The Old One Collapsed

Lava Viewing Area Collapses into the Ocean!

New Year's Eve brought its own fireworks at Kamokuna Lava Ocean Entry when a 26-acre lava buildup collapsed into the deep blue sea. For months, we heard reports of cracks forming in the wide, flat delta the river of lava had formed since it started flowing there. The cracks were widening, the area was deemed unstable, but we had no way of knowing exactly when it would give way. Well, New Year's Eve was the night!

You expect dramatic changes in a landscape when that much land just leaves. But it changed the dynamics of the flow, too. Now, instead of gurgling and spurting, lava shoots straight out of the side of the cliff, like a fire nozzle. The island was abuzz with excitement over it.

When some friends suggested a sunset hike, we were ready to see the new shape of things.

As we parked, we noticed all sorts of changes. The lava has been flowing in that spot for many months now, and the tentative, disorganized business that originally sprang up under tarps along the parking lot had morphed into more serious retail endeavors. Sparse and enthusiastic had changed to well-stocked and businesslike. Less random crafts and offerings, and more pragmatism like affordable bike rentals.

When the lava stops flowing to the ocean, I have a feeling it will be a great time to buy a used mountain bike!

It was still a solid hour and a half walk from parking to viewing, though, so we got moving. Usually, parking at 4:00 will give you plenty of time to set up at the ocean entry for sunset.

Hitting the viewing area with enough light to see our way out over the lava flows, it was shocking to see how much had changed since right after Christmas, which pretty much looked like late October or even early October. The entire cliffside we used to stand on was gone.

Sunset and Lava’s Fire

There was quite a crowd at sunset, arranged all over the lava flow amphitheatre, watching in wonder. We took our spots and patiently waited for most of them to leave with the last of the light. A medley of different accents, languages and voices floated around, all in amazingly happy and friendly pitches.

Aloha is a cliche, until you experience it flowing as naturally as the warm breezes over you, despite the anonymity of darkness.

The lava was anything but gentle, though!

Angry retaliation at the ocean's savagery had the lava tube aggressively pumping out of the cliffside. Giant plumes of gases snaked long over the waves and towered smudges against a velvet-Elvis sky. Mischievous winds played with the steam to reveal a towering, smooth pillar of endless heat. Or an explosion would send fireworks above the plume and waves of sound crashing through the crowd, filtering into oohs and aahs in passing.

We had come for that magical just-after-sunset lighting when the clouds are still textured and the lava glow not too much brighter than the night around it. But, as always, we lingered to watch the show. In Hawaii, there's no need to hurry.

Marching to the Sea

Walking back, we paused every once in a while to look back in thanks and farewell. Looking through the "magic window" of the camera's lens revealed the path of lava all the way from its source high above us in Pu'u O'o.

And a surprisingly vivid red glow points to a massive skylight in the lava tube carrying the flow. Having walked over untracked lava fields ourselves, the idea of coming upon a skylight that large and fierce was disconcerting!

Andromeda Overhead

Soft air and magical skies are the stuff of Hawaii nights. Walking and chatting, we paused often in sheer wonder at the beauty revealed. Only a handful of people live at that end of the island on the fresh flows where the village of Kalapana once stood. Backing up against the vast national park lands beyond, lava's glow was the only competition with the deep sky above.

Officially, the viewing area closes down at ten. Like so many things around here, though, that means only that the official part is over by then. Nobody comes along to kick you out; you're just on your own. The park ranger's car passed us on his way out; bike rentals were closing up their tarps; generators for lights were winding down at the parking lot. Ours were among the last cars left. But there's no gate to close. One of the best parts of being here is that there is seldom a need to hurry, and always time to enjoy the moment.

Sunset is Right Around the Corner

The New Year…

...and we're settled into the new studio space. The printer looms along one wall, mocking the picture hangars on the other wall, challenging us to feed pixels into its hungry maw.

It's not ready for action yet; we're still at the stage in our relationship where it makes demands and we scramble to serve it.

Print head, blue ink, green ink, maintenance cartridge... Each fresh demand we relay to the gods of the Internet. Each offering arrives in a brown or white van after some consideration. We feed the printer and wait for its next appetite.

This week, we await the arrival of Magenta...

When the beast awakens, though, she'll be hungry for every image we have. And we'll be so enamored, we won't be out searching for more. When a photo buddy mentioned chasing some light, we were ready for it!

In Love with the Red Road

We had planned on going up the mountain to catch the sunset from Saddle Road but when the time came to get in the car, we ended up turning down the Red Road instead. There is no better drive on the island. And in Hawaii, it can be more fun to follow your heart instead of your plans...

So we bumped along our favorite dirt road, hoping for a glimpse of a wild pig or a wild avocado, heading toward the sunset. The shape of our stretch of coastline brings us glorious sunrises at my house, and a mere half dozen miles down the Red Road, the Kumukahi Lighthouse bumps out into the ocean enough to provide glorious sunsets over a cinder cone just inland.

The Green Lake cinder cone is a remnant of the 1960 Kapoho eruption. With jungle quickly reclaiming the lava fields of that eruption, it's easy to forget that a seething wall of lava swept over the landscape about 50 years ago.

Kapoho Tide Pools

Emerging from the dirt part of the Red Road, we turned toward the ocean and arrived at Kumukahi Lighthouse with plenty of time to explore some tide pools. The shore at the lighthouse is teeming with life, and full of interesting angles for moving-water shots. We had fun playing with time and light, the movement and stillness of water. It's easy to lose yourself in that lively world shared by ocean and land.

Looking at the coastline from an overhead view, it's easy to envision fingers of lava marching to the sea. Giant intrusions with little bays in between, on a shallow delta of lava -- these quickly filled with coral and all sorts of other critters.

Lost in the moment

Watching life in the tidepools, the light changed all around us. While we were looking down, the sky was shouting for our attention, and we still couldn't look away

It was only when the colors of the sunset began to intrude on my vision that I could focus upward. And even then, I couldn't move entirely away from including the underfoot fascination.

Giving in to the Sunset

Finally the colors were too loud above, the life below too dimly seen in the shifting water. And darkness falls quickly in the tropics. Looking up, I came back to the present.

The winds and the volcano conspired to give us dramatic colors in the sky. What a sunset!

Not Long

While the whole trip felt like one long and aimless meander, we had actually planned it out using The Photographer's Ephemeris and with the eventual goal of catching some stars over the ocean. We chatted and drank tea as the light faded, knowing that with only a sliver of a moon, it wouldn't be long before the stars would appear.

Simplicity Revealed

In the way of philosophizers the world over, we spun metaphors as we drove the Red Road home. Driving up to the end of the road, the landscape appears a barren jumble of rocks. Leave your car and walk to the water, though, and a world emerges in the tide pools.

Wandering, head down, chasing the movement and play of the waves, we couldn't see the sunset until its effects intruded on our vision.

Then the brilliance of the moment caught us up in its own glory, but the real purpose was revealed in the simplicity of the deep blue beyond.

Best of the New Year

to you and yours!

Happy 2017

Akaka Falls

Best way to start the day

...with a sunrise! People come here from different time zones. Some are up long before the sun rises, impatient to catch the new day. Others come from the opposite end of the world. These friends were on their way back from Japan, so we had time to catch a sunrise before meeting them for a leisurely coffee and discussion over tropical fruit from our garden.

Honoli’i Beach Park

In no particular hurry at all, we settled on a course of action that involved lunch at Suisan, arguably home of the best poke in Hilo. Suisan is iconic.

Because we were driving past it anyway, we had to stop at Honoli'i Beach Park. We cannot pass up a chance for a glimpse of a whale or a pocketful of beach glass. The regular surfer crowd there is just a bonus for any shutterfly.

Today, though, the bridge at Honoli'i drew my eye. Standing in the shallows of the river, I captured a 32-shot panorama of a scene that captures my curiosity and awe every time I go there. This is exactly the sort of edit I love to sit down and enjoy with a quiet cup of coffee: bold architectural feature, challenging range, and a familiar place with happy memories.

Akaka Falls State Park

Our ultimate goal was Akaka Falls State Park. Its namesake is an impressive freefalling 442-foot high plunge of water on the Kolekole stream.

For me, though, the joy of the park is in the gentle trail that loops through tropical vegetation and overlooks several smaller waterfalls along the way. This little one always makes me pause in appreciation. With our recent rainfall, it was surrounded in lush perfection. Every leaf in the park seemed to glow with life.

Turning from this scene, the view downstream was completely obscured by a clump of giant bamboo plants. The trail bridges a small stream, spanning a mini-gorge about eight feet above the water. As the land drops away below, plants reach upward to nearly fill the chasm. Bamboo, ginger, banana varieties, and giant hapu'u ferns create a mosaic of shifting greens below, all draped in flowering vines.

Chatting and snapping pictures, we had whiled away most of the afternoon and were content to stretch out the day waiting for sunset's glow to touch the main attraction. The park closes promptly at six, so it was close timing.

Luck was with us. The first blush of peach lit the sky as we dallied. Just enough glow to light the feathery clouds and kiss the top of Akaka Falls...

The sunset shot of Akaka was a straightforward single-shot capture with nothing more than a standard edit, just sweet and easy going into and coming out of the camera.

While we had been chatting our afternoon away, though, my tripod was set up and the shutter working hard. I was excited to get enough shots to do some interesting stacking and stitching: a high-resolution image worthy of the new printer. Maybe even something to inspire my next Weekly Edit episode.

We were the last to leave the trail. Not tardy enough to require a reminder, but enough that the parking lot had cleared of cars. Perfect timing! Now we could enjoy watching the rest of the sky glow with color as we drove down the Hamakua coast to home.

Tanglewood Studio

The birth of Tanglewood Studio

We had just hosted our first art show. With the kind help and hospitality of a friend, we gathered a bunch of neighbors and other friends to view and discuss Harry's photos, to drink some wine, and try to figure out what direction to take with marketing. We were hoping that an event like this would give us clear input.

It started a discussion that dominated an entire day and long into the night. What direction were we heading? Did we have an interest in selling prints? Should we have open hours at our home? Sell exclusively online? Offer prints through a local gallery? Continue to casually sell by chance?

...And we live in a Tiny Home. Already, our photography and screencasting efforts dominated a solid half of the square feet in our home. Creating a relaxed space to interact with customers in our living space would present challenges, and simply finding wall space to hang prints was limiting.

It was two days before Thanksgiving, and we were contemplating the week ahead. We had a Weekly Edit episode to publish at noon, a lineup of family commitments, a bunch of food to prepare, and the long-range forecast was for impossibly wet weather to start in less than a week. Pressure was mounting

It seemed like time to make photography a priority in our space. We decided to re-make our greenhouse, splitting it roughly in half to create a studio.

Long weeks later…

Our greenhouse not only is the source of most of our vegetables, it is our tool storage space, dry area for construction projects, and general storage area for all kinds of odds and ends. Tearing it down and re-building it was a major disruption of our lives. We dove into it with determination and fervor, spurred on by imminent rains, and were able to get the roof on our new construction just before the rains began. Success!

On the first night of our 3-week-long rains, we got 10 inches of rainfall. Not a problem: we expected it. Working around torrential downpours, we continued. As the space took shape, however, we began to notice a real problem looming on the horizon. Our large-format printer, so confidently ordered at the beginning of the project, had not shipped yet. It had been weeks already, and there was no tracking information for this important piece of equipment.

We have been in Hawaii for a while now, and are familiar with the difficulties in shopping here. Shipping is expensive at best and impossible at worst. This started as one and turned into the other.

Yikes! What to do?

We called all over the Mainland. Calling a place in New York City gave us a laugh. Predictably, they answered the phone immediately. No extra pleasantries wasted: of course they could ship that printer to us! It would double the price of the printer to get it here, but it could be on its way the next day. We expected nothing less from that town 🙂

Amusement aside, that was expensive, but we were out of options.

As a last effort, though, we took a peek at Craigslist. What are the chances of a large-format printer being sold on our island at the moment we need one? There are less than 180,000 people on the Big Island.

We got lucky! There was a listing for a 60-inch wide format printer within 100 miles of us right then.

A photography enthusiast had moved to Hawaii years ago with a shipping container of all his treasured belongings. This printer was one of them. Then, when he moved away, he had no space to spare for the printer. It had to go.

Flash Flood Warning in Effect

"This is your Hawaii County Civil Defense message for Thursday, December 1. The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning for the Big Island of Hawaii... Heavy rain is falling across the districts of North and South Hilo, Puna and Ka’u. ...Hawaii Police Department reports multiple landslides and intermittent lane closures along the Hamakua coast.

We’re brave, and U-Haul was willing…

Now or never! The rain was only forecast to get worse, and pretty soon the roads would all be closed. We couldn't let somebody else get our printer, now that we had found it.

We got soaked just running from the rental agency to the truck: fully, water-hose-in-the-face soaked.

The rain was torrential, about an inch an hour when we set out.

Flooded roads in Hilo didn't deter us. Driving through running water on the highway, spray splashing in wings high over our cab made Mouse wince. But we didn't stop.

We passed roadcuts turned to waterfalls. We dodged large rocks in the road and avoided flood debris. We skirted rivers running amok down the pavement.

...and we arrived at our printer's resting spot

Crazy things we do for Art

That is one very large printer. We knew that, and we got a big truck to carry it home in, but: WOW! Top-heavy, awkward, expensive, and delicate: a moving challenge. Luckily, the rain slowed to a gentle shower as we winched our new printer up the ramp and tied it down in the U-Haul.

Even luckier, the weather blessed our drive home. Gentle showers bathed our journey back, and all the roads were open.

And luckiest of all, our big strong neighbor just happened to arrive as we were unloading! It was definitely a three-person job to guide our new treasure down the ramp, across the rocks, and into the freshly-roofed studio.

A little patience…

It's a used printer, so we have new print heads on the way. In the meantime, there's plenty to do and learn in our new space.

Chasing the Supermoon!

Supermoon Hype

The usual media hype about the Supermoon was lurking on the Interwebs. "...biggest since 1948" noted CNN, "Supersized!" screamed USA Today . Peer pressure was mounting on Facebook too. "Get your camera ready, Harry" said one friend. Another mentioned they were excited to see what I would do with that incredible lunar event.

On the other side of the coin, I am firmly among the Supermoon deniers. "The supermoon isn't super. It's just the moon," as Rhett Allain explains in Wired Magazine's Science column in October of 2015. Really, blowing up the idea of a supermoon by comparing its size to the tiniest full moon is cheating. As NASA writers note in the article, fourteen percent larger doesn't make much of a difference.

I've eaten fourteen percent larger cookies before, and it doesn't make me want to have any fewer of them.

But when the day approached, I couldn't resist. Making a stand against the Supermoon is like making a stand against the tides themselves. Beautiful waves, an air of expectation, and the undeniable challenge of making something impressive out of this event when my equipment is clearly mis-matched to the task: time to go get it.

How to Catch the Moon?

Before my last trip to Colorado, I had taken a hard look at how I use my equipment. I ditched my array of lenses and settled on a much simpler solution: two camera bodies, each with a lens I never remove. For those riskier excursions, I added a "pocket camera", a more sturdy little Sony I can house in a waterproof casing for wave shots. My goals: avoid contaminating my sensor, reduce time setting up, and mitigate some of the weight I had been carrying in my camera bag. I now never change lenses in the field.

These two lenses cover a variety of situations, but don't address every one. They certainly didn't address the special challenges of making a Supermoon look ridiculously huge!

I would need to get creative.

Getting Creative

We live on the sunrise side of the Big Island of Hawaii. In a less poetic sense, that also puts us on the rainy side, and often gives us a thick cushion of clouds right at the horizon. I knew from checking Photographer's Ephemeris that the moon would be rising up out of the ocean just as sunset's colors were fading in the sky. If the clouds would cooperate, it could be impressive. We scoped it out earlier in the day, looking for a palm tree I could catch in the moonrise shot. Rain was in the forecast, clouds were in the sky, but this was the Supermoon of the Century!

My wife Mouse, dog Little, and I grabbed a cup of tea, a tripod, and an umbrella for the adventure and walked the two blocks to the ocean. We set up early, tried to get a fix on the spot the moon would emerge, and chatted with neighbors passing by. Soon we had a group enlisted in moon-spotting. It's not easy to aim in the right direction over the ocean, and the moonrise is as quick as the sunrise, so we nearly missed it. The ability to quickly disengage from conversation and focus on the camera was a key asset 😉

Luckily, a full moon is big for several nights in a row. I could pull out a variety of tricks for the event. The second night found us with another chancy forecast. Just as moonrise approached , so did a hard-hitting rain storm. We tropical folk are a hardy breed, though, so we set out for our date with the moon anyway. Tonight we had a better handle on the moon's angle, a better array of clouds at the horizon, and a good palm tree for our foreground. Plus, the moon rose nearly an hour later, giving us entirely different light. THIS was the shot I had hoped for last night!

Big Waves or Big Moon?

On the third night, I was ready for a change. Between big waves and the moonrise, I had been catching both ends of the day with my camera, and Mouse was ready to take an evening off.

For the last plausible Supermoon night, I indulged myself. I love big waves. The full picture stretched upward: the giant waves lit by super-moonlight, the expanse of the night sky, and the waning supermoon itself.

A little Grateful Dead in my headphones, a heavy tripod, an empty stretch of coastline, and the later night brought on by a later rise and wanting a higher moon: peaceful enjoyment. The blues of the shot mirrored the calm of my happy spirit. I set up a vertical panorama to stitch together these three shots, capturing the wave shot at a higher speed and panning upward to get the moon at a more leisurely pace.

My favorite part of any shot, of course, is the edit afterwards. Moon shots definitely rate some attention. A nice cup of coffee, some music, a couple challenging shots and a fun little video, an ocean breeze... I was in heaven.

So, on the next week's episode of Weekly Edit I went through the Darktable edit I did of the moon-and-palm tree shot. Because the moon is so very bright and I wanted detail in the rest of the image, I used a the Watermark Module to do compositing within Darktable. Later in that episode, I also played with the moon-and-wave panorama shot again, just for fun.

Big Wave Week

For weeks, we’ve been waiting for the waves…

...watching the forecasts for a big storm to our north, then waiting to see if the storm actually comes. Watching the wind field set up: is the fetch pointing to us? How long will the winds stay in place? Did they generate a swell? Is it coming?

Then we wait. The ocean is quiet while we haunt the internet for signs that our waves are on their way.

This week's waves come after two solid weeks of anticipation. We saw the storm forecast. Then it set up, huge enough to dominate the entire Northern Pacific. Monstrous wind fields pointed perfectly to us! We knew the waves were on their way, and still long days from us.

Dawn Patrol, getting up to greet the day when the coquis quiet and the birds are still asleep. Making some coffee and strolling down to the coast with a tripod and a puppy to wait for the sunrise. Mouse and I have a tradition of shouting "Aloha" to the first big set that comes in.

We're always hopeful there will be some early sets, but happy to settle for a beautiful sunrise anyway.

We have a local group on Facebook, Puna Weather, where we discuss approaching swells and weather events. The news of the approaching waves got everyone excited. As the forecast firmed up and the waves built, we ran into familiar faces at sunrise and sunset.

We had a few impromptu gatherings in Kahakai Park where people brought their evening drinks or pupus to share. In the lead-up to the big waves, the ocean was just a backdrop for our discussions of when the real swells would arrive.

The Big Waves Finally Arrived!

I heard them roaring in the night, pounding at the cliffs in the darkness. We were anticipating 20-foot waves, maybe up to 30 feet tall depending on the exact angle. All week there was a buzz on Puna Weather about the waves coming. They arrived on Election Day so it wasn't much of a stretch to take the day off work. None of the kids on the island had school anyway.

It's a trick managing salt spray and cameras. Over the years, I've come up with a few techniques. We usually have an offshore breeze at sunrise, which helps. I plan my sunrise shots with my good cameras and heavy tripod. Extra UV filters.

Later in the day, though, it's all about getting the action shots. Then I switch to my little pocket camera, a little Sony RX100IV I got a waterproof case for. I don't trust the case for submersion, but it's great for heavy spray and splashing, maybe the occasional drenching.

I ran into some friends down at the cliffs. Ryan was there with a handful of kids, all thrilled to be out of school on a big wave day. High fives and giggling, bouncing with excitement: the kids were physical expressions of the glee we all felt More neighbors and friends came along, and we formed a loose caravan to explore some of my favorite spots. Live here long enough and you figure out exactly where to stand to get the experience you want out of each swell.

Careful!

Knowing the ocean is key. I combine years of experience watching waves in all the spots along our cliffs with a careful eye on the signals at the shore.

By the time the swell arrives, I've been watching it form and hit the buoys all along the island chain. Still, before I go close to the edge, I always stand a while and catch the rhythm.

I look for foam first, as I walk up. If there is foam, there have been --and will be again -- big waves, even if they're small when I walk up. There can easily be a half hour's break between the big sets, or even longer. Where the rocks are wet on the cliffs and the crabs are climbing: that is where the splashes reached. I look at the ground under my feet. A solid drenching draws small gravel back toward the ocean as the wave recedes. Sometimes even plants are scoured off the shore, and you know the wave itself reached up to grab them.

We all trooped down to Disconcerting Rock. It's a high cliff that juts out into the deeps. The waves break past you, like you're on the bow of a giant ship. You look at curling, moving mountains on both sides of you. The ground shakes: it's disconcerting.

Of course the kids loved it! Ryan climbed down a step toward the ocean to get a closer shot of the waves while I caught the shot above.

It is both scarier and much safer than it looks. The rock where he's crouched is 30 feet above the sea and completely dry. But when the entire cliff moves, you clutch the ground and your heart races before you laugh and wait for the next one.

Every sunrise and sunset, and lots of times between

For a whole week of big waves, I've been grinning at the ocean. I have a pile of images to edit, there is a backlog of chores waiting around the house, and my camera bag needs a good washing -- again!

This was the first real wave event of the winter season. From here on out, it's whales and waves until mango season!

A hui hou, Big Waves, and mahalo!

Lava Season

Isolated from the rest of the US by thousands of miles of ocean, by the rhythm of nature -- even by the very time of day, we truly exist in Hawaii Standard Time. Days and weeks slide past, governed by the phase of moon, the state of the Trade Winds, and the height of the lava in the crater above us all.

The East Coast of the Mainland is celebrating Fall colors. On the East Coast of Hawaii, it is Lava Season.


A couple years ago, we had a lava scare, down here in Lower Puna where I live. The red hot fury below had escaped the safe confines of the National Park and was slowly looming over our town, on a direct path to our house. We and all our neighbors laughed about it for months as it meandered sideways toward us, but sobered up as it crept right up to the edge of town. We all got pretty anxious. I did the only thing I could: I wrote a script to keep track of it all. That was a popular web page around here for a bit.

When things quieted down, I kept it going because it's handy to know what our volcano is doing before we drive all the way up to the park. It also emails me when the lava level is close to the crater rim. It's a real nice trick, because once that information hits the newspapers, the crowds can get pretty thick at the crater overlook. Sometimes it's nice to have a little insider information when you're looking for a particular shot...

Tonight, though, our strategy was different. The lava had been high for weeks and we knew the usual spots would be crowded at sunset.

High above the craters, a one-lane road winds through desolate lava flows and verdant forests. It's a quiet place with stunning views. There's a gate across the entrance, but we know where to get the key if it's locked. That's where we started our evening

Light painting. Who are we kidding... Kids playing with flashlights, right? Lighting from below, blending with the moonlight above. It takes practice and patience to make a smooth effect. The trees up there are perfect subjects, exotic and rare.

You can see behind the koa trees, the red glow of the crater filled the whole sky. What an effect! Clear stars above, some decorative clouds to add texture, and that eerie glow suffused throughout.

I got this shot of Halemaumau crater beaming up into the heavens. We tooled around the road, enjoying the feeling of being the only creatures on Earth, surveying a wild landscape under blood-red skies.

Then we moved down into the main park for a different viewpoint.

The bubbling lake of lava where everyone gathers is called Halemaumau, inside the Kilauea Crater. That crater has a little sister, narrowly separated by a low ridge: Kilauea Iki.

Back in 1959, Kilauea Iki suddenly erupted, briefly filling in dramatic bursts and fountains of lava. Now it's calm, just steaming a little on the bottom.

This is the best place for some quiet contemplation of the eruption at night. Great view, seldom a soul around, and a different angle on an often-captured sight. I especially like to go there when I know the rest of the place will be busy.

Sunset Inferno

Who can resist red hot lava pouring into the ocean? Not me! My photo buddy Mike has been off-island for the last year and couldn't wait to see some lava when he got home.

He's just on the island for a couple weeks, so he asked me to pick him up at Kalani Resort Retreat just down the Red Road from us, and a mere scenic drive away from the lava.

So: flashlights, water, snacks and sandwiches, the heavier tripod, two cameras, extra batteries, solid shoes and a good backpack. I was off to pick up MIke!

We never get tired of seeing lava flow into the ocean -- because it's actually rarer than it seems. In the decade we've lived here, this is only the second time we've been able to walk up and see it, and by far the easiest hike to it we've had.

A couple years ago, when the lava was headed down the hill toward our house, Hawaii County Civil Defense negotiated with landowners and the National Park to cut an emergency escape route through previous lava flows. The lava stopped just short of our only other road, so we never had to use it.

Ironically, the next flow left the main road untouched again, but cut off the emergency route!

We now have a wide, flat, easy walkway out to the flow. Irresistible!

It's a four-mile walk each way, usually warm, dry, and windy. The road is literally cut through a desolate landscape of old lava flows.

I'm not a fast walker, so I plan for an hour and a half from parking to sunset, and work backward from that. We pulled in to park a little after 4:00. Nice timing because you can leave your hat in the car. Sunset was due a little before six, Milky Way up at seven, and moonrise not until 10:30, giving us the perfect setup.

The parking area was filling up. The Big Island is the kind of place you expect pragmatism instead of polish. Friendly and reassuring people to help everybody back their cars in at an angle for quick escapes. Plenty of porta-luas and more friendly advice for the walk. Some big lights for the parking area after dark. And a mixed medley of local vendors: artists, cold bottled water, cheap flashlights, bike rentals, home-baked treats... ...charm over sophistication is our style.

Four miles each way isn't too intimidating. Farther than most people are used to, but not requiring a trained athlete. I've gone out with friends of many abilities, and seen lots of different ages and body types along the way.

Sunset is a popular target. We fully expected to be alone on the walk back, but we had plenty of company heading out.

As we got close, our pace picked up. The sky was starting to color; there was a slight hot tang to the air, and people around us were getting more excited.

There's a spot where the road is interrupted by a lava flow, now crusted. If you squint over the new lava field, you see heat waves rising where the flow is close to the surface. There are probably surface breakouts of lava running free somewhere out there. Last time my wife went out, there was a big one running alongside and then over the road as she walked up!

The terrain is ridiculous: huge plates of lava heaved and broken, deep cracks and bubbles. Times past, we've had to hike over this stuff for miles. Now we just saunter up to about a hundred yards from the overlook on even ground. The last bit is minor climb/walking. Putting a hand out for balance here and there, and choosing my path. The rock surface has a thin, crackly skin on top that crunches as we walk. Broken edges can be sharp and jagged.

We're on National Park land, so there's a reassuringly official white rope strung precariously along the cliff edge. It's our rough guide to where it's safe to stand. I've been out enough times to realize fully that anywhere around us, there could be lava flowing fast and close. I'm not terribly reassured, but I also don't have any desire to hop the rope. The danger is real; it's just the line that's optimistic.

Even with a couple hundred people standing there, the feeling is one of awe and respect. People use hushed tones. They're generous and courteous with space. And overwhelmingly thankful to be here. Danger and glory combining with anticipation bring us all to quiet appreciation.

Accents from all the world coming together and walking out into the wilderness to view this spectacle.

As the fire of sunset fades, so do the crowds. The sky darkens. It's time to settle in for the real show. Last time I was out, I wanted to catch the Milky Way rising behind the lava.

Tonight's target was the dance of the lava itself. Brilliant explosions, loud cracks and fiery billows of steam stretched up the coast into the night. We edged into better positions as people left and stayed transfixed for hours.

Eventually, we tore ourselves away. Walking back slowly, looking at the stars and talking shop, we glanced over to see a moonbow over Pu'u O'o crater.

The moment we saw that, we realized we didn't bring umbrellas -- as we were whipping out our cameras and setting up for the shot. Because we're out here for the pictures.

Lava Ocean Entry

We live on an active volcano. Most of the time it's a lot of fun, and very entertaining. There is nothing like being right next to an actual river of Red Hot Lava!

When a photo buddy called me up to propose we hike out to the lava ocean entry, I was excited for the adventure. I threw a couple bottles of frozen water and a sandwich in a backpack, checked my flashlight, and put on my walking shoes.

The lava flow isn't far from our house as the crow flies, but the weather over there is entirely different. It's a long, hot, dry walk. Just over four miles each way, continually awed by the barren landscape of the lava flow around us...

And when we got to the ocean entry, every ounce of my heavier tripod was worth it! With the Milky Way rising brilliant above the fiery depths below, I knew I had a fun capture to edit!

Visiting the lava: awe, fascination, joy, weary regard for dangers past and future...
...and it wouldn't be complete without a trembling moment of realization that we're standing over a thin skin of barely-cooled raw power.

To convey the feeling on our island, there's no better piece of art than the work of Tropical Visions, VolcanoScapes: Dancing with the Goddess. Here is a trailer for the movie.

Videographer Mick Kalber is treasured locally, a benevolent observer who keeps us all informed of the beauty and the danger of the fiery force we live above. Every week, he tours the active flows by helicopter, then composes a short video and posts it on Facebook. Believe me, when the lava is headed toward your home, this is more public service than art!

Rainy Days Bring…

It was a long week of rain, and I had run out of images to process. Watching Facebook videos of the flooding in Hilo Town and the water pounding over Hilo's waterfalls, I could hardly wait to get out. I've done this before, though, and know the truth in the saying Beauty waits for Patience. So I waited for the water and the skies to clear a bit.

And called up a photo buddy for a day of waterfalls and fun.

Cameras, batteries, snacks, coffee, and we were off. Good to start out early when you're headed up Hamakua coast. We've had a bumper crop of bananas this year, so both we and our photo buddy brought those along, but we had the secret weapon: dried mango from the Red Road in the summertime.

Rainbow Falls is a required stop after a big rain, so we started there. It's a drive-up waterfall, as we say in Hawaii. Easy access, beautiful overlook, and popular. But we got lucky and had the place to ourselves, so we took our time.

Our friend knew of a good view up Wailuku River by the hydropower plant, so that was our next stop. He told a story of ancient legend as he pointed out the rock formation Mo'o Kuna below the bridge.

On to our favorite: 4 Mile Scenic Drive on the Hamakua Coast! It's a winding old remnant of the original coastal highway. Wandering over little streams and along deep gulleys, it's a treasure trove after the rain. And today, it was in glistening green form. Ginger blooming along the roadside sweetened the air. I felt as if I was drawing in life itself with every breath.

Every place you can stop, you should stop along that road.

Bridges fording each little stream are themselves works of art, cloaked in moss and strewn with flowers...

...With water rushing and tumbling below, pocket waterfalls tucked off to the side...

...and you never know when you might need to wade in a little bit to catch a shot, so sandals are a good plan

After a morning of waterfalls, our cameras were full and our tummies empty. We adjourned to Lucy's for a late lunch.