Pressing Ahead (February 2015)

Happy New Year (Again)

Welcome, o’ Year of the Sheep, or Year of the Goat, depending on your persuasion.  You see, the Chinese language uses one word for both creatures.  This opens a fascinating line of discussion on the order of introduction of these two animals to proto-Chinese-speaking people.  (Which animal was known to them first and why was the second in line not given a unique name?)  Or, this hints at the very origins—or at least archaic appearances—of one of these fine animals in a bygone millennia.  (Does this Asiatic linguistic artifact represent a grain of truth in the old European-origin wive’s tale that one of these beasts derived from the other, perhaps through domestication and selective breeding?)  But I digress…

Homeschool Physics With Tavern Puzzles

In a follow-on to last month’s post, another noteworthy anniversary for us came alongside the arrival of the Lunar New Year marked in February (as celebrated by people throughout East Asia and formerly-China-colonized Vietnam, and as opposed to the later timing observed by South and other Southeast Asian peoples and persons of Persian extraction).  It was exactly one annual moon cycle ago that, on Chinese New Year, the bride and I walked out of the door of our former place of employment for the last time, tossed our ID cards to the guard, and did donuts in the parking lot before peeling out and leaving our secure jobs behind.  (Okay…okay…there were no vehicular hijinks upon our departure, but it makes for a good story, no?)  We proceeded that evening to feast, to celebrate the holiday heralded by my bride’s kith and kin and to kick off our new, likely-to-be-challenging life.  

As I have noted before, my fortune cookie that night proclaimed that I was destined to become a community leader—something I never had the time for, should I have wanted, when I was lashed to a soul-sucking civil servant career.  On that note, I’ll point out that this month I was voted onto the board of directors of our local road maintenance association and promptly installed as this community organization’s secretary.  (Didn’t Stalin or Lenin or Hitler serve in the role of “secretary” before their rise?)  This in addition to my role as a Neighborhood Watch regional coordinator…  Pray tell, what lies ahead?

So, for this fine new year, we feasted at the one establishment we have found in the good town of Hilo deserving of the label “Chinese restaurant” (the rest we have visited offer mixes of Americanized and pan-Asian victuals that are pawned off on the unknowing masses as sustenance of the Mandarins).  Also for this auspicious occasion, in honor of the great and just deceased Leonard Nimoy, whose immortal and otherworldly T.V. character is a lasting cultural icon for at least a few generations, I’ll say, “Live long and prosper.”  (Mayhaps Confucious was Vulcan.)

A Quick Survey

While we are on the topic of this moon-based anniversary, let me comment on a few more things that mark our current position in this life journey after our launch some one year ago.

In our new microcosm, candlelight dinners are commonplace out of necessity, not due to a craving for better ambiance or a need to hide the facial imperfections of a romantic interest.  Indeed, absent electricity in our campsite or cabin for seven months now, we have become acquainted with the capabilities of a range of devices powered by hand cranking (from flashlights to radios to coffee grinders)…

the ins and outs of portable micro solar chargers for standard electronic devices, such as iPads and cell phones…

and the freedom and limitations offered by power packs (a portable rechargeable electrical energy unit that you can charge up when you find yourself in civilization and that you can use to charge other devices when you return to the sticks).

Tied to the natural rhythms of our universe, we rise with the sun and put head to pillow when Apollo’s chariot disappears o’er the horizon.  A lack of any refrigeration leaves us buying ice blocks twice a week, wondering how efficient “ice boxes” of old  were compared to our simple cooler, and having to buy perishables no more than two days out from preparation and consumption.  Warm bucket showers are made possible by boiling water on propane fueled camp stoves, and an absence of running water has given us a new appreciation for heavy rains and 5-gallon Home Depot utility pails. Meanwhile, camp and outdoor compost toilets have left us with a deep appreciation for modern porcelain conveniences.  

We find ourselves forever on the hunt for grocery store manager’s specials (is day-old sushi really a good idea?) and cheap gas and propane.  We have learned about so many alternatives to “conventional” American life, we sometimes feel as though we are in the post-landing phase of some interplanetary colonization effort.  For example, check out www.farmmatch.com, oft advertised in our remote corner of this super power.  Finally, we rely on NPR live broadcasts and podcasts more than ever for entertainment; “Snap Judgement” has become a family favorite.

Adversity and inconvenience breed character.  (Someone please confirm this for me.)

Homestead Report

The drought continued through ‘till the 19th of the month, when the skies opened and the serenade of the coquis resumed.  Before the liquid sunshine returned, old timers assured us that it was the worst they have ever seen (some being in residence here three decades).  Others said a similar freak dry spell hit some eight years ago, beginning in December and ending in April.  We were forced to continue hand-watering our beloved food-producing plants and trees, contrary to our plan for an irrigation-free land, and the nursery suffered a few more casualties. 

The skies opened exactly one day after the collapse of the temporary shelter protecting the components of our unassembled yurt, sending us scurrying to cover what we could with tarps and to survey the damage, mostly cosmetic in nature.

One week, a freak wind storm made a grand appearance on the day we sell at the local farmer’s market.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think I had ever heard a National Weather Service wind advisory before.  We fled the market about 15 minutes after setting up, after picking our displays up from the ground for a third time or so, and watching the roof of a nearby chicken coop soar into the skies to the sound of cracking and falling Albizia trees.  That said, in those 15 minutes we were there, we sold two passion fruit seedlings.  Score!

Rounding out the month’s report on things environmental, and as not to disappoint the disaster chasers and end-times predictors who follow our bouts with nature here, I’ll also note that there was during the early part of the month an earthquake, registering at a healthy 4.8 on Dr. Richter’s infamous scale.  Just another month living on the side of a live volcano…

Meanwhile, we fired up the old chainsaw to begin cleaning out debris left by the clearing process on our land, we spread another ton (quite literally) of mulch, about one-half a ton of manure, spent time mastering the art of chop-and-drop weeding throughout our various growing areas, pruned our mature banana trees, and started putting more food-bearing plants into the ground.  Indeed, planting efforts resumed in full.  Butternut squash starts, watermelon, bell pepper, dragon bean, okra, blackberry bushes, assorted herbs, more papaya.  Oh, yeah!  Our strawberries are coming in.  (In February!)  

The youngest, bent on establishing herself as a coffee and chocolate mogul, rejoiced at the emergence from seed, finally, of several coffee plants that she is trying to rear as “shade grown.”  (Coffee can take up to  six months to germinate—hard for a ten year old to wait that long to see progress—and she secured the seed from a hearty coffee plant growing wild on the side of our little country road.). Our two hens, the only ones that have survived the dogs, began laying again, giving us close to a dozen eggs in one week.  (We are waiting for the home construction to end before bringing aboard more critters.).  Honest, healthful work for food.

“And the yurt?”, you ask.  Thanks for raising that painful subject.  Well, the elevation survey is complete.  Our house pad is officially at 988.7 feet above sea level.  We need to build our platform two feet higher than originally planned, for a floor that rests at six feet above ground.  (The outcome could have been much worse, to include being required to completely relocate the already excavated house pad foundation area.)  The permitting process has resumed and we continue to develop our mastery of the fine art of recreational waiting.

Brush With the Law

One fine morning, at the crack of dawn, I drove a neighbor-in-need across the island to purchase a car in Kona.  Little did I know it was to be a Laurel and Hardy kind of morning.  

The vehicle was an old, derelict thing, but it still ran.  Sitting in the owner’s yard with soaking wet seats from the rain the night before (they hadn’t bothered to roll up the windows), a completely empty radiator, and no transmission fluid, the little beastie still started just fine and the many nicks, dings, broken interior fixtures, etc. were trivial issues in the eyes of the potential new owner (my good neighbor).  Given its state, we took it out for a thorough test drive (brakes, highway run at 55 mph, got the engine temp up to prompt the fans, etc.).  We were gone a while…45 minutes to be exact.  

Apparently lacking in excitement in life, the owner, a rather high-strung upper-middle-aged European lady, decided that the test drive was taking too long; she called the police and reported the car stolen.  This, despite the fact that we had asked her if she would go along on the test drive and we left behind in her driveway my car, arguably more valuable than the hulk that she was trying to sell.  We were, for at least a good 20 minutes, hunted by the boys in blue, and me a Neighborhood Watch leader.

Fortunately, we pulled back into the fine lady’s driveway before the Five-O found us.  Unpleasantly, we had to listen to her shrill diatribe for the next 15 minutes and face the wrath of her equally hysterical friend who, apparently was mostly upset because this whole “ordeal” had somehow made her late for an “appointment” (I’m wagering it was something critical, like a spa treatment).  (To help you visualize this, I’ll just note that the friend was a retirement-aged blond who looked as if she was on her way to a tennis lesson at the club and who—according to my neighbor—looked more like an alligator than human due to her incredibly sun damaged skin).  

If that wasn’t enough excitement for the day, on my return trip home to the east side of the island, I was pulled over and issued a ticket for speeding—my first speeding ticket since I began driving nearly 30 years ago.  (Well…there was that one time at age sixteen…when the judge absolved me of wrongdoing because I had been in a caravan trying to keep up with the lead car, which was being driven by my youth pastor.)

Then, a week or so later, I was pulled over by the police in the dead of night (early, early morning really) while I was on my paper route.  You see, I had called in some suspicious activity in the area and the fuzz actually sent out patrols to check.  Despite the fact that my car did not match the description of what they were seeking, nor did my license plate match with that of their mark, I guess they thought I looked shady enough to chat with anyway…

The very next week, like a scene out of Little House on the Prairie, while the six of us were laboring around our plot, the kids—yelling and running—ran to fetch me from the backside of our 10-acre lot, where I was lovingly introducing a Japanese sweet potato start to her new patch of earth.  A cruiser had unexpectedly pulled into our drive.  A four-, maybe five-, star senior officer greeted us and struck up some conversation about illegal activity in our immediate environs.  Turns out he is on a task force we had heard about.  After exchanging contact information and a good deal of information (both ways), he rode off to explore some of nooks in the woods and fields that are favored by criminal elements.

(Did I mention that my youngest, the 10-year old gal, was with me on all four of these occasions?  Coincidence?  I think she is on their payroll.  At the very least, this all presents an excellent opportunity for a homeschool project on law enforcement.)

Is This Really Better Than A Classroom?

Sundry Tidbits to Take Us Out

Valentine’s was celebrated with a memorable, if disjointed, hotel getaway, in-room high-end pizza, and a glorious viewing of the live 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live (five hours straight, including the pre- and post-shows).  From Belushi to Ferrell and on, we laughed ourselves silly and to tears reliving four decades of cultural touchstones and temporarily washing away thoughts of campsite living, construction delays, and other character building elements of our current situation.  The land shark, Wayne’s World, and more.  I’ll stop here by demanding, “More cowbell!”  (Why ‘disjointed?,’ you ask.  Well…taking pity on our situation, the hotel allowed us to check in at 9:00 in the morning to enjoy a full day of modern conveniences, but I returned to the upcountry that evening to overnight with the young ones and run the 3:00 a.m. paper route so that the bride could slumber in luxury.)  And before any ladies in our readership scoff at the central role of SNL as being some husband-driven activity, I’ll have you know that the bride chose to pass up a seafood buffet to behold this spectacle…

“The kids?”  Still with us.  Still alive.  The boy was invited to prom by a local gal met at summer camp.  The three older kids began meeting together over coffee with their Sunday school teacher to collectively delve into some issues more deeply and at their age-group level.  Three quarters of the brood began a 10-week poetry workshop for their personal edification, rounding, and artistic outlet.  

One day, we carted them all off to explore a local black sand beach, where the young ones tried out their Christmas presents (snorkel sets) and lounged.  Before arriving, however, driving along the coast, we were all startled by a long awaited cry…from the driver (me). As if Queequeg were bellowing out over the sound of waves crashing against the hull to inform the good Captain Ahab, harpoon in hand, “Spout!”  Indeed, not one, but a small pod of whales broke surface to quaff a lungful of salty ocean air…the first of several leviathan sightings that day.  Oh, yes…  Worth noting too is the fact that the drive whisked us pass some incredible land scenery, some of it straight out of Jurassic Park.  (All this goes far, of course, to help one forget the travails of living in the limbo we now call our lives.)

Our monthly church gathering in a congregation member’s home saw us feasting with friends and singing into the night.  A scene repeated with even more opulence a few weeks later when we all gathered to celebrate the 70th birthday of one longtime member of the flock.  Meanwhile, friends of the owner of our off-grid cabin flew in from the mainland and camped in the cabin’s yard for a few days.  Nice folks from Oregon.

“How is that paper route going?”  Glad you asked, up to $900 per month for 1.5 hours work per day is not bad, but you see the oddest things, even though we move into the darkness during the fourth watch of the night, well past the witching hour.  Beyond all the suspicious behavior that we routinely call into the police, we routinely dance with wild pigs still.  (One large black fellow just here on the property where we are staying smiled at me the other morning…or maybe he was flashing his tusks.)  One early morn, as we proceeded through our route, we found in our various customers’ newspaper delivery boxes a waded up dress, an empty tea bottle, a ribbon, a letter (not for us). Go figure.  That morning we also found a hitchhiker in our back car window—or, more appropriately, clinging to the inside of the window—a coqui frog.  Then there was the day that my transmission cable snapped after pulling into the driveway of my first customer of the morning at 3:30.  Couldn’t back out…  Couldn’t push it out…  Had to call the bride and AAA to get back on the road and complete the route in time and have our beloved sedan, Kermit, towed to a nearby station.  (Two weeks in the shop and still waiting for a part from the mainland.)

“And your other income streams?”  Well…the bride formally locked into some translation work and we were offered some additional newspaper-related tasks (another $200 a month for making some phone calls and pick-ups of unsold papers twice a week).  My gig with a visitor’s assistance outfit took off with me delivering flowers to elderly tourists suffering misfortune, etc. and being issued an iPhone with a company-paid plan and that I can use for personal calls, texts, and data…not bad.  And…I was formally offered a position with a foreign student exchange program helping line up host families with visiting kids…something I know a little about from personal experience.  And the periodic driving gig continues…in fact, I penned much of this post while getting paid to sit in a van and be transported across the island so I could drive a nice car back.  All flexible gigs.  I had another small paid piece published in a magazine, I was assigned my first four tourist advisory cases on LocalFu, and we saw record record record seed sales at the farmer’s market as the drought broke and we get ready to roll into spring (and vegetable garden planting time).  In fact, I am now reordering stock weekly.

Then there was leptospirosis, a work hazard for people involved in agricultural pursuits in the tropics.  It reared its gnarly head in the home of some nearby friends and put the head-of-household out of commission, and in the hospital, for weeks—a sobering reminder that homesteading in Hawaii is all fun and games until your body is invaded by hostile forces.

We also turned slightly more Amish this month through a good old fashioned barn raising.  Well…not exactly.  One Sunday morn before services, we joined another six helpful souls to  put a new covering on our neighbor’s industrial sized greenhouse.

Finally, and in closing, I’ll note that the bride has reminded me about an important development back in November that I failed to note here for our faithful blog readers.  No…no…she is not again heavy with child.  It has to do with how I inadvertently ended up wandering the trails of a nudist colony in a hippy-infested area of the island in an attempt to secure some unique banana plants for our land.  A tale for next month’s entry…  

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