Prompt Me! A Slice of Paradise

Sherry Becker’s Prompt: Taken from the news… ignoring the volcano you live on until the day you can’t.


I was lucky growing up—I had relatives in a distant land called Japan, and some others that were in the exotic states of Hawaii, California and Iowa. From the time I can remember, these distant relatives made their presence known through strange and wonderful Christmas presents. Uncle Tom lived in the not so exotic land of Council Bluffs, Iowa and sent us Big Ben Timex clocks every year—the Big Ben for the boys, and the Baby Ben for the girls. I always thought if we all lived long enough we would each have our own clock.

The relatives in Japan would send foreign looking packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with brown rough twine, indecipherable stamps and writing on the outside and equally curious contents. The inner packages would be wrapped in not-quite-tissue paper and smell of sandalwood.  Over a period of years we received several metal urns, etched with flying cranes or luscious peony blossoms; once there was a three dimensional piece of art, Japanese children at play framed in a two inch deep frame. There would always be a letter, if written by my grandmother it would be in Japanese kanji; if written by my aunt Mary or Toshi, it would be in perfectly scripted cursive English.

My mom had cousins in Hawaii that she corresponded with faithfully every Christmas. One year her Hawaiian cousin visited while on leave from the Army. He was like a rare bird, familiar yet never before seen. He made Hawaii seem real.

In 1969 when I was a Sophomore in high school, my parents returned to Japan for the first time since before World War II. I was the baby of the family, and they took me along. In order to get to Japan back then, we had to get a series of vaccinations against diseases like cholera and tetanus. We flew from Montana to San Francisco where my sister, Carol met us. We left Daddy’s handgun in her hall closet as we had heard guns were not welcomed in Japan. We refueled in Midway on the way over, landed in Tokyo, and spent about a month visiting relatives in Tokyo, Wakayama and Hiroshima. Returning home we had a layover in Hawaii.

Mom’s family had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s and had settled on the Big Island of Hawaii, near the largest town at the time, Hilo. They had worked the sugar cane fields as most of the immigrants did back then, so they didn’t live in town—their farm was in a little community called Papaikou. My cousins took me around Papaikou, showing me the haunts that made up their childhood playground. I had grown up in semi-arid eastern Montana, where you can see across the rough plains 20 miles easily on a clear day. In Papaikou the cousins grew up in a jungle—lush vegetation everywhere, daily rainfall to fuel the growth.

They had secret hideouts in the lush forest, and around the corner, down the hill was the most spectacular swimming hole I had ever seen. Hidden by trees and vines, this swimming hole was a gap about 100 feet across, deep and clear water that you could see through, no bottom in sight. But the jaw dropping feature was the waterfall that fed the pool—an oval hole in the lava rock wall about 10 feet in diameter out of which the water flowed!! NO KIDDING—a hole in the rock that water came out of, naturally.

The cousins had grown up walking to the pool, swimming and cavorting in the pristine waters. They showed it to me like it was no big deal—didn’t everyone have their own private swimming hole fed by an unbelievable source? The answer, of course was that I DID have a swimming hole back in Montana—the Pond was at the northwest corner of our Homeplace farm. It had one willow tree and was fed by the irrigation water, so it was basically a low place in the field, mud bottom. It was about a half mile from the house, and I would ride my pony to it. I didn’t even know how to swim and no one in their right mind would venture into the uninviting, muddy, murky water.

We drove to Volcano National Park, and saw the smoking vents with the sulfuric gases spewing and coughing, the calderas and the visitor’s center where I learned about lava tubes. I had grown up going to Yellowstone Park almost annually, so there were many parallels to the parks. We travelled to the south end of the island where cars were forever trapped in past lava flows. We saw the Black Sand Beaches with the iconic palm trees lining the shore before a volcanic eruption and earthquake dropped the beach into the ocean.  We travelled to the north end of the Big Island and drove through the Parker Ranch that felt like home—open grazing ground with cattle roaming the range.

On an island smaller than Big Horn County Montana, we saw jungles, beaches, lava flows, semi-arid ranchland, and mountains over 13,000 feet in elevation where there’s the occasional opportunity to snow ski. Yet it was homey—Hilo as a town was laid back with few tourists back then, hurricane shutters on the storefronts and ceiling fans spinning lazily in an old downtown that only locals frequented.

It’s 30 miles from Hilo to the volcano. Almost 100 miles from Kona to the volcano. It’s a lot closer if you build your house in the path of the lava flow.

So what about the threat of a volcano eruption? It’s a small price to pay to live in paradise.


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