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Monthly Archives: December 2012

lava fall

Lava flows several feet below the surface, finds an opening midway up a cliff, slowly flows down the side of the cliff, and when it reaches an overhang, it gradually drips and falls to form a lava “puddle” below.  You can see from the shape of the puddled lava how viscous it is.  It flows so slowly, it reminds me of a certain ketchup ad…

It’s precisely the high viscosity and slow-moving quality of the lava on The Big Island that makes it often relatively safe to approach.  This image was taken from the ocean, however.  I don’t think I’d want to stand below a cliff with lava pouring out of it on land.  In fact, I’m darned certain I wouldn’t.

The one constant about a lava flow is that it’s always changing.  It starts and stops and changes direction, and the amount and speed of the flow can also change.

I felt relatively comfortable approaching slow-flowing lava on almost-flat terrain on land to within several feet.  Lava flowing from any height would be a completely different matter, however.

More lava shots tomorrow…

lava cliff

Multiple rivulets of lava cascade down the cliff and into the ocean below.  Jagged chunks of basalt, broken off the cliff face, lie scattered at its base.  Every time a wave hits the lava, it sends a huge plume of steam billowing skyward.  The ocean begins to erode the cliff literally the second it is formed.  The waves pound the cliff relentlessly, continuously…

In several thousand years, this may become a beautiful black sand beach.  But for now, it’s best to stay out of the water.  Not only are there falling rocks, strong surf and dangerous currents, but the water may be a bit warm for your liking in some spots…

lava wave

A wave smacks against a cliff where lava is flowing into the ocean, sending out a cloud of spray and steam that glows orange in the pre-dawn darkness.

Words fail me when I try to describe the magic of witnessing such a spectacle from only a few feet away, at sea level.  Intense, magical, primal, breathtaking, awesome, captivating, mesmerizing…and don’t let me forget beautiful!


In keeping with the red and green theme of the past couple of days, here’s a powderpuff blossom, one Calliandra haematocephala.

For those of you celebrating Christmas, may it be a peaceful and beautiful day for each and every one of you, wherever you may be.


What’s green and red all over?  Why, a Heliconia blossom, of course.

To all my readers who celebrate Christmas:  make it a joyous one!


I hope everyone had a good Festivus, filled with Feats of Strength and Airing of Grievances, and followed by a delicious Festivus dinner…and perhaps a Festivus Miracle or two along the way.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take down the Festivus Pole…

lava 5

The best time to see (and shoot) lava, at least in my humble opinion, is before sunrise or after sunset.  There’s a magic window right when it first starts getting light in the morning, or right as it’s about to turn completely dark in the evening, when the lava has an other-worldly glow, and you can still pick up detail in the foreground and in the sky…and in this case, in the ocean.

If you try to shoot in complete darkness, you can get pretty lava, but nothing else.  The lava is so bright that the rock and sky around it come out completely black and detail-less.  And if you shoot in daylight, the lava looks completely washed out.  In the above image, all but the biggest pretty orange bits scattered amid the black basalt would completely disappear.

It’s worth noting that in the tropics, twilight is brief year round.  The latitude on The Big Island is approximately 19 degrees North.  The vibrant sunsets that Hawai’i is famous for last but a few brief minutes, and darkness falls quickly.  Likewise, the optimal window for shooting lava, I found, is also extremely brief.  Depending on cloud cover, it can be less than five minutes!

lava 7

This endeavor involves planning ahead, but I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “luck favors the prepared.”  If you want to shoot lava at dawn (my preference) at its current location (subject to change without warning!) you are either getting on a boat at 4:30 AM or beginning your hike by 4:00 AM.  And yes, I did both.  That was in order to get out to the flow by 5:45, in total darkness, because sunrise was at 6:45.

If you haven’t learned to set up your camera gear in the dark by now, this isn’t the time.  Practice beforehand.  Whether you’re pitching and rolling on a boat, or stumbling around an uneven lava field filled with deep cracks and razor-sharp rocks, it isn’t the time to drop a lens cap, let alone a lens or camera.

With a little planning, you can go out and get some really cool images…or should I say hot?

lava 6

lava 1

So begins a poem by Robert Frost.  The poem speaks of the destruction of the planet by either fire or ice.  I thought it would be an appropriate title for today’s post, since the world was going to end again* today.

(* I say “again” because my second blog post (“Much Ado About Nothing,” May 22, 2011) was also on a day that the world was predicted to end, but didn’t.)

But fire can be a creative force as well as a destructive one.  Many seeds require fire in order to sprout.  Many artists put fire to good use.  For example, I’ve done raku which is a form of pottery that involves taking clay pieces and putting them directly into smoldering organic material.  (Talk about fun!)  I can think of many examples of fire being used creatively, such as jewelry making and blacksmithing and cooking and baking…

But probably the most primal example of the simultaneously creative and destructive force of fire is lava.  When I think of the concept of “molten earth” it truly blows my mind.

lava 2

To watch molten lava flowing is to witness the creation of the earth, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the re-creation of the earth.  To watch new land being formed is truly a miracle, and something most people don’t get to see…and survive!

Lava can of course be destructive and even deadly.  Lava temperatures can range from approximately 1,300-2,200 F.  And I’m sure you’ve heard of lava flows destroying villages and cities throughout history and up to the present.

One of the safest places to watch lava flowing is in the Hawai’ian Islands, on The Big Island (which is also called Hawai’i).  The lava on The Big Island flows relatively slowly and with some predictability much of the time, allowing for a close approach.

lava 3

“How close?” you ask.  Well, when I went out to the flow a couple of weeks ago, I witnessed several people melt the soles off their shoes.  (By the way, that’s TOO close, folks.)   This was most likely because they were walking on lava that was still too hot.  Lava can form a thin crust and still flow beneath it.    It may or may not support your weight.  Learning to recognize a brand-new flow is useful.  Stay away from any steam.  Don’t get tunnel vision.  You DO need to use caution and exercise what I call UNcommon sense.

But the lava CAN be approached to within several feet if you’re cautious.  Walk slowly.  You will feel the radiant heat, and unless you want your kin to accept a posthumous Darwin Award in your honor, you will stop as soon as you feel the heat and not keep walking.

Today begins a series of posts about volcanoes and lava.  All the images I’ve posted since Thanksgiving were taken on this last trip to Hawai’i, but none are “classic” Hawai’ian images, so I don’t know if more than a few friends realized where they were shot.

I’ll be explaining more about these images in the upcoming posts, so for today, just enjoy the pretty pictures.

lava 4

coot and koi

A coot swims over a school of koi.  It was interesting to me to watch the way the two different animals moved.  The coot swims with great purpose, as if it’s trying to get somewhere.  Then it will abruptly do a 180 and swim with great purpose in the opposite direction from which it just came.  The koi, on the other hand, seemed to lazily mill about with no purpose whatsoever, each fish moving in a different direction.  I found I could get close to them as long as my shadow didn’t hang over the bank of the pond.  As soon as they could make out my shape, they scattered and dove.

The koi didn’t seem bothered by the coots at all.  Perhaps they know that they’re too big for a coot to eat, or perhaps they know that coots are primarily vegetarians.  In any case, the coot seemed to swim so close to the koi that it was a wonder they didn’t get kicked.


banana blossom

If you had never seen this flower before, and perhaps some of you haven’t, would you ever guess that it was from the lowly banana “tree?”  I’ve seen banana “flowers” that are a foot long (this one is about the size of an eggplant), hanging down off stems that are many feet long, and they have such a bizarre and almost alien look about them that you’d never think it’s from a plant that’s so common in many parts of the world.

A quick lesson in banana-ology is required before we go any further.  Bananas don’t technically grow on trees, they grow on a pseudostem.  And the thingee I called a “flower” is casually refered to as a “heart,” but it’s technically an inflorescence.  The inflorescence may be eaten (as well as the bananas, of course).

Is it strange that the flower/inflorescence of the banana plant hangs down, when most flowers grow up?  Wait, it gets weirder.

Before I saw my first fruit-bearing banana plant many years ago, I assumed that bananas grew downward, like most fruit.  I guess that was also because that’s how we handle a bunch of bananas:  we hold them by the stem, hanging down.  So I was astonished to find out that banana fruits actually grow up!

Did anyone else think that too?  Well, I assure you the image below is not inverted.  Bananas actually grow skyward.  See?


Now, in the final image, here’s the whole stem in all its inverted glory, with the inflorescence on the bottom and the fruit on the top.  Oh, and I should probably mention that the vine-y leaves in these images are from other plants, not bananas.  (The banana leaves are growing above the fruit, and aren’t very visible in these images.)

I’ll leave you with one last factoid:  did you know that a banana pseudostem can only produce one crop of bananas, and then the entire plant dies?  Yes, the next time you callously bite into a banana, remember that the plant that bore it is no longer living.  It gave its life so that you could enjoy its fruit.  Does that seem harsh?  Well, you know what they say…

It’s a JUNGLE out there!

banana flower and fruit