In 1994 our family took a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. Our experiences of that trip turned into “family legend” that we still joke about 22 years later.

Our son was 6 months old, and we had the opportunity to go to a medical conference on the Big Island. The conference divided up the day into early-morning and late-afternoon classes, leaving the middle of the day free to explore the island. Since our son was easy to pack up in a backpack or stroller, we took full advantage of the entire island, including Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

One of our major goals of exploring the park was to take a helicopter tour of the volcano and the lava flows. We didn’t want to take our son in the chopper so we explored babysitting possibilities in the area. The helicopter workers were very kind to offer to watch him while we took our flight. We waved goodbye to our blond blue-eyed boy being held by the Hawaiian office staff. The tour was fabulous, showing the red-hot lava pour into the ocean with billowing clouds of steam rising into the sky and the results of previous lava flows obliterating roads. When we returned, the expanded, nurturing tour staff reluctantly handed our boy back to us; they happily enjoyed taking time from their regular work to play with him.

The next day we drove up to the national park and followed the Crater Rim Drive to the visitor center. Twenty-two years later I still remember the captivating view of the Kilauea Caldera at the volcano summit. It is 3 miles wide and drops off over 400 feet in certain areas. It was somewhat uncomfortable being so hot and dry with the smell of sulfur in the air from the still-active volcano. We then got relief when we hiked down into the Nuhuku lava tube, where the temperature cooled about 15 degrees and water dripped from the ceiling of the tunnel, created by a lava stream cooling and crusting at different times.

The family legend comes from the experience we had when we were walking around a scenic turnout near the Kilauea Iki crater. My husband and I, with our son in a little stroller, encountered the Hawaiian state bird, the nene, as we were walking back to the car. The nene is a large, flightless bird that resembles a Canada goose and is on the endangered species list. We thought to ourselves, what a great opportunity to get a photo of this big bird.

We snapped a few shots and then noticed that the bird took a special interest in me, getting closer and closer. It started taking aggressive postures toward me so we decided it was time to leave. As my husband put our son in the car seat, the bird started chasing me around the car. It was quite impressive how fast it could move. I made at least one full lap around our car with the bird paying no attention to either my husband or son. I jumped in the car and we pulled out with the bird in hot pursuit till it finally lost interest!

We never found our why the bird took a special interest in me; perhaps I invaded his or her territory, perhaps the bird liked me a lot, perhaps he did it to all the tourists. Anyway, it is still a topic that comes up in family gatherings, especially if there are large birds around. Someone will say “Do you remember when Mom was chased into the car by the nene?” We think back fondly to that wonderful and exciting trip to Hawaii’i Volcanoes National Park and the nene.


Paula Kochen lives with her husband, David, in Minneapolis. They now have two adult children. Paula is a pediatric emergency medicine physician who loves getting outdoors to do anything physical: hiking, biking, kayaking or swimming. She is also an amateur triathlete.