Sunday I return to Volcano. I mean to take the long day hike to Pu’u ‘O’o, the active steam vent on the park’s eastern boundary, but I am late and I forget to register at the front gate. It’s a solid day trip–9.3 miles one way–and with a knee brace and bandaged feet it seems unwise to hoof it out, look, and hoof out again in the dark. Given how things have gone I don’t feel like tempting anything.
I look at the map. Chain of Craters road winds down the park’s center and there are many trails to the west. Most interesting are along Hilina Pali Road, which leads to the eponymous overlook. A branch of the Ka’u Desert Trail, 1.8 miles of which I hiked on Friday evening from where it ends at the highway, can be reached from there, but I’m not too interested in 13 miles through true desert. Another branch of this trail leads west from the end of the road, and from there other trails go down to the ocean and loop back up. 14.4 miles to make the loop back to the car. It’s 11:30, sunny and cool. I have four liters of water and it gets dark around 7:30. It seems possible.
The first branch leads to Pepeiao Cabin, where it splits north back to where I was Friday, or south on the Ka’aha trail to the sea. I put on my sunblock and fumble with the pack, running back and forth to the car. Wind is steady but not howling, enough to blow a peanut butter sandwich off a picnic table. A young couple in flipflops putters while I get ready. They seem out of place; I seem to be getting ready for a trial.
The landscape undulates with broken lava plates, sand, and washes. Trees and bushes grow, then nothing, then fields of grass. Wind never ceases. Neither does my thinking. What are you worried about, how is your job, how are your friends, do you buy a place when you go back or rent a while? Monkey makes them, wants attention. Each of these thoughts brings more, threads entangled in themselves and leading to more, never stopping, as loud as the wind.
Light makes the land stark but smooths the ocean. Clouds are dreamy white in its distance. I can’t see the iPhone screen so point and hope for the best.
Hawaiians lived here, gathering berries and hunting nene, the descendants of lost Canadian geese that have become flightless with smaller feet. Modern Hawaiians and whites nearly drove them to extinction. Now they wander into parking lots looking for handouts and get run over. I am amazed that geese could get dumber. Nature always surprises.
Do you want to go back early? You should decide soon. You should call the car rental place if you want the car for longer. At least you’re out here hiking, not being a loser at the house with a rented car. And the car. Twenty bucks a day for the car and you were mostly laid up.
Modern people have worn the desert down. The old lava flakes away like a giant’s skin–a giant with psoriasis. The little crumbles remind me of a Zero, a chocolate bar I can only find in Canada: aerated chocolate, like a hard sponge. Here the little lava bubbles shine the way chocolate doesn’t, with sharp abrading edges. This land all glowed once.
You really should have spoken up at work when Christine was wrecking everything. There was no need to let her walk over you. Maybe you should have gone fulltime when they offered. You don’t have to buy into everything, work sixty hours a week. Right? Wouldn’t that have been better than staying a contractor?
It takes four hours to go 4.8 miles to Pepeiao Cabin. Monkey gets stronger. I stop at points and close my eyes and breathe. Just shut up and look. Do you think you’ll see this again? It’s a little better and then I realize I’m thinking about electric cars, global warming, Fukushima.
A young couple waves me in. She is slight, blond, a thin attractive thing with a cold beer; he is taller, the steadfast quiet type who never takes off his sunglasses. They are welcoming and tell me their names which I instantly forget, even as I try to be there with them. Nobody else has been this way. They go over the map with me. He questions whether I really want to follow my plan: the switchbacks up are hard enough and you’ll be in the dark.
They are enthusiastically agreed I should really go to Halape, on the coast. There is treatable water, a white sand beach, and a freshwater tidepool where you can rinse off. It’s beautiful. They spend days there. I’m not prepared for days–I rely on the car for shelter, with nothing else but a survival blanket. They consider. It’s warm, you have water, you can get iodine tablets. We spend at least a day there, and a day in and day out. The Puna Coast trail, right along the water, is a good way in. You should really do that while you’re here.
I could really use a white sand beach. It seems typical the universe would put it 11 miles from the road.
We talk about Hawaii a little, how my experience is not atypical. They came over from the mainland a while ago and have been exploring. They love the land, even dowdy Hilo. Hilo’s Walmart is the best outdoor outfitting place in town, they ruefully inform. They don’t offer me a beer.
I’m grateful to them, tell them so. I think I’ll go on ahead, at least a little while. They say it was nice meeting me, her especially. They seem like honest people. I put my pack on and go toward the ocean, down.
The land is more stark, wiry bushes poking through the rock. The late light makes things longer, more primal and removed. I stop for water, PopTarts. The phone has reception out here.
Do you have email? Texts? You should call someone. Guess where I’m calling from? They’d like that. You were supposed to call your mother, remember? Dad asked you to. They want you to go back to Texas. They like your sister better because she is closer. Everyone likes you least, you know.
Monkey loves the phone.
I eat a while with my eyes closed, and sit. It is not as dark as the lava tube behind my eyes.
I get up and find each cairn that marks the trail, walking to the wall of wind bursting from the ocean. The rock and stunted trees don’t catch much, and it rumbles at the meager interruption.
They could put windmills here, too. Or those flying wings you saw in that blog post. They could float off the coast, make Hawaii a power exporter. At least electricity wouldn’t be so expensive.
I hear a strange sound that stops when I close my mouth. The wind is so strong it whistles in my teeth when my mouth is open.
I sit on a rock and take the picture at the top. I sit because I can’t stand and because it’s so loud inside my head I can’t hear the wind or see what I am looking at.
You should really look at this because you won’t be out here again. Do you think you can make it back before it’s too dark? What if you get hurt down there? What if your knee starts really hurting? They said they haven’t seen anyone. You’d be stuck down there.
Please just shut up and let me see.
What will happen when you get back to the world? You don’t have a place to stay. You don’t know where you should live. How will you get your stuff moved? Do you even want your stuff? Why have you held on to things you would be better off without? Your cat will be mad at you.
I close my eyes, since I am not seeing anything. The wind pushes hard but my pack holds me upright as I am blown against it.
Why not what will who should why did gabba gabba hey
I sit there a long time. I am comfortable in the wind that wants to blow me over. I am already on the ground.
After a while it quiets. Not the wind. I have to close my eyes but Monkey gets lost then and I can remember what is in front of me. When I look there is something wrong–it’s all clear and in focus, but I only see a point, not the whole vista. It has been bothering me that my vision is so small.
I make a decision, something once impossible: I decide to turn around, to rest for the beach tomorrow. It seems like a good one.
Ocean keeps breaking against the shore down there, like it has since there was land for it to break against. Wind buffets the scarp as it always has. I look longer, in this moment that will never come again.
Gabba gabba hey
At the cabin I say if your plan was to subliminally suggest I turn around and not risk it, it worked. They get it. They recommend the beach further. We look at the map again to confirm. The 11 miles along the coast is best, for sure. I thank them again. She says it was nice to meet me.
Going back is always shorter and more certain. I keep looking, stopping here and there to close my eyes and breathe.
Monkey isn’t there. For a few seconds, in spots, he is gone. When I walk he starts up again.
Back in middle school I started walking, long walks around the loose-ranch suburb with its square brick houses on acre lots. I started dreaming while awake, playing movie soundtracks in my head, playing out conversations, imagining life in the far future. I imagined planets powered by their dreaming cores, dragons made of gas floating in their rings. Then I would dream them asleep, and the dreams would carry on the bus to school, during the boring hours of school, the brief times we had free. The suburban world didn’t have much going on, so I invented things.
I taught myself very well, to the point I was thinking all the time. Aside from a few times when I was truly on the meditation wagon, I’ve never stopped. I am always thinking, always distracted. I grew Monkey and he grew big and strong.
On the way back he is quieter. I can see where I was from the shoeprints in the sand. I see them well in the long light. I don’t need the flashlights. It isn’t dark when I get to the car. He perks up when I get there, but not too much. I am very, very tired.
See you soon, Monkey.