Totality

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The problem with using words like breathtaking and amazing and awesome so often is that when something like this comes around which is all those and more, none of those words feels adequate.

I’ve been working for a while on finding words to describe the total eclipse. My immediate reactions were pretty basic: “Goddamn that was a short two minutes” and “I completely understand why people chase these.” But they hint at the shift in understanding that I underwent.

I knew about this eclipse* over 6 years ago. I knew what to expect when totality occurred. But that moment when the sun disappears in your glasses, you take them off, and the Corona is just there. Glittering. And that black disc where the Sun used to be. It’s beyond comprehension. There’s no way to possibly be prepared for it.

*and had loosely coordinated with family friends in Boise about visiting.

I felt something similar last year when I saw Halema‘uma‘u in person and realized how the earth was literally alive and breathing. I don’t think I’d even absorbed how much it effected me when I wrote about it. But when I saw the smoke billow out of of the crater I gained a fundamental respect for this power which I’d never realized I was missing.

The Hawaiian term “mana” captures the sense how things can have a powerful essence that you just feel in your gut. The ocean has mana. Volcanos and lava have mana. A total eclipse of the sun has mana. Seeing it. Experiencing it. Sensing how powerful the Sun is even—if not especially—when it’s blocked by the Moon altered my understanding of everything. I “knew” what I was seeing, I just didn’t properly understand it at that deep fundamental sense of knowing.

The way the air felt. The way the light looked. The sheer absolute beauty of the Corona which is always there, shimmering but overwhelmed by the Sun’s power.

I know why people chase these.

I want to experience it again too.

And I’m glad I was in a small group on a mountain top where we didn’t get innundated by screaming and instead spent the time pointing out things in the surrounding landscape. I’ll have more about the camping trip in Cascade, Idaho later on in another post but the Eclipse itself deserves to stand alone.

On photography

I didn’t plan to photograph this. Yes, I brought a camera like I always do and packed a my most-compact telephoto* “just in case” but my goal wasn’t to take a photo but rather just experience those two minutes. The photo I do have is very much a grab shot—believe it or not the exposure settings I used were the same settings I was using for candid people shots in the near-total light.

*an old, fully-manual 200m f/4 Nikkor AIS

That it’s pretty much indistinguishable from any other eclipse photo doesn’t bother me at all. Nor does the fact that there’s no way this image can come close to the totality experience. It’s a record of what I saw. And sometimes that’s all a photo needs to be.

I did however plan on taking photos during the partial eclipse. Lots of fun things to play with there. People looking silly in their eclipse glasses. The cool crescent shapes and weird shadows. That odd dusky light which confuses our eyes into trying to decide whether we’re wearing sunglasses or if it’s getting close to time to go to bed.
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Hawai‘i Travel

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I drove more on this vacation than any other vacation I’ve taken. When I returned our rental car* it turned out that I’d driven about 850 miles over eight days. I’m not used to driving that much in general** let alone spending a couple hours each day in the car while on vacation. But there’s really no other way to see the island. And the roads themselves are often spectacular in terms of the views they offer.

*A Nissan Versa which did pretty well.

**When I was working and commuting it was ~70 miles per day and maybe 90 minutes on the road total.

Flying-wise, the Kailua-Kona/KOA airport is a wonderful throwback. I miss being able to walk outside and board the planes via stair from the tarmac at San José/SJC. KOA takes that a step farther and is entirely outside. Yes it’s hot. And yes you sweat a lot while waiting to go through security. But I love the old-school nature of it and it reminds me both of a time when flying was not the chore it is now and how much I loved the Honolulu airport* when I was a kid.

*Which is also open-air and used to smelled of plumeria because of all the leis in the concourse. Not being able to meet, or send off, passengers at the gate now means that the last couple of time I was in Honolulu the airport smelled like every other airport.

Anyway, while I’ve organized the photos and posts based on subject matter, it’s also nice to be able to see my trip based on a per-day itinerary. Given the amount of driving I did, I felt like putting each day on a map would be useful for me memory.

Day 1: Kailua-Kona Airport to Waikoloa

Day 2: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Petroglyphs
  2. Kaloko-Honokōhau
  3. Kailua-Kona
  4. King’s Road

Day 3: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau and 1871 Trail.
  2. Kailua-Kona

Day 4: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Mo‘okini Heiau and Kamehameha Akahi ‘Āina Hānau
  2. Pololu Lookout
  3. Pu‘ukoholā Heiau

Day 5: Waikoloa to Hilo

  1. Pololu Lookout
  2. Waipi‘o Lookout
  3. Akaka Falls
  4. Mauna Kea Visitor Center

Day 6: Volcanos National Park

  1. Kīlauea Iki Crater
  2. Chain of Craters Road
  3. Halema‘uma‘u Lookout

Day 7: Based in Hilo

  1. Punalu‘u Beach
  2. Ka‘u Coffee Plantation

Day 8: Hilo to Kailua-Kona Airport

  1. Rainbow Falls
  2. Kailua-Kona

Punalu‘u

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In our last full day on Hawai‘i we set off early to go see Punalu‘u beach. Obvious but obligatory since I’d also always wanted to see a black sand beach ever since I was a little kid.* Punalu‘u is the easiest to access on the island plus I’d previously scanned a photo of my grandmother taken when she visited there around 1940.

*Also Papakōlea’s green sand but taking the walk (or hiring a drive) to South Point was a bit more than I was ready to undertake.

It is indeed very pretty and even past the color difference the sand is very different than the sand I’m used to. Rather than being the soft, rounded and eroded sand we have on beaches in California,* the black sand is rough and abrasive since it’s powdered lava. Rather than being formed by wave action on solid lava rock, it’s a result of explosions when the molten lava hits the ocean water. It doesn’t hurt to walk in but your feet do get exfoliated a bit. After all the walking we did the previous day this wasn’t a bad thing.

*Or even the coarser sand made of broken shells in Waikoloa.

We even saw a few honu here. We’d seen one on our first excursion to Kaloko-Honokōhau so it was nice to be able to say goodbye as well.

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Chain of Craters

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After walking along Crater Rim Drive to see Halema‘uma‘u and before going to the Jagger Museum, we drove Chain of Craters Road to the Hōlei Sea Arch. We took our time, pulling over whenever we saw something interesting or if there was a pullout to go look at yet another crater. It’s a fun drive out toward the ocean through fresh lava fields. The nice thing about this drive is that each pullout explains the date of the field we would be standing in and describes each eruption, how it occurred, what parts of the road were covered, etc.

In most parts of the world, the geologic history of the land is hidden in the stratigraphy under the earth and only where the stratigraphy is exposed can you figure out what happened there. On Hawai‘i, the lava flows are visible everywhere and tell the story of how the island was built. Because the Chain of Craters road goes through the most-recent flows, it serves as a primer on looking at the landscape in general and allowed us to think about the other parts of the island we’d been to and put together how the lava flows had created and shaped the landscapes everywhere else too.

Our hotel in Hilo had a wonderful map on the wall which marked all the lava flows on the island and included the dates—or where they predated western contact with the islands, the Hawaiian names—of those flows. I’ve been trying, and failing, to find a copy of that map since the lava flows have become one of my most-vivid memories of this trip. It’s not the being on the flows either, it’s the driving along the highway and just seeing dark patches flowing down the mountain side* or noticing that the vegetation has gotten more sparse and recognizing that we were passing through a newer portion of the island and wondering when that flow occurred.

*This was the other thing besides the cinder cones that we kept seeing when we drove over Mauna Kea.

At the end of the road is the Hōlei Sea Arch and a parking lot for the trailhead to go look at the lava from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō as it flowed into the Pacific Ocean. It would’ve been an 8-mile round-trip walk to see the lava. Nothing too strenuous but it would go over rough lava and after having hiked Kīlauea Iki earlier, we were both wary of how sharp the lava could be.

The little kid in me who had always wanted to see volcanos wanted to take that walk. The grown-up part of me thought better of it. The grown-up part of me won.

We’d seen so many people being stupid already by walking close to the edge and trying to get a better view of the ocean that we didn’t want to see them be stupid around lava either. Having already seen Halema‘uma‘u breathe we knew we respected the volcano too much to be with a bunch of tourists messing around with it.

So we enjoyed looking at the ocean and seeing it crash into the lava cliffs. Then we turned around and went back up the ridge to go to the Jagger Museum. Do I still have some “what ifs” and “if onlys”? Absolutely. But I’m also perfectly satisfied with what I did see.

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