The Citizen chose to omit my article last week due to much more pressing news! As a result, I’m not sure what will appear in my column this week.
Last week I was surprised to receive a phone call from Ray Coulombe, who had given the Bethel Legion Post a whiskey bottle via Ann Morton (Mason article in the Jan. 20 issue of “Citizen”). Ray twitted me a bit on my having made a point of noting that the whiskey bottle was “empty” in the January article. He also indicated that they lived in the “windy villa” house on the Flat Road in the 1940s and moved to West Bethel in 1951, a date I had intentionally left vague because I wasn’t sure what year they moved. I do remember that the snow often drifted all the way to the roof of the barn there, and the kids occasionally sledded from the barn roof, and they sometimes shoveled a tunnel through the drift to the front door of the house.
While in Hawaii, we learned that lava was at times flowing all the way from Puu O O volcano to the village of Halapana on the southeast shore of Hawaii (the Big Island). The first cool, misty day at KMC, we decided to drive to Halapana to see if there was any flowing lava visible there; we knew also that it was a warm 80 degrees at the coast. When we arrived at Kalapana, we found the highway blocked by barricades and signs. “Road Closed. Resident vehicles only beyond barricades. Lava viewing from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.” We parked our car under a shade tree just past the barricades and walked a short distance further, where we could see several houses surrounded by fresh lava fields. There were other houses at the base of old lava flows that were untouched by the new lava, but their driveways had been buried by the new lava over the past year of two. There were new gravel driveways atop the lava, so people could get to their houses, and they were still living there!
Deterred by the road signs, we decided to drive to Kalapana village to see what we could see there, planning to return to the lava-buried highway after 2 p.m. At the edge of the village we found the street blocked by more lava, but local venders were set up in the shade of some palm trees, marking what used to be the sea shore. From there a “sea of lava” extended seaward to beyond where we could see. A large, friendly Hawaiian man, sitting in a beach chair motioned to a vacant parking space adjacent. “We saved this parking spot just for you,” he said. His wife was sitting behind a couple tables covered in necklaces made of puka shells and other materials (“puka” is Hawaiian for “hole”). I asked the man if they had volcano insurance that would pay for houses destroyed by lava. He replied that they have such insurance, but most locals just have fire insurance, which will pay if your house is burned before the lava hits it, but you have to take a picture of the house burning before the lava hits it before they will pay! Of course, the molten lava is hot enough to ignite wooden structures before it actually hits them.
Then I asked him if a landowner has beachfront property and the lava covers it and makes new land over what was ocean, does he get to claim the new land? He said, “No. The county owns all new land formed by lava flows into the ocean. But you still own the land that you owned before which is now covered by lava!” I bought Mona a necklace made of green glass crystals called olivine, which is sometimes formed in lava. We had read about the tiny olivine crystals in a trail guide pamphlet we had used the day before. The talkative man explained that we could go back to the end of the highway and drive past the threatening signs to another barricade where we could park and walk out on the lava. After walking a path over the lava to the new shore of the ocean, we drove back to the barricaded highway. This time we walked out on the lava flow a few yards, until we noted heat waves rising from the lava ahead, and we could feel heat radiating from it as well. I took pictures of some of the houses surrounded by lava, and we headed back to our cooler mountain.
Our final day in Hawaii, Pro Bowl Sunday, we returned to Kalapana to see if we could see some molten lava, because conditions change on a daily basis. Our flight back to Honolulu wasn’t until after 5 p.m. This time, as we walked past the barricades, we met two fellows who we watched walking back from the sea shore, where a column of white smoke/steam could be seen, probably a half mile away. One of the men carried a camera and tripod, and the other an umbrella. We asked them if they could see lava flowing into the ocean. They said that the lava tube extended into the water, so they could only see the steam that resulted as the lava hit the water under the crust of the tube. Then they said they would show us some molten lava if we wanted to wait until they put their gear into their pickup. “It’s only about 50 yards.” So we said, “Sure.”
They soon returned, and we followed out onto the lava. Within a few yards we could already feel heat radiating from the recent flow. We could even hear our footsteps echoing from what sounded like thin crust over empty space beneath our feet! Spooky! After another short distance, they said, “Look over there.” Sure enough, we could see a small area where red lava was slowly oozing along the top of previous flows. Not wanting to get much closer, I let the photographer take my camera and get a couple close-ups. Then he stuck the metal tip of his umbrella into the molten leading edge of lava and watched it immediately burst into flames. We decided we had had enough of hot lava, so we retreated back to the road. Along the way we encountered another small finger of molten stuff. One fellow handed me his card and invited us to stop by his photo shop in Hilo, where he had many photos of volcanoes and lava. We thanked him and visited his wife in their gallery that afternoon before heading to the airport.
While waiting at our gate for our flight to Honolulu, we were surprised to see a young woman wearing handcuffs and leg chains and followed by a male and a female law officer enter our gate area. Apparently, she was being extradited to Honolulu. Then when we boarded our American Airlines flight from Honolulu to Dallas/Ft. Worth, we saw Terry Bradshaw (former Steelers quarterback, and commentator for the Pro Bowl) reclining in the First Class section of our aircraft! We were lucky to make our connections all the way back to Maine without any weather difficulties.