Week Thirty-Six (5-12 October 2014)
I am increasingly convinced that God has chosen the Big Island as a testing ground for fine tuning the details of the final rollout of the Apocalypse. Why? As I scribble from a perch overlooking the windward coast, in a mountainside off-grid home where we are housesitting and tending orchard, Ana, a new tropical system (picking up steam and preparing to graduate to the rank of Class I hurricane), inches toward our little slice of paradise, threatening to wreak further havoc where the carnage of hurricane Iselle is still evident. “But isn’t it hurricane season in your corner of the Pacific?,” you might ask. Yes, it is. “Aren’t you being a little melodramatic?” Perhaps. I have been accused of such things before. But before turning the page, changing the channel, let me continue…
As this soon-to-be hurricane approaches, the ongoing volcanic eruption continues to ooze lava toward the good people of the quaint village known as Pahoa and many of our acquaintances from lower Puna District, most heavily slammed by the last hurricane, have moved into rental lodgings outside of the region under threat from the creeping finger of magma. Then there is the unusual natural phenomenon of late. Two days ago, driving across the island in my role as Transporter for a local car rental agency, I passed through two–count ‘em–two hail storms as I watched clouds, thick and dark as split pea soup, creep up Mauna Kea (one of our five volcanoes) as if someone were pouring a smooth, rich gravy up a hill of mashed potatoes in defiance of gravity. Hail! In tropical Hawaii! The assault of pea-sized projectiles forced off of the road faint-of-heart drivers (or, perhaps, they were merely locals unaccustomed to driving in such weather) who decided to wait out the unusual encounters.
One night last week, from within the tents at our campsite, some of us who were not housesitting experienced an electrical storm of such proportions that it appeared and felt at times as though someone was repeatedly throwing flash-bang grenades into our fabric abode. As our chest cavities resonated from the sonic booms, we could clearly see each other (and straight through our tent walls) as the close-striking lightning undid the pitch black of night. (Several long-time residents have informed us that this type of bolt lightning used to be unknown here in Hawaii County and that sky-fixed sheet lightning used to be the norm.)
Perhaps on a related note, I’ll comment here that, in the two months that we have been camping under the stars on our little patch of land, I have personally watched more meteorites streaking across the sky than I have witnessed in all the years of my life prior combined. Not showers, mind you. Onesies. Wasn’t there something in the book of Revelation about a star falling into a mountain and creating a fuss? What would happen if a large meteor plunged headlong into the crater of a live, slowly erupting volcano, making its way toward the center of the earth? Again, I proffer, the Big Island just may be a practice range for end times…
(For the theologically minded, I concede that God does not need practice. Please bare with my literary license.)
The Art of the Dodge
I have regaled you with tales of late night road encounters before, so you are aware of some of the unique vehicular-animal challenges we have here in paradise. I thought it would be a good time for a quick update.
While we continue to brake for and slalom around wild pigs with great frequency, including just outside the gate to our property, since last addressing this issue, I have had the privilege of expanding my list of commonly encountered living traffic obstacles. For starters, on the Kona side of the island, I’ll note that I have had to dodge flocks of peacocks and turkeys along major thoroughfares, and occasionally slow for a wayward wild goat or sheep. The recently completed international Iron Man competition added to that list legions of training triathletes on bicycles.
Closer to home, a juvenile Devon cow who lives on a pasture just down the way from our property has learned how to breach the enclosure of her grassy home, and she frequently greets us in the middle of our small country road. (While at first very fearful of our approaching vehicle and prone to skittle back into her pasture, she now will tolerate a little light, albeit one-sided, conversation (with a quizzical look in her eye) when you pull up beside her on the road.)
Have I mentioned that we have wild Chinese pheasants in our immediate environs? These eye catching creatures, the size of a large chicken, are frequently encountered grazing along our little country road. They are quite polite when it comes to yielding right of way, often vanishing into roadside vegetation soon after being spotted, but we slow nonetheless to take in the sight of their plumage when we can. (I have to wonder if they are of the tasty persuasion.)
Then there is Owl. No, not the old bird from the Hundred Acre Wood. This is a beautiful, white faced Hawaiian variety that stands about a foot and a half tall. At first, we could not understand why he occasionally swoops down in front of our moving vehicle as we go to and from our paper route at three o’clock in the morning. Then we realized that our headlights frequently flush out of the bushes rodents that dart across the road. These little critters are fast and typically do not require swerving or slowing, but it appears that this magnificent, wise old bird has learned to use us as a tool for flushing out his late night snack whenever his hunting pattern happens to overlap with our route. We have had the great privilege on two occasions to catch him perched on fence posts close enough to us to take a good long look at him and watch the uncanny 180-degree rotation of the head as he casts a casual, disinterested glance our way.
A Paleolithic Side Story
As may of you know, the bride and I carried out our honeymoon frolicking in Hawaii some 20 years ago; on the island of Maui, to be precise. This was the initial encounter with the islands for both of us and, as it turns out, was just the first time that these patches of basalt dotting the Pacific would deeply affect our lives. (Our youngest was almost certainly conceived on the Island of Oahu during a trip many years later–we really need to get that kid a t-shirt that says, “Made In Hawaii”–and here we are today living on the Big Island.)
So…the honeymoon. A student of archaeology, I worked into our many activities a visit to the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple, a heiau, and I desperately sought to take a gander at the petroglyphs left behind by the early Polynesians who inhabited these islands. Well… Finding the temple ruins was easily executed by a tourist guide book, but the location of the old stone-engraved pictures had been turned into a local secret of sorts to prevent defacement (despite the fact that local teenagers, not well-heeled tourists, were likely the culprits behind previous violations of the site’s sanctity).
One day, while shopping in a trinkets shop, we struck up a conversation with a local behind the sales counter. Upon hearing our story, the good lady not only revealed to us the guarded location of the petroglyphs, which we promptly drove to, but she insisted on bestowing on us a gift–a silver dollar sized gray stone resembling a riverside pebble worn smooth by the action of water over many years. On the stone was an engraved petroglyph, the symbol for family and fertility, which looks like this:
Twenty years and four children later, that stone is securely packed in our household effects making its return journey to the islands from where it first came. It has traveled around the globe with us all these years. I’ll post a picture once it returns home.
And So It Begins…
“Block Captain”–the latest edition to my growing collection of new titles, bestowed upon me by the local Boys In Blue. They told me that my demands for a bullhorn and submarine were out of step with their budget, but they conceded to my desire to wear a fez at all public meetings. We are just waiting for a few neighbors to return to the island from the mainland to hold our first Neighborhood Watch meeting. It will probably look something like this:
Meanwhile, the burglaries seem to have slowed down and we have not witnessed any recent drug transactions on our back road, though the odd late night wandering vehicle and engine revving continue and newspaper theft (of all things) continues to plague us as customers call in to report missing rags.
As you know, all six of us are in a constant state of learning here. Beyond the kids and their homeschooling (let alone the education provided by the endeavor of homesteading), the bride recently wrapped up her community college course on agricultural business issues. She is now well armed to discuss S-corporations, tax breaks for agricultural land, the benefits of setting up a non-profit parallel to your homesteading enterprise. Course-certified, she now qualifies for special government assistance (free crop insurance, extremely low interest agricultural loans, etcetera).
Meanwhile, yours truly wrapped up his coursework on soil science, basic entomology and nematology, and plant physiology and is only two classes short of completing his certificate course in permaculture. Anyone want to discuss the merits of Hugelkulture? (This week is all about bamboo–God’s gift to tropical man. From construction material, to weapon, to culinary devices, this miracle resource was destined to be the subject of my graduate school thesis, had I continued my pursuit of archaeology in Pacific Asia.)
What’s New – A Top Ten List in True Letterman Fashion
Some of you have asked, “What’s different, really different, in your new life?” Well…beyond the obvious aspects of our radical shift in lifestyle (office work to homesteading) and locale (mainland and international towns and cities to island-based agricultural community), here are some thoughts off of the cuff:
1) Sporting a farmer’s tan that would make any outdoorsman or grower proud, I am darker than ever before and the hair on my forearms is sun-bleached like a California surfer’s.
2) I now get more exercise than I have ever gotten, and there is no gym membership fee involved. Constantly taxing long atrophied muscles, particularly in my hands and back, I am perpetually sore (but in a good, post-workout sort of way). I have discovered muscle definition. (Six hours of continuous, strenuous movement is not uncommon on any given day, and I am trying to keep to a one-day-on-one-day-off schedule until my office-work softened body can better tolerate these more natural stresses.)
3) I am thinner than I have been since college and now have to wear a belt for the device’s original purpose (to keep your trousers in place) rather than just as a fashion accessory. (Occasionally, when the puppy has failed to replace my leather belt after a good night’s chewing, I use a length of hemp rope in true Beverly Hillbillies fashion.)
4) Nine months without a haircut has saved me a lot of coin, and my manly locks are at their longest ever. The bride has been tickled to discover all the curl hidden by years of close cropped clipper action (a number 2 blade guard, thank you). Unused to obstructed vision and the Big Lebowski-like appearance, I find myself gravitating toward doo-rags and other head gear just to keep my hair out of my eyes. (I have not resorted to a pony tail yet, but have dabbled with the application of a little native coconut oil to hold back the mane, and I continue to weigh my hair management options as I look forward to my one-year anniversary of trimming abstinence.)
5) Frequently marked by soil, wood particles, and other signs of working the land, I get dirty on a level and frequency that is novel for me. Nail brushes are now my friend and I have a deep respect for people I meet in places, like church, who come across as polished save some of God’s rich soil under the nail.
6) Unlike ever before, I now have to work, really work.
7) I have a new wife. She is tan, fit, and can work a machete like no other woman I have known.
8) I eat more foraged food than ever before. Avocados and wild guavas top the list, though we have also snacked on wild berries and fern nuts on occassion.
9) Rooster crows are now more common than car horns during any commute, and on any given day, I am as likely to be picking up goat chow, veterinary vaccines, salt licks, or chicken watering cans as groceries.
10) Though we live farther from our neighbors than ever before, we have more regular interaction with these folks than any neighbor living within a stone’s throw in our previous life. (I suppose this is just a natural extension of the the rural, agricultural lifestyle.)
I’ll stop there. Our lactating and soon-to-deliver Nubian goat is begging for attention, and it is time to check in on the status of the approaching storm system and the lava flow. Goodbye, for now.