The transition from lush jungle forest to harsh martian steppe happened suddenly, as if the earth's architect had rendered Hawaii's terrain with a chisel, and not a paintbrush. What was once soft green ground gave way to sharp and brittle black rock—a bed of cooled lava that was still warm underneath the surface.
It took a minute for me to find context: I was older than the seaborne cliffs I stood on.
Later, and more inland, I joined the rest of the tour groups gawking and snapping away at the Kilauea Caldera, one of five shield volcanos responsible for the formation of Hawaii's Big Island. We were all transfixed and quiet, waiting for another quiet explosion that would cast a violent orange glow across the jagged rim and a send plume of smoke skyward. It was dusk, and the volcano's activity was especially noticeable against darkened skies.
The cooling weather forced the elderly tourists out first, followed by the families with small children, and then families altogether. As the activity at the edge trickled away, the volcano pilgrims emerged: a young couple in love, defying the gates of hell with a photograph of themselves smiling in front of it. New-age sojourners revering each eruption as a holy moment. Me, unprepared and less than thorough, but thankful for the occasion, and grateful for the reminder that the earth isn't done forming, and neither am I.