Week 8 – Lava and Goslings to start the New Year

Work this week was fairly normal: trap checking, Nene sighting, nest harassing, seed preparation, working in the greenhouse with the Horticulturalist and volunteers… We’re used to the drill by now. However, New Years Eve was great fun down off the mountain and, yes, we got our first Nene goslings!!!

One of the other volunteers and I went down the mountain Sunday evening to spend NYE with the Biologist’s house sitters. On Monday, NYE, the four of us drove down to Volcanoes to check out the active lava flow from Pu’u O’o crater. It was so cool. Or hot. It was so hot! However, it required a huge input of both time and energy. The active flow is currently seven miles from the nears road on public property (it is one mile over private property, frustratingly). Up early in the morning, we had begun our hike a little after 0800h, across hot, black lava, under a fairly unrelenting sun. Going up, over, and around large cracks and uprisings of old lava for three hours, we finally arrived in an area where steam was rising from the ocean and helicopters were circling constantly. We knew we were close. Then we had to locate the active arms of the flow, because it was not just everywhere. To find these flows, we looked for ripples in the air, showing the presence of heat, and walked towards them, hoping all of the time to not step on molten rock. Fortunately, we felt the air temperature begin to rise and saw orange glows before we stepped on them. The first active lava we saw was just a stripe of orange glow under black rock, but then we found a river of it! The river was absolutely astounding. Knowing that rock and metal was just flowing downhill as a liquid in front of you was absolutely stunning. It was bright orange at the top of the hill and began to turn gray and black as it got farther away. The heat, oh man, the heat was astounding. We could barely get within fifteen feet of the flow without feeling like we were going to combust instantaneously. Taking pictures was very exciting – run up as close as you can stand and hope you can snap the picture before your skin gets too hot. I really wanted to place a piece of bread on the lava and call it a Hawaiian toaster, but couldn’t do it…

Then we paused for lunch, still in the hot sun, but away from the hot lava, before continuing our explorations. Our next goal was to observe the lava’s point of entry into the ocean, where we had seen the steam rising before. This goal, however, was one that did come with a certain degree of danger. The quarter mile of lava closest to the ocean is known to suddenly collapse for no apparent reason, dropping anything, and one, on it into the lava-heated ocean and simultaneously spraying hot water and rock into the air. There was a level of trepidation on our part, but we’re all young, we can’t die yet, so we did it. We walked out to the very edge of the lava cliffs and looked over at the cascading lava. Or tried to. The steam fairly obscured the lava flow, which was disappointing. It also sprayed nasty smelling chemicals and lava glass into the air, so breathing wasn’t terribly easy. But, we found more flows, took lots of cool pictures (to come on Shutterfly in the future), and also experimented with the cooling lava by tossing old rocks on it. It was wild. The cooling lava snapped and popped as pieces of rock flaked and broke off. The rocks we tossed landed and sad on the cooling lava, slightly indented, but not falling all of the way in. Finally, it was time to hike back. It was a long, hot, dry way to go. With a good bit of water gone, we weren’t particularly excited for the walk back, but took it on because we had to. Trying to find our way without path markers,  was exciting, but we eventually picked up the trail and were back at our car by 1630h. It was a long day. However, it wasn’t done.

That night, we had more plans. The Hilo Tavern was having a NYE celebration with live bands that we decided we had to attend. It was a great choice. We were nearly too exhausted to go at 2100h from our fourteen mile hike, but we rallied at 2230h and headed into town. The band, N.Y.R., was quite good. They did mostly rock covers, but had a lot of spirit and were pretty tight. The crowd at the Tavern was quite diverse – old, young, gay, straight, and variety of ethnic origins, but everyone was there to have a good time and that is what they did. We stayed until about 0100h and then headed home to crash before waking up early the next morning so one of the house sitters could get to the airport in Kona.

Back on mountain, we found goslings with a two pairs of geese! It was very exciting and they are exceedingly adorable – gray puffballs on unstable legs. Pictures to come later, too. (Unfortunately one of moms of the goslings isn’t very good and may have squashed her children… thus evolution.)

Happy New Year to all of you! I hope one of your resolutions, if you didn’t make one earlier to never make another resolution, is to create more adventures for yourself.

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