Locus Focus: Take Forty-One!
New to Locus Focus?
Read This First!
Sometimes, I have nothing to say before the main part of my post except, "Insert clever introduction here." But this is not one of those times because I can at least make an announcement. =P
Please take note of next month's special Saturdays:
5 March 2011: "Battlegrounds" Challenge Day, for any setting that has something to do with war
26 March 2011: Middle-earth Day, meant to celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien
I hope to see you then! =)
by Elizabeth Lowell
"How much farther is the kipuka?" he asked briskly . . .
"Twenty minutes, maybe a bit more."
Chase looked dubiously over the rumpled, furrowed landscape. There was nothing in all directions but lava, lava, and more lava.
"It's there," she said, pointing across the black, stony land. "See? It looks like a tiny smudge of green on the far side of that aa flow."
"Green smudge," he muttered, shading his eyes and looking.
"Yes. The green is the tops of the tallest ohia trees."
Let me begin by trying to explain the kipuka--which feels like trying to explain a freak of nature . . . or as some people (including Elizabeth Lowell herself) would say, a miracle. A kipuka is an acre or so of forest that somehow survives a volcanic eruption, while for miles and miles around it, the rest of the landscape is absolutely devastated by the deluge of molten lava.
On the uphill side of the kipuka, some irregularity in the old slope had divided the lava flow into two streams. Between the streams of molten stone, plants shriveled, steamed . . . and survived. When the lava flow combined again farther down the slope, it walled off the kipuka from the rest of the devastated land. Except for the kipuka's few green acres, life in all directions had been engulfed in burning stone.
Silently Nicole looked at the miracle of the kipuka's life in the midst of a barren, newly born land . . .
Every growing space from ground level to treetop was filled by some kind of plant. The explosion of life was all the more startling for the sterile lava surrounding it.
And this is important to know because a person can be like a kipuka--a survivor of past devastation and amazing proof of what Lowell has her heroine call "the grace and stubbornness of life." The latter should know, being a survivor of a more human kind of devastation in her past.
What I love about this book--what makes it glow whenever I reread favourite passages--is the incredible awareness its author has of her chosen setting. In a genre full of "wallpaper" settings, Lowell's Hawaii is a fresco worthy of a Renaissance cathedral. The landscape of Hawaii, its flora and fauna and most of all its volcanoes, are as essential to the story as the two leads.
Not once does this setting seem like a mere backdrop to the main action, although there are several instances in which the plot appears to be an extension of Hawaii's own history, which both the author and the characters know really begins when volcanic gases had just started to cool and form the earth's oceans. In this love story, the whole of Hawaii is a kind of kipuka of the Fall: the only part of the world that is still Eden.
Image Sources: a) Eden Burning by Elizabeth Lowell, b) Kipuka 1, c) Kipuka 2