The Hawaiian islands are the exposed volcanic peaks of the world's biggest mountain range, submerged under the Pacific Ocean, and stand about 3,000km from the North American mainland. The archipelago of more than 130 islands in total stretches around 1500km in length – making it the widest state in the US after Alaska.
Hawaii – Been There

How do you live in the shadow of a volcano?

Photo by Toshi Sasaki

Hawaii – Been There How do you live in the shadow of a volcano?

On Hawaii, a sense of birthing is palpable up around the summit of Kīlauea – the fern fronds unfurling before our eyes, the glowing heat emerging from Mother Earth’s great fissures.

Bill Harby
Bill Harby Writer

Geological instruments show that the mountain itself swells before an eruption. Locals love the frequent, small earthquakes – as if Pele, the restless volcano goddess, is rocking the baby.

Artists say that this sense of creation, of flux, of the very planet being born around them, is what draws so many of them up here. And believe me, there are more of these creatures walking around in blatantly colorful clothing than a normal community would tolerate.

Take printmaker Caren Lobel-Fried. Her block prints are imprints of this land. Originally from New Jersey, Lobel-Fried was smitten by the volcano as soon as she arrived. “It’s so alive, it both terrifies and excites me,” she says. “Ultimately, Pele is in charge.”

Lobel-Fried feels her art requires that she become intimate with the natural forces and native culture here. Before creating a series of hula prints, she joined a hula halau, the schools teaching the ancient Hawaiian hula dance form, to feel the movements for herself

"It’s really cool to dance the legends,” she says. “It’s feeling people’s reaction to nature.” As for the not-uncommon rain up here, Lobel-Fried has a reaction that’s common among people living in the area. “It does make you crazy,” says the artist on a sunny day in her backyard. “I like it.”

Up here in the rainforest by Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, it’s not the heat – at 1,300 meters high, temperatures normally range between a brisk 10ºC  and 25ºC year-round – it’s the humidity, that gets at you. It reaches 100%, with rainfall of 250-plus cm a year; It's not a place to forget you umbrella.

And it’s why the tree ferns unfurl before your eyes; why my friend Arlene, a long-time happy resident of Volcano, complained that, when a strange yellow orb appeared in the sky one day, “I had to clean the mold off my sunglasses.”

Don’t expect to work on your tan up here: but the beautiful rhythm of the raindrops kissing your face is sublime. And when the blue sky appears, we all feel like young ferns, raising open hands to the warm bright sun. Meanwhile, beneath our feet, we know the planet is pulsing with fiery liquid.


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