Volcano of Kilauea, Jan. 31.
Bruised aching bones, strained muscles, and overwhelming fatigue, render it hardly possible for me to undergo the physical labour of writing, but in spirit I am so elated with the triumph of success, and so thrilled by new sensations, that though I cannot communicate the incommunicable, I want to write to you while the impression of Kilauea is fresh, and by “the light that never was on sea or shore.”
By eight yesterday morning our preparations were finished, and Miss Karpe, whose conversance with the details of travelling I envy, mounted her horse on her own side-saddle, dressed in a short grey waterproof, and a broad-brimmed Leghorn hat tied so tightly over her ears with a green veil as to give it the look of a double spout. The only pack her horse carried was a bundle of cloaks and shawls, slung together with an umbrella on the horn of her saddle. Upa, who was most picturesquely got up in the native style with garlands of flowers round his hat and throat, carried our saddle-bags on the peak of his saddle, a bag with bananas, bread, and a bottle of tea on the horn, and a canteen of water round his waist. I had on my coarse Australian hat which serves the double purpose of sunshade and umbrella, Mrs. Thompson’s riding costume, my great rusty New Zealand boots, and my blanket strapped behind a very gaily ornamented brass-bossed demi-pique Mexican saddle, which one of the missionary’s daughters had lent me. It has a horn in front, a low peak behind, large wooden stirrups with leathern flaps the length of the stirrup-leathers, to prevent the dress from coming in contact with the horse, and strong guards of hide which hang over and below the stirrup, and cover it and the foot up to the ancles, to prevent the feet or boots from being torn in riding through the bush. Each horse had four fathoms of tethering rope wound several times round his neck. In such fashion must all travelling be done on Hawaii, whether by ladies or gentlemen.
Upa supplied the picturesque element, we the grotesque. The morning was moist and unpropitious looking. As the greater part of the thirty miles has to be travelled at a foot’s-pace the guide took advantage of the soft grassy track which leads out of Hilo, to go off at full gallop, a proceeding which made me at once conscious of the demerits of my novel way of riding. To guide the horse and to clutch the horn of the saddle with both hands were clearly incompatible, so I abandoned the first as being the least important. Then my feet either slipped too far into the stirrups and were cut, or they were jerked out; every corner was a new terror, for at each I was nearly pitched off on one side, and when at last Upa stopped, and my beast stopped without consulting my wishes, only a desperate grasp of mane and tethering rope saved me from going over his head. At this ridiculous moment we came upon a bevy of brown maidens swimming in a lakelet by the roadside, who increased my confusion by a chorus of laughter. How fervently I hoped that the track would never admit of galloping again!
Hilo fringes off with pretty native houses, kalo patches and mullet ponds, and in about four miles the track, then formed of rough hard lava, and not more than 24 inches wide, enters a forest of the densest description, a burst of true tropical jungle. I could not have imagined anything so perfectly beautiful, nature seemed to riot in the production of wonderful forms, as if the moist hot-house air encouraged her in lavish excesses. Such endless variety, such depths of green, such an impassable and altogether inextricable maze of forest trees, ferns, and lianas! There were palms, breadfruit trees, ohias, eugenias, candle-nuts of immense size, Koa (acacia), bananas, noni, bamboos, papayas (Carica papaya), guavas, ti trees (Cordyline terminalis), treeferns, climbing ferns, parasitic ferns, and ferns themselves the prey of parasites of their own species. The lianas were there in profusion climbing over the highest trees, and entangling them, with stems varying in size from those as thick as a man’s arm to those as slender as whipcord, binding all in an impassable network, and hanging over our heads in rich festoons or tendrils swaying in the breeze. There were trailers, i.e., (Freycinetia scandens) with heavy knotted stems, as thick as a frigate’s stoutest hawser, coiling up to the tops of tall ohias with tufted leaves like yuccas, and crimson spikes of gaudy blossom. The shining festoons of the yam and the graceful trailers of the maile (Alyxia Olivaeformis), a sweet scented vine, from which the natives make garlands, and glossy leaved climbers hung from tree to tree, and to brighten all, huge morning glories of a heavenly blue opened a thousand blossoms to the sun as if to give a tenderer loveliness to the forest. Here trees grow and fall, and nature covers them where they lie with a new vegetation which altogether obliterates their hasty decay. It is four miles of beautiful and inextricable confusion, untrodden by human feet except on the narrow track. “Of every tree in this garden thou mayest freely eat,” and no serpent or noxious thing trails its hideous form through this Eden.
It was quite intoxicating, so new, wonderful, and solemn withal, that I was sorry when we emerged from its shady depths upon a grove of cocoanut trees and the glare of day. Two very poor-looking grass huts, with a ragged patch of sugar-cane beside them, gave us an excuse for half an hour’s rest. An old woman in a red sack, much tattooed, with thick short grey hair bristling on her head, sat on a palm root, holding a nude brown child; a lean hideous old man, dressed only in a malo, leaned against its stem, our horses with their highly miscellaneous gear were tethered to a fern stump, and Upa, the most picturesque of the party, served out tea. He and the natives talked incessantly, and from the frequency with which the words “wahine haole” (foreign woman) occurred, the subject of their conversation was obvious. Upa has taken up the notion from something Mr. S—— said, that I am a “high chief,” and related to Queen Victoria, and he was doubtlessly imposing this fable on the people. In spite of their poverty and squalor, if squalor is a term which can be applied to aught beneath these sunny skies, there was a kindliness about them which they made us feel, and the aloha with which they parted from us had a sweet friendly sound.
From this grove we travelled as before in single file over an immense expanse of lava of the kind called pahoehoe, or satin rock, to distinguish it from the a-a, or jagged, rugged, impassable rock. Savants all use these terms in the absence of any equally expressive in English. The pahoehoe extends in the Hilo direction from hence about twenty-three miles. It is the cooled and arrested torrent of lava which in past ages has flowed towards Hilo from Kilauea. It lies in hummocks, in coils, in rippled waves, in rivers, in huge convolutions, in pools smooth and still, and in caverns which are really bubbles. Hundreds of square miles of the island are made up of this and nothing more. A very frequent aspect of pahoehoe is the likeness on a magnificent scale of a thick coat of cream drawn in wrinkling folds to the side of a milk-pan. This lava is all grey, and the greater part of its surface is slightly roughened. Wherever this is not the case the horses slip upon it as upon ice.
Here I began to realize the universally igneous origin of Hawaii, as I had not done among the finely disintegrated lava of Hilo. From the hard black rocks which border the sea, to the loftiest mountain dome or peak, every stone, atom of dust, and foot of fruitful or barren soil bears the Plutonic mark. In fact, the island has been raised heap on heap, ridge on ridge, mountain on mountain, to nearly the height of Mont Blanc, by the same volcanic forces which are still in operation here, and may still add at intervals to the height of the blue dome of Mauna Loa, of which we caught occasional glimpses above the clouds. Hawaii is actually at the present time being built up from the ocean, and this great sea of pahoehoe is not to be regarded as a vindictive eruption, bringing desolation on a fertile region, but as an architectural and formative process.
There is no water, except a few deposits of rain-water in holes, but the moist air and incessant showers have aided nature to mantle this frightful expanse with an abundant vegetation, principally ferns of an exquisite green, the most conspicuous being the Sadleria, the Gleichenia Hawaiiensis, a running wire-like fern, and the exquisite Microlepia tenuifolia, dwarf guava, with its white flowers resembling orange flowers in odour, and ohelos (Vaccinium reticulatum), with their red and white berries, and a profusion of small-leaved ohias (Metrosideros polymorpha), with their deep crimson tasselled flowers, and their young shoots of bright crimson, relieved the monotony of green. These crimson tassels deftly strung on thread or fibres, are much used by the natives for their leis, or garlands. The ti tree (Cordyline terminalis) which abounds also on the lava, is most valuable. They cook their food wrapped up in its leaves, the porous root when baked, has the taste and texture of molasses candy, and when distilled yields a spirit, and the leaves form wrappings for fish, hard poi, and other edibles. Occasionally a clump of tufted coco-palms, or of the beautiful candle-nut rose among the smaller growths. To our left a fringe of palms marked the place where the lava and the ocean met, while, on our right, we were seldom out of sight of the dense timber belt, with its fringe of tree-ferns and bananas, which girdles Mauna Loa.
The track, on the whole, is a perpetual upward scramble; for, though the ascent is so gradual, that it is only by the increasing coolness of the atmosphere that the increasing elevation is denoted, it is really nearly 4,000 feet in thirty miles. Only strong, sure-footed, well-shod horses can undertake this journey, for it is a constant scramble over rocks, going up or down natural steps, or cautiously treading along ledges. Most of the track is quite legible owing to the vegetation having been worn off the lava, but the rock itself hardly shows the slightest abrasion.
Upa had indicated that we were to stop for rest at the “Half Way House;” and, as I was hardly able to sit on my horse owing to fatigue, I consoled myself by visions of a comfortable sofa and a cup of tea. It was with real dismay that I found the reality to consist of a grass hut, much out of repair, and which, bad as it was, was locked. Upa said we had ridden so slowly that it would be dark before we reached the volcano, and only allowed us to rest on the grass for half-an-hour. He had frequently reiterated “Half Way House, you wear spur;” and, on our remounting, he buckled on my foot a heavy rusty Mexican spur, with jingling ornaments and rowels an inch and a half long. These horses are so accustomed to be jogged with these instruments that they won’t move without them. The prospect of five hours more riding looked rather black, for I was much exhausted, and my shoulders and knee-joints were in severe pain. Miss K.‘s horse showed no other appreciation of a stick with which she belaboured him than flourishes of his tail, so, for a time, he was put in the middle, that Upa might add his more forcible persuasions, and I rode first and succeeded in getting my lazy animal into the priestly amble known at home as “a butter and eggs trot,” the favourite travelling pace, but this not suiting the guide’s notion of progress, he frequently rushed up behind with a torrent of Hawaiian, emphasized by heavy thumps on my horse’s back, which so sorely jeopardised my seat on the animal, owing to his resenting the interference by kicking, that I “dropped astern” for the rest of the way, leaving Upa to belabour Miss K.‘s steed for his diversion.
The country altered but little, only the variety of trees gave place to the ohia alone, with its sombre foliage. There were neither birds nor insects, and the only travellers we encountered in the solitude compelled us to give them a wide berth, for they were a drove of half wild random cattle, led by a lean bull of hideous aspect, with crumpled horns. Two picturesque native vaccheros on mules accompanied them, and my flagging spirits were raised by their news that the volcano was quite active. The owner of these cattle knows that he has 10,000 head, and may have a great many more. They are shot for their hides by men who make shooting and skinning them a profession, and, near settlements, the owners are thankful to get two cents a pound for sirloin and rump-steaks. These, and great herds which are actually wild and ownerless upon the mountains, are a degenerate breed, with some of the worst peculiarities of the Texas cattle, and are the descendants of those which Vancouver placed on the islands and which were under Tabu for ten years. They destroy the old trees by gnawing the bark, and render the growth of young ones impossible.
As it was getting dark we passed through a forest strip, where tree-ferns from twelve to eighteen feet in height, and with fronds from five to seven feet long, were the most attractive novelties. As we emerged, “with one stride came the dark,” a great darkness, a cloudy night, with neither moon nor stars, and the track was further obscured by a belt of ohias. There were five miles of this, and I was so dead from fatigue and want of food, that I would willingly have lain down in the bush in the rain. I most heartlessly wished that Miss K. were tired too, for her voice, which seemed tireless as she rode ahead in the dark, rasped upon my ears. I could only keep on my saddle by leaning on the horn, and my clothes were soaked with the heavy rain. “A dreadful ride,” one and another had said, and I then believed them. It seemed an awful solitude full of mystery. Often, I only knew that my companions were ahead by the sparks struck from their horse’s shoes.
It became a darkness which could be felt.
“Is that possibly a pool of blood?” I thought in horror, as a rain puddle glowed crimson on the track. Not that indeed! A glare brighter and redder than that from any furnace suddenly lightened the whole sky, and from that moment brightened our path. There sat Miss K. under her dripping umbrella as provokingly erect as when she left Hilo. There Upa jogged along, huddled up in his poncho, and his canteen shone red. There the ohia trees were relieved blackly against the sky. The scene started out from the darkness with the suddenness of a revelation. We felt the pungency of sulphurous fumes in the still night air. A sound as of the sea broke on our ears, rising and falling as if breaking on the shore, but the ocean was thirty miles away. The heavens became redder and brighter, and when we reached the crater-house at eight, clouds of red vapour mixed with flame were curling ceaselessly out of a huge invisible pit of blackness, and Kilauea was in all its fiery glory. We had reached the largest active volcano in the world, the “place of everlasting burnings.”
Rarely was light more welcome than that which twinkled from under the verandah of the lonely crater-house into the rainy night. The hospitable landlord of this unique dwelling lifted me from my horse, and carried me into a pleasant room thoroughly warmed by a large wood fire, and I hastily retired to bed to spend much of the bitterly cold night in watching the fiery vapours rolling up out of the infinite darkness, and in dreading the descent into the crater. The heavy clouds were crimson with the reflection, and soon after midnight jets of flame of a most peculiar colour leapt fitfully into the air, accompanied by a dull throbbing sound.
This morning was wet and murky as many mornings are here, and the view from the door was a blank up to ten o’clock, when the mist rolled away and revealed the mystery of last night, the mighty crater whose vast terminal wall is only a few yards from this house. We think of a volcano as a cone. This is a different thing. The abyss, which really is at a height of nearly 4,000 feet on the flank of Mauna Loa, has the appearance of a great pit on a rolling plain. But such a pit! It is nine miles in circumference, and its lowest area, which not long ago fell about 300 feet, just as ice on a pond falls when the water below it is withdrawn, covers six square miles. The depth of the crater varies from 800 to 1,100 feet in different years, according as the molten sea below is at flood or ebb. Signs of volcanic activity are present more or less throughout its whole depth, and for some distance round its margin, in the form of steam cracks, jets of sulphurous vapour, blowing cones, accumulating deposits of acicular crystals of sulphur, etc., and the pit itself is constantly rent and shaken by earthquakes. Grand eruptions occur at intervals with circumstances of indescribable terror and dignity, but Kilauea does not limit its activity to these outbursts, but has exhibited its marvellous phenomena through all known time in a lake or lakes in the southern part of the crater three miles from this side.
This lake, the Hale-mau-mau, or House of Everlasting Fire of the Hawaiian mythology, the abode of the dreaded goddess Pele, is approachable with safety except during an eruption. The spectacle, however, varies almost daily, and at times the level of the lava in the pit within a pit is so low, and the suffocating gases are evolved in such enormous quantities, that travellers are unable to see anything. There had been no news from it for a week, and as nothing was to be seen but a very faint bluish vapour hanging round its margin, the prospect was not encouraging.
When I have learned more about the Hawaiian volcanoes, I shall tell you more of their phenomena, but tonight I shall only write to you my first impressions of what we actually saw on this January 31st. My highest expectations have been infinitely exceeded, and I can hardly write soberly after such a spectacle, especially while through the open door I see the fiery clouds of vapour from the pit rolling up into a sky, glowing as if itself on fire.
We were accompanied into the crater by a comical native guide, who mimicked us constantly, our Hilo guide, who “makes up” a little English, a native woman from Kona, who speaks imperfect English poetically, and her brother who speaks none. I was conscious that we foreign women with our stout staffs and grotesque dress looked like caricatures, and the natives, who have a keen sense of the ludicrous, did not conceal that they thought us so.
The first descent down the terminal wall of the crater is very precipitous, but it and the slope which extends to the second descent are thickly covered with ohias, ohelos (a species of whortleberry), sadlerias, polypodiums, silver grass, and a great variety of bulbous plants many of which bore clusters of berries of a brilliant turquoise blue. The “beyond” looked terrible. I could not help clinging to these vestiges of the kindlier mood of nature in which she sought to cover the horrors she had wrought. The next descent is over rough blocks and ridges of broken lava, and appears to form part of a break which extends irregularly round the whole crater, and which probably marks a tremendous subsidence of its floor. Here the last apparent vegetation was left behind, and the familiar earth. We were in a new Plutonic region of blackness and awful desolation, the accustomed sights and sounds of nature all gone. Terraces, cliffs, lakes, ridges, rivers, mountain sides, whirlpools, chasms of lava surrounded us, solid, black, and shining, as if vitrified, or an ashen grey, stained yellow with sulphur here and there, or white with alum. The lava was fissured and upheaved everywhere by earthquakes, hot underneath, and emitting a hot breath.
After more than an hour of very difficult climbing we reached the lowest level of the crater, pretty nearly a mile across, presenting from above the appearance of a sea at rest, but on crossing it we found it to be an expanse of waves and convolutions of ashy-coloured lava, with huge cracks filled up with black iridescent rolls of lava, only a few weeks old. Parts of it are very rough and ridgy, jammed together like field ice, or compacted by rolls of lava which may have swelled up from beneath, but the largest part of the area presents the appearance of huge coiled hawsers, the ropy formation of the lava rendering the illusion almost perfect. These are riven by deep cracks which emit hot sulphurous vapours. Strange to say, in one of these, deep down in that black and awful region, three slender metamorphosed ferns were growing, three exquisite forms, the fragile heralds of the great forest of vegetation, which probably in coming years will clothe this pit with beauty. Truly they seemed to speak of the love of God. On our right there was a precipitous ledge, and a recent flow of lava had poured over it, cooling as it fell into columnar shapes as symmetrical as those of Staffa. It took us a full hour to cross this deep depression, and as long to master a steep hot ascent of about 400 feet, formed by a recent lava-flow from Hale-mau-mau into the basin. This lava hill is an extraordinary sight — a flood of molten stone, solidifying as it ran down the declivity, forming arrested waves, streams, eddies, gigantic convolutions, forms of snakes, stems of trees, gnarled roots, crooked water-pipes, all involved and contorted on a gigantic scale, a wilderness of force and dread. Over one steeper place the lava had run in a fiery cascade about 100 feet wide. Some had reached the ground, some had been arrested midway, but all had taken the aspect of stems of trees. In some of the crevices I picked up a quantity of very curious filamentose lava, known as “Pele’s hair.” It resembles coarse spun glass, and is of a greenish or yellowish-brown colour. In many places the whole surface of the lava is covered with this substance seen through a glazed medium. During eruptions, when fire-fountains play to a great height, and drops of lava are thrown in all directions, the wind spins them out in clear green or yellow threads two or three feet long, which catch and adhere to projecting points.
As we ascended, the flow became hotter under our feet, as well as more porous and glistening. It was so hot that a shower of rain hissed as it fell upon it. The crust became increasingly insecure, and necessitated our walking in single file with the guide in front, to test the security of the footing. I fell through several times, and always into holes full of sulphurous steam, so malignantly acid that my strong dog-skin gloves were burned through as I raised myself on my hands.
We had followed a lava-flow for thirty miles up to the crater’s brink, and now we had toiled over recent lava for three hours, and by all calculation were close to the pit, yet there was no smoke or sign of fire, and I felt sure that the volcano had died out for once for our especial disappointment. Indeed, I had been making up my mind for disappointment since we left the crater-house, in consequence of reading seven different accounts, in which language was exhausted in describing Kilauea.
Suddenly, just above, and in front of us, gory drops were tossed in air, and springing forwards we stood on the brink of Hale-mau-mau, which was about 35 feet below us. I think we all screamed, I know we all wept, but we were speechless, for a new glory and terror had been added to the earth. It is the most unutterable of wonderful things. The words of common speech are quite useless. It is unimaginable, indescribable, a sight to remember for ever, a sight which at once took possession of every faculty of sense and soul, removing one altogether out of the range of ordinary life. Here was the real “bottomless pit”— the “fire which is not quenched”—“the place of hell”—“the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone”— the “everlasting burnings”— the fiery sea whose waves are never weary. There were groanings, rumblings, and detonations, rushings, hissings, and splashings, and the crashing sound of breakers on the coast, but it was the surging of fiery waves upon a fiery shore. But what can I write! Such words as jets, fountains, waves, spray, convey some idea of order and regularity, but here there was none. The inner lake, while we stood there, formed a sort of crater within itself, the whole lava sea rose about three feet, a blowing cone about eight feet high was formed, it was never the same two minutes together. And what we saw had no existence a month ago, and probably will be changed in every essential feature a month hence.
What we did see was one irregularly-shaped lake, possibly 500 feet wide at its narrowest part and nearly half a mile at its broadest, almost divided into two by a low bank of lava, which extended nearly across it where it was narrowest, and which was raised visibly before our eyes. The sides of the nearest part of the lake were absolutely perpendicular, but nowhere more than 40 feet high; but opposite to us on the far side of the larger lake they were bold and craggy, and probably not less than 150 feet high. On one side there was an expanse entirely occupied with blowing cones, and jets of steam or vapour. The lake has been known to sink 400 feet, and a month ago it overflowed its banks. The prominent object was fire in motion, but the surface of the double lake was continually skinning over for a second or two with a cooled crust of a lustrous grey-white, like frosted silver, broken by jagged cracks of a bright rose-colour. The movement was nearly always from the sides to the centre, but the movement of the centre itself appeared independent and always took a southerly direction. Before each outburst of agitation there was much hissing and a throbbing internal roaring, as of imprisoned gases. Now it seemed furious, demoniacal, as if no power on earth could bind it, then playful and sportive, then for a second languid, but only because it was accumulating fresh force. On our arrival eleven fire fountains were playing joyously round the lakes, and sometimes the six of the nearer lake ran together in the centre to go wallowing down in one vortex, from which they reappeared bulging upwards, till they formed a huge cone 30 feet high, which plunged downwards in a whirlpool only to reappear in exactly the previous number of fountains in different parts of the lake, high leaping, raging, flinging themselves upwards. Sometimes the whole lake, abandoning its usual centripetal motion, as if impelled southwards, took the form of mighty waves, and surging heavily against the partial barrier with a sound like the Pacific surf, lashed, tore, covered it, and threw itself over it in clots of living fire. It was all confusion, commotion, force, terror, glory, majesty, mystery, and even beauty. And the colour! “Eye hath not seen” it! Molten metal has not that crimson gleam, nor blood that living light! Had I not seen this I should never have known that such a colour was possible.
The crust perpetually wrinkled, folded over, and cracked, and great pieces were drawn downwards to be again thrown up on the crests of waves. The eleven fountains of gory fire played the greater part of the time, dancing round the lake with a strength of joyousness which was absolute beauty. Indeed after the first half hour of terror had gone by, the beauty of these jets made a profound impression upon me, and the sight of them must always remain one of the most fascinating recollections of my life. During three hours, the bank of lava which almost divided the lakes rose considerably, owing to the cooling of the spray as it dashed over it, and a cavern of considerable size was formed within it, the roof of which was hung with fiery stalactites, more than a foot long. Nearly the whole time the surges of the further lake taking a southerly direction, broke with a tremendous noise on the bold craggy cliffs which are its southern boundary, throwing their gory spray to a height of fully forty feet. At times an overhanging crag fell in, creating a vast splash of fire and increased commotion.
Almost close below us there was an intermittent jet of lava, which kept cooling round what was possibly a blowhole forming a cone with an open top, which when we first saw it was about six feet high on its highest side, and about as many in diameter. Up this cone or chimney heavy jets of lava were thrown every second or two, and cooling as they fell over its edge, raised it rapidly before our eyes. Its fiery interior, and the singular sound with which the lava was vomited up, were very awful. There was no smoke rising from the lake, only a faint blue vapour which the wind carried in the opposite direction. The heat was excessive. We were obliged to stand the whole time, and the soles of our boots were burned, and my ear and one side of my face were blistered. Although there was no smoke from the lake itself, there was an awful region to the westward, of smoke and sound, and rolling clouds of steam and vapour whose phenomena it was not safe to investigate, where the blowing cones are, whose fires last night appeared stationary. We were able to stand quite near the margin, and look down into the lake, as you look into the sea from the deck of a ship, the only risk being that the fractured ledge might give way.
Before we came away, a new impulse seized the lava. The fire was thrown to a great height; the fountains and jets all wallowed together; new ones appeared, and danced joyously round the margin, then converging towards the centre they merged into one glowing mass, which upheaved itself pyramidally and disappeared with a vast plunge. Then innumerable billows of fire dashed themselves into the air, crashing and lashing, and the lake dividing itself recoiled on either side, then hurling its fires together and rising as if by upheaval from below, it surged over the temporary rim which it had formed, passing downwards in a slow majestic flow, leaving the central surface swaying and dashing in fruitless agony as if sent on some errand it failed to accomplish.
Farewell, I fear for ever, to the glorious Hale-mau-mau, the grandest type of force that the earth holds! “Break, break, break,” on through the coming years,
“No more by thee my steps shall be,
No more again for ever!”
It seemed a dull trudge over the black and awful crater, and strange, like half-forgotten sights of a world with which I had ceased to have aught to do, were the dwarf tree-ferns, the lilies with their turquoise clusters, the crimson myrtle blossoms, and all the fair things which decked the precipice up which we slowly dragged our stiff and painful limbs. Yet it was but the exchange of a world of sublimity for a world of beauty, the “place of hell,” for the bright upper earth, with its endless summer, and its perennial foliage, blossom, and fruitage.
Since writing the above I have been looking over the “Volcano Book,” which contains the observations and impressions of people from all parts of the world. Some of these are painstaking and valuable as showing the extent and rapidity of the changes which take place in the crater, but there is an immense quantity of flippant rubbish, and would-be wit, in which “Madam Pele,” invariably occurs, this goddess, who was undoubtedly one of the grandest of heathen mythical creations, being caricatured in pencil and pen and ink, under every ludicrous aspect that can be conceived. Some of the entries are brief and absurd, “Not much of a fizz,” “a grand splutter,” “Madam Pele in the dumps,” and so forth. These generally have English signatures. The American wit is far racier, but depends mainly on the profane use of certain passages of scripture, a species of wit which is at once easy and disgusting. People are all particular in giving the precise time of the departure from Hilo and arrival here, “making good time” being a thing much admired on Hawaii, but few can boast of more than three miles an hour. It is wonderful that people can parade their snobbishness within sight of Hale-mau-mau.
This inn is a unique and interesting place. Its existence is strikingly precarious, for the whole region is in a state of perpetual throb from earthquakes, and the sights and sounds are gruesome and awful both by day and night. The surrounding country steams and smokes from cracks and pits, and a smell of sulphur fills the air. They cook their kalo in a steam apparatus of nature’s own work just behind the house, and every drop of water is from a distillery similarly provided. The inn is a grass and bamboo house, very beautifully constructed without nails. It is a longish building with a steep roof divided inside by partitions which run up to the height of the walls. There is no ceiling. The joists which run across are concealed by wreaths of evergreens, from among which peep out here and there stars on a blue ground. The door opens from the verandah into a centre room with a large open brick fire place, in which a wood fire is constantly burning, for at this altitude the temperature is cool. Some chairs, two lounges, small tables, and some books and pictures on the walls give a look of comfort, and there is the reality of comfort in perfection. Our sleeping-place, a neat room with a matted floor opens from this, and on the other side there is a similar room, and a small eating-room with a grass cookhouse beyond, from which an obliging old Chinaman who persistently calls us “sir,” brings our food. We have had for each meal, tea, preserved milk, coffee, kalo, biscuits, butter, potatoes, goats’ flesh, and ohelos. The charge is five dollars a day, but everything except the potatoes and ohelos has to be brought twenty or thirty miles on mules’ backs. It is a very pretty picturesque house both within and without, and stands on a natural lawn of brilliant but unpalatable grass, surrounded by a light fence covered with a small trailing double rose. It is altogether a most magical building in the heart of a formidable volcanic wilderness. Mr. Gilman, our host, is a fine picturesque looking man, half Indian, and speaks remarkably good English, but his wife, a very pretty native woman, speaks none, and he attends to us entirely himself.
A party of native travellers rainbound are here, and the native women are sitting on the floor stringing flowers and berries for leis. One very attractive-looking young woman, refined by consumption, is lying on some blankets, and three native men are smoking by the fire. Upa attempts conversation with us in broken English, and the others laugh and talk incessantly. My inkstand, pen, and small handwriting amuse them very much. Miss K., the typical American travelling lady, who is encountered everywhere from the Andes to the Pyramids, tireless, with an indomitable energy, Spartan endurance, and a genius for attaining everything, and myself, a limp, ragged, shoeless wretch, complete the group, and our heaps of saddles, blankets, spurs, and gear tell of real travelling, past and future. It is a most picturesque sight by the light of the flickering fire, and the fire which is unquenchable burns without.
About 300 yards off there is a sulphur steam vapour-bath, highly recommended by the host as a panacea for the woeful aches, pains, and stiffness produced by the six-mile scramble through the crater, and I groaned and limped down to it: but it is a truly spasmodic arrangement, singularly independent of human control, and I have not the slightest doubt that the reason why Mr. Gilman obligingly remained in the vicinity was, lest I should be scalded or blown to atoms by a sudden freak of Kilauea, though I don’t see that he was capable of preventing either catastrophe! A slight grass shed has been built over a sulphur steam crack, and within this there is a deep box with a sliding lid and a hole for the throat, and the victim is supposed to sit in this and be steamed. But on this occasion the temperature was so high, that my hand, which I unwisely experimented upon, was immediately peeled. In order not to wound Mr. Gilman’s feelings, which are evidently sensitive on the subject of this irresponsible contrivance, I remained the prescribed time within the shed, and then managed to limp a little less, and go with him to what are called the Sulphur Banks, on which sulphurous vapour is perpetually depositing the most exquisite acicular sulphur crystals; these, as they aggregate, take entrancing forms, like the featherwork produced by the “frost-fall” in Colorado, but, like it, they perish with a touch, and can only be seen in the wonderful laboratory where they are formed.
In addition to the natives before mentioned, there is an old man here who has been a bullock-hunter on Hawaii for forty years, and knows the island thoroughly. In common with all the residents I have seen, he takes an intense interest in volcanic phenomena, and has just been giving us a thrilling account of the great eruption in 1868, when beautiful Hilo was threatened with destruction. Three weeks ago, he says, a profound hush fell on Kilauea, and the summit crater of Mauna Loa became active, and amidst throbbings, rumblings, and earthquakes, broke into such magnificence that the light was visible 100 miles at sea, a burning mountain 13,750 feet high! The fires after two days died out as suddenly, and from here we can see the great dome-like top, snow-capped under the stars, serene in an eternal winter.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48