Black sands and green sea turtles

The main task we needed to accomplish today was changing sides of the island, going from Volcano on the leeward side and about 3,800 feet elevation to Kailua-Kona on the windward coast. We were following Route 11, but made s short side trip to visit the Punalu’u Beach Park.

It is one of the famous black sand beaches, formed when hot lava met the ocean, became brittle, and shattered into grains. Trinity showed me that among the black grains were green crystals of olivine, which is prevalent in the flows of Kilauea, and also a few yellow crystals. On the inland side of the black sand is a ring of coconut palms and beyond them a freshwater duckpond filled with flowering plants. Between the sand and the surf were black lava rocks, some with algae clinging to them, and some trapping little pools of water on or among them that sheltered shellfish and tiny fishes. In other places, the black sand stretched beneath the waves with no intervening rocks.

Best of all, in two areas of the beach, partitioned off by arcs of what looked like a giant jump rope, were several large green sea turtles, sunning themselves in the morning light. The sea turtles are endangered and people need to stay 25 feet away from them, which is why the ropes are placed in an arc around them when they come ashore. There was also a section roped off more permanently where eggs had been laid, so that people would not inadvertently disturb their nests.

I was so glad that we got to see them with Trinity. She has loved sea turtles for a long time and years ago we “adopted” one for her through the Sea Turtle Conservancy. She named her adopted turtle Merryl, which means “bright as the sea.” Here were Merryl’s distant cousins, three to four feet long and weighing several hundred pounds, slowly pulling themselves up the black sand beach to sun themselves, leaving ridges in the sand leading back to the Pacific.

Volcanoes National Park – in the rain

One of the things I definitely wanted to see on the Big Island was Kilauea, one of the still active volcanoes. Even though it was raining lightly, we decided to go to see some of the indoor exhibits in the morning, hoping that the forecast that showed the showers ending at noon would be correct. We enjoyed the visitor center, especially the ranger presentation on the five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawai’i, and braved the crowds at the Jagger Museum. We were also able to walk along a trail with numerous steam vents.

After lunch, it was still raining, so we decided to drive the Chain of Craters Road, a 19 mile road that descends 3,700 feet to the ocean. It used to be longer, but a 2003 lava flow covered the last ten miles. Because we were getting only intermittent drizzle, we walked the Devastation Trail, which goes through an area that was buried by cinders in a 1959 eruption. We could see the plants slowly making headway. My daughter Trinity, who spent a semester in Hawai’i with Cornell’s Sustainability Semester program, recognized some of the plants. We were also able to see a pair of large birds, not too far from the path, eating berries. (When we find out what they were, I’ll come back and edit.) Although there was a sign nearby instructing visitors to leave the berries for the nene, we know these were not nene.

As we continued driving, we would encounter patches of rain forest juxtaposed with lava flows, some with signs dating them. Some of the flows were pahoehoe, which is smoother or ropy in texture, while others were jagged a’a. You could see areas where the road had to have been closed for long stretches until the lava cooled enough to allow the road to be cleared. As we continued to descend, we reached an overlook where you could finally see the ocean. The showers had finally ended, so we decided to try the Pu’u Loa Petroglyph trail, which takes you along relatively flat flows to see petroglyphs carved in 400-700 year old stone. We were about half a mile in when the wind picked and the hardest rain we had seen all day blew in. By the time we made it back to the car, we were drenched to the skin.

I felt very intrepid for braving the elements, but I do regret that we had to turn back before reaching the petroglyphs. I had wanted to pray there for my daughters, both of whom have very special connections to Hawai’i. While I would pray to my God, it would be in keeping with the tradition of the natives of Hawai’i, who for centuries have visited the petroglyphs to pray for their children.


We flew into Hilo last night, picked up our rental car, and drove to our home for the next two nights, Volcano Guest House, which is not far from the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. We are staying in “The Upstairs” of the main house, which is a conversion of the bedrooms of the now-grown children of the house into a two-bedroom mini-apartment.

The house where we are staying and the cottages and other outbuildings are built to be as self-sustaining as possible, with solar hot water heating (with electrical back-up for rainy days or heavy use), rain water catchment, and wood stoves, with electric space heaters and extra blankets and electric mattress pads for chilly nights.

One of the accoutrements is a (hand-cranked) flashlight. That seemed a bit curious, but last night we understood why it is necessary.

Last night, we experienced the most darkness we had seen since the flood in September 2011 left us with no electricity for several days. Given that our bodies aren’t adjusted to Hawai’i Standard Time yet, we awoke about 2 AM, which constitutes sleeping in until 8 on Eastern Daylight Time, to total darkness. Because it is raining, there was no moonlight or starlight. There are no streetlights and the Volcano Guest House buildings are carved into the rain forest with as small a footprint as possible.

Coincidentally, I have read been reading/hearing a lot about darkness lately. The darkness near here that makes the Mauna Kea observatory one of the finest in the world. The threat to the Kopernik Observatory in our hometown from the light pollution of gas wellpads and flaring right across the border in PA. The Dark Skies initiative that reserves certain places to retain as much of their natural darkness as possible. The imagery of the light coming into the darkness at Easter Vigil services. A cover article in a recent Time magazine on Barbara Brown Taylor and the spiritual lessons of darkness.

Enveloped in the darkness, we were able to get back to sleep, awaking with the still-rainy dawn to the songs of unfamiliar birds.

60th Anniversary

Today is my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. The whole family feels blessed that they have achieved such a rare milestone. Most couples are not blessed with such longevity combined with mutual love and regard for one another. It’s not that there haven’t been challenges over the years, including health issues, especially with my father, who has survived three separate types of cancer and a double bypass, while dodging a strong family history of Alzheimer’s. But they always persevere and get back to their routine with each other, taking walks, going to exercise class, running errands, lots of conversation and a healthy dose of laughter.

They are not, however, big party people, so their anniversary celebration has been a family affair. Because they retired near us twenty-five years ago, we see them often, but my sisters live further afield, so the celebration has had several parts. It started last month with a visit and special dinner with my older sister and her husband, who travelled up from Maryland. The main part of the celebration began yesterday with the arrival of my younger sister and her family from NYC and featured a lot of gaiety as they presented my parents with a part pre-recorded, part live presentation of sixty things for their sixtieth anniversary, culminating in the cutting of celebratory wedding cupcakes with Italian soda toast in (plastic) champagne flutes. For the big day today, we had a lunch out at one our favorite local places and tonight my parents will have a table for two at their favorite local Italian restaurant.

Their marriage and their love for one another is an inspiration. I wrote this poem for the occasion and they gave me their permission to share it on my blog.

For Mom and Dad – On Their 60th Wedding Anniversary

April 19, 1954
Easter Monday
Patriots’ Day and
Your wedding
Elinor married Leo
“One of those Americans”
(Translation: Irish-American,
not Italian-American)
But that didn’t matter
There was plenty of love to share

By December of ’62
Three daughters and
Friends and neighbors and
As years went by
Daughters’ friends
(including a dance company
or two)
Still plenty of love to share

The family grew
Adding heritage from
more parts of Europe
Constructing our version
of the United Nations
With plenty of love to share

In retirement
in JC
at Castle Gardens
at GSV
Still encompassing
Others in your circle of love
Sixty years
With plenty of love to share




An amazing video is making the rounds. It shows a woman who was deaf and is hearing for the first time. What isn’t being as widely reported is that the woman chose to have cochlear implant surgery now because she is rapidly losing her eyesight, upon which she relied to read lips. Her brain, never having had to deal with sound before, will take time to learn how to interpret speech, but, as her eyesight continues to dim, she will still be able to communicate as her ability to understand spoken sounds improves. In the end, it’s not the method of taking in information and expression that matters; it’s that there is a way to experience and share thoughts, joys, hopes, and fears.

The Scripture readings at my church for the Fourth Sunday of Lent  center around sight and include the story of Jesus curing a man who was blind from birth on the Sabbath. As the story is told, it becomes apparent that the greater gift is that Jesus reveals his identity as Messiah to the man, who has been thrown out of the synagogue for defending Jesus in the face of questioning by the religious authorities. As the deacon who was preaching noted, the cured man received not only physical sight, but insight. Those who clung to the rule of no work on the Sabbath had physical sight, but not insight into the healing power of God, which is beyond the human boundaries of time and circumstance.

In the end, it was the ability to be open, to take in new experience, to grow, to change, to ponder, to learn, to communicate one’s own truth, to connect on a deep level that was important. No matter the state of our individual faculties, insight is possible if we are attentive.

Daylight Savings Time

I just realized that my blog did not automatically switch over to Daylight Savings Time. I briefly considered re-setting the time manually, but decided against it. Not being a fan of DST, I thought I would make a (tiny, inconsequential) protest by keeping my blog on standard time. 😉

Water, women, and Jesus

Yesterday was World Water Day and the lectionary readings for today were also about water, including the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, all in the month of March, which is Women’s History Month in the US.

Women and girls are most likely to be dealing with water access and pollution problems as they are usually the ones most in charge of fetching, carrying, cooking, washing up, laundering, etc., especially in the parts of the world where clean hot and cold water do not run abundantly from the tap, as they do for me and my neighbors. Water is a necessity of life and access to it is a justice issue.

In the gospel story, it is a woman who comes to fetch water from the well of Jacob, her ancestor. She is in a socially vulnerable position, female, a Samaritan, sexually exploited. Yet Jesus asks her for a favor and engages in conversation with her, breaking with the norms of the society both on gender and ethnic grounds. What is even more astonishing is that he reveals his identity as the messiah to her and that she, despite her lack of community standing, becomes an apostle of the Good News, one who “goes and tells” others of salvation.

Preaching on this gospel often revolves around the woman’s sinfulness, because she has been married five times and is living with a man who isn’t her husband, but Jesus, although he tells the woman that he knows this about her, never condemns her for it or discusses any need for forgiveness. He offers her the living water of the Spirit, truth, salvation, and the love of God, which she gratefully receives and, energized, brings other people to meet Jesus so that they too can encounter him and believe that he is the messiah.

The woman, unnamed as are many of the women who encounter Jesus in the gospel, stands for all the other nameless women who are exploited or marginalized because of their gender or their ethnicity. Her modern descendants in spirit might live in Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, or might be victims of human trafficking in Thailand, Brazil, the US. God offers radical, unconditional love, not guilt or blame about their exploitation.

We are called to do the same.

Daylight Savings Time

Time for my (semi-annual) rant about changing clocks. Daylight changes a few minutes at a time. Changing what the clock says when sunset happens does not “save” daylight; it just re-names it.

DST puts me out of sync with the seasons. At my latitude, going on daylight savings time when it is still winter means that many more weeks of getting up to start the day in the dark. In the summer, it barely gets dark for bedtime. In the fall, we are back to dark mornings for a much longer time than we should be.

Admittedly, changing clocks is difficult for me personally. My circadian rhythm is very stubborn. Even one hour’s change throws me for a loop. I joke about being a “delicate flower,” but changing my sleep pattern can quickly devolve into multiple body systems going haywire. (And writing a blog post at 4:30 AM on no sleep.)

As you can guess, I don’t do well when I have to cross multiple times zones…

putting away Christmas

In my faith tradition, this weekend marks the end of the Christmas season, so it is time to pack away the rest of the decorations. We had already taken down our tree last weekend, after the celebration of Epiphany, a tradition we share with several friends.

While putting up the tree is more festive, taking it down is more meditative. We place all the ornaments on the dining room table before we pack them into their boxes, so, at a glance, I can appreciate their diversity, and, focusing in, can celebrate their uniqueness and the memories each holds.

Ornaments from our trees growing up – my favorite silver ball with handpainted pink roses – the horn from my husband’s tree that actually makes a sound if you blow into it…the rocking horses and unicorns that I made from a kit when we were newlyweds that became the bottom-of-the-tree ornaments when our daughters were small, due to their cute and colorful, yet indestructible, nature…the circus animal ornaments from my friend Angie, who passed away eight, almost nine, years ago…Hawaiian ornaments from my daughter and son-in-law, who live in Honolulu…ornaments made by my artist-friend Yvonne…the cedar ornament that became a teether for my older daughter’s first Christmas…the set of small wooden angel-musicians and all the other music-themed instruments which commemorate the many years of church music-making in our family…the felt horse heads -a pair made by my husband as a child, another pair made by his mom when she was helping her third-graders make an art project/gift for their parents – that transform into hobby horses with the insertion of a candy cane…a Florentine-paper origami bird, folded by our younger daughter…the nature-themed ornaments, made by Latin-American artisans using native gourds…gifts from friends and relatives over the years…ornaments we have bought in our travels – a painted ceramic ball from my first and only European trip to Sicily – a carved wooden house from Deerfield – cloth ornaments from Skaneateles – enameled ornaments from Winterthur…

Though the ornaments are packed and stored away, the memories linger and warm our hearts, so the peace and joy of the season last a little longer.