Christmas rainbow

Christmas rainbow in the Kilauea Iki crater
Rainbow in the Kilauea Iki crater

December 2013

On Christmas Day, the rainbow that appeared in front of our eyes as we crossed the Kilauea Iki Crater floor in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was all contained within the crater and within our field of view: it felt reachable, touchable. Seeing a sliver of a rainbow brings joy: seeing the entire arc was exhilarating. I thought I could walk up to the rainbow, go through it like through a gentle waterfall and come out all colored. I walked from one end to the other and I was under it, embraced and protected by it.

When the sun shines into some rain, conditions are ripe for a rainbow to appear. Looking in the direction opposite to the sun, I may see one, but it is so much better when the rainbow appears unexpectedly, like a magical being that has answered a secret wish rather than a loud call.

I know that incident rays of light enter each raindrop and are refracted inwards, then reflected from the back surface of the raindrop, and then refracted again as they exit the raindrop and return to my eyes.

I know that refraction is responsible for splitting the sunlight into its component colors.
And I know that the different wavelength of blue and red light and the reflection of light rays from the back of the raindrop makes blue appear on the inside of the arc of the rainbow, and red on the outside.
Yet, knowing why a rainbow appears and why it looks the way it does has not divested the show of its magic. When my husband sees a rainbow, he is as amazed as a child, ready to learn why the refractive index is wavelength dependent. When I see a rainbow, I am as amazed as a child, ready to believe in fairy tales all over again.

A rainbow is a tale in which Sky showers Earth first with rain and then with colors as Earth reaches up to caress Sky’s tear-stained cheeks.

A rainbow appears and then it disappears like a cherished memory, or a fluttering butterfly. The arc never loses the lightness of a gossamer dream.

The moment I lose the ability to smile with my body and my heart at the sight of a rainbow — or ocean waves crashing against a rocky shore, or clouds blushing pink at sunset, or any of the beautiful details of a world born out of fire and ice — is the moment I’ll understand death.

My deep smile mirrored the arc of the rainbow. The scene was perfect. It was better than anything that could have landed, brightly wrapped and beribboned, under our Christmas tree.

Hiking the Kilauea Iki Trail and meeting the rainbow up close and personal was my Christmas indulgence. Around the Holidays in particular, the word “indulgence” usually refers to overeating overly rich dishes. But this Christmas I indulged in nature, luxuriated in an atmospheric solar spectrum, meditated on the magic and science of living on earth and smiled at the sky.

It was my kind of Christmas, really.

© 2015-2024 Simona Carini

The present moment between tropical fruit and a volcano

'Ōhi'a Lehua and ferns growing on volcano's lava
‘Ōhi’a Lehua and ferns growing on lava

January 2014

Life sometimes makes us stop in the moment and reminds us that the only time we have is that moment.

At the Maku’u Farmers’ Market, along the Kea’au/Pahoa Highway bypass road (Big Island), a mainlander like me had only the present to taste the phantasmagoria of fruits on display, like papayas, soft-spiked rambutans, fluorescent fuchsia dragon fruit. There was no hoarding for further than the near future: most fruit was perfectly ripe and would barely stand the trip back to our lodging. And there was no stashing the luggage with abiu or citrus fruit or rambutan for a delayed enjoyment back home in California, because that fruit could not leave the island in my backpack.

A ross sapote (the shape and size of a deep yellow tomato), a yellow sapote (called egg fruit because the consistency of its pulp is reminiscent of hard-boiled egg yolk), a mamey sapote (its scratchy brown skin enveloping salmon-colored flesh), a bagful of brilliant rambutans, a persimmon so ripe it almost fell apart when I touched it, all found space in my shopping bag. A papaya, several avocados and abius, a bunch of mini bananas and an assortment of citrus fruits were already in the kitchen of our lodging.

A few hours after the expedition to the market, we set out to reach the viewing spot we had visited four years earlier to look from a safe distance at lava emerging from an underground channel and diving into the ocean: After sunset, as the light dimmed, the glow from the lava had set the darkening sky ablaze.1

We parked the car where lava flow had put an end to Highway 130 and started walking over the black expanse of natural asphalt sparkling under the afternoon sun. The brilliant blue sky was marbled with light gray clouds ready to congregate into 15-minute showers.

We soon developed a feeling that things were different from our prior visit. When we arrived at a sign that prevented us from proceeding, we found ourselves totally confused. The houses built on the lava field were closer to us than we remembered and the bright yellow stripes on the lava that in the past had guided our steps were nowhere to be seen.

A county security guard arrived and cleared our confusion: a portion of the road we had driven on four years ago, the parking lot where we had left the car, the lava upon which we walked to reach the viewing area were all gone, covered by the flow from a recent eruption. There, earth is still being born, every day, and the landscape changes at human-scale speed, in fact, at visitor-scale speed.

Under a boundless sky, caressed by a sweet breeze, in a moment of timeless perfection, impermanence was the only certainty and the present was the only time we had to take in the landscape around us. Small clouds of vapor along the ridge towards the main crater were the telltale sign of lava flowing below the surface there. Any day, a crack might open where we were standing and lava start flowing from there into the Pacific Ocean nearby, pushing everything along its path to plunge it into the blue waves.

But even the stark surface of lava hardened by cool air is not permanent. In time, in the cracks, ‘Ama’u ferns unfold their brilliant green fronds and ‘Ōhi’a Lehua trees grow, their brush-like red blossoms sparkling against  jet black lava.2

Later in the afternoon, on the road from Kapoho3 to Pahoa, among handwritten signs posted on trees that ask drivers to slow down for kids at play or invite them to join a yoga class, we read one saying:  “It’s only a matter of time.” Indeed it is.

“Do you know that I love you?” I told my husband.

And once we arrived at our lodging, I took an abiu from the fruit basket, cut it into half and plunged a small spoon into its sweet, translucent pulp, which has a custard consistency and a flavor reminiscent of a lightly sweetened caramel flan.

The only time I had was that moment and it tasted superb.

1 This post on my food blog has photos from that day and evening.

2 Hawaiian lava comes in two types, which differ in appearance, but are chemically alike. Pahoehoe has a smoother and ropey surface where ‘a’a is jagged and clinkery. The ‘Ōhi’a Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) is a pioneer plant on new lava and a dominant tree in most mature Hawaiian forests.

3 The town of Kapoho was completely destroyed by lava in January 1960.

P.S. On June 27th, less than six months after the visit that inspired the piece above, a new eruption started and is still ongoing (though the leading front has stopped a few days ago, about 500 meters from the town of Pahoa).

© 2015-2024 Simona Carini