who journeyed to the islands in days of long ago, the handiwork of a demigod.
In the beginning, their legends persist, Maui created the islands. He fished in the waters that others would name the Pacific, and, on one fateful day, his fishhook became entangled in the roots and vegetation that were caught in the bottom of the sea.
He gave a violent jerk.
And from out of the deep blue abyss, he pulled a land of mountains and orchids and waterfalls.
For a demigod, it had been a day of calm.
He saw it, and it was good.
The volcanic cataclysm shattered it.
Stark cinder cones crown the islands, and many of the beaches reach out to the Pacific with arms of black sand. Lava flows are frozen rock that have spilled out into the valleys, surrounding fields of pineapples and sugar cane.
Travelers come from around the world to climb or hike to the crest of volcanoes, standing on the edge of craters that spread across the mountain ranges of Hawaii.
They view remnants of a ragged, anguished past.
They never know when the eruptions will begin again.
Hawaii is a land that is still in the making. Two of its volcanoes remain active, and their erratic, unpredictable eruptions are among the most spectacular and least harmful to human life in the world.
It wasn’t always that way.
Back in 1790, a native king, Keoua, was proudly leading his troops near Kilauea when the ground began to shake fearfully beneath his feet. He believed himself to be invincible. No military might could defeat him.
The angry land left his army in ruins.
The volcanic explosion was a deadly force, and the footprints of his frightened men can still be seen in the ancient lava flow.
The Kilauea Crater – in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island – is almost three miles long and two miles wide. It occasionally still lights up the sky with fire, but activity has been sporadic since 1967.
Mauna Loa, also on The Big Island, has gained fame as the world’s largest active volcano. A massive eruption in 1950 lasted for twenty-three days, producing the greatest lava flow known in historic times. Almost twenty-five years later, a shocking eighteen-hour burst generated a series of small earthquakes. As late as 1984, fire and molten lava tore out of the ground at the 9,400=foot level of Mauna Loa. Not far away, Kilauea-iki warmed up in 1959 and shot lava fountains for a thousand feet into the air. One eruption covered almost four acres with molten lava during the 455-day siege.
Mauna Kea, its peak rising for 13,796 feet, and Hualalai, 8,271-feet tall, have both been classified as dormant, inactive for almost two centuries. So has the enormous crater of Haleakala, on the isle of Maui, its floor sprawling for twenty-five square miles across the national park. Haleakala takes your breath away and keeps it for a while.
Hawaii is indeed a land of beauty. But the cinder cones and black lava flows give Hawaii a whole new dimension. There are places on the island as barren, as inhospitable, as unforgettable as the landscape of the moon.