November 17, 2005 by Allen George
Henry and I were on the road at 3:50AM. Just over an hour later I suffered a moderate bout of vertigo as I slalomed the Grand Prix up the winding roads of Mt. Haleakala. Haleakala is a dormant volcano that dominates the east end of Maui. Rising over 10,000ft over sea level, it is the tallest peak on that island. “Home of the Sun”, it has many faces – lush tropical jungle graced by waterfalls, pasture land and even rolling grasslands.
So what were my oh-so-clammy hands doing guiding the car up its slopes at 5AM?
I was trying to catch the sun.
If you’re ever in Maui, I recommend watching the sunrise from the summit. It’s a surreal experience. We’ve all watched a sunrise, but few have ever had the opportunity to catch it above cloud level. The cloud line around Haleakala is 5,000ft and it’s incredible watching the sun rise above that line, light spilling into the surroundings, changing it, giving it a rich spectrum of tones than can never be fully captured, only remembered. I never photographed the sunrise itself, choosing to watch it and remember. I concentrated instead on the area to the right, entranced by the delicate colors that unfurled. Around me, people shivered and mumbled in hushed tones as sliver after sliver of light pierced the blue-white cloud line. I heard analog shutters snap, digital cameras click and recorders whirr as everyone tried to take back a piece of that morning.
Later Henry and I hiked down into the massive crater, walking into an eerily alien environment. We obeyed the signs admonishing us to “Stay on the trail”. Walking off-trail promotes erosion and kills the seeds of the delicate silversword, a plant that takes over 50 years to mature and flower. Midway through our walk I asked Henry to stop and as we held our breath, I experienced something I’d never done before.
Protected by high summit walls, 10,000ft above sea level and miles from the nearest major cities, Haleakala is naturally insulated from the noise pollution that envelops us daily. Its dry, arid crater floor cannot support major plant or animal life and the bird songs, and rustling leaves ever-prevalent in a forest is foreign here. There is no sound. When you stand at Haleakala – when you truly stop – you are alone with your thoughts.
Oh, there is so much to describe. The clouds pouring over Kuapo Gap to the northwest, looking like a soft, white waterfall in the morning light. The hexagonal basalt thrust knife-like against the sky. The smaller eruption cones that poke intermittently from the crater surface…
As we walked the two miles up the crater walls, I saw a bride, groom and three photographers ignore the signs and walk off-trail. I watched them traipse with restless abandon, kicking dust and position themselves against the backdrop of one of nature’s last grand wildernesses. I watched them and I hated them. I hated because they represented the banality and venality of humanity. They embodied selfishness, and their actions served as a dark and distorted mirror for every one of us.
I hated them because of what they – and I – were doing to the world.