Pumpkin ales and cider flow. Nose of clove and nutmeg hang about the hearth room. Squash, of the butternut and acorn sort, adorn the larder. Thin woolen Henleys emerge from the dark shrouds of storage. It is Autumn.
Yet the rains are heavy and come most days. Outside, it is very green; not a turned leaf to be found. The coffee cherries have rouged, though, ready for harvest. Sandals, not high boots, shod most feet. The volcano continues to sputter and quake. November in the Sandwich Isles…
Welcome back to the story.
Speaking of story, you have probably observed that it is simple human nature to fill in perceived gaps in any tale, or craft novel narrative, when the pieces simply do not fit the listener’s world view, be it water-cooler office talk, history, or literature that is being analyzed. When the narrative involves characters who leave a “successful,” affluent, conventional lifestyle and voluntarily take several steps away from the money economy and towards a quality of life defined by wholly different measures, people look at said players askance–some in admiration, but most in a perplexed form of awe.
In our personal experience, no matter how clearly and often we explain the convictions, calling, epiphany-inducing events that precipitated our leap in such a direction, many good folk–irrespective of education, theology, blood relation, or other attributes–insist on coming up with their own yarn to fill in perceived holes in the story. Here are a few quips that have pricked our ears, third hand, regarding peoples’ efforts to explain our jump into the increasingly popular (albeit non-normative) homesteading lifestyle, or to explain certain aspects of it, like our move to a Pacific island far from family and home:
- “They must have been fired.” (In reality, we left our jobs with bonuses and offers to relocate us to Hawaii at the government’s expense, if we agreed to work for two more years in assignments in Honolulu.)
- “One of their girls must be pregnant.” (Not that we can tell, so far, three years later.)
- “Something really bad must have happened.” (Our lives are simply not that interesting and anyone who really knows me knows that I would have disappeared abroad–likely and predictably into the bowels of the darkest jungles of Southeast Asia–if ever I had need to flee anything.)
- “They moved to Hawaii so their mixed-race kids would fit in better.” (A real stumper on this one, particularly if you are familiar with the demographics of most urban centers in our country, including the Washington, D.C., suburbs from where we hail.)
- “It is mid-life crisis.” (Our own kids came up with this one, God bless their tiny, beleaguered souls.)
- “The wife’s myriad and longstanding Triad connections put the family under blood debts with one-too-many underworld figures.” (My personal, alternative narrative when people refuse to accept the simple truth.)
And now for something completely different… [queue Monty Python theme song]
Planting, pruning, gathering, and management of pioneer species took a downturn this month in the face of incessant rains and family illness. That said, construction of the grand abode crept forward during the occasional dry spells and we received word of the arrival on island of the replacement roof for our yurt (the original having been mysteriously and inexplicably damaged while in storage with Yurts of Hawaii).
The Motley Crew
The Jester. Moco Loco this month made her way to the island of Oahu as a backup member of her school’s competitive computer programming team, which was on said island for a bout of cerebral rivalry. The jaunt landed her in an article in the University newspaper. Beyond this brief encounter with greater civilization, back on the Big Island, she secured a long-sought-after, albeit seasonal, position with her favorite retailer at the local mall, Hot Topic, to help fatten the ole college account, and she continued apace at the farmers market.
Tiny. Ever growing in her capacity to be an exemplary
grumpy old woman, illness and holiday disrupted the aikido master’s continued pursuit of the subtle art of hand-to-hand combat this lunar cycle. Tinkering with graphic design programs, hand-drawn animation figures (right), streaming movies, sleep over with friends, a touch of work in our nursery, and a little spur-of-the-moment baking kept her busy elsewise.
Slim. Shady also locked into her dream job of youth, retail sales with American Eagle Outfitter. A seasonal position for now, she will aim to impress and secure more hours, no doubt. Sleep overs with college mates, a little baking, and (as a fully licensed driver) many a family errand rounded out her days.
Boy Wonder. Ever unfocused, this one began laying plans
to build a computer from scratch, and he managed to knock out a little nursery work. Illness kept him from teaching at church for two weeks, but he did recover in time for a boys-only outing to the shore one Saturday. Along with Tiny, he was also this month locked into a plane ticket to the magical realm of Orlando for a getaway in March, compliments of the paternal grandparents. Visions of Universal’s Harry Potter attraction and windy walks through Epcot have begun to seize the imagination of both kids.
Lady of the House. Advancing her skills as an itinerant homesteader, this one whipped up, and promptly sold, some batches of coconut macaroons and specialty muffins, and returned to a local commercial teaching kitchen to delve into the world of porcine butchery and curing. Like the Hawaiian owl, she stayed up many a night (as has always been her natural preference, irrespective of work), but knocking out translations (not hunting rodents), as far as I could tell.
Master Rapscallion. As for me, I was able to exercise that wonderful (and here very rare) benefit of paid sick leave on more than one occasion this month as I struggled to recover. Coughing fits and general ill ease twice kept me from church services and fellowship (more on this below). I placed another exchange student, a young Brazilian lass, with a local host family, continued in my role assisting waylaid tourists on my days off from the airport, and made progress in my USDA course on sustainable growing models. In my former professional life, I missed a holiday here and there, but this year (and for first time ever), I had to work on Thanksgiving. (Being finished by 10:00 a.m. and getting holiday pay removed any sting from the would be inconvenience). A Christmas luncheon with the board of one of my nonprofit gigs stitched up events for me this month.
Assorted Family News
Learning. During one full week this month, as the older girls went off to classes, the remainder of the clan (along with 41,000 other participants) dialed into a daily, multi-speaker conference hosted by Mother Earth News magazine. Topics explored ranged from tropical permaculture techniques to successful business models for established and cash-earning homesteads, and we were free to launch questions into the speakers by email as we liked. The education never stops… (One thing we miss about living on the mainland is being able to attend the yearly Mother Earth News fairs held around the country. This was a nice substitute.)
Laboring. Like Juan Valdez of that famous coffee commercial of old, we one day loaded up and headed to the property of a neighbor to help bring in the harvest. While we help neighbors with some regularity with no expectation of reciprocation, in this case, the owner of said coffee trees has offered to allow us to pick the next harvest (in a few weeks time) for ourselves. (We did just this two years ago and have not had to buy coffee since, even though we have given many bags away.)
Electioneering. At O’dark Thirty on 8 November, five from among our brave band headed to the contest’s central command post and took up positions to facilitate the grand democratic process here in the last state to join the Union. Primarily aimed at giving the kids first-hand experience with the behind-the-scenes aspects of the process, and help foster in them a greater sense of civic duty, it was an education for all, from the manning of phones for complaints that poured in from various voting precincts to counting and weighing ballots as they were shipped in from around the island to watching poll workers break down in tears as the national-level results became clear. Fed three meals and paid for our time, in addition to the free education, it was worth the effort.
(All this said, yours truly ended up ducking out early after first being told to report at 0530, then told to hang tight until 0730, to then be told I would not be needed until 1000, at which point I was told they had too many people in my assigned area and I would have nothing to do for four hours. Oh Hawaii… So…I left and played taxi…picking up the other family members as they wrapped up, the boy being last at 2200 hours.) Super PACs, Electoral College, Dark Money…three cheers for the constitutional democratic republic, or whatever we are! (“Divided States of Embarrassment,” as Eminem famously quipped back in 2002.)
Convalescing. Mid-month, over the course of a fortnight, pestilence poured over and through the household, triggering frequent cries of “man down!” Not quite Marsberg’s and not exactly the common cold, the silent and ill-tempered beastie sapped all energy and proper wits from each of the six of us for many a day, and cruelly did so one-by-one, robbing us of any respite for the duration. Tea tree oil rubs and calendula teas, raw ginger and garlic and turmeric, hot toddies, Lysol, face masks, bedroom quarantines… It was like something out of a biohazard B-movie with a naturopath twist. Indeed, I could have sworn that, on several occasions, I saw a van drive by our place that was sporting Fort Detrick parking passes on the windshield.
(Since arriving on island more than two years ago, we have seen less illness than any period in our adult lives. Now, with a job that puts me in face-to-face contact with hundreds of world travelers of every ilk everyday, I am not confident that the trend will hold. Being embraced by a suicide bomber or contracting Ebola are job hazards that airport employers just do not discuss upfront with applicants…)
Feasting. Ah, the joy of preparing a Thanksgiving meal while trying not to cough up a lung, in the noncontagious end phases of our plague. The day sounded like a holiday in a TB ward, no doubt. Much to be thankful for this year, nonetheless.
Like Lynard Skynard, and through the miracle of couponing, we enjoyed free bird. This year, we only scored a trio of free turkeys (I think we secured five last season), but all tasty, nonetheless. “Pastured, organic, wholesome toms?,” you ask. Hardly. Standard commercial buggers. The time is coming soon, though, for us to raise our own.
“And what else graced the table?,” you inquire. Well…since you asked…homemade cranberry sauce and cardomom-infused butternut squash pie, mulled cider, red skin-on mashed garlic potatoes with fresh parsley, bacon-laced yard-long green beans with roasted baby peppers of orange and yellow and red, and (second only to the glorious, fresh herb encrusted and golden roasted bird) our family holiday staple, call it a”stuffing”if you like, of wild rice and quinoa masterfully blended with fresh roasted chestnuts, mushrooms, white onion, celery, candied ginger, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, and (most important) butter sautéed crab meat. With charcuterie board before, cheese plate and port after, all topped off with chocolates and joe… It was a wholefood delight!
We were joined for hours of hearty conversation and supping by one of the Bride’s former nursery coworkers and our occasional fifth child (the very same exchange student noted in last month’s post, who learned to make cranberry sauce and experienced turkey for the first time). In line with the age-old tradition, as the kids prepped the food, they watched the Macy’s parade (delayed replay, of course), the Peanuts gang retelling of the pilgrim story (to help educate our foreign guest on the holiday’s origins), and–being halfway between Halloween and Christmas–Tim Burton’s acclaimed stop motion piece, A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Expecting. No, not that kind of “expecting.” I’m talking about anticipation of Christmas. While post-feast day is broadly known as Black Friday (and our brood of, currently, five spent the entire day at the local mall with friends), it is for us a day that marks the beginning of the Holy season and we begin to expectantly look forward to 25 December. While our advent calendar and long-collected family decorations sadly languish in storage for the third year in a row, two other markers were thrown down (as they are no matter where we are and what our lot): 1) the Christmas music came out; and 2) the Christmas movies began to roll. From James Taylor and Michael Buble to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, from A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Story to The Nativity and National Lampoon, it will be an auditory and visual feast from here until New Year’s Day. (During this time, I usually attempt to get through at least some passages of Dicken’s three Christmas stories as well.)
“Not My Hawaii” (Back by Popular Demand)
This year, November kicks off Makahiki, a season lasting until March that marks the Hawaiian New Year with festivals in honor of the god Lono and celebrating the bounty of the land. There are scads of competitions (from fishing to hula) and other revelry. (Out of respect for the occasion, I vowed to wear a traditional loincloth during this period, but my boss sent me home the first day I showed up to work in native costume. As is the custom of the day, I have filed a grievance against this act of oppression of my freedom of expression.)
Have you ever planned a vacation based on a location’s death rate for tourists? No? Consider this: Hawaii’s rate of drownings per visitor is 13 times the national average, according to a Honolulu Civil Beat special report, and 10 times the drowning rate for Hawaii residents. It dwarfs the visitor-drowning rate of other beach states, including Florida. On average, nearly one tourist dies a week in Hawaii, typically while engaged in common vacation activities such as swimming, snorkeling and hiking.
Did you know that Hawaii imports citrus? “But Hawaii is a tropical fruit paradise!,” you quip incredulously. I know, I know…and freshly-fallen oranges and grapefruit and lemons lie rotting beneath their trees in the yards of most houses here. What can I say, other than remind you, gentle reader, that the local food system is broken? You want specifics? From January through June 2016, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture listed oranges among the top ten fruits imported by the state. Equally crazy is the fact that avocados were also on that list from January through March, though near-year-round avocado production (relying on species that fruit during different months) is common here.
Have you heard that, in the recent national presidential election, Hawaii had the lowest voter turnout in the country? West Virginia came in at 49th. (Interesting to us given that Puna District, where we live, is essentially the West Virginia of Hawaii. Shotguns hung over doorways, packs of mutt hunting dogs caged in yards, roosters crowing throughout the day, drag racing, people burning their trash… We even have banjo players…)
“Speaking of banjo players, how is that homelessness problem in Hawaii that we never hear about in tourist publications?,” you ask. Well…a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report released this month notes that, in 2015, while the rate of homelessness across the country fell for the seventh consecutive year, it rose in Hawaii by four percent. “Why?,” you stammer. It is funny that you ask. Discussing the actual causes of homelessness here (you know…to do crazy things like find solutions) is taboo, which is odd, given that–by many accounts– the vast majority of the homeless are not native Hawaiians and were not born in Hawaii, and many came to Hawaii after falling on hard times elsewhere. “Is it because of the great weather?,” you astutely inquire. Could be. Consider that the homelessness rate in North Dakota during the same timeframe plummeted 29-percent.
(Of course, our very liberal social welfare system may facilitate the trend. As just one example of this generous scheme, you’ll be fascinated to learn that many young folk who travel to Hawaii to experience life in one of the Big Island’s many alternative-lifestyle communes register for welfare upon arrival, irrespective of their station in life, to fund their stay and help provide food for the “intentional community” that they join, whether it be focused on a polyamorous lifestyle, ayahuasca ceremonies, or raw food diets. What? Your tour agent never mentioned this counterculture facet of Paradise? Surely you know that one of our representatives to the U.S. Congress regularly comes under fire for ties to a Hari Krishna group. Aloha comes in many flavors…)