“If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Madam Pele is anything but predictable. We feel lucky that we discovered the early hours of Mauna Loa’s eruption by seeing the red glow up the mountain from us. We could see it because the eruption began in Moku‘āweoweo, the summit caldera of Mauna Loa, a little over 13,000 feet. So, many people could see something was going on at that height. Our view from the farm the following two nights, was that the red glow was much dimmer, lower, and diffuse, and had moved a bit northwards. That’s because there’s no longer any active lava in the caldera.

Last night I received a text from a friend that Saddle Road (Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Hwy 200) might close very soon and he and a friend were going NOW. I saw that an hour after he sent it. I wasn’t sure if a possible closure was because of lava or lava viewers. I couldn’t reach him by phone or text.

I googled to find out more about Saddle Road closing and the criteria. What I read was they’d close it when lava reaches about three or four miles from Saddle, and that the closure would be almost 12-20 miles long (I read different numbers than the closure map I saw). And yesterday I had read in the USGS status that lava was 4.5 miles away, so I felt closure was imminent. Originally I was thinking I’d wait until Saturday or later to go, so I could bring our next visitors.

At first it was still hard to overcome inertia, like usual. But I had checked Google maps to see how bad the traffic was, and it didn’t seem too bad (1.25 hours or so). That morning a friend who had gone Monday night reported that there was a lot of traffic, but not a jam. I had tips from her and a photo of what she saw. The mental calculations were, “We drive two hours to go to Volcano National Park to see a little red in a lava lake at a distance. This is shorter, and there will be lava flowing down a big flank. And there’s fountaining.” And if Saddle closes, there could be an amazing flow going on, and it could be really difficult to view it.

Within four minutes we decided, gathered flashlights, camera, binoculars, warm clothes and water, and threw in some chairs and headed out.

It felt like a lava pilgrimage. Yes, there were many cars. It’s a highway with a 60 mph speed limit (which we rarely reached), with one lane in each direction. You are not supposed to pull over on the shoulder. It’s dark; it’s dangerous! And a few people try and cross the highway on foot. You can’t even see them. We passed a vehicle accident with flares on the road, and we pulled over for emergency vehicles coming towards us in response. But there were cars parked in the shoulder anywhere you could see red lava.

Up till the point we reached the electronic sign board explicitly stating not to park on the shoulder between mile posts 16 and 31. $1000 fine. And we could see the blue lights of police cars about every 1/4 mile. At that point, instead of parking on the shoulder, traffic was almost stopped. We just crawled along. I took some photos out the window.

We turned up the Mauna Kea Access Road and drove about a mile up for our vantage spot. You’re driving further away from the flow, but you’re also climbing for a higher view. The photos below were taken around 9:30pm HST on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. With binoculars you could easily see the constant fountaining at the upper part of the rifts. Earlier, that afternoon USGS reported that “fountains at fissure 3 were consistently 40-50 m (131-164 ft) tall and fountains at fissure 4, which formed at approximately 7:30 p.m. HST on November 28, were 5-10 m (16-33 ft) tall.”

From my daily USGS.gov email about Mauna Loa sent today, Wednesday, November 30, 2022, 9:08 AM HST, the first and last paragraphs:

The Northeast Rift Zone eruption of Mauna Loa continues, with two active fissures feeding lava flows downslope. The fissure 3 lava flows are travelling to the northeast, though the direction shifted slightly westward overnight, still moving toward Saddle Road. Fissure 3 is the dominant source of the largest lava flow, and the flow front is about 3.6 miles (5.8 km) from Saddle Road as of 7 a.m. HST this morning. The flows have been advancing at a rate of 0.08 miles per hour (130 meters per hour) over the last day, but they are approaching a relatively flat area and will begin to slow down, spread out, and inflate. Forecasts indicate it may take two days for lava flows to reach Saddle Road.

There is no active lava within Moku’āweoweo caldera, and the Southwest Rift Zone is not erupting. We do not expect any eruptive activity outside the Northeast Rift Zone. No property is at risk currently.

It’s fortunate that the activity is in the NE Rift Zone, because the saddle between the two big maunas doesn’t have any communities or much property. There’s a military training base. With Saddle Rd., many people can easily view the flow. It wouldn’t be so easy to accommodate many viewers anywhere else. The Southwest Rift Zone is the one that would endanger communities. From the USGS Mauna Loa FAQ:

“All of the previous 33 recorded eruptions on Mauna Loa started within Moku‘āweoweo caldera at the summit of the volcano and we expect future eruptions to follow this pattern.  About half of the eruptions remain confined to summit area and did not pose a threat to surrounding communities. 

However, nearly half of Mauna Loa eruptions have migrated from the summit down either the Southwest Rift Zone toward Hawaiian Ocean View Estates or the Northeast Rift Zone towards Hilo.”

Note the EITHER in the last sentence. Because the eruption is in the NE Rift Zone and not the SW Rift Zone, the powers that be have closed the two shelters they had opened on Monday. I get the impression people’s anxiousness is settling down. Maybe more people than a typical day are filling up gas, and stocking up on food and toilet paper, but I haven’t observed any apparent group panic and hysteria. Mostly we’re sharing our excitement and experiences.

Another observation: Norwegian Boy has gotten soft. Where we were last night it was 53F (12C), and he was really cold.

It’s happening in our lifetime! Mauna Loa erupts after 38 years

Hubby woke up last night to go pee, and then I coincidentally got up for the same reason. It’s my habit to always glance around outside (see if we left lights on, look at the stars and moon, or see if the sky is cloudy). The sky had a red glow to it. I asked Hubby if he saw it (no, he didn’t look around) and what he thought it was. We went out on our lānai to get a better look and smell. I took the photo used as this post’s feature photo. It’s looking towards the center of the island. The little lights are from two cousins’ houses. We weren’t sure if it was a nearby fire’s glow, or could it possibly be an eruption?! We didn’t smell anything.

Photo taken by Rune at the same time with a better camera, while a car passed by.

It was around 1:30 AM. We checked our phones for news, and Hubby learned about the ashfall advisory, while I searched differently and found that Mauna Loa started erupting at just 11:30 PM. At that time they didn’t yet know much about the flow because they couldn’t conduct aerial reconnaissance at night.

It was exciting to personally discover the eruption in the old fashioned way: observation. I’m glad it happened at night, because we could see something. And it’s a quiet time (which is OK if there’s no danger to communities). It’s also gratifying and reassuring to live in our time of technology and immediately be able to find out up-to-date information.

It’s about 12 hours later now. There had been an ashfall advisory until 10am, but we never saw any ash, nor Pele’s hair. We still haven’t smelled sulfur or smoke.

It all happened differently than I imagined it would. We all knew Mauna Loa was becoming more active. I thought we’d be feeling more frequent and larger earthquakes building up to the eruption. I thought more of the signs that occurred prior to the 1984 eruption would happen, and the media would be reporting it. I thought there’d be a prediction of “any day now.” We’ve been feeling earthquakes, and they’ve been slightly more frequent, but nothing alarming. A smaller, closer one to us can feel similar to a a further, larger one. Earthquakes happen frequently enough that we usually don’t look up the details. Media coverage about Mauna Loa had been building up in September/October. But then Thanksgiving came, and the approach to the end of the year holidays seemed to hold people’s attention. And then it quietly happened.

There are no mandatory evacuations at this time, but two shelters have opened because a number of people in South Kona have been voluntarily evacuating. These are at Kekuaokala Gym (also known as Old Airport Gym, where we volunteered during the mass COVID vaccination effort) in Kailua-Kona and Kaʻu Gymnasium in Pāhala.

If you missed it, I blogged about Mauna Loa and a community meeting by the Civil Defense in the last six paragraphs of my post two weeks ago. I’ll repeat a bit of it here. Here’s the link to the map Mauna Loa Eruption Response Times again. We’re in Honalo, the northern part of that red “South Kona” box (but technically we’re in the southern part of the North Kona District). That blue line there indicates the border where the Mauna Loa and the Hualālai slopes are. We are located just north of that line, on the east/mauka (mountain) road north of that intersection. We were surprised to realize just how close we are to the Mauna Loa slope.

The Hawaii County Volcano Hazards page has a lot of great info, including the USGS map.

This is very exciting, and right now no one and no property is immediately in danger. It’s a huge event that affects all of us on the island. It’s a shared experience of Nature’s awesomeness and power, different than the whole COVID-19 shared experience. We’re all in this together. Our island is very much alive and growing. I couldn’t sleep for maybe an hour or two afterward.

From the USGS site, in contrast to other worldwide volcanic disasters, “fewer than a hundred people have been killed by eruptions in the recorded history of Hawaii and only one of them in this century.” This is not like Iceland’s explosive eruption in the ice-covered summit crater of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. No lives were lost, but its fine ash was blown by northerly winds over the North-Atlantic Ocean and Europe. In total, about 100,000 flights were canceled, and two million people were affected. And from Wikipedia, “The Mount St. Helens major eruption of May 18, 1980 remains the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.”

Here are some of the questions I’ve received from friends. I’m sharing since you might have the same questions.

Q: How far away are we from Mauna Loa?
A: About 23 bird distance miles. That’s measured using Google Maps from the summit to our farm.

Q: Are we affected by the eruption?
A: Immediately, no. We will be in a loose sense, in that we should be mindful that in certain areas where Mauna Loa’s flank is steep, lava can reach the ocean in three hours. That means the highway could become blocked off. Most of the places we frequent are on the slopes of Hualālai. In that USGS map, it’s the white area on the west just north of the red area.

Q: Is the air smoky with vog?
A: This morning wasn’t too bad, but it’s getting increasingly voggier (written at 1:30pm). The horizon is blurring between ocean and sky.

Q: Did you feel the earthquakes?
A: I felt the one the night before the eruption. It wasn’t long or big enough to concern me. There are always many little earthquakes somewhere on the island. We probably don’t feel the majority of them.

Q: Should we still visit you from the mainland?
A: No need to change plans. Just be prepared for things to be very dynamic. Stay informed. Be flexible. For example, Southwest canceled all flights to Hilo today. Hawaiian Airlines is still flying in/out of Hilo.

Q: If the house is damaged by the volcano, does homeowner’s insurance cover it?
A: It’ll depend on the insurance carrier. This hawaii.gov site answered this question after the 2018 damage from Kīlauea.

Q: Are Pele shrines popping up around town? What kind of offerings do people leave?
A: I haven’t seen any offerings around the town of Kailua. I’ve seen many offerings in the Kīlauea caldera. I think this post on kaahelehawaii.com addresses this topic very thoroughly.

Q: Are helicopter tours booked up?
A: I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything through the coconut wireless (the grapevine). I’d have to look that up on the web or call, so if you’re interested, I respectfully ask that you check that out for yourself.

Short trip to the big city

Hubby and I made a short trip to the big city of Honolulu last week. We’ve just determined that we haven’t been to Waikiki together since 1999, before we even had a digital camera or cell phones. We’ve been at the airport together since then, but we hadn’t spent days on O’ahu together. Wow.

In the recent 2020 census, Hawai’i island had a population of a little over 200,000. O’ahu had a little over one million. Waikiki is a completely different world from Kona. Inevitably people from the Big Island have to go to Honolulu for some sort of medical care or appointment. That was our situation, so we built a little getaway around it.

While there we made a stop at Kona Coffee Purveyors. When I googled it, search hits were also bringing up that the owners had recently listed their house for $14.8M. I don’t think it’s possible to make that fortune from a cafe. More likely, if you have that money, you can indulge in a passion project cafe. Anyway, I wasn’t so much interested in the cafe because of real estate or the coffee. I am grateful for them carrying good Kona coffee and preparing and serving it in a manner that properly shows it off. They have a great retail section with all sorts of coffee nerd paraphernalia. The draw for me, though, were the (San Francisco-based) b.patisserie pastries they carry.

There seemed to always be a line, which we were reluctant to join. On our last morning we were undecided whether we’d walk a mile to a place we had in mind for breakfast or go to Kona Coffee Purveyors. It was raining pretty hard that morning, and Kona Coffee Purveyors was close to our hotel, so that decided it. We ended up waiting thirty minutes for our pastries and coffee, but we stayed dry. We had to get two pastries each since we had swum AND waited in a line.

I ordered an Aeropress of Konawaena coffee since Bea is an alma mater from that school and my cousins teach there. We noted that the barista used the inverted Aeropress method, hubby’s preferred style when he uses that device. I had forgotten that this was the cafe where the 2019 US Aeropress champion Towa Ikawa worked. (She wasn’t there or my barista that day).

The coffee sure beat the coffee we had at the hotel restaurant the day prior. Good coffee, bad coffee … it’s coffee, and it serves its purpose. I thought this article about cultural omnivores described it well.

The next day back on the home front, it was a rare day where it was very grey and rainy, already in the morning. In fact, we ended up getting 1.5 inches that day (not even evening/night), and this is supposedly our dry season. Some areas even lost power (under an hour) and phone service, though I’m not sure it was related to the rain. We’ve gotten about eight inches of rain this month; last October we got half an inch.

Lastly, Bea sent some photos from her Southern California suburban garden. (She’s much more likely to send flower and plant photos than fur baby photos). It’s fall and it’s time for making hoshigaki, dried persimmons. This is definitely a slow food item. Hanging the fruit is the traditional, time-consuming, more delicious method, and involves massaging each fruit once or twice daily after a certain point. I never had much luck with the hanging method, plus we have a cat. There are two problems with a cat — she’d either play with them, or her fur would somehow manage to blow onto the fruit and get stuck on them. I’ve included a photo of my dehydrated persimmons (also hand massaged) to show how much they shrink.

Bea’s Buddha’s hand citron tree was very prolific this year. She even found a long-fingered fruit that’s throwing a shaka!

Mauna Loa Rumbling; Some coffee recipes

A little over a week ago there was a 5.0 magnitude earthquake which had the coconut wireless (the “grapevine”) abuzz. I even got a text from a friend on the mainland asking about Pele. That’s when I realized it made mainland news. It was one of the larger events since the “heightened unrest” began in mid-September.

The USGS Volcano Watch 10/23/22 update for Mauna Loa said, “Heightened unrest began in mid-September 2022 with increased earthquake rates below Mauna Loa summit (from 10–20 per day to 40–50 per day), an increased rate of inflation recorded by GPS stations, and inflation recorded on the MOK tiltmeter.”

On October 5 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed the Mauna Loa summit backcountry until further notice, calling it a “precautionary measure” amid “elevated seismic activity.”

The volcano at about 13,680 feet above sea level, last erupted in 1984. Since 1843, it has erupted 33 times, with the time between eruptions ranging from months to decades, according to the observatory.

The park’s online portal says this is the volcano’s “longest quiet period since written records have been kept.”

There was a presentation yesterday at Ocean View, almost 40 miles south of here, about the likelihood of Mauna Loa erupting. West Hawaii Today reported today (10/23/22) in “Mauna Loa meeting draws concerns.” It’s a long excerpt, but I find it so interesting.

HVO geologist Frank Trusdell compared the current seismic activity with records of previous Mauna Loa eruptions in 1975 and 1984. While he noted that those eruptions — the latter of which spewed lava almost all the way to Hilo — were preceded by heightened seismic activity and terrain deformation similar to what HVO has recently detected, he added that HVO has not detected “consistent and persistent” seismicity and deformation.

Hon said that, if that consistent and persistent activity is detected, then HVO will raise its advisory level to “Orange” or “Watch,” which he said would indicate that HVO is reasonably confident that an eruption will occur.

But, even if it becomes clear that an eruption is imminent, Hon said it will be impossible to predict where the lava will flow “until Pele shows us where it will go.” He said that Mauna Loa makes up roughly 50% of the island, and lava can flow in practically any direction from the mountain and threaten any part of the island.

Trusdell said that all 33 recorded Mauna Loa eruptions since 1832 have originated at the volcano’s summit, but 24% flowed into the volcano’s Northeast Rift Zone, toward Hilo, and another 21% flowed the opposite direction, into the Southwest Rift Zone.

This latter path — toward Ocean View — is the most dangerous, as lava flows in Mauna Loa’s Southwest Rift Zone have been recorded to reach the sea in as little as three hours, Trusdell said.

We just don’t know. I share this info, not because I’m anxious, but because it’s interesting. The USGS Lava-Flow Hazard Zone map shows that on the slopes of Hualālai we are in Zone 4.

Enough doom and gloom. On to lighter topics. Life’s short. If you always drink your coffee straight up, black, maybe try one of these international recipes to break out of your usual.

A Hong Kong-based recipe, called Yuanyuang, which has black tea, sweetened condensed milk, and strong coffee. I haven’t tried it, but I bet it’s good with some boba (tapioca pearls).

Tea and coffee reminds me of a chai latte. I’ve had one at a cafe, and it was good, but I still prefer EITHER a chai OR a (coffee) latte.

Another recipe from Homegrounds was the Mazagran, an iced lemon coffee. I haven’t tried this yet, but our neighbor has given me a lot of lemons, telling me to juice and freeze them. I did, but we don’t have a chest freezer; we only have so much room! In any case, we have lemons. To me, citrus and coffee sound like a recipe for heartburn. Maybe I’ll make a little one to at least try it. I noticed a tip that you can also add rum. 🙂

And a Mexican coffee cocktail, the Carajillo, if the impending doom gets to be too much.

There is life in the rain

The official rain gauge I follow is at Kainaliu, about a mile away. From October 2020 through September 2021, where about half those months the volcano was not active, we had about 70 inches of rain. By the end of July 2021 the cumulative inches were at 57.5 inches. The rainy season last year did feel very rainy. People were complaining. But it was apparently like the old days, pre-1980’s before the volcano started its decades-long activity.

This rain year, starting October 2021, with the volcano active the whole time, at the end of July 2022 we were at 35.7 inches, about 12 inches less than the same point the year before. July 2021 brought 7 inches, contrasting with 2.5 for July 2022. Even though there isn’t as much rain as last year, we’re still getting the rainy season mildew inside the house.

What’s nice about our elevation (1400 ft) is the climate. We don’t need heat or air conditioning. We have reliable breezes that keep us comfortable. I frequently feel a mild discomfort returning home after being in the car with air conditioning. At first home feels warm and muggy. But it’s just the difference after getting accustomed to the low humidity, air conditioned car climate.

But without air conditioning in the home, managing moisture is a challenge, especially in the rainy season, when it is also warmer. Baskets and things in closets start to smell funky. Some materials mildew, while others are fine. The wall near the fridge starts to mildew, the undersides of shelves grow powdery mildew. We had guests that put a bag in their closet that they had carried frozen items in. When they removed it at the end of their trip, it was moldy inside.

So we use DampRid in almost every closet. It starts as dry crystals and as they absorb moisture in the air, it gradually becomes liquid brine. I don’t know how much it helps, but it’s something. During the rainy season we have to throw out more water and add more crystals than in the dry season, replacing the 11 oz container’s crystals maybe every 4-6 weeks (vs. 2-3 months). And there’s a storage area in our house where we run a dehumidifier all the time and have to regularly (weekly) throw out the water it collects.

Most of you readers are likely visitors to Hawai’i, as opposed to residents, and probably had no idea of these little details of living in the Kona Coffee Belt. If you stay near the beach where it’s hot, you probably enjoyed A/C, and the beach areas don’t get as much rain anyway.

Rain, clouds, and the ocean make for amazing Kona sunsets, though. I especially love the way the sky reflects onto the ocean. And it’s fun to sometimes see the curtain of rain on the ocean.

Every day is different. Even a shades-of-grey sunset can be pretty.

Surprisingly, sunrise can appear similar to sunset, beautiful as the sun comes up from behind us, peeking over Hualalai. The colors are very short-lasting, unlike sunset which can be enjoyed for quite a while after the sun has gone below the horizon.