Zoe on a nene (goose) at the Bishop Museum, with the sprawling lawn behind her.

Hawaii has so much rich and exotic history that it really does seem like another country. And learning about the history, as well as seeing the native Hawaiians there, made me feel a little weird about the fact that the United States decided, as it had so many times before, and as so many arrogant countries have done, to take it over. Who were we to assume this beautiful place was ours for the taking? I really don’t know the answer (although I’m sure there are plenty of explanations) but I felt a little guilty about it all. Maybe the people there are worse off than they would otherwise have been, maybe better. Maybe I’ll read more about it someday.

We did learn a little about Hawaiian history (and were grateful that a lot of attention is given to it) at the Bishop Museum, which is a beautiful and inviting tribute to Hawaiian geology, anthropology, astronomy, culture, and history. We watched a fun show at the excellent planetarium there and learned what constellations and planets were visible in the winter sky over the Pacific. After that Zoe spotted Jupiter in the evening and I pointed out Orion. Even in the city you can see a million stars.

We attended a lava demonstration where they handed around many kinds of lava for us to touch and spilled molten material out of a large cauldron onto a steel plate, where it quickly cooled and shards of it exploded around the room (behind a mesh screen of course).

We went through a hands-on room where we simulated different phenomena that cause waves and Zoe crawled through a tunnel and slid down a volcano and we saw hundreds of kinds of shells, from the teeny tiny to a few big enough to sit on (but we didn’t).

And we enjoyed learning a simple, seated hula dance. We headed eagerly to the hula demonstration, expecting beautiful girls in grass skirts, leis, and coconut tops. Instead there was a man in a green aloha shirt and a long, gray pony tail, seated on a stool and holding two wooden sticks. Apparently hula just means a song that tells a story. So he taught us a hula about appreciating the world around us, and we echoed his words and used our fingers as our rhythm instruments. It was not particularly sexy or alluring, but it was quite lovely and fun.

Afterward we went out into a verdant courtyard and discovered a small stone stage, where Zoe performed several of her own hula dances. She properly advised before each dance, “Please turn your cell phones off and no flash photography during the performance.”