Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Come Back Soon

We stopped at a visitor center about halfway down the mountain. There was a nene (wild goose) crossing sign near the parking lot, but no nene were out in the rain. I worried that this meant the two of us had less sense than a goose. Outside the main building was a silversword plant, a rare succulent that grows only on Hawaiian volcanoes. In Hawaiian, the plant is called ahinahina, which means “very gray.” In spite of the name, it’s normally an attractive plant, especially if you catch it in flower. This one, though, was covered in the withered remains of its once-in-a-lifetime blooming cycle. Wind-battered and rain-spattered, this specimen was not just very gray; it was also very close to death.

Inside, though, all was warm and bright. There was a friendly park ranger named Sandi on duty and she listened patiently while we whined about driving all this way and missing out on the sunrise. When we paused for breath she asked gently if we’d ever heard it said that the journey is more important than the destination. I forced an indulgent smile. Yes, of course I’d heard that, and 99% of the time I agreed. But this was, so far, a hundredth-percentile day, and I was too wet, too cold, and too far from a good cup of coffee to imagine my attitude changing.

Sandi went on, though. The journey we had just taken, she said, from the West Maui coast to the Haleakala summit, was like driving from New Mexico to Alaska, if you considered the number of climate zones you pass through on both trips. Looking at it that way, it was quite a journey we’d had that morning, and maybe a little more appreciation was in order.

Sandi further redeemed herself by giving us some practical information, including the visitor center phone number and the URL for a live summit webcam, both of which might have told us before leaving the hotel that Haleakala was socked in and likely to remain that way all day.

The ranger left us with some last words. “Haleakala is sending you a message,” she assured us. “She wants you to come back.” Sandi let that sink in, then added, “She doesn’t say that to everyone.”

By the time we left the visitor center, Haleakala was driving her point home with an intensity she must reserve for her densest visitors. The pounding rain continued all the way down the mountain and followed us back to the normally dry Ka’anapali coast. It was still raining the next morning. The storm eventually passed, but we got caught up in the excitement and late nights of the family wedding that had brought us to the island, and we never did take Haleakala up on her invitation.

Someday I will, though. It’s not every day a volcano offers you a personal summons, and when Haleakala speaks, I, for one, listen. I don’t know when I’ll be on Maui next, but when I am, I fully intend to get myself to the summit of Haleakala again and finally have that spiritual sunrise experience.

I’m going to check the webcam first, though.

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