"Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman..et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been
trudging up mountains, slogging through swamps,
rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing
to premature burial."
The sodden Alakai Swamp was born in fire: Five million years ago, a volcano burst forth from the Pacific, the first in a series of eruptions that formed Kauai. Today the long-expired volcano's eastern rim, Mt. Waialeale, is drenched with some 40 feet of rain each year--making it the wettest spot on Earth. Much of that water pours into the ancient crater that cradles the Alakai, 15 square miles of otherworldly bog enshrouded in mist, almost a mile above the sea.
The swamp's impenetrability has been a saving grace for native plants and birds, and the Alakai is protected as a state wilderness preserve, the only one in Hawaii. Birds like the puaiohi, a pink-legged recluse, and the akikiki, a honeycreeper just four inches high, are found solely in the swamp. So is the nohoanu, a geranium with dramatic purple-veined white petals. Even common plants take uncommon form: The lehua, whose red pom-pom flowers make it easy to spot island-wide, normally grows to 65 feet but may reach only six inches here.
Human exploration of this curious cosmos was made easier a few years back when a boardwalk was built over the knee-deep mud. But the swamp lured intrepid trekkers long before, most famously the wife of King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma. In 1871, she determined to tour the Alakai with 100 of her closest friends, marching into the bog on tree-fern logs laid in her path by her retinue. From time to time on the two-day hike, she stopped to request a hula or an oli, a traditional chant, to extoll the landscape and its inhabitants. The queen and her entourage made it clear through the Alakai to Kilohana Lookout, perched at the tip of towering sea cliffs on the island's northwest side--what looks like the edge of the world. --Elisa Freeling