What's it like to live in lava land? Liza Simon heads to the Big Island hot spot of Volcano Village to find out. Photos by G. Brad Lewis.
When my nephew Will was a young boy and just getting to know me, his aunt from Hawaii, he was fascinated by my proximity to volcanoes, even after I explained that I live in Honolulu, where the volcanoes are extinct and we worry about traffic flows, not lava flows. Undeterred, he’d eye my feet as if he were looking for burn marks and ask, "Do you get inside the volcano?"
Years later, I’m arriving in Volcano Village with a line of questioning that’s not much more sophisticated. I’ve always had a curiosity about the Big Island town, partly because of the name (I mean, can you imagine living in a place called Tornado Township or Hurricane Hamlet?) and partly because of the location: Volcano Village is a rainforested nook set at 4,000 feet smack dab between two hot-to-trot bodies: Downhill is Kilauea, now in its twenty-third year of eruptive activity, a roiling acreage of earth-in-the-making that is to the Big Island what Phantom of the Opera is to Broadway: a reliably stupendous show. Uphill sits a sphinx-like Mauna Loa, the world’s biggest mountain (if you measure from ocean floor to summit), which last spewed lava in 1984. Both volcanoes have torched a few houses within my lifetime, and lately, there’s been a lot of speculation in the news that Mauna Loa might wake up again soon. Who, I was wondering as I flew to Hilo and drove up to the village, would survey a landscape like that and say "I’ll take it"?