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The Lava Dwellers, Big Island, Hawai‘i: These People Live on One of the Most Active Volcanoes on Earth

They come for the privacy, the views, the Pele energy and the rock-bottom real estate prices. Never mind that the volcano could torch their homes at any time.


(page 4 of 6)

Jeremy and Ramon

Ramon Molina lives in the Turtle House. The grass and trees grow in a shallow layer of imported soil.
Photo: Olivier Koning

“I’m just a layman with a lifelong curiosity about science and its underpinnings,” says Jeremy Bronner, who came to the lava to housesit for a friend and to pursue his life’s passion: the development of a theoretical framework that will unify the sciences through eight-dimensional mathematics. If that sounds hard, it is. It requires intense concentration, and the ability to hold 240 eight-dimensional spheres in his mind at any one time. Since Jeremy is off the grid and computer free, it also requires a lot of notebooks.


As it turns out, though, Pele’s expansive realm is the perfect laboratory for this kind of work, a place where the mind can trip across the wide-open spaces, manipulating interlocking tetrahedral triangles and bouncing between matter and anti-matter. “Being here in the lap of Her Ladyship helps keep the creative juices flowing,” Jeremy says.


Jeremy says he studied biochemistry at MIT, worked as a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, moved to San Francisco and became a hypnotherapist, and was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. He left the devastated city with a broken back, and came to Hawai‘i to heal. The place that he’s housesitting belongs to a “lady friend” who lives a few miles away, he says, though calling it a house might overstate the case. It’s more like a deluxe-size, two-story toolshed, with a dirt floor and a propane stove on the ground level. Neighbors call it the Turtle House for its circular mural of turtles swimming beneath a lunar eclipse. Less noticeable, but more structurally important, are the large rocks sitting on the sheet-metal roof to keep high winds from tearing it off.


Jeremy, who has the infinite patience of a graduate assistant trying to explain string theory to a remedial arithmetic class, shares the Turtle House with Ramon Molina, who has a bone-crushing handshake and wears his dark sunglasses both day and night, because they’re his only prescription lenses. Ramon leaves the theoretical stuff to Jeremy, preferring observable reality himself. “If I stab you with this stick,” he says, illustrating his point with a sharp piece of bamboo aimed at my thigh, “you will bleed.”


Still, Ramon sometimes gets glimpses of Jeremy’s 240 eight-dimensional spheres during the rambling philosophic discussions they have after the sun sets and the volcano begins to glow. “Once his work is digestible to the masses and disseminated it could actually have an effect out there,” Ramon says. “But it’s not like they have a melon baller I can use to pull these ideas out of his head. If they did, it would make my job a lot easier.”

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Honolulu Magazine August 2020