Even Volcano's Teach
Even Volcano's Teach . . . . .
In November 1998, having been flown to Hawaii by a client, I naively decided to visit the huge volcano standing guard over the whole island. Haleakala (Holly-Ah-Kah-Lah), meaning "the sun", Crater which covers the whole east-end of the island of Maui. The crater rim is 6 miles in diameter; its' 25-sq. mi bottom can easily hold all of Manhattan Island; though that comparison, taken from their handout, leaves one shaking their head on a spiritual level.
On the drive up the crater, groupings of Jacaranda Trees (native to Australia) were in bloom with the most awesome purple flowers matching the color of my toenail polish. These 50-foot tall trees spreading huge languorous canopies had sprinkled flowers down so bountiful that their trunks appeared to be growing out of purple lily pads. Spirit called me through my purple passion to bathe in this many-splendored pool of flowers while looking up at the crater through their canopy. Began swooshing arms full of petals up to stand in a glorious purple rain. A rain so glorious, passing cars were compelled to share my glee with their honks.
Three-thousand feet up the mountain becomes veiled in clouds and rain until I finally burst out above the clouds at 6000 feet into her namesake sun. In the sun, have to slow down as cattle are allowed to graze free-range across the roads with absolutely no fear of cars. The spiritual name of this path is “flying cows in clouds.” The summit is at 9,750 ft, which is also where the trailhead for my hike was to begin. From here I must separate the physical experience from spiritual one although my spiritual experience was most certainly affected by my physicality.
My physical experience first: Rising at 5:15 to drive from sea level to 10,000 ft leaves one breathing deeper without even attempting to hike. The route I chose out of a hotel library book starts at the summit and goes down 2500 ft to the floor and then comes out on another trail at a more moderate 8000 ft elevation. The problem was when I stopped at the visitor center to arrange a shuttle with the park rangers as the book delineated, the federal budget cuts for our parks had decimated the rangers. Ergo: no shuttle anymore or even a registry for day hikers as there was not even enough budget to keep track of them. They have three cabins at the bottom of the crater that you can reserve though no tenting because of the environmental effects. As I was to discover this can be a very hostile environment and I would not be surprised that they have serious incidents with innocents (like me!) because they have no rangers stationed in the crater any longer. So net-net, without a shuttle I had to go in and back out the same trailhead, called Sliding Sands which added another 2000 ft of elevation change to the trek.
Began hiking at 8:15. Took a lot of clothing knowing that the weather could change rapidly at that altitude. My anal retentiveness to carry a heavy pack ultimately saved my bacon. The beginning of my hike was awesome and euphoric as it was virtually all downhill and sunny. You could see the weather come slamming into the outside of the crater and then going around rather than come over the top. Although the temp was in the 50's, the sun's rays at that altitude more than compensated.
Towards the bottom, the trail started traversing areas of solid pumice stone which is very jagged and sharp; wished I had brought my diving gloves for both warmth and skin protection. Eventually some clouds made it over the top and in the beginning, the shade was welcome. Then the weather started acting up. One problem was there was no way to read when it was going to rain, and when it did, there was no place to hide. You get wet, less sun, and the hypothermia starts. On and off with the poncho every 15 minutes; too hot, too cold - went through the 3 sets of clothing I had - my pack getting heavier loaded with wet clothes. So used up a lot more energy than normal just dealing with the elements even though still on mostly level terrain.
Well, the hike out was an experience – strange that the book I brought on the plane over was "Into Thin Air" about the tragedy for climbers on Mount Everest. All of a sudden the book was feeling prescient. My naive assumption that a marathon-trained athlete would acclimate was wrong and dangerous. Had used up so much energy in the first 3 hours, that I just couldn't get enough oxygen. My muscles seemed fine but the oxygen debt was incredible. At times walking inside a cloud that was all rain going up under my poncho as it raced up the crater wall. Not feeling as if I could eat anything for replenishment (a sign of oxygen debt from the book).
Climbing back out, on the steeper pitches was counting out 20 baby steps between 30-second blows; my heart at 90% max rate while literally crawling up the trail. Began being concerned about getting out by nightfall that comes fast with a concurrent plunge in temperature. The recurrent theme of the 5-hour hike out was "If tonight I'm in the Jacuzzi, I will be very happy I went where I felt called to go BUT RIGHT NOW I HAVE GONE WAY TOO FAR!"
Even given the urgency of darkness falling and all the more danger that would bring, numerous times my brain would scream “I can’t go another step, now or ever.” That message so powerful as to dump my pack on the trail and lay down in the wet sand. Physically gasping yet spiritually in a sort of euphoric peace that it was all over. That I didn’t have to struggle anymore; just go to sleep and dream.
And then, as if I were dreaming, would find myself clawing my way back up the trail again wondering how I got back on my feet. Would manage another dozen steps, and throw in the towel all over again. Only to awaken from the same dream “up on my feet” again. A dozen more baby-steps, in the dying light looking up the trail to heaven with no end in sight. Lay down again. Peace, such peace, darkness, forever peace.
Don't ask me, suffice to say my limbic brain's ‘will-to-live’ found me in the Jacuzzi that night. Reflections dawn as to what an incredible marathon-type physical system I have, and the mystery of the internal dialogue about "If I lay down one more time, will I ever get up again?" The answer was: some part of me still gets up every time.
Now, to the spiritual side of the journey: Sliding Sands Trail starts down through a mile wide by 5 miles long field of black sand (actually sharp stones of pumice) that goes from the rim all the way into the valley of the crater. This place is overwhelmingly simple. Nothing lives here - did not see one bug, ant, gecko, bird or 4-legged in 8+ hours. Other smaller volcano cones dot the bottom of the valley with extraordinary colors of different minerals that came to the surface eons ago. Deep in the valley, Pele's Paint Pots are 10-ft diameter eruptions of colors in the black pumice landscape. 'Bottomless Pit' in the center of the valley was Haleakala's siupu (the traditional Native American hole in the floor which one travels thru in an altered state to be with Spirit) for me in this 6-mile diameter kiva. I drummed here and offered tobacco into mother's naval. No specific energies, more just total reverence. Physical exhaustion being very conducive to just laying down with Spirit.
Also was brought to tears by the presentation of spirit in everything through the crater's simplicity. Every 1/2 mile or so there would be one beautiful flower growing out of a sea of black pumice; green stalk bright orange flower - like a Japanese gardener had spent a lifetime just doing this one piece - to say "there is spirit in everything". At the hotel, there are flowers hanging all over our veranda, everywhere you walk, beautiful flora and fauna. We psychologically cheapen them because of their bountifulness, yet there is no difference, no less spirit in every petal of every flower, no matter where it is presented.
One of the orange flowers beckoned me; said ‘sit down, share some life with me’. Asked me to stare at her for 20 minutes, no looking away. Every level we went deeper, she’d gently remind me to stay, there’s more. And, of course, there was. In the end, she suggested that I do this with my fellow humans; 20 minutes of ‘staying’ in the joy and pain of our created-flow opens connective channels we will never find in a discussion. That single flower in that sea of in-hospitality really spoke so poignantly. (See “Twenty minutes to empower a relationship” in the Log of Blogs). In this Hawaiian land of lush abundance, walking into 25 square miles of desolation, not one animal, insect or tree really highlights the inherent power of simplicity.
Lastly on the way back, in an oxygen-debt altered state, in the distance I saw a white marble man-made altar. I could not believe they would have allowed it because the whole crater had been pristine (not one piece of liter or cigarette butt). As I got closer I finally realized that it was a grouping of these succulent plants called Silverwoods that are silver but look bright white especially against the black. There were a few here and there along the way, but this cluster was on a mound in an area I could not fathom as to why the support of this colony of plants. Of course, when I got there, it was an altar - the energy was 'going home' for me and in the middle of this circle cluster there was one orange flower perfectly balanced by one purple one . . . Whistling Night Eagle's spirit colors. I sat, offered tobacco, and she said 'Leave me something'. Did not know why I had been carrying around that base chakra blood-stone crystal in my tobacco pouch for the last 3 months till that moment. Buried her between the 2 flowers and wept.
Life is simple - our enjoyment of it requires a response-ability to deny our culture's clamor for entropy. Its conditions, attachments, technology, and transactions only block energy. The energy that is ours; native, authentic, and simple - we only have to reclaim it. TANA TUW. Spirit, Haleakala - the sun spoke to me in depth that day, inspiring me to live into tomorrow. I am moon, I reflect sun, and I beam.