“Are you sure we have time, babe?”
The couple, dressed in hiking boots, vests, and mirror sunglasses, stood in front of a wood and wire gate.
He glanced at his watch. “The van will leave without us.”
“No, it won’t.” The woman pushed open the gate. “Come on. I think I see one over there.”
They walked out on a narrow trail that meandered across a barren volcanic landscape of red cinders and odd-shaped cones. “We’re supposed to see this on our way down from the summit.” The man hurried after his wife.
They stopped in front of a grey-green shrub popping out of the maroon earth. The plant, a ball of long, spiky leaves, was about three feet in diameter.
“So, what is it?”
“Show off,” he said. “Translation, please.”
She dog-eared a page in her guidebook. “I think you pronounce it A-heena-heena. Hawaiian silversword—it’s one of the rarest plants on earth. See how its leaves look like grey-green daggers? They think a California tarweed seed got stuck to a bird’s feather six million years ago and took a 2,000-mile flight across the Pacific. Once ungulates were brought here…”
“Ungulate. It means hooved animal, like goats or sheep. They must have gotten overpopulated, ran wild and trampled all the ahinahina.” She read silently for a moment. “My gosh—this is the only plant that lives up here.” She moved her finger across the page as she read aloud. “Ahinahina have no defenses against predators. Yet they have survived…”
“Don’t worry, my leetle one,” he leaned over and spoke to the jagged, grey-green plant. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”
“Hey,” she shouted. “Come look at this!”
He followed the trail in an arc and came upon his wife standing next to an ahinahina, its ball of leaves wilted and collapsed to the ground. From the center, a single stalk soared skyward, its stem encircled with massive purple blooms resembling sunflowers.
The man stood still for a moment taking in the vision. “What are the odds we get to see this?”
“One in a million. Right after it blooms, the ahinahina dies, shedding its seeds into the wind for a future generation. Just think—you and I are here for a once in a lifetime moment!”
“Take off your sunglasses,” he said. “I’ll take a photo. Immortalize you both.”
“How’s this?” she asked, positioning herself in front of the plant; its fragrant purple blooms rose behind her and stood nearly eight feet tall. She smiled, and her teeth flashed in the sun.
“Just a sec.” He stepped back to get a better shot. The sound of his Vibram sole crunching the cinders stopped him. He stood still for a moment, looked around, and then took three more steps, quickly crouching down. He pointed his camera up, taking in the tree from top to bottom, and framed his wife in the photo so that the blooms appeared as a lavender aura around her. He stepped back onto the trail, leaving behind, in the dented cinders of his footprint, a flattened grey-green bit, spread-eagle squished on the ground where his heel had trod.