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Posts tagged: geology

Flying Deep Into Kaua’i

   The helicopter lifted carrying six strangers, all of us tourists from across the United States. Our pilot, Gary, turned immediately toward the center of the island and within minutes, the bright Kaua’i coastline was lost in the dense vegetation.

    I’d already skirted the coast by road and onboard a catamaran, but with as much as 80 percent of Kaua’i accessible only by air, I needed this flight to truly see it all.

    The oldest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i is in some ways still the most natural. The sprawling sugar cane fields are gone, replaced by a nascent coffee industry, and there are still long stretches of coastline that are undeveloped, lush and private.

    This is the Hawaii of my imagination, the landscape I’d hoped to see.

    We flew over the razor-sharp edges of volcanic ridges and through clouds that misted the windshield before we broke through to clear blue skies once again.

    The pilot banked smoothly to the right and we descended to the foot of the the sheer drop of the waterfall featured in the movie Jurassic Park. The only way to access the waterfall is by helicopter and when the blades stopped turning we walked the short trail to take photos splashed with water drops thrown from the falls.

    Back in the air we flew into valleys, crossed the breathtaking chasm of the red rock Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and then chased the breathtaking Na Pali Coast, banking in and out of hidden valleys between the vertical peaks. After a while I noticed we’d all put down our cameras and surrendered to the experience, overwhelmed by the views from every angle.

    The radio crackled in my ear and the pilot announced we were going to be the fortunate ones. Then he turned in the direction of the Wai’ale’ale Crater, the heart and center of Kaua’i. The clouds had moved on and we descended into the broken mouth of the crater.

   Where before we’d looked down on mountaintops and waves with a god’s-eye view, now we circled and banked like a mechanical bird riding a current of air, surrounded by the evidence of the violence of the island’s birth.  Waterfalls plunged over the vertical walls, ribbons of pure water undulating in the breeze, and plants and trees clung to every surface. I’d been warned about the effect of the crater and had shrugged off the idea of being moved to tears by such a thing. But within its walls, like so many before, I felt the power. Who were we to drop in uninvited to such a sacred space?

    Slowly we circled, taking it all in. Each of us still and silent, the music in our headsets providing a soundtrack that only emphasized the grandeur. I put down my camera again, wanting nothing between me and the beauty of the monument to the raw force of nature.

    When we flew up and out, cresting the edge, I leaned out looking over my shoulder, straining for one more look, half expecting the crater to lower a veil of clouds and in that way disappear from view, suggesting that the mystical place I’d just experienced had never really been there at all.    


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance journalist based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country.

CAM is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at



The Weight of Affection

   I knew even before I opened my eyes, something wasn’t right.
Lying on my back in the dark room, I could feel a heaviness on the center of my chest, a pressure that made taking each breath an effort. My mind raced, inventorying the signs of a heart attack. Shortness of breath? Yes. Pressure? Yes. Pain? Oddly, no.

   Fully awake by this time I realized the “elephant” occupying my chest was nothing more than a snoring two-year-old in footie pajamas, her precious blankie tucked under her arm, one thumb in her mouth, the thumb and forefinger of the other hand twisted—as was her habit—around one of her curls. She’d come into our room at some point and since her older brother and sister had—one by one—already made the trip and had staked out their places in the crowded bed, simply climbed up on top of me, popped her thumb in her mouth and drifted off again.

   I shifted, rolling her gently onto the bed beside me.

   Most mornings when the children were small, I woke up to find everyone who mattered most to me curled, warm and safe, around me. Our bed was an island—not always a comfortable island, with two adults, three children and the occasional cat—but in those moments, it was a sanctuary. 

   Now, the toddler who climbed me and stretched out like I was the top bunk at summer camp, is 22. Today is her birthday and there is a box of cupcakes waiting to welcome her home. 

   Now, she’s about to graduate from college and fling herself into the real world with all the enthusiasm, humor and jolly determination that have marked everything she’s done since the day she was born. She talked early. She walked early. She read early, asking me at five years old, her head cocked as she scanned a book on the shelves in the living room, “What is El-e-men-tal Ge-ol-o-gy?” Her only mispronunciation was a hard “ghee instead of “G”. It was at that moment I realized she hadn’t memorized all the children’s books in her room, as we’d thought. She’d been reading them since she was four.

   This middle daughter is an adult now, soon to have a degree in, of all things, geology. These days, nobody but the cat pads into our room in the wee hours.  But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still on my mind.

   Even now there are nights when I wake and lie quietly in the dark, thinking about her, about the baby she was and the woman she’s grown to be. About the balance of time and how easily it shifts from now to then. And in those moments I feel, again, the warm, familiar weight of love pressing down on my heart.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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