Life on an active volcano is rarely boring. We have lived here, on the slopes of Kilauea, long enough to experience at least 5 distinct volcanic events and each has brought us closer to this amazing place on the planet that we get to call home.
We are outsiders, transplants from the foothills of the San Gabriels in California, who were drawn to the islands for too many reasons to list here, but were especially transformed by how the rich culture and wild nature are so intricately weaved together here. In Hilo it is impossible to separate life from the volcano, we are a confluence of both.
December 20th, just a few days ago, Pele returned home. Many of us felt the earthquake that preceded her arrival, and as my girlfriend pointed out, there was something distinctly different about this quake. The gentle rolling quickly gave way to a stronger force that grabbed you and shook, literally forcing you to recognize that something bigger was happening just beneath you. In an brilliant display of liquid earthworks, fresh lava gushed from the walls of the crater into the small lake which had occupied the caldera since Pele’s departure 2 years earlier. Within minutes, the magma’s reentry had completely boiled off the entirety of the fresh water and a fresh lava pool was left in its place.
This event wasn’t just a mind blowing natural event that were lucky enough to witness firsthand, it was a movement woven into each of our lives and we knew it- we felt it happen. These emerald and ebony slopes rising against the vastness of the Cruelian Blue salt water expanse, will give any visitor a sense of awe, but living here doesn't allow room for separation from it. Our lives and this rock are entwined0- like a dance- like the hula.
A lot like the hula actually.
If I, a transplant from shores 2,500 miles away, could feel the undeniable dance between the volcano and my small human life, it is no wonder that this dance and these rituals are such an important aspect of Hawaiian Culture. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a transplant, a respectful outsider, but an outsider none the less, so I do not see it as my place to sit here and share Hawaiian Traditional practices like the Hula and postulate on their deep cultural significance. This has already been done and done well. Moreover, this IS BEING DONE- actively, right now, and being done best by the Kumus today who carry on these traditions and teach and share their way. But I will say that I for one can’t think of a more beautiful physical storytelling of our interconnectedness than the Hulu dance.
Going to be a witness to Pele’s return and feel her presence brought my thoughts back to all the ways in which she has formed this Island which we thrive on. How, without the volcano, these microclimates, plant communities and animals that are unique to Hawaii would not have been possible. It’s humbling to pause and give perspective to it all.
I am drawn plants- always to the plants. I have always been a plant guy from my youngest days. I tend to notice it all and am constantly wowed by it all- from the tiny sporophytes dominating microcosms that most of us never take the time to bend down and appreciate, to the tall and majestic trees dotting the slopes of mountain landscape. Hawaii has a plethora of flora uniquely it’s own and one of my favorites is the Mamaki Tree (yes tree).
Mamaki is one of these plants that wouldn’t be what it is without the volcano. Thriving in conditions that often times contain more sulphur dioxide then most plants can tolerate, Mamaki thrives in this environment. Technically speaking, it is a Nettle but over thousands of years, it has lost its needles due to the lack of ground predators. In the wild, I have climbed in Mamaki trees 25 feet tall, who create this wonderful understory environment housing and feeds birds of all types as well as the King Kamehameha Butterflies and their larvae. Mauna Loa Road on the Big Island is a wonderful drive you can take and see some of these Mamaki Trees I’m talking about.
Traditionally, Mamaki was used for many different purposes including in the making of tapa cloth, branches and trunks used for club handles, small edible fruits were fed to children due to their gentleness and mild flavor, and leaves were used both in cooking and most importantly (in my opinion) as an herbal tea.
Mamaki as a tea is naturally caffeine free. It is loaded full of the same antioxidants that are found in green and black teas, and it is often claimed to give the drinker a flush of energy. Mamaki trees grow at different elevations on Hawaii, I’ve found some naturally occurring communities at very low elevations in the Puna District, nearly sea level, but Mamaki does seem to particularly thrive well at 2000ft elevation and above.
I have made countless Mamaki Tea blends over the years in my kitchen, and I always am in awe of how such a humble plant lends itself so nicely to so many different herbal tea infusions. The flavor is distinct yet mild and I find it creates a strong and stable base note upon which other herbs can dance and entice the palette. Full of a rich and earthy sweetness, Mamaki tea has become a staple in so many people’s kitchen.
Reflections and Tea
We’re experiencing such an interesting time in history right now. So many things in our world are in flux at this moment, but it’s my belief that the timing of Pele’s return to her historic home is not by accident. We have so much to learn from all our connections to the land and the forces that shape it, connections to culture and the stories they weave from our past right up to our present moment, and connections to the plants and animals that we share this rich space with.
I won’t say that we are at the beginning of some new recognition of our interconnectedness, because Kumu and teachers have been trying to teach us these things for a long time, but in our fast paced, modern world it’s often difficult to slow down enough to recognize it in front of you. I do believe though, that we are at a resurgence of this realization in our collective consciousness. No matter our path, there is no escaping how all these natural processes weave us tightly together. We are just a piece of the cloth not the whole thing, and taking time for a cup of tea can help us to reflect on these realizations.
With Love from Hawaii,
Oribe Tea Co.