Jack Thompson's House on the Big Island; Photo by Chuck Denny
Jack Thompson's House on the Big Island; Photo by Chuck Denny

BY CHUCK DENNY – It all started Jan 18, 2008, the lava was flowing out of the east flank of Pu’u O’o and I arrived for my 1st visit to Jack Thompson’s lava house.

The surface flow was being pushed two miles SE and nearing Royal Gardens.

The terminus of the lava flow was on the cusp of entering the northern boundary of the Royal Gardens subdivision above Prince and Ali’i Avenues at Ekaha St.

Four years and 7 visits later, the entire subdivision that was once 1.5 miles in width and 1.5 miles in length was reduced to the 500 foot arterial of Plumeria St…(Jack’s street)…..and one small 500 foot strip of lower Orchid St., 1 mile to the east.

Seven east/west streets and 7 north/south avenues that encompass the entire subdivision were obliterated over a 3 year span.

Photo by Chuck Denny

The lava flow that overran Mr. Thompson’s residence the evening of Friday, March 2, 2012, was unconventional and awkward. If it was to happen, it was to happen in the best of all scenarios, Jack Thompson style………at night, no media, and no photographs by lava paparazzi to sell and benefit from…..at Jack’s expense.

The heavy pressure in the lava tube from continued inflation periods kept an ongoing outcrop of surface flow breakouts high on the pali. The surface flow of lava from the original November/December 2011 breakout, had split in 2 directions 1.5 miles above the subdivision boundary.

The flow that meandered down the east side of Jack’s residence during the December 2011 episode, kept coming and stayed on the same path and continued down the pali to the coastal plain.

The other lobe breached over the western side of the December 2011 flow and atop the two mile long 15-20 foot elevated stretch known as the Warrior flow of the 1980s.

Lava field on Hawaii Island in November 2011 - Photo by Chuck Denny

Amazingly the pahoehoe stayed atop and overran the older a’a flow, instead of following the path of least resistance which was a lower 20 foot trench on the west side of the Warrior flow.

Madame Pele came barreling down with a vengeance carving a new path directly above the house. I made contact with Jack 90 minutes before evacuation and he was calm amid all the underlining chaos.

My visits to Jack’s coveted Lava House were life changing. He was genuine, animated, humorous, yet straightforward. The lava house was Jack’s sanctuary of which he was very protective.

It was a mammoth among the trees, a beautiful 3 bedroom hand crafted home, suited with all amenities and visible from the Wahaula ocean entry point 2 miles in the distance. Jack was a mechanical wizard and I was amazed at how this beautiful remote home was built to completion.

Lava field near Jack Thompson's Home on Hawaii Island - Chuck Denny

Upon each forthcoming arrival, many nights were filled star gazing and viewing the coastal plain with thousands of glowing orange illuminations, as the lava poured down the pali, onto the lower flats, and at times stretching out a half mile in width as the lava marched to the ocean.

Each visit, new lava, new location, new ocean entry point, new land being created. Talking story, great BBQ’s, and exceptional hospitality were the ongoing occurrences each visit.

When Jack’s primary access to the outside world were cut off mid 2008, it wasn’t an inconvenience to Jack. He indicated his 3-4 miles hikes each way in and out to Kalapana gave him time to dig deep into his mental archives.

Each hike, one step after another over hardened pahoehoe until either destination was reached.

Photo by Chuck Denny

It soon became a reality for me and I understood what he was referring to. I gained Jack’s friendship and built a trusting friendship.

The epitome of trust was that Jack allowed me to house sit for 17 days while Jack visited family January 2011.

This was unbestowed to anyone in 29 years.

For this, I have eternal gratitude.

I now had the opportunity to live in Mr. Thompson shoes for two weeks, had a greater appreciation for remoteness, solitude, tranquility, and on this trip be completely isolated and become grounded with mother nature. Jack’s lessons were to conserve, appreciate the simple things, and above all, live with dignity.

Now that his house is gone, my sadness can’t be compared to what Mr. Thompson is currently engaged in.

Jack Thompson's lava home - photo by Chuck Denny

To my good friend Jack, thank you for what you brought to my life, you enhanced my life, your company, your hospitality, the euphoria  prior to each arrival, the remorse upon each departure, the mind cleansing, the opportunity to roam Madame Pele’s front yard and admire the fine line between her ongoing landscaping project amid horrific devastation.

All ensuing visits brought endless unknown hiking experiences and I viewed these as admiring beautification changes and having a greater appreciation for them.

The hikes were exhilarating, filled with fear, anxiety, exhaustion, yet a sense of calm was always over me knowing the lava lodge was my refuge and always near.  The experiences will never be eclipsed.

Jack Thompson,……..one in a million, a very kind and gentle soul, one with extremely high values and morals, and one with zero tolerance for incompetence or ineptitude.

Royal Gardens has lost the residence of the greatest ambassador of the community.

Photos of Jack and Jack’s beautiful home are included in this story. His home will always be remembered in it’s pristine and statuesque form, and relived through these photos as I rewind the memories.

Chuck Denny is a photographer living in Hawaii Kai

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