Thursday, September 16, 2004 +

Anne Goodwin Winslow: Letters from Hawaii

Anne Goodwin Winslow and her husband Major E. Eveleth Winslow were stationed in Hawaii in 1908-11. These three letters to her mother are from "When Halley's Comet Came: Letters of Anne Goodwin Winslow, 1908-1911," by M. Winslow Chapman, The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 19 (1985).

October 25, 1909, Volcano House, Hawaii

Dear Mama, ...We have just arrived and had our lunch and are now booted and spurred for our trip to the volcano proper. We are right by the big crater, and here in the yard of the hotel there is smoke coming up through all the cracks in the ground. It is a fearsome place. No use trying to describe it to anybody. To get to the red hot central crater we have to ride on donkeys over the lava field of the big crater - about ten square miles. The middle, boiling crater is about a quarter of a mile across.

The thing that impresses me more than anything else is to see the ferns growing and the cattle peacefully grazing with the smoke coming up all round them. It seems as if every living thing would simply quake in terror to find itself at a place like this. But this hotel is considered quite a resort for people from Honolulu - who come for the high altitude and not at all for the volcano.

I was called off from my beginning of the afternoon, by the arrival of the horses and the call to mount. It is about three miles to the cauldron, down, down, into the big crater, and then across the lava fields full of cracks and fissures, hot and steaming. Then we spent an hour drying our soaking garments and scorching postals and roasting apples over one of the red hot cracks beneath our feet. The rain just simply poured most of the time. There was one spell when it looked like a fight between the rival elements. Then we went back to the brink and looked again by night. This was a marvelous thing. To see the walls of that great pit lighted up, and the sky above as bright as sunset while the lake of fire danced and surged below! They say there has not been such a display as we had tonight for many years. The lava has risen so high in the great well that has confined it of late that when the big geysers shoot up they overflow the edge. It isn't red as the colored pictures show, but the color of the golden coals - the almost white ones. When the waves break against the walls, it looks as if they were plastered with gold leaf, and sometimes the lava flies up in a regular shower of gold. All the time, of course, there is a tremendous roaring, just as the ocean makes.

Our guide heated coffee for us over the cracks and fed sandwiches while we waited for the darkness to fall at the volcano and then we had dinner and nice open fires when we returned to the hotel. So, altogether our long absence from the sight of fire has been largely atoned for. I will also say that I didn't think the volcano a bit like hell, in spite of the sulphurous smell. The wetness and the chill around us seemed more like it. The volcano was bright and beautiful, and the nice hot cracks felt like the hearth at home. I have been slowly meandering through hell with Dante this summer and when we got down to the fourth circle where he had the pleasure of seeing his enemies stuck in the mud and incessantly rained upon I said to myself "now this is it".

We have looked over some of the interesting old registers this hotel has kept up for many years. Some of the inscriptions are by famous people. I was particularly impressed by that of the Reverend Joseph Smith beginning "Wonderful are thy works, O Lord!" Most of them are rather frivolous. They are written in every language under heaven - even Turkish and Arabian. The man who keeps the hotel is Greek - Mr. Demosthenes Lycurgis, if you please. I tackled him at once on the subject of Robert Louis Stevenson. He knew him well, he said, had shaken hands with him, and waited on him at the table. "Nice man, but a shadow, a perfect shadow." And speaking of Stevenson, takes me back to our cruising in the South Seas. I don't think there ever was such waters or such a boat [the lighthouse tender Kukui]. The Steward gloomily remarked as he helped me hold the poor little Chickies [son William and daughter Mary] over the rail "she's a bad boat m'am. Can't hold her down anyway." That was just it. She simply went up in the the air and there she writhed and twisted and got her nose down somehow preparatory to taking a header into the yawning abyss below. Oh she was something to go home and forget about and all the while the scenery was so exquisite. Eveleth heroically tired to take some pictures - with four men helping him hold the camera down.

...We were all of Saturday and half of Sunday getting to Hilo, Island of Hawaii. Here we loitered about trying find our legs again and early Monday morning - today - got in the automobile and started for the thirty mile trip from Hilo to the hotel. It was a wonderful trip through such tropical scenery as you can scarcely imagine - great forests of fern and guava and trumpet lilies and more brilliant flowering trees and plants than I have ever found names for. There were miles of sugar cane and whole little Japanese villages belonging to these great plantations, and once when the automobile broke down,...the children and I walked on ahead and came to something so much like a story book that we could hardly believe it - a real New England home, with old-fashioned roses growing amid the rampant exotics in the garden and two dear old white-headed ladies in the house. One of them had Winslow relatives in Massachusetts and I hope we are on the same tree.

It seemed so strange to find her there out in that lonely stretch of tropic country; but these islands are such a strange mixture. There are lots of New England people here, in spots, and they have stayed just as they were, back in the old missionary days. The precious belongings they managed to get out here then are just as desirable in their eyes as ever. Is like the country New England, I imagine.

Devotedly, Anne

December 27, 1909, Fort De Russey

Dear Mama, ...We have been having the most joyful Christmas and the most remarkable weather. Yesterday and today the rain has come down in bucketfuls. Tonight the wind is sweeping from the sea roaring its own anthem in so loud a tone that we can hardly hear the roaring of the waves. But the moon is shining gloriously, and it seems as if I cannot stand to not have you see the way the "fronded palms" are glistening and swaying overhead. It really isn't safe to go out, because the leaves are falling and when they hit you they are guaranteed to lay you low. We have never seen anything like this in Honolulu. The night before Christmas was the whitest night I have ever imagined. Venus was shining out over the sea, as large almost as the moon. You wouldn't believe how big and soft she can be making a wide bright path of her own across the waves.

On the other side of the house the moon was flooding the palm trees, and it really seemed a shame for a thinking soul to sleep a wink. We didn't sleep much, for what with our Santa Claus work inside and our frequent suspensions of it, while we went out to see what the "heavens were telling" it was a late hour before we wore and tore!, and then, last and most enchanting, about two in the morning a band of Hawaiian musicians, with their stringed instruments and songs took up their station just beneath my window. I shall never forget the sensation of being drawn up out of a bottomless depth of sleep - slowly, by this music, and finding myself almost blinded by the moonlight that was everywhere in the room and over the land and sea outside. This and the book have been all the Christmas I could stand.

Devotedly, Anne

August 10, 1910, Fort De Russey

Dear Mama, Our trip to Leilehua was a big success. I do so wish you could see the place - it is like all the stories you have ever read or imagined of army life. A great wide plain surrounded by mountains. The shacks where the officers live and the larger shacks where the soldiers live all dropped down together in the center of the plain and everywhere on every hand troops, troops of horses, oh they do look picturesque! I never realized before the added effect that comes from having everything on horseback. You should hear the band and the bugles reverberating from the mountains.

The great event of our visit was at trip up one of the high peaks. We rode as far as we could on horseback and then got out and walked up a trail the Colonel had had cut the day before. This particular view is his own discovery and of course his pride in showing it is fully as great as if he had made it. And my pride would be unbounded if I could give you by any skillful use of words even a faint idea of its grandeur. I think when we "got there" we were about 26 hundred feet above the ocean spread out in all its blue immensity before us; and the sides of the mountain dropped straight down, cut in great vertical lines like the pipes of a colossal organ. These mountains are not like those we have at home. They don't have the outlines shaded and softened by so many curtains of trees.

In many places they are bare rock and they never seem more than lightly sheathed in grass. It is the difference between plumes and velvet. And they stand up in separate and distinct peaks, fall down suddenly to sea level almost like a wall. It was an indescribable experience and when everything was still execpt the wind, it seemed as if the organ was playing some tremendous prelude.

There wasn't so much wind on this particular morning and the fact that there was so little visible motion in the trees made the murmur all the more wonderful. You could hear it in the place you were standing and then in another key from another towering peak, of course where we climbed out on the sharp points over this dizzy height we seemed almost as much cut off from the earth as the birds were.

Devotedly, Anne