Hang Loose

Some distance away at the Visitors’ Centre, with a light drizzle falling, and ominous dark clouds swirling in the stiff breeze, we examined an immense, semi-circular crater from our viewing stand. But we were surprised to learn that the summit was more than 20 miles away. The barren landscape around us resembled an enormous, abandoned gravel pit. Although not spewing hot lava, its bowels were emitting continuous sprays of grey smoke which Hawaiians call vog. This vog sometimes causes tourists to experience a scratchy throat, somewhat like the beginning of a head cold.  Future tourists will still have time to witness this active volcano, because it is not expected to become extinct for another 500,000 years or more. By then the island will have gradually inched its way off the “hot spot”, currently centred deep below it. Volcanic activity will then cease. All will be serene until Mother Nature slowly washes the island below the waves into the Pacific Ocean.

Extensive pineapple and sugar cane plantations were established by entrepreneurial pioneers mainly from mainland USA in the 1800s. But they have now given way to tourism, the number one industry upon which 80 per cent of the population depends for its livelihood. The second most important industry is macadamia nuts. This nut tree, native to Australia, thrived in Hawaii when introduced. The Hershey Nut Factory, on a 2,500 acre plantation, annually processes millions of pounds of this nutritious product for the market.

The arable land is very fertile and so offered ideal conditions for pineapple and sugar cane plantations, which were phased out as they are no longer economically feasible. Much of the land’s surface is occupied by rugged volcanic mountains. In places, former flowing rivers of hot lava left expansive patches of solidified dark brown porous rock devoid of vegetation covering once fertile areas. Currently an active volcano in one area has blown its cork. The fiery lava flow is now threatening to engulf a small town as it makes its unstoppable progress towards the town’s outskirts. Apparently nothing can stop a lava flow.

Other sights caught our fancy as first-timers to these islands. In the small town of Lahaina we saw a spectacular tree. Sometimes called the Walking Tree, this 142 year old Indian banyan covered more than two-thirds of an acre. Its bulky lateral branches sprout aerial roots that grow downward and eventually anchor themselves in the soil and grow to tree-trunk size. They support the huge lateral branches as they expand outward. At first glance it appeared to be a grove of several trees in close proximity, but on careful inspection it is one huge tree interconnected and supported by many tree trunks. It is the largest tree in Hawaii and one of the largest in the United States.

On the island of Kauai we were greeted by wild chickens, which seemed to pop up everywhere. They are the descendents of caged birds released some years ago by a violent hurricane that blew chicken coops throughout the island to smithereens. These “free range” birds found the newfound freedom to their liking and have never returned home. With no natural predators, these wild fowl have multiplied by the tens of thousands, and like the plentiful supply of Hawaiian wild pigs, happily live off the land.

Each day thousands of tourists flock to the Pearl Harbor Memorial, honouring the military personnel who died in an early dawn aerial attack by Japanese aircraft early Sunday morning on December 7, 1941, killing 2390 people. The bombardment sank 5 battleships and heavily damaged many more. The carnage destroyed 164 aircraft and damaged 159. The USS Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah were left where they sank and have become memorial sites for the dead. After viewing a brief film about the attack we boarded a shuttle boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken hull to honour the 1,177 crewmen who died. The hull serves as a tomb for over 900 sailors who remain in the ship. As a mark of respect some of our group laid our lei necklaces on a ledge before the engraved names of the military personnel who died that day. Some dropped the lei petals into the water over the hull of the sunken battleship, visible just below the surface. President Roosevelt, after hearing the shocking report of the devastating blow to the American navy, issued this now-famous one-liner; ”This day will live in infamy”.

Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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