“Happy Birthday, Amber!”
called Aunt Noelani, from the bedroom door.
Sleepily, Amber sat up in bed and looked at the clock. “It’s 5:00 in the morning!”
“I know, but I have something special planned for you today.”
Instantly alert, Amber asked, “A Sweet Sixteen party? Like on MTV?”
“Something even better. We’re going to surf this morning, snowboard this afternoon, and watch the Leonid Meteor Shower tonight.”
“How can we do all that in one day?” puzzled Amber.
“We live on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of the few places in the world where it’s possible. Hurry, your friends are already waiting at Papakolea Beach.”
Amber jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and grabbed her beach bag. She climbed into Aunt Noelani’s jeep for the ride to the beach. Finally, Noelani parked on top of a caldera. Amber peeked over the edge. “The sand is green, Auntie! My favorite color!”
“That’s right,” answered Noelani. :”This is one of two places in the world where you can find green sand. The other place is in Guam.”
They climbed down the caldera to where Amber’s best friends, Minnie and Micah, were waiting with a sheet cake that held 16 candles. “Happy Birthday, Amber!” they chorused. Noelani lit them, and after making a silent wish, Amber blew it out. But the candles relit! No matter how many times Amber blew, the flames kept coming back. Everyone laughed, and Micah finally put out the flames by squeezing them between his fingers. “Ouch!” exclaimed Noelani. “I don’t think that was a good thing to do.”
“I do that all the time,” said Micah. “Well, Amber, it looks like your wish won’t come true.”
“We’ll see,” said Amber. They had huge pieces of cake, and when it was gone, she said, “Let’s surf!”
“Be careful,” warned Noelani. “The current here is very strong.” All of them were excellent surfers, though, so they had no trouble. After a couple hours, Noelani said, “Now, let’s go snowboarding on the tallest mountain in the world.”
“We’re going to fly to Mt. Everest?” asked Minnie.
Noelani laughed. “I knew you’d ask that! Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world, but Mauna Kea is the tallest, because its base is 18,000 feet below sea level, making it more than 32, 000 feet tall.”
They left the beach, and headed for Mauna Kea. After an hour of riding under the scorching sun, Minnie asked, “Are you sure we’re going snowboarding? It’s too hot for snow.”
“Wait and see,” answered Noelani.
Half an hour later, they could see snow on top of Mauna Kea. “There it is,” said Noelani, and everyone oohed and aahed over it. Though they were still hot, they were freezing a short time later when they arrived at the Onizuka Visitor Center. “We’ll rest here for an hour. I’ll bring you some warm clothes. Drink plenty of water while you’re here,” Noelani told them. She brought them thermal underwear and jackets, and loaded snowboards onto her jeep.
“Now, let’s go to the snow,” said Noelani, and they rode to the top. Everyone enjoyed themselves snowboarding. Since there was no lift, they took turns driving the jeep to the top.
“It’s getting dark,” said Noelani. “Now, let’s go down to the Onizuka Center for stargazing. Since tonight is the Leonid Meteor Shower, we should see lots of shooting stars.”
Snowboarding, Skiing and Sledding on Mauna Kea
They went back down, and spent the night gazing at the sky and looking through telescopes at distant planets and galaxies. Some meteors were bright as flaming match heads; others were tiny, but moved slowly, and some even had colors. While looking through a telescope at the moon, Amber suddenly screamed in delight. “I just saw a star shoot right across the moon!”
By 1:00 in the morning, the most active part of the Leonid Meteor Shower was over, and most of the people had left. Noelani handed everyone warm sleeping bags, and they were allowed to sleep inside the Visitor’s Center.
“Why did they name it Onizuka?” asked Minnie, crawling into her bag.
“The visitor’s center is named after Ellison Onizuka, the first person from the Big Island to go into space,” Noelani told her. “He grew up in Kona. Unfortunately, he died when the Challenger exploded in 1986, but his work lives on here.”
The Onizuka Center closed at 6:00am. As Noelani drove them home, they watched the moon set and the sun rise over a sea of golden clouds. “This has been really special. Too bad you couldn’t blow the candles out,” Micah told Amber.
“That’s OK, I got my wish anyway,” Amber answered.
“And what was that?” asked Noelani.
“That this would be my best birthday ever – and it was. Thank you, Auntie!”
© 2012 Yoleen Lucas