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Halemaumau Fire CraterWithin Kilauea Crater_edited.jpg



On the Lava Road

Tea Roots nature expeditions bring artists to remote areas to inspire new works and document the changing habitats of the environment.

     We were mobilized like gypsies on caravan! We chased wildfires to capture the healing – the birthing habitats never seen by human eyes before. North America was burning violently since 2018. Right before our own eyes, we were observing nature’s Climate Migration in action - LIVE! Was I the maddest photographer in the world, trying to document this history of our environment - the re-growth of America's forests? We had to live inside full-body mosquito nets, drive miles over rugged terrains to escape boiling heat temperatures, climb chained fences, bathe in geysers, climb 1000s of feet over mountains, negotiate with Native American territory guardians, and engage spooky hierophants deep in the bush. It took 40 hours of research and Topo map analysis just to figure out HOW to get into the fire zones – right where the new life was beginning! These were "NO-GO" areas, after firestorms - all blocked off from the public, completely inaccessible to humanity. Only an artist is crazy enough to spend a week off road, in grueling circumstances, cut off from human contact, trespassing, just to photograph or paint a baby, post-fire flower.

     I thought it would be a welcomed break from California wildfires, droughts, and flooding to escape to Hawaii. So, we flew into Hilo airport and stayed a half-hour drive south, near Kee'au. Our host Brendan donated his guest home and the use of his big blue van with a pop-up. Once we were settled, it felt peaceful waking up in seclusion, feeling the explosive growth of life around us. The chirping bright colored birds welcomed us in the morning. Brendan's neighbor even walked over to drop off a joint!

     We found a hidden pathway behind the guest home through an acre of "front yard". The path was walled-in by tropical growth, and meandered through a dozen niches, presenting different fruit trees, like the banana. For the first time, the banana helped me see its different phallic representations, while ripening on the tree. I felt that I could stay the entire time just resting on Brendan's property. Yet, the reality of responsibility set in. We helped with chores. Brendan had health challenges as well as an impending birth. We wanted to be as helpful as possible.

     We drove a few miles away to fill up 5-gallon jugs with free city-treated water, drove another mile for groceries, and went another direction to the free city dump where nobody bothered to separate the recycling and compost from the garbage.

     Back at the guesthouse, the hot shower was not working. So, we drove out another few miles to lug big propane tanks to heat the water for the guesthouse and the main house. The shower still wasn’t working -- no water flow? Brendan exclaimed, "Oh my god! It hasn't rained for over a month! We are in a drought, because we rely on rain to fill the cisterns." So, he had to order a 4,000 gallon truck to come fill his cisterns for $325; there went my emergency cash. Climate Change followed us to Hawaii.

and the


Tea Roots nature expeditions bring artists to remote areas to inspire new works and document the changing habitats of the environment.




    After spending time at the playground in Leilani Estates, Brendan and his family drove us around, showing all the blocked neighborhood roads due to the devastation of the 2018 Lower Puna eruption. It destroyed several hundred homes. To Brendan's surprise, I found a line of volcanic gas vents, about a block away from the playground. We videoed and could smell the sulfuric gas on Moku Street between "Inactive Fissures" #9 and #10. A block to the east was the Fissure #8 tour company that owned the residential properties. Fissure #8 was moving northward, spewing new hot lava.


Road 132 appears to be the only main road that recently reopened to visit the Kapoho crater from Leilani Estates. From a bird's eye view, the lava surrounded the crescent moon shaped crater hill and permanently in-filled Green Lake, in the center of it. The green forest oasis on the crescent hill was inaccessible by the several hundred feet of frozen lava rock. Balancing is a challenge walking through it; knee gashes are common after a simple fall.

Residents attempt to rebuild after lava flow.

     Where we parked, the government recently cut a L-shaped intersection to join Road 137. A construction barricade sign was graffitied with, "Free Julian Assange". The contractors placed huge red and gray boulders to separate the shoulder of the road from the black lava flow. The locals placed coconuts around, which already started sprouting. The lava jagged rock continued to the ocean and permanently wiped out the old town of Halekamahin'a and in-filled Kapoho Bay. It wiped-out the fishponds that sustained the locals with the same techniques used by native Hawaiians for centuries.

     It felt like Los Angeles when it took two hours to drive across the island or visit any other part of it. To visit the tourist, sunnier side of Kona, it required driving through the misty volcanic barren rock at 6,578 feet elevation, before descending to the other side, passing dozens of tourists and locals in the opposite lane. We saved the last day for the typical tourist destination of Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, an hour drive away from our guest cottage. We raced ear-popping from 4,000ft elevation, at the main ranger station, down to the ocean to photograph the archway in the sea.

     The light was not good at the archway and the tourists were a turn-off; so, we walked further down the dirt road that was closed to vehicles. We found abandoned palm trees, dancing in the wind, during the setting sun, like the hippies we saw last Sunday dancing in a festival at sunset (This occurred in a neighborhood downhill from Leilani Estates, on the way to Issac Hale Park beach, marking the edge of the lava flow.) None of the tourists bothered to walk out to this desolate oasis surrounded by old barren lava rock. A sign read, "Niu (coconut) was brought to Hawai'i by early Polynesians.” Virtually, every part of the coconut palm has a use. The Hauanio family of Kalapana planted this grove in the 1960s (Cocos nucifera).

New life after lava flow.

The banana tree and its phallic representations.

     After the dancing palms, we drove back up to the Ranger Station in the dark. Smoke by day, but at night we were limited to being two kilometers away to view the glowing red crater lake of Halema'uma'u, which is a kilometer wide with three spouting fountains of fire spouting stories high. This crater was nestled within another crater about four kilometers wide. I was on the edge of this larger crater photographing it in the rain at 4,000ft elevation.

     This crater, along with the series of rifts in Leilani Estates, and Kapoho Crater are located along the same volcanic rift, classified as Zone 1 by the USGS. It has vents that have been repeatedly active. Our host lives in "Areas Less Hazardous" than Zone 2 because of greater distance from recently active vents and (or) because of topography. One to five percent of Zone 3 has been covered since 1800, and 15 to 75 percent has been covered within the past 750 years.

     The native Hawaiian men were large and fierce as represented by the wooden totem pole Guardians at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, on the western Kona side of the island. However, Aina A Ke Akua I Noho Ai is land where the Goddess Pele dwells. She represents volcanoes as monuments to Earth's origin, evidence that primordial forces are still at work as land builders, growing life and supporting the flora and fauna on Brendan's property - nature's trail of fruit.

     With hard work in place, Brendan and his partner will help bring forth their new child to the land. This is a healing after lava flow too. By the time we departed Hawaii, the island stormed rain for days, which healed them from drought.* - David T. Pang


Full body mosquito net protects from swarms.

Essay photography is by author and Executive Director David T. Pang.  All other photographs are from the USGS. Healing After Lava Flow greeting cards are available to support Tea Roots programs.

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