Bring the Goddess Into Your Home!

Bring the Goddess Into Your Home!

Lava Flow

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“In Pele's Presence” is a collection of photo-art prints shot while the lava streamed over cliffs and into the Pacific from Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

I almost missed my opportunity to make photographs in the presence of Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanoes and Fire, Creator of the Hawaiian Islands.

Traveling to Hawaii, I had initially set myself the goal of shooting the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano. But when we visited Volcano National Park twice and were only able to see smoke and steam rising from the crater at Jagger Museum, I resigned myself to “not meeting the Goddess of Fire” and shifted my focus elsewhere. 

One day, though, we circumnavigated the Big Island and when we were in Hilo, I visited Extreme Exposure Photography Gallery. There, I spoke with Bruce Omori, a co-owner and photographer. Extreme Exposure exhibits the work of several established photographers. A large portion of the beautiful images on display, printed on aluminum, were of volcanic eruptions and flowing lava.

Bruce commented that the Gallery ran photo tours through private property on the north side of the lava field. He said they were heading out that Sunday. It would only require a two-hour hike across the lava beds rather than the five-hour trek (one way) from the National Park on the south side. I laid down my money for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sunday morning at 1 am, I rolled out of bed and into my vehicle to make the two-hour drive from Kona, around the south tip of the island to our rendezvous point with Bruce at the junction of Volcano Highway and Highway 130. After stopping to pick up water, we made our way to the edge of the lava flow, unloaded our cameras and were geared up by 4 am. It was pitch black, except for a sliver of moonlight filtering through occasional breaks in the overcast sky. The black lava flow made it even darker. No light was reflected.

It was a two-hour hike to the lava field over the dark, crystallized lava from 2008. Unbelievably, homes had been reconstructed on the hardened lava from this previous flow. Imagine a home completely surrounded by billowy, black rock for as far as the eye can see. Bruce told me that a few years earlier, lava took the home of a friend. Nothing can be done to alter the direction of the flow. Any homes in the lava’s path are taken. Nature rules.

The lava had an extremely high silica content which gave it an intense metallic, pewter grey sheen and the friable surface crunched underfoot with each step. Once we entered the lava field, about 15 minutes from the truck, we were engulfed in black, using flashlights and GPS to make our way toward the lava flow.

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We could see the red glow before we reached the flow. It grew brighter as we made our way over the rough terrain. I felt excited and anxious. The feeling intensified as we got closer to the lava field.

I’ll never forget the moment we crested the last high point and saw the lava for the first time. I had butterflies and, at that point, I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue across this forbidding environment to see the lava fingers entering the ocean. Bruce assured me the ground was solid enough to walk on… so off we went!

Bruce said the thickness of the hardened rock ranged from a few inches to several feet. This caused me some anxiety. Imagine walking over a molten river flowing at 2,000+ degrees beneath your feet with no way of knowing the thickness of the surface on which you were walking! The red glow from the vents was a constant reminder. I could feel the heat, see the glow beneath my feet and smell the sulphur as we made our way to the cliff's edge. What I saw next is hard to describe.

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From the cliff, a couple of large lava streams were flowing at an angle over the face, down to a ledge at the ocean's edge 100 feet below us. From there, the lava divided into multiple fingers, each flowing directly into the ocean in a steady, molten stream. The ocean waves were high and clouds of red/orange/yellow steam and spray billowed up from the rocky outcrop as each wave came crashing in. It was an inferno with an intense red glow that seemed to encompass everything within our field of view.

I was standing on rock that was maybe a few months old. I watched as new ground formed before my eyes. It was a humbling and emotional experience. I am grateful to Madame Pele, Goddess of Volcanoes and Fire, Creator of the Hawaiian Islands, for allowing me the opportunity. I shot a few hundred images, from which I’ve created this series, the “In Pele’s Presence” Collection. It is for lovers of nature, of photography and of the Hawaiian Islands. It is for you. Bring the Goddess into your home!

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