Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mt. Marcy



I spent my summer checking intoxicated backstretch worker credentials before allowing them entry to the track at three in the morning and flagging traffic to a halt on Union Avenue so that horses could cross for their morning workouts. Meanwhile, my sister, Robin,  climbed peaks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Last year after we had climbed Mount Washington we decided to hike up Mt. Marcy.  I was doing little to condition myself for the 14.8 mile trip. 

Robin had climbed the highest peak in New York back in the 80s, but I had never climbed it, much less seen it.  At 5344 it is not a towering peak. It is 3000 feet shorter than the mountain behind my condo in Hawaii. But the peak is a remote one, nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks making the summit a long trek. Some people make the trip a long day hike. Many hike part way, camp and bag the peak on the second day. We elected for the long day.  But, of course.

My work schedule and the attempt to paint my neighbor’s barn kept me from getting as ready as I was when we hiked Mt. Washington.  I did some short hikes getting use to my new low-top foot gear.  I felt good when I put in an eight mile hike around Moreau Lake only to learn Robin, who always has been more athletic, had put in a 10 miler on a 4000 foot peak.  Sigh. She was going to skunk me up the mountain.

To get an early start and to avoid the two-hour drive to the Adirondack Loj where the trail head is located we got a very nice room in Lake Placid.  The room came with breakfast served at 6 am. Anticipating an energy-packed breakfast we instead got something that looked like little yellow marbles, bounced like rubber balls and I presume was made of 1972 military-issued powdered and pulverized eggs. The only good thing about the breakfast was the laughs we got as we reflected on the horrendous eats considering how exceptional the hotel had been.  It made a great trail tale.

I don’t know how old I was when Dad took Robin and me to Marcy Lake.  Pretty young, I suppose. He might have had the intentions of hiking to the summit, but we had enough of  carrying a canvass rucksack full of peanut butter sandwiches and a can of beans by the time we got to the dam, about 2 miles in on a relatively flat hike.  (This part of the trail is the saving grace of the whole trip. As it is a trail on soft earth and pine needles, verses the rest of the trail on rocks.)  Instead of proceeding up the trail, I wanted to swim in the lake and got my first wilderness lake experience. It might have been cold, I don’t remember that. What I do I remember was the thick mucky debris that settled in the lake. It stirred easily off the dark lake bottom and made swimming as unappealing as climbing to the summit.

Two miles from the Loj and you feel the heart of the Adirondack wilderness, the place of plaid-clad woodsmen and Iroquois Indians, black bears and badgers, of glaciers and granite. These places and times held my imagination as a kid – the geology, the history, the legends of 46ers -- the challenge of becoming one of the elite who climb the peaks above 4000 ft. But I grew up and moved away never to do any serious hiking in the place of “new mountains from old rocks.”
As Robin and I approached Marcy Lake it looked nothing like I remembered. No lean-tos on the lakes edge. Nor was there a lake as the dam has been breached. There is a slight detour to a newly constructed bridge a bit downstream.

What does one see when one hikes through the woods?  To tell the truth, not much but the forest for the trees.  As we gained in elevation we caught glimpses of surrounding summits through the breaks in the trees.  Tall deciduous yielded to red pines and spruce, which yielded to alpine shrubs and finally to lichen and moss. The one time I looked away from the trail to see the summit of Mt Marcy I tripped over a rock and fell into the alpine bushes.  

Footing was precarious. It is the little rocks that will trick you. Step on one and it may roll twisting your ankle. This happened to me on the way down.  Luckily I recovered quickly throwing my weight off my ankle onto my hiking poles.  

The last bit of climb is over open rock face. Fortunately the weather was perfect. Sunny with little wind, but cool enough to keep ice on the rocks protected from the sun’s warmth. Hard to imagine that these high places were once covered by  glaciers more than a mile thick just a short 10,000 years ago. It was the glaciers that left the Adirondacks a jostle of peaks and gives them their beauty.

At the summit we sat on the rocks facing southeast, the high sun on our backs.  Unlike Mt. Washington there are no concession stands or warming huts. I broke out a hot drink and two paper cups from the hotel carefully packed so not to be squished. Cheers!  Roast beef sandwiches and peanut butter with honey re-energized us for the return trip that took us the same amount of time we had taken to climb.  Old knees!

 I told  Dad to call the State Troopers if he had not heard from us by 9 pm. We made it back to the car by 6:15, but no cellphone signal was available until we reached Keene at 7 pm.  Robin wanted a cup of coffee and we both expected that the best she would get would be gas station coffee. But we found the perfect place with an espresso machine,  the ADK cafĂ©. She got a cappuccino and I had a decaf latte.  

As we headed down the Northway there was still a tell-tale sign of daylight on the western horizon.  Another great adventure behind us. I relaxed in my sister’s new Subaru to discover heated seats are a great recovery therapy. I might have to get me one of those.  

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Day Forty


I expected the morning workout to be light. After all, the horse trailers had been rolling out all night, shipping horses to Belmont, Kentucky and other destinations where thoroughbred racing continues after the six week meet at Saratoga ends. One day of racing remained. One important race, the Hopeful was ahead. 

A hard gale-force wind and an electrical storm kept the training light. Even the early morning Bond Boys wearing red blinking lights on their helmets and safety vests with 007 on the back made a quick exit to the barns when lightening touched too close for comfort.

Between the downpours D. Wayne Lukas crossed Union Avenue to come to the main track. It was the only time I saw him during the 40 day meet. Dressed in a long riding coat and mounted on a large painted pony he came without the typical entourage of thoroughbred owners. Not even an assistant trainer accompanied him.  Alone, he took his horse to the sloppy track emptied of exercise riders by violent rain and wind packed beneath a thunderstorm.  Like a solitary stranger that rode into a one-horse-town on the edge of a prairie, he carried a noticeable presence.  He brought a little hope and a little fear to the town.
But this lone horseman was no cowboy in a  B-western movie. He was a famed trainer. In the midst of thunder and distant lightening a calm air hung around him.  He entered the track and turned toward the far turn, away from the empty grandstand. I wondered what he was doing. Reminiscing? After all, he had certainly sent many great horses to the winner circle. Inspecting the conditions of the soaked surface?  It had rained hard and frequently during the past three days. Saying good-bye? This was the last day of the 150th year of racing at Saratoga.
I will never know what he was thinking, but I suspect he was being one wise trainer. Scouting the track, considering the conditions, figuring it's impact on the race horse.  He had a horse entered in the Hopeful, the race that features the top two-year olds in the country - those that often go on to greatness as three-year olds in big races like the Triple Crown and the Travers. 
When skies cleared and thousands of fans filled the grandstand hours later, his horse, Strong Mandate, became a surprising upset.

The significant event of my last day at the track wasn’t fully appreciated until the following morning when I was sitting at the table eating my breakfast at a normal hour of 7 am. My midnight shifts were over.  Reading the newspaper I learned yesterday was also D. Wayne Lukas’ birthday.  I believe I witnessed a man give himself a birthday present at beautiful and historic Saratoga.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Making The Transition



Bit by bit. Or perhaps more like hour by hour, I have begun to hit the third shift stride. The first week was tough, when I threw my body’s clock onto graveyard. Although I pretended I was still living in Hawaii it wasn’t an easy transition.  I pushed myself not to doze during the day. My body cried against the new rhythm.  My plan was to be tired enough that I would go to bed at 5 pm and actually fall asleep. That first week, the northeast was perspiring in a heat wave, a six day stretch of ninety plus degrees. I slept in my old room squeezed in a twin bed between two needy cats – one at my feet and the other tucked under my arm pit. In the shade-drawn room the air conditioner droned on cutting out sounds of some mysterious construction project underway in the neighbor’s back yard, and the sound of Dad watching the weather channel’s endless 8 minute cycle.

When the heat broke I moved into the master bedroom. Despite having a larger size bed for my two cats I locked them out of the room. Their curiosity insisted on demanding entrance to the room. My need for undisturbed sleep and their need for access to a liter box ruled otherwise.  There were days that Diablo yowled outside the door and slippers flew through the air out of sheer frustration.

With a project to prep and stain a neighbor’s barn I imposed a curfew. By 3 pm I was to begin to relax and ready my uniform and gear for easy assembly at 11pm. Bedtime was 5 pm.  That kept me up all day after I got off at 8 am. During the remainders of the mornings I pressure washed the barn and then hand washed every rough cut pine board.  By noon my arms had fallen off and my wrists felt like I did a double shift at the Target Distribution Center. And, not to let the summer get by me, I loaded the kayak on the jeep and took off to cruise around Moreau Lake in the early afternoons.

But I had done no hiking since my week in Alaska at the beginning of July. With the plan to hike Mt Marcy after Labor Day I knew I needed to condition my legs for the long 14 mile trek to the summit and  return descent.  Robin and I had talked of doing this last summer and I knew she would be cresting peaks in New Hampshire to get ready. Always more athletic than me, I would have a grueling climb if I didn’t start preparing.

So yesterday I hit the trails above Moreau for the second time this week and got a little disoriented when I forgot my map. I knew I would eventually hit either the lake or the Hudson River, a place I really did not want to end up at.  Three and a half hours later I emerged from the woods on the lake side. By five I was in bed sans cats.

The past two nights have gone by fast. I've been writing and surfing the internet for camping and hiking gear or reading up on the trails in the Adirondacks. During my break I crawl into my sleeping bag laid out in the back of my jeep. I’ve managed to zone out for twenty or thirty minutes, a power nap at 3 am. After 4 am, the gate is wide open to traffic and the next four hours I am on my feet checking IDs, credentials and monitoring horse traffic.

Midway through week three, almost to the half way point of the six-week racing meet at Saratoga, I have got the routine.  I confess I am sleep deprived and I have noticed brain lag. Nothing too serious.  Just a moment of not being able to remember where I put my paint scraper or forgetting what I was going down into the basement to get.   Heck I’ve done that before.  I’ve also fallen asleep under the dryer at the beauty salon.  I did ask my hairdresser is I was drooling.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Nightshift



Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Is there such wisdom for those who watch the sun rise after working the night? 

Across America people wake up to work the nightshift.  It is not the sole domain of the blue collar or unskilled laborer. Professionals prowl the hours between 11 pm to seven in the morning.  Doctors make their residencies in ER, airline pilots trek coast to coast on the red eyes.  International business people speak to call centers a dozen time zones away.   IT geeks tweak code; the independent writers type out 500 word articles; DJs on local and national air waves stir tired imaginations with spooky ramblings of international espionages, government conspiracies, UFO kidnappings, the miracle of vitamin power and  the spoils of  Franken foods. With them are the traditional over night workers – the factory employees make, shape and build America.  The nocturnal long-haul truck driver rolls down the center line,  the janitor swabs bathrooms and restocks the paper towels, the garbage collector clangs metal cans at the street-side curb,  the cab driver delivers passengers and the security guard patrols long hallways, and the dark stairways of warehouses, sky scrappers, office buildings, schools, wharfs and barns. (Some barns have hallways and stairways.)

There is a whole industry of night beyond the making of donuts and the printing of newspapers. It is of shipping and hauling product and produce, of unpacking and stocking merchandise, of staging and positioning packages for morning deliveries.  These activities ready the economy for the upcoming day.  Nights make days and it is done by an estimated three million Americans.
   
I’ve never worked a graveyard shift.  I was in sweet dreamland long before the moon rose and red traffic signals glared across the cityscapes with angry fiery eyes like the devil himself.  No one should see creepy shadows run across open fields or lurk at the edges of forest. No one should have to venture into poorly lit alleys or cross a street in the echoes of their own foot steps.  After all, we know the story of Ichabod Crane.  

As a teen I rose early. This might have had something to do with my mom whose trigger finger on a light switch was faster than a bolt of lightening on a golf course. It didn’t matter if it was a 6 am on a school day or a weekend. When the slim thread of light stitched its pattern across the horizon to reveal the green mountains of Vermont it was time to rise and shine. Time to up and at’em. Time to make hay. And at the other end of the day I got between the sheets early too. Even in the summer before the sun sank below the crown of pine on the hill I “hit the hay”.  To go to bed with the chickens.  And chickens never worked the nightshift.

I love the morning. Full of promise.  Long sun rays enrich the landscapes with golden tones first caught on hill tops, then tree crowns and finally open fields. The sounds of crickets and katydids fall silent to the birds’ song that seems to coax the sun into splendor..  In the dips and valleys cooler air settles as if it slept the night away.  There is an anticipation of the morning lingering in the faded shadows of night. Mornings are fresh starts.  They are daily do-overs.

Now I am on nightshift and lost.  My mind and body are confused. It is like having the “sleeping” me on Hawaii Time, but the “waking” me on Eastern.  I wake at ten pm feeling the night, so aware that what is ahead are more hours of darkness.  The crickets’ chirps sound like “sucker, sucker.”  The moths dance in the yellow hues of tungsten. Watching their futile flutter exhausts me. Kamikaze June bugs dive bomb into the side of the guard shack.   The whispered rustling of invisible trees is unsettling.  I feel the burden of summer humidity sink in the low lands – damp and chilled.  There are faint odors of disturbed circumstances: a distant thunderstorm, a nest of skunk, the musky smell of horse and tilled earth on a silent track.

This is where I chose to be.  I traded the fevered excitement of the crowds gathered in the grandstands clutching winning hopes on horses that breezed easily in the soft blue light of dawn two days ago.  Requests to know the whereabouts of the nearest bathroom or ATM have been replaced with friendly “good mornings” exchanged with grooms and exercise riders or semi-polite nods from trainers and owners who flash ID cards with slight annoyance.  The post parade has become a frenzied coordination of horses, bicycles, golf carts, cars, vans and trucks across a busy street.  

And four days on the nightshift and I have not smelled one cheap cigar.  Just one more thing I don’t miss about working days at the Saratoga Race Course.  Wise move.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Whittier


Am I already forgetting? Did I hike the Crow Creek Trail on the same day we also went to Whittier? July 3rd? What a packed day in Alaska!  So let’s recap a bit here, including some photos for those of you who manage to stay off my FaceBook. And new ones for those who are on FaceBook.

I’ve been to Whittier three times before this trip.Twice by train and once by sea. Back in the day the only other way to arrive would have been to fly.  Since 2000, Whittier has been connected to the world by car when the 2.5 mile long train tunnel was resurfaced to accommodate vehicular traffic. The tunnel is a straight shot through the massive mountain that confines Whittier to a narrow seaside strip of land on the west side of the Prince William Sound. This makes the tunnel the longest car-rail tunnel in the US.

Finally someone got the brilliant idea to let cars drive through the tunnel and so autos, buses, campers and even tractor-trailers alternate between westbound and eastbound flows every half hour except when a train is scheduled. Then the traffic cues at the entrances to wait out the train and the clearing of smoke in the tunnel. Easier access makes Whittier a hot spot for tourists who wish to see a town where the entire population lives in one large ex-military bunker that once was the largest building in Alaska. (1940 time frame) I know, weird.  It’s a big building. 

Where everyone lives. One floor use to have a bowling alley. 

  There is a long pedestrian tunnel underneath the train yard that connects the residents with "downtown."  Because everyone lives in one high rise structure few roads need to be plowed in the winter.  Good thing.  Winter doesn't forget Whittier and in the summer it gets over 120 inches of rain.

So, it was rainy when I showed up 39 years after I first came here when I took my scuba certification dive in mid-January. It was 18 degrees on that day. The water was warmer than the air.  The best time to dive in Alaska is January.  Little glacier runoff to muddy the waters.
 
The third time I came to Whittier I rode my bike from Glennallen to Valdez.  Then I jumped a ferry to Whittier where I caught the train back to Alaska. That trip was awesome. 

I am still struck by the uniqueness of the little port that hosts some of the finest halibut fishing. I never expected to return there on this trip but when my friend, Mike, told me the tunnel was open to cars, and he had never been there…well, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to get there.   

We kicked around “town” because if you are not taking a cruise or going fishing there isn’t a whole lot to do. You can rent a kayak and have an ice cream cone, but it was 52 degrees and raining. That had hypothermia written all over it.

On the way back to Anchorage we stopped in Girdwood and drove up to the Crow Creek Trail head.  It was about 3 pm and I never hit the trail in late afternoon. But the sun wasn't setting until almost never, and this hike was the only thing I wanted to do while visiting Alaska.  Thirty-five years ago, on July 4th I had hiked this very same trail with Mike and his buddy Dan. We hiked on snow.  I wanted to duplicate the hike. I thought hiking in snow in July was just as unique as, well... Whittier. Mike and I duplicated the hike, minus Dan, but we remembered him.

Since Alaska had been experiencing 80 to 100 degree temperatures prior to my arrival, there wasn’t much snow on the trail. We made it to the old abandoned mine, a good climb. Since Mike and I are both photographers it was easy to have the excuse to stop and catch our breaths while snapping the incredible vistas.  Actually, I am in better shape now than I was then. So the trail wasn’t hard. I got my feet into snow. This is all I will say about that.  
 
No bear sightings. However here’s a link to an article posted five days after my hike.

By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News

July 8 2013, 4:58 PM AKDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Chugach State Park rangers have closed three miles of a trail within the park, after reports of a hiker being charged by a brown bear and a possible moose carcass seen in the area after the weekend incident.

The complete article can be viewed at:
http://www.ktuu.com/news/chugach-state-park-trail-closed-after-bear-charging-incident-070813,0,2129152.story

PS: If you go to Whittier on foot or on bike, you still have to catch a ride or jump the train. 


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Like the Mountains


Arrival 5:45 am. After a six hour flight from Honolulu I was back in Alaska after a 35 year absence. Back then I had spent the summer working at Castleton’s Photo Lab. It was a transitional time, the summer when I moved from the back waters of Louisiana to the booming town of Atlanta. I stayed with a friend who also had been in the Army and worked in the same photo lab. 

Even before I got off the plane and walked through the Ted Stevens International Airport I recognized the changes that had occurred in the past years. From the plane’s window on the approach to Anchorage I saw Earthquake Park - full of trees. No longer was the angulated ground caused by the devastating 1964 quake visible for the thick green canopy hid the once broken earth. Afterall, It had only been nine years since that damage occurred.  In the distance I recognized a few building in the Anchorage skyline. Only the Chugach Mountains resting on the eastern horizon seemed unchanged.

This had been the place I grew up. Not in the sense of new born to adulthood. But here I had my first experiences away from home. At eighteen I had joined the Army. Spring of 1973, the end of Viet Nam. After completing basic training and my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) as a Photo Lab Tech my orders came down for Alaska. I was a bit bummed about this for most of my new Army friends were headed to Germany and they ribbed me about my assignment. “Dog sleds and mukluks are standard issue.”   

In the wee hours of the morning I boarded a bus at Ft Lewis to catch a military transport to Ft Richardson/Elmendorf.  I stared beyond my reflection out the window into the darkness at silhouettes of barracks and other undistinguished government buildings on base.  Home sickness overwhelmed me. The most lonely, isolated feeling struck my gut.  I longed for something familiar. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home.  There was nothing adventurous about this trip. The next two and a half years of my life lay ahead of me. The rest of my life was beginning and I saw nothing but the reflection of a young soldier who was headed north to Alaska all alone.

When the plane landed the pilot announced it was fifteen degrees outside. I thought he said fifty.  I wouldn’t feel that until next summer. One of 30 women on base I was soon making friends and having a good time doing stupid things, things that are curiously all part of growing up. When I left the Army and Alaska, I was married, headed off to college and happy. That Alaska experience wasn’t so bad after all.  

Now I was back. My Army buddy, Mike was still here and so were 200,000 more people added to the town that was approximately 150,000 in the seventies. Dirt roads were now paved. The Glen Highway had additional lanes. The boonies now covered with strip malls. Here was Target, WalMart, Olive Garden and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We crossed North Lights Boulevard. Tudor Ave. C Ave. Nothing was familiar but the names. The bars and strip joints on 4th Ave were gone.  Some things do change for the better.

As Mike took me around the city I had a faint feeling of a dream. I remembered bits and pieces of that dream, but nothing coherently ran together. It was as jumbled as the city after the ’64 quake.  I was sure I had done this before, been here once upon a time, but everything was different. Like hearing a movie score but not being able to recall the movie. Like smelling a certain fragrance, but not recalling from where. Like tasting a spice but not being able to identify it.  I knew this place and yet I knew little about it.

Except one thing.  I came down the airport concourse and immediately saw Mike, a friend who had kept in touch when keeping in touch was not as easy as a FaceBook post, a Google search, Twitter account or hitting send on an email. A friendship that lasted pretty much unchanged, picked right back up much like it was when we met for the first time in October 1973, forty years ago. Some things change. We might have more wrinkles, less hair, grayer hair, more weight and a few aches and pains of age, but the best things don’t change.  They last like the mountains.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Two If By Sea


After missing my guide on Friday night I headed back to the cabin in Volcano Village. My cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but I answered it anyway.  It was Shane the boat captain of LavaKai and the owner of Lava Ocean Tours, Inc, the company for which my “missing” tour guide worked.  Shane apologized and explained what had happened.  Shane had been out on the boat and unable to call when the company’s reservationist tried to find out why my guide was a no-show.  He offered to make arrangements for another hike but of course I had already done so.  He invited me to take a boat tour, compliments of him. I told him I was already signed up. All the better he said. And it would be at no charge.  I thanked him for his call and looked forward to meeting him on Sunday morning. He assured me if I didn’t eat much Saturday night, stayed away from coffee in the morning and sat in the back of the boat I wouldn’t get sick.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Been there and done that. I get sea-sick in elevators.

On Saturday, after I managed to find my way out of Ed’s community it took an hour to get back to Volcano Village. It was around 10 pm.  I was tired. My feet hurt. I knew my legs would be sore from walking on the uneven lava surface.  A hot shower helped, but the unheated bathroom left me quickly climbing back into my sweatshirt and socks.  Before turning in I downloaded the photos and recharged the camera and phone batteries. The alarm was set for 2:15 am.  Sleep didn’t come easily despite my weariness. Every half hour I found the clock staring at me. I gave up at 2 am, gathered my gear and headed out into the mist and drizzle. 

Early on Saturday I donned those pressure point wrist bands that supposedly prevent seasickness. After I arrived at the launch site I popped one Dramamine. If I took two I would surely fall asleep.  In my backpack was plenty of water, and a bandana to wipe the puke out of my nose and off my face.  I checked to be sure had the wintermint gum to rid the bitter tasting bile from my mouth. I am a puking pro. The dread of sea sickness doesn’t stop me from going to sea, but by sitting in the car and waiting I psyched myself into a little queasy.  I got out and walked around the empty parking lot.

It was 65 degrees and a light mist fell as Shane went over the realities of the boat ride. “Not your dinner cruise. It will be rough and you will get wet. If you have any back problems, heart problems, respiratory issues, this is not your trip. Be honest with yourself. Pre-existing conditions will not be covered by my insurance. Remember you are on vacation. You don’t want to end up in the hospital.  If you want the smoothest ride, move to the back of the boat. Does everyone speak English?”  We nodded. “Good. Then I will assume everyone just understood what I said.”  If anyone had second thoughts nobody spoke up. We stood silently in the rain under the eerie yellow glow of lamppole #4.

We boarded the LavaKai by climbing a ten foot ladder while it sat on a trailer in the parking lot. I put on another layer under my rain gear and followed a couple of professors for the University of Wisconsin to the stern.   The boat was then taken to the launch and turned loose in the harbor. Shane turned the craft on a dime and we headed out to sea.  I glued my eyes to the dark ridge that hung on the western horizon. The boat cut quickly through the three foot sea swells flinging a sometimes heavy spray into the boat.  Periodically a dim pin point of light emerged from the shore line and disappeared.  Not too many people lived along this remote coast.

High above the lava plain sits the source of all the current flows Puu Oo.  The cinder cone’s glow hovered in a void of black. January marked the 30th anniversary of Kilauea’s ongoing eruption from Puu Oo.  Due to its remoteness inside the Volcanoes National Park most visitors never see it. Until now, I had never seen it. Those who hike the trail to the cinder cone are warned not to come closer than a mile. At the forest edge near Puu Oo all the vegetation is dead from toxic fumes.
 On the fast moving LavaKai, we soon approached the red glows from the ocean entries. The captain kept the boat moving by maneuvering the craft just outside the shore break.  The water is over a couple hundred feet deep here so waves break within a few feet of the fresh lava.  The crashing roar of waves on the advancing lava and stirred winds from its rapid cool wrapped the boat in a surreal environment. The boat’s engine’s growled in the churning surf fighting the draw of the sea to the rocks. Noxious sulfur swirled around us and invaded my lungs.

The crew tossed a bucket into the water and drew up the sea water so we could feel its temperature. I only dipped a finger in it as I didn’t want the sticky salt all over my hands as I operated my cameras.  It felt Jacuzzi hot.

The brightness of the lava ripped the night apart.  Frustrated by the cameras’ attempt to read the lava’s light, the bright glow reflected in the steam clouds and the stark darkness I had trouble setting a good exposure.  The sea’s motion made shots blurry. But I kept experimenting and wondered how everyone else managed to just shoot the scene. As day broke I got cleaner shots. 

I stopped myself to just look. To simply sit on the deck and view the awesome struggle of endless creation and destruction. Globs of molten lava spurted forth from behind a curtain of pink clouds that shrouded where it emerged from deep inside the earth.  Waves crashed ashore, ripping the red flow from the shelf and sweeping it unto the sea.  Burning rocks floated near the boat. In the raging surf the lava dramatically cooled, hissing in painful protest.  Vapors swept off the coast and danced across the black waters where reflected light patterns shattered beneath the lava’s demonic glare. Neither sea nor volcano ceased in its efforts to dominate the other.

I finally had seen lava flowing. New earth created and destroyed at the same time. Acres upon acres of new land have been created by Kilauea in the last thirty years, yet everyday the sea steals acres of the new creation.  The captain made one last pass at the lava before turning toward dawn and then back to Hale Isaac Beach. 

I never even thought about feeling sick.