Thursday, August 5, 2010

~ The man from Montana and Pele ~

Just as in the past when lava has overtaken a community there are many stories to be told by those who endured the experience; as Kalapana Gardens residents are presently facing; this is one such story:

He envisioned a thriving goat farm on his twenty-three acres of barren pahoehoe in Kalapana Gardens but had constructed nothing yet. André Kaukane (the name he chose for this story) is from Montana and wanted to try a new direction in his life with his partner, so why not start it at the base of an active volcano in Hawaii?

André, whose property borders Gary Sleik’s twenty-one acres, had just witnessed his neighbors home engulfed by lava and burned to the ground just a few days before I found him building a rock wall with chunks of the 1990 lava that his entire property is composed of. (Click on any of the photos for a larger view window)André had located his eastern property line and tied a string across the lavascape for a long distance, then gathered some rock-busting tools: large sledge, gloves and o-o pry-bar, and began constructing a sort-of-Hawaiian-style rock wall next to the string line. When I first came across him and his project over a week ago, André’s wall was a mere mishmash of broken rocks and he was trying to pry a large piece of lava from the ground; sweat pouring down his face. I had just walked from the leading edges of the advancing lava, which, at its closest point, was then only 250 feet west of where André was starting his rock wall.

As he gestured out across a vast area of smoldering lava fields and scorched trees, André told me most of his land was already covered by this new lava flow and he thought maybe he could help protect his nearest neighbors’ homes that lay just east of his land -- if there was a rock wall built. André had heard Hawaiian stories of rock walls diverting Pele the Volcano Goddess; either physically or by Pele’s respect for the wall, so he strongly felt he wanted to do this.
After watching André at his task for a short time I decided to help him for a little while, if simply to show the man from Montana some easier ways to fracture and remove pahoehoe slabs for wall making.

I returned to that area again three days ago, during my survey of the coastal flats lava flow, I once again found Kaukane hard a work on his lava rock wall. This time some sections actually resembled a wall. We spoke for a while as he worked or paused for a drink of water in the hot sun. Molten lava was now less than seventy-feet away to the west and was swelling with inflation and breaking out - advancing toward his wall and the two homes a short distance beyond his property line of string and rock.

André did not appear the least bit daunted by this rapid approach of lava as we talked story and he busted rock, carrying it to the newly forming wall. Just five hundred feet southeast of where we stood was his closest neighbor Lava Dave’s large family home. We could see Lava Dave’s tall slender figure standing between the hot lava fields to the west and his home; gazing out at the red-hot pahoehoe advancing his way.

I left André to his noble task and hiked across the lavascape to Dave. Dave looked stressed as he stared at red-orange lava moving a short distance before him. Dave said he was making plans to evacuate his home and had friends with trucks ready to help in the move with just a phone call. He asked me how much time I though he had before this lava would reach his home. I told him 48-hours if the rate of advancement was enhanced by strong inflation, but within a week if it slows down from deflation. After all, this lava flow had just covered nearly a square-mile or so of all the land west of his home in only one week; including his friend Gary’s place. The lava was now only 200-feet from his house and only 15-feet from some vehicles parked on his property. The prospects did not look good for Lava Dave’s huge home.So as Lava Dave and I are talking, André Kaukane walks up and joins in. André can see Dave’s duress and tells Dave that maybe a rock wall needs to be started in front of his home. Dave had hardly replied when André hikes back to his wall project, gathers all his wall-making tools and returns and begins a new lava rock wall along his stringed property line, which also borders very close Lava Dave’s home. The heat of the molten lava is so close to this line it can be felt as André begins construction… As he places the 1st stones André sincerely says to Dave & I, “I think a wall right here might divert the lava”. Dave and I look at each other and I say quietly to him, “Well, symbolically anyway”.

That massive and advancing lava flow continued its march east that night getting as close as 130-feet from Lava Dave’s home but by morning had stopped -- at the foot of André’s ‘walls’, at both locations, and has not moved an inch further since…


  1. I can just say. WOW and thanks for the story and updates Leigh.

  2. I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now. I sneak onto the net at work during the day to see what you have written. What a beautiful post. This was very emotional for me.

  3. Wow, what a story! The lava flow stopped short at the walls. I also live in Kalapana, up in the Mango forest. There are ancient stone walls that surround the 27 acre property. Oddly enough, the last time that lava flowed down the hill it separated, flowing down both sides and spared my property. Amazing! Now I know the reason the Hawaiians went to so much work constructing them. Best Wishes and many blessings to all of my neighbors in Kalapana. Love, I AM