And yes, I — or rather, we — stood and looked down. There was a poorly constructed lava boulder wall, some security tape suggesting one not get too close, for risk of death. A crumbling sea arch stood looking as if at any moment it might succumb to the ceaseless battery of the Pacific Ocean. The darkening sky melting into the foreboding water together with the wind and the visceral solitude that was — in many ways — the edge of the world, conspired to embrace me in an irrational sense of impending doom. I was afraid and I did not understand it. All I could think was to get back in the car and drive back up that lonely, winding road through fields of desolation that in truth are physical exhibits of the birth of our planet. Somehow the beginning was all tangled up in the end but the wind kept blowing and the sky grew ever darker. I felt as if I were going to jump out of my skin any moment. By the time we were back to driving it was dark — very dark — as I fled from the edge of the earth. There, there be monsters.
Back up the looming escarpment, across the vast barren a’a wasteland. Not far back into the midst of the sparse foliage, with me nearly white knuckling the steering wheel of the slightly squirrely rental car, the Wife makes a sudden noise. Not quite a shout, but neither a squeal. Don’t DO that I exclaim. There was a pig she says.
Feral pigs at the end of the world. It was like some twisted scene from Time Bandits.
And then there was torrential rain and a mad parking lot and too many headlights and tourists in plastic ponchos with cameras and the eerie glow of a sure as shootin’ volcano in the background. The glow of Pele as she slumbers beyond, in the depths of the caldera. And then a warning that if the winds change the poison gas could kill you, so do not linger over much. One does not simply walk into Mordor. No, we drive right up to the edge in droves… to take pictures.
A week or so earlier we were on a plane, landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. There is a voicemail from my sister. Her broken voice says simply “Call when you get a chance. I’m not going to leave a message.” I knew what it meant. I clenched my jaw and braced myself against the immediate future; disembarking, facing the flood of humanity that is often Sea-Tac, finding a quiet spot to stake out where I could return the call, and preparing for the inevitable breakdown. My Mom is dead.
Sometime between the phone call and the fucking attack pigs in the black wilderness, we had gone snorkeling. The cove was crowded and the surf was a bit high, not as high as the day before when they had closed many beaches, but it was choppy. The little cove was a bit protected though and there was a great submerged environment to be viewed. I tried to stay away from the other snorkelers, stay out of the surf, keep the Wife in range… I am pretty new at the snorkeling thing. Then there is honu; the green sea turtle that is so prevalent in all things Hawai’i. Somehow, just me and the turtle. Floating, flying, swaying with the current. I just watched and smiled and thought how much Mom would love to experience this, even just in my telling her the story. She always was so exuberant about the natural world, especially in regards to close encounters with it. She believed in connections. I have to believe she knows about that turtle. Somehow. I have to believe that she knows the story, that somehow she experienced it as I was because I can no longer tell her about it.
I still do not know why the sea arch, battered by the crashing surf, the wind and the dark, the barren lava fields unsettled me so that night. The only thing I can think is that somehow in that moment I had physically come face to face with what appeared to me to be the edge… the edge of knowing, the edge of nothing. I was afraid. And I cannot tell Mom about that either.