Behind her smile: Grief over what’s been lost, faith in the power of her community to rebuild

Smiley Burrows | Pele's Path: The Journey Home

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lava has claimed so much Smiley Burrows thought could never be taken. A community, a livelihood, her home.

Lava has tested her in ways that she never thought possible. Lava has changed her life.

But she’s still smiling.

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“The earth is living, breathing. It’s alive. We all know that,” said Burrows, standing in Kapoho on a recent day, overlooking Green Mountain and the lake that shared its name.

“It was really like a birth, this new land. It needs to be honored and loved as deeply as the land that lays underneath it.”

Burrows and her family maintained Green Mountain and the lake that lived inside it, and hosted a popular farmers market in the area.

She warmly calls Kapoho the “gateway to the Sun,” the place where the first rays of a new day touch the Hawaiian Islands.

In Kapoho, Green Lake was a little Eden in a place known for its spectacular flora and fauna. A community gathering place, a stunning natural attraction and a geological wonder in its own right as the largest lake in the islands ― with waters up to 200 feet deep.

And in under two hours, roughly a month after the eruption in lower Puna started, it was gone ― evaporated by lava flows as high as condominiums at temperatures topping 2,000 degrees.

Much of Kapoho was covered. Gone too was Kapoho Bay.

When the Kilauea eruption started in May, Burrows was living in the disaster’s ground zero ― Leilani Estates. She evacuated to Kapoho, only for the lava to follow her there. She and her family fled again as the flow made its way to the ocean.

As the days and weeks wore on, the Burrows family would lose three homes ― and so much more.

The destruction, and there was so much of it, tested someone who could hardly be considered a delicate flower. Burrows’ hands are working hands. She’s spent years working long days in the sun, climbing coconut trees, wielding a tractor, harvesting fruit.

She had an appreciation for nature’s power. Nature’s might.

But the eruption was something else entirely.

“Definitely this has been the most challenging year of my life,” she says, standing on a high perch overlooking the blackened landscape of Kapoho. “I’ve had to stay really strong and patient. I’ve grown so much with patience and acceptance. And I see a lot of my friends are very traumatized. We all are healing from our losses.”

Healing ― not healed.

Healing but never the same again.

Kapoho’s incredible geological features were formed over centuries ― their beauty central to its attraction for so many on the Big Island. It was a place of memories.

Like so many others, Burrows mourned when those memories were buried. When so much was covered ― never to be seen again.

But in destruction, Burrows likes to say, there is creation. There is new life in the new land.

“In the future generations, it will be a blessing to those that live here,” she said. “This is what happens here on these islands.”

It won’t be overnight, but Burrows is confident that her community will rebuild. And that they’ll rebuild stronger.

After a year of sheltering and informing and caring and crying with each other, they know what they’re made of ― and they know it’s good stuff.

“It’s actually been incredible to see a community work together in a way I have not seen before,” Burrows said, smiling still.

“It’s brought an incredible amount of aloha into our lives, which is really special.”

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