Is it possible to make friends with nature? After visiting Hawaii’s Lake Wai’au a few years ago I have to believe it is. I’ve never connected so strongly with a place, making me even sadder to learn that this treasure is almost gone.
In 2012 my husband and I went to Hawaii and visited Mauna Kea on the Big Island, something thousands of tourists do every year. We went up to the summit, another fairly common activity. But we also had a rare experience almost none of those other visitors did because we took the extra step of hiking at the summit to a sacred spot in Hawaiian culture. At the top is an alpine lake just below the summit called Lake Wai’au. The path to it is unmarked, getting there requires a hike over craggy snow-covered volcanic red rocks, but the reward is an incredible experience in an otherworldly landscape that I wrote about for Outdoor Afro in 2012. Sadly, scientists don’t know exactly why yet, but the lake has shrunk to its lowest level EVER.
I was as shocked to hear this news as I would be to learn a close friend was sick. I am all too familiar with losing people, but to consider losing a place I connected with so strongly is a foreign concept. I just knew I would be going back to the lake again and again, taking my daughter there when she is old enough, and showing it to our friends. Perhaps it will recover and I’ll have the opportunity to do that, but for now I am grateful we took the time to just go.
Even though I was only there for an hour, Lake Wai’au became my friend, a part of my ‘ohana (extended family in Hawaiian). It challenged me, it was fun, and it taught me things–all components of a great friendship. The hike to the lake and the time we spent there are experiences I reflect on more than most other vacation memories-the crisp air, the debate over whether we should turn back when it took MUCH longer than the guidebook said it would to get there, the encounter with a French couple that hiked from the bottom who arrived at the lake at the same time we did. I can instantly recall how quiet the lake was–the area was the most silent place I have ever been.
Thinking of how easy it would have been for us to skip this stop is almost comical, because we’re always talking ourselves out of things. It would have been easy for us to allow some commitment or practicality to keep us on the road toward our next stop. The rental was almost out of gas (NOT advisable on a volcano in the middle of nowhere), we had just a few granola bars between us, and it was much colder than we anticipated. If we’d skipped hiking to the lake in 2012, we could have missed its presence on earth entirely. Instead we are left with a memory we’ll always treasure. So in 2014 I’m vowing to talk myself into more things, particularly where nature is concerned. The natural world is a constant source of ebb and flow, and the thing I don’t see today may not be here tomorrow. I don’t want to miss out on making any more awesome new friends!
Lesly Simmons is a San Francisco-based writer and founder of Mamas Guide: Discover Stroller-Friendly San Francisco. She is FINALLY going back to Hawaii in March 2014.