How ’bout that Hawaiian volcano?!
I think it’s safe to say I’m obsessed with the Kilauea eruption. I have spent more time than I care to admit devouring news stories and scrolling through Instagram photos and video of the lava. Hashtag Leilani Estates is an easy way to kill an hour.
Anybody who knows me shouldn’t be too terribly surprised by this revelation. I have long been fascinated with natural disasters. Not that I hope for them, of course; but when they do occur, I find it impossible to look away. If this were a jukebox, I’d have Mother Nature’s Greatest Hits on heavy rotation.
Not long ago, I wrote about my experience living in Hawaii. How I mostly hated it, except for the Big Island. I have fond memories of black sand beaches and jungles and, best of all, hiking the Devastation Trail and Halema’uma’u Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I might have pocketed a few lava rocks, too; it’s a good thing I’m not (too) superstitious as Hawaiian legend claims that doing so angers the Goddess Pele, and she will retaliate by cursing the thief with misfortune. In fact, many a tourist has sent back a pilfered rock after encountering bad luck upon their return to the mainland. If this all sounds like a wacky sitcom plot, it was; remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby found an ancient tiki in Hawaii and bad luck started to befall the family? That bad juju was based on the legend of Pele.
Fortunately, I never encountered any bad luck myself. Unless you count barely missing out on seeing an eruption firsthand. In 1983 we were vacationing on the Big Island; the day after we returned to Oahu, Kilauea erupted. My dad was always bummed about this, so I guess my fascination is hereditary.
That wasn’t my only close call with nature’s fury. I’m sort of like the Forrest Gump of natural disasters, having secured a front row seat to many an event. As evidence, I submit the following:
- Run like the wind, Toto! During my final summer in Dayton, Ohio, my brother and I spent a week at summer camp. One night, long after lights out, we were awakened by a counselor and ushered from our bunks. We were then marched across a field, through a howling wind, as turbulent clouds raced by overhead. Our destination? A concrete bunker beneath the swimming pool. It turns out a tornado warning had been issued, and funnel clouds were spotted in the vicinity. Luckily, none touched down. I vividly recall huddling nervously in the dead of night, surrounded by bags of chlorine stacked in haphazard piles. Pretty scary night for an 11 year-old!
- I spy the eye – no lie! In November 1982, Hurricane Iwa raced across the Pacific and took aim at Hawaii – the first hurricane to strike the islands in 23 years. Guess who had a front row seat to the whole thing? We stayed inside our house on base as winds gusted up to 120 mph and rain pelted Oahu. The worst of the storm occurred in the evening and overnight. I don’t remember ever feeling scared; I was simply in awe. The next morning we emerged to bright sunshine and a lot of damage, mainly downed trees. It was the first and only time living there that school was cancelled due to weather.
- Happy birthday – I got you snow! April 27, 1984, was my 15th birthday. Typically I associate my bday with pleasant spring weather, but in South Dakota (ha!) one can never assume. That year, I spent my birthday indoors as heavy snow fell and gusty winds blew. I don’t remember how much snow we ended up with by the time the storm wound down, but it’s safe to say “a lot.” This wasn’t the only blizzard I’ve experienced in my life, but because of the date, it’s the one that stands out the most in my mind.
- A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on! October 17, 1989, was just a normal Tuesday – until the ground started shaking with a vengeance. I was living in the Bay Area, just digging into a plate of spaghetti with my girlfriend at the time, when everything started rocking and rolling. I’d lived in CA for three years by that point and had experienced quite a few quakes, but nothing of that magnitude. And when the TV stations switched from the World Series game to images of citywide devastation – the worst being a collapsed freeway – we knew it was serious. The next week was a surreal blur. My college classes were cancelled and aftershocks kept coming. A few months later I traveled to the epicenter and somewhere, there is a photo of me standing in a fissure in the ground that comes up to my thigh.
Tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and earthquakes – oh, my. I’m just thankful to have thus far avoided tsunamis, avalanches, wildfires and alien abduction.
Well, the last one is a maybe. But that’s a story for another day.
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