Wednesday, July 31, 2013


[T]he chief pride of Maui is her dead volcano of Haleakala—which means, translated, “the house of the sun.” We climbed a thousand feet up the side of this isolated colossus one afternoon; then camped, and next day climbed the remaining nine thousand feet, and anchored on the summit, where we built a fire and froze and roasted by turns, all night. With the first pallor of dawn we got up and saw things that were new to us. Mounted on a commanding pinnacle, we watched Nature work her silent wonders. The sea was spread abroad on every hand, its tumbled surface seeming only wrinkled and dimpled in the distance. A broad valley below appeared like an ample checker-board, its velvety green sugar plantations alternating with dun squares of barrenness and groves of trees diminished to mossy tufts.
—Mark Twain, Roughing It
Clouds upwelling on the lower slopes of Maui’s central mountain  [Flickr page]

I am standing on the roof of the House of the Sun, just over 10,000 feet above the sea that is visible in the distance. This is a pinnacle of earth, rising impossibly high above the water and then the beaches and grazing lands, and it is flying eastward away from the sun.

Looking into the vast maw of Haleakala Crater  [Flickr page]

There is a monk’s tonsure of clouds around the mountain, and earlier we stopped to look at their upper reaches mingle with a narrow fringe of pine trees. There was sun, shadows, vivid green, and tendrils of white mist snaking magically in between.

Upcountry Conifers on Maui  [Flickr page]

Now the sun is setting into a distant sea and a bed of brilliant clouds. Desperately I want to capture the stunning beauty of everything around me at this instant, this brief and glorious snapshot of my life. But the moment, I know, will soon blow past me as the wind.

Sunset at 10,000 feet  [Flickr page]

It is a thin and cold wind. The sparsity of this air’s gas molecules causes it to register just over 50 degrees Fahrenheit while the beachgoers far below sweat their way through 90 degrees. There is an odd sensation about breathing noticeably faster while just standing in place, which has an exhilarating slight edge of panic to it. The cool sharp air licks around the edges of my clothes, carrying faint, living scents of plants even up here.

Silversword at sunset  [Flickr page]

Silverswords and jagged dark brown rock fade into the rapid dusk. When I turn around to look away from the sunset, I see a looming triangular shadow that this mountain casts on the clouds to the east. A rainbow plunges into barren lava rock, far below it distant ocean swelling unheard.

Who arrayed this glorious outrage of vision? I do not fault those who see behind it the face of God. I am in as much awe as they are, as deeply uncomprehending of any mundane explanation when standing mute before such majesty.

Sunset Rainbow in Haleakala Crater  [Flickr page]

Now, now, now! It is the moment: Standing atop this little bit of rock near the summit, I am falling backwards from the sun, the wispy clouds with me, turning purple and orange with the fading light from a sun that will not dally for anyone’s meditations. And yet, I have already seen such beauty today. Is there room in my mind for still more?

Quiet, chattering voice, writer of mental drafts! I must hush even the student of mindfulness. Quiet, quiet, all of you! Rush and rustle, wind, go on. I will listen, I will watch. Eyes open wide, drinking in the sight, holding back tears that are not just from the wind.

I gasp with a sudden determination to just be, here, now, as the saying goes. This is the time! I will seize its wispy tendrils, gather them in, store them. Even though I know that, like the manna in the wilderness, it will have lost its freshness by the morning. That day will require its own gatherings, of good or ill.

Too bad! Pause. Gape. Heartbeats, breaths, wide open vision. My camera is now in its pack; I will not share these seconds with its little screen. The best of the colors, the moment when the sun finally slips beneath that distant horizon, are for my eyes alone.

A deep breath, the edge of a sob: This is raw, this air has moved high across an ocean to reach me. Why must we move so relentlessly away from the last fringes of even the most beautiful of days, the same as all the rest?

Listen, feel, lean backward into the wind. Watch the colors redden, darken. Watch, hear, feel. Quiet.

No, it won’t last. It never does, neither moments of ecstasy nor days of beauty, nor a lifetime of all of those strung together along a thread of hopes and dreams and work. Nor even of generations, civilizations, the eons that this mountain required.

It all fades and flies with the wind. But for now, at least, I am—deliciously, joyously, incomparably—alive.

Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out my entire set of Maui photos (and others from Hawaii) on Flickr. All are Copyright © 2013 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.