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Early Morning Poem

Awake before dawn this morning, this fleeting occurrence immediately began to form a poem in my mind. I captured it before it could fade as a gift to you.

~~~by Joanne Corey

this morning
rubbing sleep from
my eyes
points of light
arranged in
constellations of
tropical flowers

pure gift of


Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

Sunday started with Trinity and I attending Mass. In a strange turn of events, the church, St. Michael the Archangel, is just one block down the street, but, at the moment, they are constructing a new church, and so are holding Mass in a large tent a few miles away. It was a children’s Mass, with children in the choir – singing and playing ipu – taking up the collection, and bringing up the gifts. It was also First Communion for one little girl. In this parish, instead of all the second graders receiving First Eucharist together, each child receives when they and their parents have completed the preparation process. Because it was a children’s Mass, we chanted a couple of prayers in Hawai’ian. The priest was a guest, visiting from The Philippines for the month. He preached a lovely homily about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Eucharist, and prayer. I have always loved that gospel passage and have often wished that they had recorded all that Jesus taught them on the road.

In the afternoon, we went to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a national historical park on the Kona coast. It is the only surviving example of a pu’uhonua, which was a place of refuge in the days before the kapu laws were abandoned. In centuries past, the laws were very straightforward and the only penalty was death, to be executed by the witness(es) to the offense, lest the gods express their displeasure at the broken kapu by sending down a lava flow, storm, or some other calamity. If, however, the person who broke kapu could reach a pu’uhonua first, the kahuna pule (priest) could absolve him/her and s/he could return to the outside world. The trick was that the pu’uhonua was walled off within the royal compound, where commoners could not set foot, so the only way in was to swim at least half a mile in the ocean to reach safety.

Others could also seek safety in the pu’uhonua. The chiefs would declare a battle a week or so in advance. This gave women, children, and men too old or sick to fight the opportunity to seek shelter in the pu’uhouna to avoid being killed in the battle. There was a take no prisoners approach to war then and no such thing as a non-combatant, so, unless you were a warrior, you needed to leave the area where the battle was to be fought. After the battle, those who had sought refuge would be free to return.

We went to a ranger talk before we walked around the grounds. He had made whimsical insect sculptures, woven from coconut palm. He gave them to wahine (women) who answered questions. Trinity got one early on because she could remember and pronounce Pu’uhonua o Honaunau; I got one later for remembering the name of one of the four major gods, Lono, to whom the main temple there was dedicated. The insects are supposed to be used for stirring mai tais, but ours will probably stay dry! The ranger also played a bit for us on his nose flute. I hadn’t ever heard and watched one being played. The sound is haunting but lovely.


Saturday night, we attended the tenth end-of-season pa’ina (dinner or feast) for the Cornell Sustainability Semester in Waimea. This was the program that our younger daughter, Trinity, attended three years ago. (It’s a fantastic program which you can read about here.) We weren’t able to travel out to Hawai’i the semester she attended, so it was a happy coincidence that the three of us were planning to be on the Big Island the same week that the Pa’ina was occurring and we gladly accepted the invitation to attend.

The pa’ina was held at Wai’aka House, where the students live with the program director and her assistants for the semester. It is located in Waimea in the Kohala region, which is the oldest part of the island. Kohala volcano has been extinct for a long time, and, while still mountainous, has eroded into grasslands that have been used for cattle ranching in recent times. From Wai’aka House, one can look across to the astronomical observatory on the also-extinct but still almost 14,000 foot Mauna Kea.

We have been reaping the benefits of the program by travelling with Trinity, who has been able to suggest favorite places to visit and can tell us about some of the geology, plants, animals, and cultural sites we have encountered. It was especially nice to be able to go with her to visit her home while on the Island, where we were warmly welcomed as part of the ‘ohana, which is usually translated as family, but which encompasses not only blood relatives but also those with whom you share your life.

Trinity knew a number of the people there, including the program director, whom they addressed as Kumu, which means teacher, and her daughter, one of the program assistants who had been a fellow student the year she attended, and several of the aunties and uncles who had assisted with cultural studies and other topics, and the director of her internship, Wilds. We also spent a lot of time talking to people we hadn’t met before, who were very warm and interested in sharing experiences with each other.

The students prepare the food, which included many traditional dishes, such as kalua pig and poi – we later saw a video of some of the preparations; my favorite dish was the salmon lau lau, in which salmon is wrapped in luau leaves (which you eat with the salmon) and ti leaves (which serve as a wrapper) and steamed.

After we had eaten, there was a traditional ceremony where one of the aunties and the kumu hula (master hula teacher) chanted and invested each member of this year’s program with a kihei, which is a rectangle of cloth that each person had decorated with symbols meaningful to them, draping it around their torso and tying it over their shoulder. Then, each person explained their design and the students also told a bit about their internships.

The moving climax and conclusion to the evening was a hula that the group presented on the lawn near the big side porch, wearing their kihei and head, neck, and ankle leis that they had made themselves. The whole group did the oli (opening chant) and then did traditional hula with the kumu hula chanting and accompanied by an ipu (gourd drum). Then, the students and assistants thanked Kumu for her love, leadership, and general awesomeness for the semester and presented her with flower and woven ti leave leis.  They concluded with a thank you chant, in which Trinity and many of the guests joined. It was touching to hear Trinity sing a chant in Hawaiian that she learned three years ago.

I was so happy to see Trinity return to a place and to people who were so important to her. Trinity’s major was designed to be very broad and her concentration within it was discontinued after her sophomore year. It was the Sustainability Semester, her internship, and the discovery that she enjoyed eradicating invasive species and nurturing native ones that gave her a new focus, leading to her internship with Cornell Plantations and her upcoming master’s program in conservation biology. We will always be thankful to Hawai’i, Kumu, Wilds, and Cornell’s Sustainability Semester for helping her find her passion.


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.