Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sand it Black

Hawaiian Big Island.  Winter, 2008.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach is an instant beach.  It's not really sand.  This beach, and many like it, were formed when hot lava from the volcanoes rapidly cooling and exploding when it hits the waters surrounding them.  The stones are smooth, polished by the years of being turned by the tides.  Maybe in a handful of centuries the grains will be worn down to a fine, proper sand.  For now you can feel them crunch and slide under your shoes as you walk along the shore.  The sand is fine enough to walk over with bare feet, but coarse enough to hurt when it gets stuck under your toenails.  I recommend you be properly shod.

And you wouldn't want to take to the tide pools without protecting your footsies, anyway.  This isn't really a beach you come to for swimming (and with sharp underwater rocks and little protection from the currents, you wouldn't really want to), so the big draw are the hidden pools tucked away in the larger lava formations.  The crabs may scurry away when your shadow falls over them, but the sea urchins aren't going anywhere.  The fish don't often make it up to the tide pools, but when they do, the sun glitters of their vibrantly colored backs.  Blues, reds, greens.  Little pools of rainbows. 

White pebbles pop against the black sand like stars against the night sky.   Visitors who've come before me have left behind simple messages - a stick figure, an initial, a cat.  I leave a little smiley face behind a rock. 

Local tradition says that those who take rocks or sand away from the beach (or the islands, depending on who's doing the telling) will be cursed by the fiery Pele until the stones are returned.  I've had a Pepsi bottle full of black sand for a year and a half without too much tragedy befalling me (yet) so I don't know how much stock I put in that legend.  Though a display case in the lobby of Kilauea Military Camp has a small collection of rocks mailed back to the island after their captors hit a wall of bad luck, so make of that what you will. 

(Interesting to note: while that's perpetrated as being an ancient belief, historians can only trace the myth to the 1920's.  They believe park rangers invented this little piece of fakelore to prevent visitors from packing their pockets with pebbles.  Maybe I should return that Pepsi bottle after all.)

Further up along the formations, too high for the waves to reach, the lava rock twists and turns, forming high peaks and shallow crevasses.  It's been raining since we've set foot on the Big Island, but we've been afforded this rare moment of sunshine, and the light casts long shadows across the lava-formed walls, making faces in the rocks.  Moss grows in the bumps and tubes - food for the tiny crabs that scuttle into their hidey-holes when we stand too close.

Standing at the lava's edge, we watch the waves crash into the rocks.  The water doesn't quite reach us, until suddenly it does, and we're too shocked to get out of the way in time.  Our toes squelch in our shoes, and it's starting to rain again.  It might be time to go.

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