Sunday, May 17, 2015

Watching from the Mauna

It was never my idea to become an old woman, and yet, here I am.

My sleep was haunted by dreams for my first forty or so years. By haunted I mean the same dreams would visit me on random nights. They would say "Do not discard me. Do not throw what I say here on your rubbish heap." I came to understand the dreams as messages from parts of the self that did not fully incarnate, the unconscious mind that did not forget all that came before the birth of this self. Thus the physical self connects with the spirit self.

Then came a long number of years when those dreams were quiet.  I began to write. Thoughts flowed out from my fingertips like lightning strikes, hitting whatever ground there was for me to connect to.

Freed from necessity to write to communicate corporate agendas, I made my arms and wrists sore with the words that came not from my mouth but my hands. Something I had not yet begun to contemplate was happening. I was becoming an elder, a person with a silvery top around which buzzed simple ideas that nevertheless sparkled like mica. It is in the everyday thoughts that truth can lie, or hide, or the barrage of social media nonsense can overtake the quotidian mentality much as mold grows on fruit.

It was from this cozy spot on the lanai of watchful contemplation that I absorbed the unfolding of the argument for the top of the mountain. Mauna o Wakea, Mauna Kea, the white top mountain, had been selected for an array of telescopes that worked in concert to view the universe through which we hurtle. On this island in the middle of the ocean, where the volcano gifts us a sense of the impermanence that informs our everyday lives, the temporary home of the telescopes became overnight the focus of cultural indignation. For a handful of kanaka maoli, a few cultural practitioners who had become caught up in the cloud thought of regaining the Hawaiian Kingdom, the plans for yet another telescope became anathema. The focus of their stolen kingdom, gone now over 120 years, became the Thirty Meter Telescope, that would see almost to the beginning of time.

Here in this seeing back to the dawn of our universe, in this looking forward to our first encounter with life beyond our own lump of earth, stepped the idea of the sacred mountain. The idea was put forth as a David meeting a Goliath. The voices of indigenous peoples all over the globe were gathering force, demanding restoration of their rightful lands.

The images of a strong young man dressed in kapa striding across the road in anger and allegiance to his tribe caught the attention of a popular celebrity who joined him for a moment and lending his name and face and naked chest to the cause brought global attention to the event. That event was to have been the groundbreaking ceremony for the telescope, and the ceremony was called off.

A few of the wealthy who also stride the ground led by vision had made possible the Thirty Meter Telescope. Those few people cared more about exploring the unknown than seeing their name on a stadium, owning a ball club, taking ownership of an entire major island, winning a world cup because they could buy the fastest boat in the world, or any of the usual things those who have more money than they could otherwise spend in a lifetime crave. Matching the spirit but not the size of the monetary contributions to this cause, one of the heirs to the Hawaiian kingdom who had become wealthy in the ways of old money elite, gave $25,000 dollars to the fund of the Protectors of the Mauna, for a bail fund.

And so I watched from the lanai. In the meantime, on another mountain, a lesser mauna in terms of height but not in terms of powerful mana, began a new phase of being. In Hawaiian culture, being is life. Life is breath.

At precisely the same time that this struggle ensued for control of the other mountain, Kilauea began to heave and swell. First a lava lake that had been rising and falling in a visible way for a few short years swelled up and overflowed its hole in the ground, spouting and fountaining for all to see. Then amid a series of earth tremors, hundreds per day, the lake fell and fell. It became visible only as a red light in the dark, as a plume of sulfur dioxide, volcano breath. Or exhalation.

"Pele is angry that her mountain is being abused," said a few Hawaiian people who forgot that Poliahu whose home is Mauna Kea was no friend of Pele, and unlikely to find an ally in her. If anything, Pele had become annoyed that Poliahu was pulling the attention away from her, and began a special show to regain center stage.

Much as through dreams the old collective mind communicates with the present mind, as in one's own life all the living ancestors that have come before have passed on, so the collective will of those who were here before us will assert itself. The aumakua, the ancestors, the ones who once strode upon the land where we happen to be now, are its protectors. They are protectors of the land and of the people themselves. I have felt their arms around me in the darkest of times, in the moments when I might have made terrible mistakes, where my impulse was stayed and not by any thought originating with me.

Thus one late day where the ubiquitous cloud cover on the mountain Kilauea had vanished in the hour or so before sundown, I ventured over to the caldera. The lava lake had fallen deep into the mountain, and the crowds that had swarmed the viewing areas during the twenty days or so of visible lava had dispersed. The earth movements had continued on, with noticable shaking as I sat of a morning at the dining table after breakfast, savoring the warmth of sun on my back, or that of the flames of the fire if the morning was wetly dark. In preparation for the sun falling below the horizon and the winds striking across the caldera in spiky fingers of deep cold, I had wrapped myself in layers and grabbed the camera in the hopes of catching a rare sunset with emerging planets in the dusky sky.

My car was the only one in the Kilauea overlook area. There were deep sounds emanating from the crater, a low rumbling as of a freight train in the far distance. A faint vibration was underfoot. I set out in the direction of Jaggar museum, not along the path, but treading the edge of the outer rim of the volcano, where sturdy red blooming ohi'a would frame out whatever view I chose of the coming light show.

There beneath my favorite tree a woman older than myself was chanting an oli, her long long hair white as the mountain Mauna Kea in the full on winter. I stopped a respectful distance away, and mounted my camera upon its tripod. I was able to collect a couple of images of her form against the setting sun, arms raised. I tried for a short video clip to include her voice, but the winds were all the microphone could capture.

I watched as she picked up a walking stick from the ground and came toward me. I prepared myself for possible anger that I had trained my camera upon her, and as she approached, she raised her hand in friendly greeting. Then our foreheads met in honi, sharing breath in the old way of affectionate greeting, and her hand rested upon my shoulder.

"It is good you are back here. The time has come." By back here, I understood she meant well away from the crater's edge as the sound from the volcano, Halema'uma'u, swelled from a dull rumble to a magnificent roar. The earth began to shake with a pounding ferocity. I held onto the tripod lest my heavy and expensive lens hit the ground. It was all I could do to keep on my feet, but the steady form beside me gave me extra ballast and together we witnessed the churning lava rise first in sparks of flying fountains from below the edge of the crater and then after some minutes as a flaming fiery curtain of lava striking into the purple sky.

Tears began falling in wet trails down my cheeks, squeezing out of my eyes. Once I had witnessed the Cassini Mission strike out from the planet toward Saturn. I stood upon the asphalt and watched the rocket's streaming trail out of our atmosphere, as surprising to me in that time as this massive spray of molten rock fountaining in momentous power and splendor. In another time and place, in the aftermath of my mother's departure from her body, there had come over me some sense of what it is to release mana or spirit or power of being. Here, I was watching the impossibly radiant insides of the planet shoot into the sky in thunderous glory. In those earlier times, tears had squeezed themselves out of my eyes.

Word of the new eruption spread quickly, and within minutes we were met by rangers who ushered us onto the path as cars entered the parking area and people emerged shouting in excitement, competing with the volcano's throaty deep voice. I was allowed to take down my camera while my companion spoke in Hawaiian to the ranger, who answered in English telling her to move along. She thumped her walking stick on the ground, and a new trembling began. The ranger stepped aside and spoke into a walkie talkie while she put her arm through mine and walked us into the darker area at the end of the path opposite the museum.

"Watch now," she said. "They will close the gates and soon no one will be allowed in to see this."

And truly, every eruption of late had meant the authorities held people away from even a glimpse of it, citing safety concerns that were based on worst case scenario visions of hell on earth rather than anything actually going on.

As though seeing into my thoughts, she went on. "People will get hurt. It is inevitable. All their efforts to control what will happen here are the scurrying of fire ants." She waved her arm back at the volcano, and a plume of flames shot in a narrow arc, reaching as if toward the growing crowd. Another rumbling began, and some of the crowd headed back for their cars. One car swung out backwards, and knocked a couple cutting across the parking area to the ground as someone else ran over and pounded on the backing car. The driver got out, hands to head, and bent over the couple on the ground, bending and straightening, and bending again. Official vehicles with lights flashing pulled up and blocked the parking lot entrance lane.

She said into my ear. "All these people know that they take the power of the volcano into themselves as they watch this spectacle but for most the knowing stops before it comes all the way to their thoughts. The knowing then feels like they found something in the street, a wad of money maybe."

She predicted that this massive eruption would divert attention from Mauna Kea such that the media would pull away from the protectors and the telescope would be ignored as building commenced. "Even the strong headed ones will leave the mountain and come this way, you know. The aumakua will speak to them and pull them this way. The young kanaka will claim the right to access this place once it has been closed off, and break down the silly barriers set by the park superintendent. They will not be again distracted by the idea of building on the other mountain."

I invited her to come back to the house with me, and share a libation. She smiled and said "Not tonight. I will stay on after they send the people away. A hui hou, my friend." She brought her face close enough to mine to share breath once again, then ambled off with her robust walking stick.

We had met before, the old woman with the stick and I, on that afternoon at Pu'uanahulu when she urged me to plant the iliahi trees, and suggested the flow of the lava from Pu'u O'o would stop short of Pahoa town. The earth, the ground on which we set our feet, the voices of the ancestors, they all speak to us. They do not always tell us what we may wish to hear, and their truth is as cloaked and veiled as the steam of sudden evaporation hides the lavafalls into the ocean, until it suddenly blows off and we are treated to the sight of that brilliant orange firefall.

As I sit now in the high desert late day, my grand daughter has poured a round of scotch whiskey for me and her beloved Tutu Kane Bob.  We will watch the sunset together and she will tell us about the project she will return to at the Thirty Meter Telescope in the next week. Her mother is happily in charge of her own Waldorf School in Waimea, partially funded by her daughter's employer. We all understood that what makes up our bodies started as stars somewhere very different than here, and that between us there is no distance.


  1. Wow, that was really personal and insightful. Thanks so much for sharing your heart.

    1. Thank you Harry. I am happy when my fiction writing touches someone deeply.

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