Watching the helicopter footage of slow, massive lava rolling over Kapoho bay in 2018, was beyond shocking. Our house is the one with the red roof. You can see the whole area overtaken in a neighbor’s Youtube video:

In many ways, I will forever grieve the loss of my family’s beachfront home. It belonged to my family, for nearly forty years.


I remember sleeping there. The ocean lapped at the shore, mere feet away. A gentle breeze blew perfume of Melia (Plumeria). The royal palm that my mother loved, was replanted by a new generation. We were forever planting and removing coconut palms, too.

Years later, it fell to my husband and myself, having bought an interest in the home, to entirely renovate, and update the ocean-ravaged, home.

Stress and Toil

Because we are not science deniers, we knew that ocean rise would affect this place. We set out to weatherize, upgrade, and remodel in such a way that we could ensure up to at least five more decades of residence out of the old girl. That meant replacing and lifting up the home atop tall, newly stabilized, concrete pillars. It meant taking out, and replacing old walls and plaster. It meant removing every rusty, old nail grandpa had pounded in. We replaced every nail, screw, and metal we found with expensive stainless steel. We bought a new lanai, and roof. It was expensive. It was exhausting.

We set about replacing the flooring, installing granite, scrubbing the relentless, exterior mold and mildew. In short, we spent nearly ten, impossible years renovating.

These were not easy years. I had full-time work back in Kona, and my husband, even more inconveniently, worked on Oahu.

The house, besides being haunted by the souls of my deceased family members, was problematic. You cannot even imagine, what a windward home on Hawaii Island is buffeted by; twenty-four hours a day of bio-slime.

It had once been the dream of a retired school teacher and an army veteran. It was never our dream. We had our own home, farm, and office condo to worry about. We were stretched thin, far beyond our limits. More than once, my husband yelled that he would like to “burn it to the ground.” And me? I had more than once called it the “Hope Diamond of homes” because Kapoho was beautiful, dazzling, ocean blue, but clearly cursed by anyone who aspired to possess it.

Many times, many fights, and many hours, of toil later we emerged. The house was literally reconstructed with our blood, sweat, and tears. Our house gleamed with all new everything. It was spectacular.

Devastation and…Creation

In the first week of June, 2018, a wall of lava from fissure eight of the Kilauea volcano made its steamy, way toward our dream home. We only saw glimpses from helicopter footage. The entire area, of course, was evacuated. Counting non-permitted jungle dwellings, over 1,000 structures lay in the path of the oncoming lava.

At some point, we shall never know exactly when, the dream was buried.

What did we learn?

First of all, I learned how family death and loss is heavy, but bears a different kind of weight than the loss of a place. Kapoho was a place of astonishing beauty and life, greenery, flowers, farms, wondrous geothermal ponds, diverse, and colorful sea life, dense jungle wildlife, a sense of physical, community, and a laid back, Hawaiian culture. Gone. Gone forever.

But not forever. Because nature also teaches us that to build paradise islands, you have to break a few homes. And hearts. It is volcanoes that create land in the first place. It is the forces of nature that make all human habitation possible. Nature makes the molecules and raw materials that we breathe, eat, drink, live in, and mistakenly believe that we possess.

We learned that in worrying about ocean rise, and more frequent hurricanes, we forgot a massive volcano loomed behind us. We learned, that in the big scheme of things, we know very little about what will happen next on Nature’s agenda.

We learned that we had we released tons of carbon by way of transporting walls, roofing, steel from distant realms, tools and goods from around the globe to erect what we saw as a masterpiece, but that the blind volcano saw as just firewood, and melted metal.

We learned good intentions aren’t always enough. But, at the same time, many neighbors, also uninsured, lost homes. We learned that insurance, if you have it, is nowhere near as wonderful as neighborly ‘stepping up.’ In just months, tiny homes, food banks and more met many, many needs. 

We also learned that from Washington DC, we would not even get a much as a roll of paper towels tossed at us; but community love IS better, anyway.

Pele, the volcano goddess personified, dwells here. Pele creates life when she creates these islands. On a human scale, it will be generations before another neighborhood grows here. But, then, we are not the only kids on the block. Wild species, seedlings, flowers, and even sea life will return here before human beings do. And maybe that’s how it should be.

We learned humility, patience, resilience and courage. We learned that humans, even humans powerful enough to cause Climate Change, have no sway, or say, when a capricious volcano decides to undo all the seemingly, massive efforts we make.

We learned to cope with a new kind of loss, that many, many others around the world are experiencing as new droughts and famines, floods and fires, refugees and conflicts are born daily — from not just our human-caused climate change, but from nature’s non-biased, creative hand. It is silly to say our toxins and marauding numbers have no effect, but at the same time, we are not the only players. Still, each of us must do what we can.

Change is permanent, 

We learned it’s possible to not only survive, but to cherish the very act of creativity itself. We are born of the creation, but we too, can create our own lives.

We learned that change is the one thing you must always count upon. As the old saying goes, “This too, shall pass.” 

Whether it is good times, and security, or crisis and relocation. Change comes. Sometimes we create from consciousness emerged from human minds, but those minds emerged from molten lava and billowing steam. Tectonic forces create Earth, but we create what we make of that Earth.

Christyl Rivers is a farmer, writer, cat wrangler and Ecopsychologist in Hawaii.
Christyl Rivers is a farmer, writer, cat wrangler and Ecopsychologist in Hawaii.
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