Day 1: We took a few pond-hopper planes from our bright sunny home of Waimea on the Hawai`i Island to the much rainier town of Waimea on Kaua`i. We rented vans when we landed and took the twisting, turning, carsick-inducing road up Waimea Canyon to the former CCC camp–called Koke’e camp–up in the mountains. The phone signal was lacking, the bunks were 12 to a room and the moa ranged aplenty. Between lectures, Ping-Pong matches and cold showers we considered slingshotting a few moa for dinner. The plans were quickly dashed when we heard the local saying; “if you boil a Kaua‘i chicken and lava rock for and hour, the lava rock will turn out easier to chew”.

Day 2: We made our way back down the winding road to Kaoneloa beach where Steve’s lecture was rudely interrupted by one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. There we were – trying to learn about sand dune deposits, strike and dip and indicators of paleowind direction – when not one but two Hawaiian monk seals, aka ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua, had the gall to surf up and lay on the beach just a few hundred feet from us. These two monk seals, two of the total of 38 that live on Kaua‘i, then lay there within picture range for the next half hour. We did eventually get around to measuring the strike and dip of the fossilized sand dunes before half of our `ohana left to gather some more days’ worth of provisions that they had previously neglected to buy (Oops).

Day 3: We moved through the forest near Koke’e in an orchestrated massacre of the highly invasive Kahili ginger. Final death count: 17050. Also managed to spot Steve Perlman, which is just about on par with seeing a Hawaiian monk seal. Steve is practically the god of endangered plant species. He’s the guy who rappels down cliffs with a paintbrush coated in pollen to keep the incredibly rare species of flowers that grow there off the extinction list.
Day 4: Incredible hike along Waimea Canyon accompanied by a Steve lecture: the canyons on Kaua‘i were formed by rivers, but Waimea canyon was also helped along by a fault. Here we also collected soil from three different layers and tested them for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. After that we returned to the forest where we eradicated the Kahili ginger and measured trees in a forest plot. This was particularly troublesome because lots of the plants in the area look the same or similar. I saw Eric and Christina running around with Kumu Alex and an armful of plant and tree books trying to establish some common identification for plants so that we at least remained consistent between plots. I learned two things, if you’re going to mess up at least be consistent and if you don’t know what a plant is its probably a Pilo. To wrap up the night we got assigned our Hawaiian spirit animals by the particularly sassy Eleanor, Kumu Alex’s daughter. I am personally still a bit prickly about my spirit animal being the porcupine fish while Ellie’s is, by no coincidence I’m sure, the spinner dolphin.
Day 5: We started out on a high note and by that I mean the whistle a tire makes when it rapidly loses air. No worries though, between the combined brains and brawn of Eric, Nate and Nick we managed to get Kumu Alex on the line and she and Steve came and fixed it. General crisis averted, we made our way to Makauwahi cave reserve where we met Billy, our guide, and the tortoises. Each baby tortoise had its own distinct shell pattern but had to be coaxed out of its shell with a wriggling finger before it would show its tiny face. We then got to sift through sediment from the cave which preserved bunches of fossils from many now extinct species. We found a myriad of fish bits, shells both whole and fragmented, sea urchins’ mouths and spines but the highlight was definitely a talon belonging to a now extinct native Hawaiian long-legged owl. Sad to think that this owl might have been alive until a couple centuries ago.

Day 6: We woke up to the sight of a second popped tire, presumably punctured the day before by Nate and left to slowly deflate overnight. This time around we were much more competent about changing it and were able to continue on our way to the Iliau forest in short order. The Iliau is a member of silversword alliance but we all think it’s the Dr. Seuss plant. We spent the rest of our break day on Polihale beach where some of us splashed around in Queen Emma’s bathtub, a protected area of an otherwise rough beach expanse that offers a magnificent view of Kaua‘i’s northeastern cliffs.

Day 7: We walked the Pihea trail and the Alaka’i swamp trail to eventually make our way to the Alaka’i swamp. From the trail we were able to enjoy the spectacular view of the Na Pali coast, with its steep cliffs and red soil. Here we saw plants that we had never seen before, some of which are extremely rare. Kumu Alex showed us two types of flowers that co-evolved with a bird: the flowers both had a “bonker” (stigma) that would bop the bird on its head and transfer pollen, so that the bird could pollinate the next flower. Growing in the mud we also saw numerous Mikinalo, a little carnivorous plant that lives in the area. The swamp itself is one of the wettest places on earth, with up to 500 inches of rain a year; fortunately we encountered surprisingly good weather. On our way back we did a communal small forest plot and at the end of the day we got into a (contained) mud fight because if you didn’t get dirty you didn’t have fun!

And then on to Maui!


From Summit to Sea in Week 3


We woke up early and drove about an hour to Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a drylands forest – knowing the physical labor that lay ahead – and we weren’t disappointed. Upon arrival, we were introduced to the conservation staff and received a short briefing about what we were going to be doing that day and why it’s important. We then proceeded for another 45 minutes up the Pu’u on a rocky road covered in `a`a.  Once on top we had to climb over the barbed wire that protected the reserve, another test of our resolve. Once the literal uphill battle of our typical Mondays began to wear off, and the coffee started kicking in, I was able to truly appreciate the beauty we were privileged to witness and preserve. Following this moment although, the physical aspect of the day only intensified, climaxing at lunch with my pedometer on my phone reading a rough approximation of climbing 95 flights of stairs. I only seemed to enjoy my work more as the day wore on, with the best part of being planting the Koa trees with my Hui (group).  Hui’O planted 30 trees, with the whole group planting 130. The day ended with a warm meal and a great sense of accomplishment.

Another day, another environment, something of a reoccurring theme here on the main island. Today we headed out to another forest reservation in Waikaloa. Here we planted a number a number of species of trees in the endangered dry forest ecosystems of Hawaii. The day went similarly to the previous one, except it was hot. Very hot. Coming from a student who has grown up in Saudi Arabia I can hopefully add a little bit of perspective. Another difficulty we faced was finding spots to plant the trees, because it turns out `a`a doesn’t make planting trees as straightforward as it might sound. Following with the minor theme of reoccurrence at the end of the day I can tell most everyone was thoroughly satisfied with the work we accomplished, which was planting about 72 trees – several of them endangered species.

Today we switched it up, although we were headed back to Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a again, but this time we’re doing geology! By far my favorite thing in the world, sound weird? Check out the awesome xenoliths of olivine we stopped by on our way to the Pu’u. After geeking out for a good fifteen minutes we decided it was time to continue to Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a, where after hiking after about forty minutes we came to the location of our lesson for the day; an ash deposit from the eruption of the Pu’u where we found pumice and obsidian, surprisingly the only place on the island where it can be found. After a lengthy discussion of geologic processes, we concluded the days lesson and proceeded to the beach where we were able to briefly relax after the previous two laborious days.

Thursday was the most eventful of the week by far; we drove out to a snorkeling destination near Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park. We were allowed a lot of flexibility in the day as we were tasked with exploring the reef and identifying fish species and possibly some mammals. Luckily I saw both, as halfway through the day the famed Hawaiian spinner dolphins showed up in a group of approximately twenty-five, much to the delight of us students and the many tourists at the bay. It was absolutely magical watching the dolphins swim together diving and rising in complete synchronization. The water was the clearest I have ever swam in. Among the creatures we saw was a sea turtle who decided to join us in one of the many tide pools for our time on the bay. It is safe to say I was disappointed that I forgot my GoPro; I guess we’ll have to make due with the pictures I got with my phone =/.

Friday we went to the Pu’u O’o trail, a trail that intersects multiple lava flows of a wide variety of ages ranging from 10,000 years to as young as 750 years old. The task today was to continue our colonization project; so we split up into our groups and each was assigned a specific lava flow that has various levels of vegetation and we began our systematic routine. Once in the forest, I truly began appreciating the method of approach to learning. Not only did we get to physically see and experience what we learned but to be in a dynamic and living environment as opposed to a classroom really hit the nail on the head and truly gave me another reason to love my major.
– Mazen AlAngari

If you’re reading this, ‘Ohana 2k15 survived another week!

Monday, 1/19/2015 Hilo, ‘Ohana, & HVNP
Monday came a little earlier than most as we had to leave in time to meet Auntie Noe Noe and her daughter, Lehua, our co-instructors for the Contested Terrain class, in Hilo. We were introduced in the backdrop of the beautiful views and heavenly shade of Moku Ola, or Coconut Island. Here we learned the goals of this semester-long class; in addition to teaching us the culture, history, and politics that preside over Hawai’i, Auntie Noe Noe wants to ground our other scientific-focused studies into a deeper appreciation of the ‘aina, or land. This can be accomplished with a heightened awareness of the connection between self and place (an important relationship in Hawaiian culture). How better to do this than with introductions of ourselves and brief family histories?
Families and selves introduced, Auntie Noe Noe explained the reason behind the choice of location and her urging to say family members’ (passed and present) names aloud. Moku Ola, though now a favorite family picnic and fishing spot, remains a sacred site. Hawaiian mothers buried their children’s’ umbilical cords here as a means of binding them to the land forever regardless of where their lives took them. Saying relatives’ names aloud is a similar means of doing so. I, among others in my ‘ohana, found this simple ceremony a comforting way to begin our second week 2,500+ miles away from our homes, families, and beloved pets.
With the afternoon came an invitation to Lehua’s house on the flank of Mauna Loa, tasty bean soup and fresh-picked citrus included. The rest of our semester together was laid out and we were on our way to Namakani Paio Campground within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, our home-sweet-pineapple for the next four nights. After an expertly tasty meal made by Hui ‘A (…my hui), Kumu and Steve lead us on a night hike towards a location marked above by an ominous red cloud—the summit of Kilauea.

Tuesday 1/20/2015 ‘Ohana 2k15 Realizes They Need Less Pre-Packaged Lunch Meat, More Zzzz’s
I wasn’t sure if anything could top the first night at HVNP but was proved wrong as we saw Kilauea’s 2 mile wide x 3 mile long caldera without the mask of night. After learning about steam vents, we hiked Kilauea Iki (“small”) Trail and identified many of the plants currently colonizing the now solidified crust of the 1959 lava lake (thanks for all the sig.’s PA’s). We lunched among birdly chatter and the invasive and all-around ugly (we’re biased) kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) at the wall of the crater. Later we marched around a field near Puhimau Crater taking soil temperature readings a.k.a. gathering evidence for prosecution in the mysterious slayings of larger vegetation as we moved westward across the field. We ended the day with a talk on the relations shared by earthquakes and volcanism by Dr. Paul Okubo, a geophysicist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, hosted in an extremely dark, extremely warm auditorium in the HVNP’s Visitor Center. ‘Ohana members were all tucked snug into their sleeping bags upon arrival to the camp site.

Wednesday 1/21/2015 Presentations on Presentations
A cool feature about this program is that we actually go to the places we learn about. Wednesday, Kumu passed the Expo marker to us as each of the four hui presented on a different topic corresponding to four of the day’s destinations.
First, we stopped by the Sulfur Banks to check out the cool minerals deposited by the active earth’s exhalations a.k.a ha’akulamanu, or Pele’s waste, while trying not to end up like the guy on the placard (see picture). Using advanced tools (hefty lawn bags) we collected a steam sample for pH testing.
Next, Hui I (Alli, Caroline, Sophie, Sir Bennett) took us to the edge of an old road (partially collapsed by failure at the edge of the caldera…we live dangerously) to present on earthquakes and volcanology. Moral of the story: mo’ magma, mo’ quakes.
The gang learned about the history and ecology of the Devastation Trail from Hui U (Abby, Krysden, Sierra, Eric). Moral of the story: separate land areas are not equal under the law of the ‘aina.
After lunch it was go-time for Hui ‘A (Mary, Phoebe, Activity Alex, & me) as we presented on Lo’ihi, the Hawaiian Island Arc’s youngest and hippest shield volcano. Moral of the story: no new resorts will be built on Lo’ihi anytime soon.
Hui O (Emma, Christina, Lopez, Mazen) shared various stories of Pele, the goddess of fire, as we sat atop a paved road decommissioned by a lava flow. Moral of the story: If you can’t handle the burn, get off Hawai’i.
Dinner was eaten at Punalu’u beach, among black sand, ukuleles, and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles)!

Thursday 1/22/2015 Ecology (Swerv)ey: Part 1
Kumu led us on a hike to the (stunted) summit of Pu’u Huluhulu, a kipuka, or older substrate island, which survived at 1974 flow from nearby Mauna Ulu. We found a gorgeous panoramic view of a variety of volcanic features atop, including Kilauea’s sulfur dioxide plume, as well as a climate different from that of the lava flow a couple 100 feet lower in elevation. Next, we learned the basics of surveying foliage in the forest on the slopes of the pu’u, or hill, using basic tools before Kumu and Steve set us off to survey 10 more 5m x 5m grids, five in the Mauna Ulu flow and the remaining five in the nearby rift zone. This long field day ended with dinner and ‘ohana hang around the campfire.
Friday 1/23/2015 Hey! Ho! HVO!
After packing up our Hooverville at the campgrounds, we drove to the Hawai’I Volcano Observatory (HVO) for a behind the scenes look with Matt Patrick, a Cornell alum and USGS geologist. Here we got an efficient history of the HVO and Kilauea volcanism. Highlights included crazy videos of explosive summit and collapse events as well as a trip up to the watch tower, from where you can basically see all that is great in Hawai’i Island.
After goodbyes were exchanged with HVNP, we drove by the southernmost point of the U.S. (and hiked an hour) to get to Green Sand Beach—where erosion and olivine (and breaching whales) combine to make this one spectacular place to spend a Friday afternoon.
Love Van (commandeered by Steve) arrived to Annie’s, our dinner destination in Kona, with enough time to back perfectly into a parking spot before the second place van could be spotted on the horizon. Here we replaced the 3,000 calories that we did not burn that day, further supplemented by gelato. Queue the mad dash to the showers and washing machines upon arrival at Club Wai’aka, and there you have five days in the life of ‘Ohana 2015.
Weekend Forecast: Unpacking, a little bit of work on the side, laundry, beach for some, and our very FIRST bi-weekly field day, where the hui will combine to revitalize Wai’aka House into pre-contact condition. Pirate and/or ninja costume required at the door. Stay tuned, San Diego.


Class is now in session…


We are all eager to start our first day of class in Hawai’i. But first, we headed over to the neighboring high school cafeteria for breakfast where they serve rice at all meals (hooray!). Well fed, we made it to Kipuka Pu’u Huluhulu, a 500-year old spatter cone where an older oasis lies within a newer lava flow. Seated in a vast expanse of pahoihoi, or ropey lava, we scribbled into our field notebooks about Hawai’i’s matrix of environmental parameters and its changing landscape.


Next stop: Kaumana caves. These caves are the remaining outer shell of old lava flows where interior magma stopped flowing. Like walking through the belly of a huge beast, we made our way through the hollow casing until we reached a skylight. Photo op!


Around 6 pm, we finished our day on Mauna Kea, the highest volcano in Hawai’i. Way above the tropical temperature inversion we met crisp air clear skies and watched the sun set. Coming from New York City, I’ve never seen such an unobstructed view of the ‘aina followed by stars so clear. What an amazing experience and introduction to our semester.



On the dry side of the island, this forest finds a way to live. We introduced ourselves to the land with our best singing voices, allowing our humming to permeate through the forest before learning the names of the forest’s trees. Uncle and Auntie taught us about our relationship to ‘aina, reminding us that the trees never forget a touch, taste, or sound, and pushed us to re-evaluate the way in which we set our reference points when looking at the world around us.

Then we moved to the ocean where we saw remnants of old homes and stone walls where people once collected salt. Science, history, and culture met to make for a wholesome day. We finished with reflections and sang along to Uncle’s ukulele.

Wednesday- Rock, rock, reef

We started off in Mauna Lani looking at petroglyphs shaded by spikey Kiawe trees. With stiff thorns as long as my pinky finger, it was important to wear good shoes… Kumu Alex gave us an overview of Hawaiian history and Kumu Steve taught us about mineral formation. Although chemistry is not one of my strong points, I appreciated visualizing bonds with gummy frogs and strawberry marshmallows.


My favorite part of the day was moving makai, to the ocean, where we got our first chance to snorkel along a reef. Teaming with fish and invertebrates, we swam by the shore with our snorkel fins driving us carefully forward. A careless kick in the wrong direction could result in the damage of delicate coral polyps or send us towards a red slate pencil urchin. Ouch! Shout out to Kumu Steve for letting me use his equipment.


With the sun beating down hard on our backs we trekked along a beautiful path by the ocean and learned how to map using a GPS and Brunton compass. Using our tools, basic trigonometry, and our big brains, we took measurements of differences in elevation between points along the path. With this data we complete our first assignment of drawing out a topographic map of said path, complete with contour lines every five feet and any major landmarks we encountered.


Today we hiked through a rainforest along the green side of the island, which was much different from the dryland forest we visited on Tuesday. Lush colors and smells brushed up against us as we pushed our way deeper into the forest until we made it to the final site. Words really can’t describe how I felt looking up at this waterfall. It was so profoundly beautiful I wanted to fall over. We swam out to where the waterfall met the underlying pool and sat there side by side. On our way back, we took water samples at a number of locations to bring back to Waiaka Labs to test pH and check silica levels. To get back to the cars, we had to walk up a painfully steep hill. Kudos to those who ran up it, I don’t know how you made it back alive.

Saturday and Sunday:

On Saturday we helped restore an area in North Kohala that was hit by a storm. Strong storm waters filled up the 2ft by 2ft irrigation channel that brings water to the taro patches, so we grabbed our shovels and got to work. All relationships require give and take, and we saw that this storm brought this family some good, too. For a while, they had been waiting for rocks of a particular size to enclose their garden, and the storm swept these perfectly sized rocks down the stream to them. Forming a human chain, we passed these heavy presents down a line and set them by the garden. We were thanked with food, music, dance, and love, and made our way back home after a big lunch.

For me at least, Sunday was a day of pure relaxation. After coffee at the café down the road, I lazed around and didn’t do much more than my laundry. After only one week of living here, I feel unexplainably close to this group of people and am so looking forward to the next 4 months of my life with my Hawaiian `ohana.

– Phoebe

Some Favorite Photos