"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reflections from the Big Island

We all know the successful writer must appeal to the senses, using words as weapons, luring readers into imaginary worlds they cannot easily leave. It happens ever so often that the writer himself is drawn into some strange and exotic landscape that bombards him with sounds, smells, textures, tastes and colors never before experienced. Such a thing just happened to me. Hawaii, the Big Island.

What started out as a simple visit to my daughter’s new home opened doors in my mind I thought nonexistent. I can’t get the Island out of my thoughts.

Hawaii is the spawn of five volcanoes that rose from the sea floor millions of years ago and merged into a land with incredible diversity of climates and ecosystems. The volcanoes are still grumbling. During our travels around the island, we sniffed acrid sulfur dioxide pouring from giant, steaming calderas. At five one morning, on a rugged moonscape only a few days old, our shoes heated up as we walked atop thin, hot shells of fissured rock, separated from glowing, molten lava by mere inches. Constant popping from the shifting surface raised the specter of plunging feet first into the eerie orange light visible in the cracks, turning one into an instant French fry. It has happened we were told.

Hawaii is surrounded by an ocean of many colors. While snorkeling in the turquoise shallows, I was swarmed by a million small fish in breathtaking displays of color. Giant sea turtles swam by and sunned on the beaches. Further offshore, the shallows give way in stages of color gradation to the deep blue where we saw pods of whales breaching and energetic Spinning Dolphins performing amazing acrobatics.

Emily and Johnny live in a rain forest near Hilo. In our tiny guest cabin we slept like dead rocks every night, lulled to sleep by the voices of a thousand Coqui Frogs and awakened by the mournful calls of Rock Doves welcoming the sunrise. Somewhere in between we became vaguely aware of the soothing drum of tropical rain on the tin roof.

Once in a while we were awakened by the grunting of wild pigs foraging for fruit and macadamia nuts in the jungle outside.

The nights were incredibly dark. The night sky display of stars was like nothing I’d seen before, the milky way laid out like a giant swatch of cream across the heavens. One night we sat on a remote beach, the pounding surf lit only by starlight. I could picture ancient Polynesian navigators using these same stars to find this paradise.

Emily promised we would not believe their tropical fruits. Have you ever heard of rambutan, lilikoi, longon? Neither had I. Their appearance ranged from smooth, yellow shells, to red, sea urchin-looking spiky surfaces. All tasted exotic, forbidden, unforgettable.

There is so much more I could tell, but suffice to say, for a writer, The Big Island is an inspiration. I came away awestruck, yet rejuvenated. I could imagine myself roughing it in the tiny blue cabin, cranking out one novel after another, living off nature’s bounty. But alas, reality struck. It was time to leave, to return to the Idaho winter, where my snow shovel awaited. In mere hours, the jet age transitioned us from a comforting 75 degrees to fifteen below. It was a truly gruesome transition, but someday, I will return to that far away paradise. In the meantime, my creative juices are flowing like Kilauea’s lava. It was a great trip.

--Richard Rice

Richard grew up in Southern California and received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. In an exciting three-decade technical career, he was involved in NASA’s space program and in nuclear energy and novel energy production research for the Energy Department. He traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, presenting the results of his work and collaborating with other research institutions. Richard began writing as a teenager, covering high school sports for the local newspaper. He continued writing throughout his career, producing a number of technical papers, articles and reports. He recently decided to end his engineering career and write full time. Since then, he has produced two novels and has started his third. He has also written several short stories, two of which were accepted by the Idaho Magazine. Richard lives with his family on the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.


  1. I know the feeling. We spent a week on the beach in California and sure hated to come back to the snow!

    --Linda S.

  2. I loved Hawaii when I was there. I enjoyed reading about your observations and experences. Good job.


  3. I was on the big island as well. It was great to revisit the flora and fona with you. I also came up with a book idea while there. Thanks for the reminder.