Sandwich Isles – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Interesting, and The Other (July 2015)

In a break with convention, let’s just dive right in, shall we?

The Good

Another blessed month.  Out of the blue, I was asked to consult on an agricultural project and ongoing discussion is heading in the direction of paid work.  Also out of the blue, I was approached by a longtime local grower to participate in a program for native Hawaiians that will teach them to be more self sufficient and sustainable through the production of their own food.  (Seed sales factored in here and I got my picture in the paper!)  And then, really out of the blue, I was contacted by a research director of the Discovery Channel, who wanted to have a discussion about our lives with the possibility of some type of production.  (Regular readers will recall that this is the second cable T.V. show that has approached us.  In this case, the director began reading my blog for a popular homesteading magazine and then began reading this very blog, through which she contacted me.  Huzzah!)  Oh yes…and we were kindly gifted a free, one-night stay in a local bed and breakfast, just in time for our 20th wedding anniversary!

Seed Saving 101

Sound progress on the planting and harvesting front too.  Let’s talk about artichokes, for starters.  We love them.  They are expensive.  We rarely eat them.  Now, we produce our own.  That’s right…the impressive little baby artichoke featured on last months blog was ready for harvest this month.  A scrumptious treat dipped in a touch of dried parmesan and salt.  We have planted more of these delectable flowers than we can recount (including a standard Green Globe and a violet colored European heirloom) and look forward to the continued harvest.  (They tend to produce for 5-6 years before you need to plant anew.  Yeah perennials!)  The burgundy okra is coming in, we are up to our eyeballs in poha berries and Hawaiian chili peppers and upo, and we just planted beds of sweet potato and asparagus and corn along with a myriad of brassicas scattered around our grounds. Wild raspberries have broken out across our land, providing a wonderful labor-free garnish for salads.

We Came Here for the Pristine Growing Conditions. (What’s Going On?!?!?)

(With this 21st century version of a newspaper clipping, allow me to forewarn that, at the risk of boring you, but for the sake of educating you–all three of my dear readers–I have included a good many such clippings in this post.  There is nary a better way to get a true and gritty perspective on a place than to read the local paper…  Or join the local mob.  All of these news stories came out within the limited, 31-day confines, of this good month, believe it or not.)

My first foreign exchange student arrived this month, giddy with excitement.  This one, a young high schooler from Thailand, was a real treat for me, having previously myself been an exchange student in her country many moons ago.  Mom and Dad back in Bangkok called me before her arrival and seemed relieved that she would have an overseer who understands her culture and can speak her native tongue.  Brings back many fond memories of when I was in her shoes…

Simultaneous Heat Wave and Snow Storm?

Also good this month was the theft of my landscape trailer.  "How on earth could this be good, old fellow?,“ you ask.  Well…the registration had expired, the safety inspection had expired (not sure how it would fare on that front either), both tires needed replacing, the license plate was held in place with baling wire, a hole in the flooring had finally rotted all the way through, rust continued to creep throughout the frame, my teenage son jerryrigged the electronics after the dog bit through the wiring, and the gate was becoming increasingly difficult to remove when high humidity caused swelling.  Insurance will cover most of the value.  I get to buy a new trailer!

The Bad

Lets continue with the theft of my trailer.  I now have no way to haul the manure and mulch that that our land craves and I have to go hunting (again) for a trailer that I can afford.  Oh…and the thieves tried to hotwire my van ($2,000 in damage and they only failed in trying to steal the old girl because the battery was dead), they stole a solar panel we were keeping for a neighbor who had previously experienced theft and was off island, and they walked off with some of the construction supplies for our to-be-built abode.  This left me sleeping in our Jeep on our property (including on the day of the 20th wedding anniversary of the bride and myself) so that these needy folk would not walk off with our yurt construction package, which we relocated to a more secure storage site several days later.  (Nothing to make you feel alive like sleeping in a vehicle in tropical heat, no mosquito protection, waiting to be pounced on by thieves who offer their own special brand of "Aloha!”)

Antics Less Than 1 Mile From Our Property…

Then there was the police response to said crimes.  It was something between what you would expect in…oh, say, Namibia and in a Laurel and Hardy short.  They took five hours to arrive on scene.  Although they had my trailer’s description and license plate and VIN within hours of the theft, they did not put out any APB or other such call until after the 5 hour delay (if that…we have not been able to confirm that they broadcast anything).  They missed evidence (tools left behind by the thieves in my van) and when the bride and I called in to report this after the police left the scene, they asked us to “put it in a bag and bring it down to the station.”  Chain of custody must be viewed very different in the court of laws here.  The officers, who never introduced themselves, did not leave their names on the form they handed us, which clearly has a line for such information.  The police report had so many mistakes, I had to ask for it to be rewritten for insurance purposes (wrong address for my property, wrong contact phone number for me, wrong values for stolen items, incomplete list of stolen items).  I could go on…

…and Just a Few Miles From Our Place

Two days later, back at the house were we hang our hats, we were awakened in the wee hours by the smell of smoke.  An appliance malfunction had started a fire within a few feet of some motor oil and a stack of cardboard boxes.  With God’s blessing, we were able to put out the blaze with a kitchen fire extinguisher.  We spent several hours out in the yard in the wee hours, waiting for the black smoke to clear from the house, quietly chit chatting in the fashion of Douglas Adams about life, the universe, and everything while enjoying the celestial show that makes this island so ideal for astronomy research.  The blaze left a fine black silt on everything, requiring a handy cleaning, and I had to wash the manly locks three times before the water coming off of my head was no longer black.

Agricultural Theft Is a Favorite Pass-time Here

But wait!  There’s more! (What would modern English be without the garnish of infomercial lingo?)

A few days on, when returning to bed after making the morning paper deliveries, I was surprised when my foot graced a puddle next to my bed.  My first thought was that of an incontinent (or angry) cat, but it turned out that an upstairs plumbing mishap had allowed water to seep through the ceiling, soak strategic pockets of the room next to ours, and seep under the wall into our room…  

Then, the forum on sustainability for Hawaiians that I went to as a vendor turned out to be more of a a political gathering advocating the secession of Hawaii from the United States (though I was able to sell a number of seedlings and seed packs…mostly to non-participants of the forum who just happened to be passing through the public building or who worked there).  "American empire,“ "occupying force,” “public enemies,” and “posse comitatis” were just some of the colorful terms bantered about as discussion ranged from the need for a Hawaiian currency, the establishment of a common law legal system, naturalization of non-Hawaiians as citizens of Hawaii (and dual citizenship with the United States).  The most interesting thing was that this gathering was organized by non-Hawaiians, the vendors were all non-Hawaiian, and many of the most vocal proponents of seccession were caucasians who moved here from the mainland. We were assured that there is no movement to kick out non-Hawaiians (yet), but there are efforts underway to take back from non-Hawaiian’s privately held lands that, many generations ago, were “unfairly” taken from from the ancestors of living Hawaiians (who would, of course, be given this land that was purchased by the current owner).  Anyone out there ready to invest in some property here?

Thieves in the night, fire, flood, early simmering of insurrection…was that a swarm of locusts that I just saw descending in the yard?

A Typical Reward Offering in the Classifieds Here

The Ugly

I’m not sure we have seen The Ugly yet, but it probably looks something like this…

On a more serious note, we are now well into the annual hurricane season and we have had a few potential contenders for the season’s first natural disaster that Petered out or moved north before striking our coast.  We assembled our hurricane emergency stash of food with a quick run to COSTCO on the other side of the isle.  50 pounds of rice, 25 pounds of dried beans, a mountain of tinned meat and veggies…  Should last a day or two, if we ration…

The Interesting – Second Law of Thermodynamics in Paradise

I am convinced that the Big Island is positioned in the epicenter of the universal force known as entropy.  Aside from the crime and corruption, the thriving meth and pot cultures, the poverty, the percolating independence movement, and the ever present array of natural disasters, consider the almost otherworldly market dynamics.

“What in the blazes is this fellow talking about now?,” you mutter.  

Take beer, good beer, for instance.  It can regularly be had for $1 per bottle–Sam Adams brought in from New England, Guinness imported from Europe, Mexican cervesas.  Cheaper than brews crafted just on the other side of the island!  Cheaper than home brewed!  Cheaper than I ever saw these brands on the mainland!

Meanwhile, avocados and mangos from Mexico are sold in grocery stores here, on an island where these same fruits can–quite literally–be found lying on the roadside, or as the stuff of neighborly gifts, because they are so abundant and easy to grow.  Bananas from Ecuador are as readily available as local grown, often at a lower price.

Prepping Biscotti and Shortbread for Famer’s Market

CAFO-raised pork and beef from the mainland and farm raised fish from Asia and the mainland outsell the abundantly available and delicious meat of local grass fed cows and wild caught fish (not to mention the abundance of free wild pig, sheep, and goat).  Situated in the middle of the native habitat of ono and mahi mahi, we pay more for these fish than when we purchased them on the east coast of the mainland after being shipped all the way from Hawaii.  

Here, I can buy coffee from South America for less than coffee grown and roasted within 2-miles of my house.  Milk prices are kept artificially high by local government ordinances, even though local dairies have asked to lower consumer prices, so as not to scare off “mainland competition.”  Internet service providers offer slower access and more limited area coverage than anything we ever experienced living in third-world Asia.

Rainbow state?  Nay.  State of Entropy.

The Other  –  Dog Days of Summer

Imagine the property damage you get, like in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, when you put an “Abby Normal” (or just an infantile) brain into a hulking adult body.  Well…that is pretty much what we have in our one-year-old Australian Shepherd (huge body, less than fully developed brain).  While we needed said canine when it looked like we would actually occupy our property in an expedient manner, to bark at things that go bump in the night and chew on a human leg or two should any ruffians breach our portcullis, she has become something more of a 5th, disobedient child than an effective work animal.  Don’t’ get me wrong…she does bark (a lot, and usually not at things that require an alarm), and she does chew things (but usually things of value, not brigands)…but I have lost track of all that she has cost us in terms of destroyed  goods (an $800 jacuzzi cover at a neighbor’s house, the rear windshield wiper wiring of our Jeep, the brake light wiring of our trailer, my eye glasses, the gas cap to our brand new yard trimmer…).  At what point does it become socially acceptable in modern Western cultures to eat your dog?

Who, me?

I Smell A Rat

Clever and industrious nocturnal creatures clattering about and waking me is nothing new.  Growing up in Virginia, and spending as much of my young boyhood as possible in the woods, raccoons and opossum are no strangers.  That said, we do not have said masked bandit or hang-by-the-tail marsupial here on the Big Island, so backyard antics mimicking the noise level and determination of efforts of these fine creatures can only mean one thing:  a rodent of notable proportions.  Now, I am not suggesting something akin to the R.O.U.S. of Princess Bride fame, but perhaps something more in line with ole Nicodemus, leader of the wily Rats of N.I.M.H.  Whatever it’s exact size, I’ll note that the Australian shepherd seems to steer clear of the little beastie, and both cats that dwell with us make no effort to investigate the clearly audible rustling (out of fear, I surmise).  I am convinced that it is building something at least as equally complex and impressive to that renowned subterranean rodent city introduced to us all as children by Mrs. Frisbee. Indeed, I have found the lid to my meager tool box ajar on a few mornings and I believe it entirely possible that this graveyard shift worker is borrowing.  I am reluctant to dispatch this creature, given its praiseworthy work ethic and seemingly astute mind.

A Note of Passing Interest

One year ago, to the month, we were in search of a variety of banana plants, the sorts that are uncommon on mainland U.S.A.  Our land had been partially cleared and it was time to start filling it with the bounty of God-provided genetic diversity that is available, and thrives, on this island.

Via Craig’s List, the bride and I met a man in downtown Hilo, Richard, an avid grower.  The Bride and I visited Richard to purchase some apple banana keikis (babies or children or starts), and we walked away with not only seven banana plants (paid for and including extras at no charge) and free lemon grass starts, but an education befitting an advanced class in tropical agriculture and theological advice befitting a week-long retreat at a Benedictine monastery.  You see…while we were there to make a quick purchase and get on with our day, Richard insisted on showing us around his lot and educating us on his quarter acre (or was it half acre?) in the downtown area, which was producing more food than most could fathom on such a piece of land.  Jobaticaba, miracle berry, sweet potato, squash…I could go on.  Richard insisted on educating us, the new comers to the island, on a variety of tropical agriculture issues and explaining to us the utility of a wide range of specialty farming tools for growing food here.  That advice was nothing, however, compared to when Richard got serious and began educating us on life…

Once he had established, through some clever questioning, that we were a serious believers, adherents of The Way, this total stranger challenged me directly  and personally:

“What do you do in your free time?”  
“Well…I like to listen to audio books when I am driving.”
“What do you listen to?
"Fantasy fiction…Tolkien, etc.”
“As a man of God, you do not have time to waste on such trifles.  You need to spend your time filling your head with the Word of God, Biblical wisdom, sound doctrine.”

That was like a punch in the forehead.  How do you respond to that, especially from a stranger you just met?  Pathetically, I smiled, nodded, muttered something affirmative. Who was this guy?  Where did this message come from?  I felt…unsettled.

Child Number Three Learns to Skin and Gut a Sheep

I haven’t seen Richard since, but I’d love to look him up.  Unfortunately, the phone in which I had stored his number was lost somewhere in the weeds and lava stone on my 10 acres when I was planting or weeding or something, and I have had to procure a new phone.  I am not certain that I will see him again in this life, but I am most thankful for his sage input.  As a result, I now spend more time, via podcast, with the likes of Indian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias, Danish scripture expert Hank Henegraff, completed Jew Lon Solomon, and Scottish theologian Alistair Begg.  I cannot even begin to address in this forum the issue of how many opportunities I have had to draw on these teachings while fielding questions from local people whom God has put in our path and who are baffled by our our ongoing life journey and ability to cope with trials related to said journey.  I don’t understand all of this, but–then again–I suppose I do not really need to…

Hawaii Fun Facts

Did you know that the vast majority of papaya produced in Hawaii County (the Big Island) and elsewhere in the State is genetically modified?  Did you also know that this unnatural measure was taken only for cosmetic purposes, to make the fruits look more attractive at market by preventing harmless, small, brown ring spots from forming on the on the skins (which is not typically eaten)?  This all brought to you by Monsanto, which has bought up chunks of Paradise to carry out its controversial genetic experiments in seclusion.  Google it sometime.

Did you know that, when comparing states of the Union, Hawaii now has the second highest rate of homeless people (per capita) in the nation?

Are you aware that, this very month, the University of Hawaii began flying the Hawaiian State Flag at the same level as the natinonal flag?  (If you do not understand the implications of this provocative move, Google it.)

Hawaiian-language articles became a weekly feature in the local English-language paper this year…


The boy took flight again, this time to Virginia, under generous arrangements made by the family of one of his old friends.  This left me as the lone male in a household occupied by six females (counting the dog and cats, of course).  This after one week at summer camp, compliments of our church.  He is enjoying a blissfully parent-free summer.

The two eldest accompanied the boy to camp–one as worker, one as camper–leaving wee one alone for a week to be spoiled by mom and dad.  She did have to pull newspaper delivery duty every morning at the crack of dawn, but there was plenty of Breyer’s and Red Box to prevent an outright revolt.

Say Hello To My Little Friend (look carefully at the head of my toothbrush)

Independence Day was celebrated with church friends and was defined by traditional Americana, to include grilled fare, sparklers, and water balloon tosses on a residential grass lawn.  A veritable Norman Rockwell moment…

Drafting and permitting continued to stay any progress on the erection of our dwelling, but recent noises from the builder and new draftsman make us cautiously optimistic that we will see some forward movement–at least in paperwork–in the coming lunar cycle.

That brings us to food…or food experiences anyway.  When you have traveled, literally, to every continent save Antarctica and you have a penchant for food adventure (as is true of me and the bride), it is uncommon to have a new and unique food experience in any given year, especially when confined within the Union.  (I realize that Bazaar Foods is a wildly popular show, but….please…  By the time I was 21, I had enjoyed my share of fried grasshoppers and bamboo grubs, roasted bat, grilled rat, and many other things that would make the weak of stomach…well, hurl, to borrow a term from our good friends from Wayne’s World (Party on Garth!  Party on Wayne!)).  

This month, the bride and I were able to dine on two new and exquisite subjects of epicurean note–opihi and kole, a fish once reserved for Hawaiian royalty.  Let me just say that, for any aficionado of clams or oysters on the half shell, opihi (a mono valve akin to abalone) is a most satisfying substitute here in the Sandwich Isles, where we have neither bivalve.  

Kole, on the other hand, will tickle the fancy of anyone fond of whole deep fried fish.  This small, delectable creature, when fried crispy, can be devoured in its entireity (head, tail, and back fin included) like a giant, meaty potato chip.  Outstanding!

And this month, I took the blue pill.  Reluctantly, dragged along by the marketing needs of one of my non-profit organization income streams, this introverted recluse-wannabe stepped through the social media looking glass and entered the world of Facebook.  My fears of this tool proving to be a time suck were realized day one as I whiled away a good many hour pondering how this modern wonder, having only my rather generic and common name and my birthdate, could within a paltry few minutes of registration link me to people overseas who I have not seen or communicated with in a decade.  What sorcery is this?  If this proves half as dangerous to time management as Skyrim or World of Warcraft, you may not see a post from me next month.  Also, I’ll note, I keep getting “tagged,” which–frankly–makes me feel somehow violated…in a way that I do not quite yet understand…(violated, nonetheless).

On that note, gotta run.  Just received a friend request from Queen Latiffa.

Peace out.


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