“Everybody’s on Edge, Honey”

It’s early Monday morning and NeNe, my swimming buddy, and I are on the phone.   She sounds good but weary. “Everybody’s on edge, Honey,” she says.

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The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports lava from the Mt. Kilauea June 27th flow could cross the only road to Pahoa and all of lower Puna — Highway 130 — in just 9 days. Lower Puna is where we swim and where she lives along with as many as 15,000 other people including our son, His Majesty.

Lava flow map

I tell her I can’t swim today, that we have to go into Hilo to get the breakers for the solar system, which might or might not be in yet.

“There’s no Uncle Roberts this week,” she said. “How about Wednesday?”

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Uncle Roberts is a sort of magical farmer’s market held down in Kalapana, where the last lava flow crossed the highway in the 1980s.

We decide to meet at Four Corners near Kapoho and go to the tide pools. I also want to see the work being done on Railroad Road, the old gravel bypass that’s being bulldozed through to our subdivision, Hawaiian Paradise Park, and which starts near where His Majesty hitchhiked 3 days after Hurricane Iselle hit last month. Puna is getting a crash course in earth changes this summer.

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An hour later the Bearded One calls the solar supply guy and the breakers aren’t in yet and it could be a week or more. This isn’t that unusual in Hawaii, so much is shipped in and time works differently here anyway. Still, people can get worn thin. It’s been hotter than ever, 90 degrees F. Even the locals are complaining. It’s some kind of long-term tropical depression.

Our younger daughter, the Nurse, is coming here in just 5 more days. She knows about the electricity situation and the inflatable mattress and the mosquitoes and she can’t wait to come.

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I sit at the peninsula in our kitchen by the landline and a breeze blows through my hair. I feel good.

My internet wasn’t working this weekend so I was a bit stressed. And then I called Tod in Washington, my old computer guy, and when he answered he said, “Aloha!” And I was stunned he knew it was me. “Who else would it be?” he said, and I was so happy. He walked me through some steps (he was amazed that my phone isn’t portable – but that requires steady electricity, which we don’t have yet – which gave him the chills) and got it working again.

Communication and hot water are my two life comforts. If I have these, I can be fairly flexible with everything else.

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There’s one other comfort I’ve discovered, something I can carry in my heart to access anywhere, any time. It took me two weeks to memorize it.

I’m stirring beans on the propane stove when the Bearded One comes inside, dripping sweat, and sits near me in front of the fan. “My, my,” he says, grinning, “a poem might be nice about now.” We both know exactly what he’s talking about.

“The Layers,” I say, “by Stanley Kunitz.” And then I begin to recite, walking slowly toward him as though it’s all a big lap dance.

I have memorized this 44-line, 9 sentence poem, every phrase. I recite it several times a day. The words have become mine. Saying them calms me. Oh, and the Bearded One loves poetry now.

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Not That Volcano

The Bearded One smells it first. “Sulfur,” he says. The 2000 degree Fahrenheit lava is only a few miles west of the highway now.

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His Majesty is driving, the Bearded One is shotgun, and I’m in the back with the gas cans. We’re on Highway 130 leaving Pahoa, 7-8 miles from our house, and going south toward Kalapana, where lava last crossed the highway back in the 1980s. We’re taking His Majesty back to Kalani Retreat Center where he works in the kitchen and teaching yoga, and imagining what it might be like in the next few weeks if Mt. Kilauea’s June 27th flow makes it this far and cuts off all of south Puna from civilization.

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I look out at the scraggly ohia trees lining the 2-lane highway as it winds downhill 10 miles to the ocean. Warm wind blows my frizzy hair and I, too, get a whiff of rotten eggs, the sulfur dioxide that surrounds flowing lava and pollutes the air downwind. Vog, they call it. It lasts less than a minute as we pass through it at 60 mph.

“Peee—yew!” I say loudly over the wind and wait for His Majesty to smile. Which he does. It’s what we said every time we passed the pulp mill in Everett, Washington.

I remember the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980. This is not that volcano. I was 23 years old and had just moved to Seattle the year before. Some people in Seattle heard the colossal bang that Sunday morning, but I was in church.

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It went off like a nuclear bomb. This one is more nearly a determined trickle, a relentless march to the sea.

Highway 130 veers and I see the immense ocean ahead, dark blue, defining the horizon at an impossibly high level. We are descending the one currently active shield volcano on the planet, Mt. Kilauea (Kill-uh-Way-uh). One of low elevation but massive girth, shaped like a warrior’s shield lying on the ground. One currently riddled with lava tubes and streams of oozing lava that take 5 years to cool. The word Kilauea means “spreading” or “much spewing” in Hawaiian. And, culturally speaking, Kilauea also happens to be the body and home of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes.

We get to the bottom and the Wizard of Oz sign that actually says, “END OF THE ROAD.”

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You can see the barren twenty year old pahoehoe lava fields in the distance. Pahoehoe lava is smooth and swirly and looks like intestines. It’s heavy and dense. A’a lava, lightweight and full of air bubbles, is the rough, spiky kind that’s 10 miles in the other direction, at Kapoho, from the 1960 flow.

His Majesty turns onto the Red Road and it’s just 5 more miles to Kalani. He spent the previous day at a training for emergency workers (CERT), one of 15 from Kalani. We talk about the community meetings and the newspaper articles about evacuation and blocking or bombing the lava flow.

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The native Hawaiian community is against these as being violations of Pele’s will. The scientists agree that stopping or even attempting to redirect the flow is dubious at best.

The ocean sparkles and the layers of blue mesmerize. I feel grateful to be riding in this truck with the Bearded One, who turns 59 this week, and His Majesty, who is the same age I was when I married his father, 23, and who has his father’s eyebrows, calm temperament and math brain. We three have moved to an active volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

We hear the Kalani campus before we arrive. It’s the Ecstatic Dance program they sponsor every Sunday morning. The music is rocking the large EMAX building that’s usually a yoga venue. We wave to the attendants, park and hug His Majesty good-bye. I watch the Ecstatic Dancers for a few minutes while the Bearded One buys us organic sandwiches.

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The young bodies gyrate and pulse in the heat, I am struck by their beauty and intensity, but I have no interest in joining in. I’m literally in the second volcanic eruption of my life – this is as ecstatic as I get.

Clothesline Love

“Have you been sniffing stuff again?” he asks.

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It’s time to do laundry, and I have just announced this fact to the Bearded One, who manages to get absolutely filthy each and every day here. He’s been cleaning up Tropical Storm Iselle debris for three weeks, and has turned the project into rehabbing gardens and tending to the new bananas. Neat stacks of twigs, sticks, and branches dot the landscape now.

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“Of course I’ve been sniffing stuff,” I say. I sniff everything, it’s what I do. “You are out of T-shirts. We’re gonna have to do the laundry.”

He pauses and stares across the landscape.  His banana patch is taking off. “Tomorrow.”

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This is an offer of an actual plan, something he is loath to make, so I pounce. “Done.”

Until then, I will wash out my favorite top and lightweight cotton cropped pants and his favorite soft old underwear and hang them on our new clothesline. Which he rigged between two palms out front between the gate and the house.

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Our “simple” off-grid life is still pretty complicated at this point. The solar panels are installed but not yet hooked up to the inverter nor to the battery nor to wires in the house. So we use a small generator to run the water pump (toilet, sink, and shower water from the catchment tank), computer, printer, and fans. The fridge, stove and hot water heater are propane, and will stay propane. The big solar system generator is also propane. But our small generator is ethanol-free gas.

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Each week we haul in some combination of propane, gas, and drinking water, and will continue to even after we have the solar running.

Right now I’ve got to start the little generator so I can wash out the favorite clothes and get them on the line. It’s sunny and windy today, the perfect combination.

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I walk around the side of the house to the utility area where the new catchment tank sits. The bank of 4 solar batteries is still covered by plywood protecting them from Iselle. That’s also roughly where the Bearded One is pondering space for a movable washer and dryer.  On big dollies.

I head under the house and duck walk to the where the little red generator sits on its pallet.  I greet it, check its vitals (are the shims in place that tilt it just the way it likes?), turn the switch to On, plant my left foot on its side and pull the rope. Starts right up. Always a noisy relief.

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Lightweight clothes wash and wring out easily, but it’s still a lot of work. At least I have running water with the generator on. Clothes washers, in my opinion, are the best invention of mankind.

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I’d also like a dryer. Some days are just too wet and humid to dry anything, and I could run a dryer off the big generator. But I could also live without it. Lots of families do. Dryers take a lot of electricity, solar or otherwise generated.

Clotheslines are all over Hawaii. Colorful layers, odd combinations of people’s stuff, the overlap and flap of lives. I love our clothesline. So does the Bearded One. He comes over to help me hang the little tub of clothes. He kisses me from behind as I pin up my tissue thin orange top.

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I laugh and turn around and sniff his neck, a nice long snuffling sniff — he smells wonderful — then I kiss him back.  Laying it on the line.

Just a Fluke

She walks ahead of me down the boat ramp barefoot, her dog George by her side. “These damn rocks aren’t always here,” she calls back to me, pointing out yet another consequence of Tropical Storm Iselle two weeks ago.

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The Pohoiki Bay parking lot has been cleared of the lava rocks and rubble that washed ashore, but not the boat ramp, which is also the access for surfers and us swimmers. One of the very few such places in Puna, whose coast is mainly 20 foot lava cliffs.

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It’s 8:30am and I am walking directly into the Pacific Ocean for the first time since moving to Hawaii almost five months ago. NeNe (Nay-Nay), a friend from the community farm we stayed at for two months when we first arrived, invited me when we saw each other at a farmer’s market. “Are you a good swimmer?” she’d asked. NeNe means goose and is the official bird of Hawaii, plus my new swimming buddy reminds me of Momma Goose back in Washington — knowledgeable, generous with her knowledge, she loves to dance, and she gets right to the point.

“Yes, I am,” I say. I am a good swimmer, having grown up with a community swimming pool in Texas (I was on the Afton Village Swim Team)

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and vacations to rivers with treacherous and wonderful rapids. But even His Majesty warned me about swimming in the ocean, how exhausting it is. The Bearded One doesn’t enjoy swimming as much as I do. I would like to start swimming regularly.

“It’s perfect!” NeNe sings out and George swims nearby, his black poodle nostrils snorting.

The Bearded One and I go to the ocean every night now. It’s a mile walk, which I don’t want, so the Bearded One leaves and I follow in the truck 15 minutes later, park and then we walk the trail along the cliffs and drive home together.

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I love the ocean. Most every place on Earth has something remarkable about it, something beautiful, something that defines it as a place. Here it is the Pacific Ocean. You breathe the salty air day in and day out, taste it on your tongue. You feel the trade winds, the sultry doldrums, the fierce hurricanes.

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There are no boats to see, no other land. Puffy, colorful clouds layer out to the horizon for 30 miles, pinks and purples and orange, so that across the entire 180 degrees you can detect the curvature of the Earth.

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We live on a speck of volcanic mountain sticking up out of these vast waters. It’s a good thing I can swim.

I sink down into the blue-green saltwater, a warm spot, then a cool spot, then a cooler spot. All kinds of forces swirl. The surface rises up around me and I ride the swell. I dog paddle. I sidestroke. Progress is slow. Surfers paddle by on their boards. My spine relaxes, I take a breath and go under.

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Two days ago the Bearded One and I saw a humpback whale fluke. The tail. Out of that vast view, standing on the cliffs, the two of us were looking at the same spot at the same time and saw the enormous tail flip out of the water a hundred yards out.

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And months early. A super-rare sighting right now. The earliest whales are said to come in September, most in October and November. “It’s an amazing fluke,” said the Bearded One, and we laughed.

NeNe and I tread water and keep an eye on George. We swim out to the boat breakwater and back. We talk a bit, but mainly we let the water wash through us. And then we are tired. There is an outdoor shower by the ramp, and I rinse off in my twenty-five-year-old black one-piece swimsuit with skirt.

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NeNe and I chat for a bit, declare our intent to do this again soon, and say goodbye. I drive onto the Red Road and the route His Majesty ran last week in his epic trek to our house.

When I get home, the Bearded One is working on the post-storm cleanup, cutting up fallen trees and pruning others. He’s creating a playground for kids and someday grandkids — spots for swings and zip lines and he just now got an idea for the 20 foot long cedar tree skeleton, once he lops off the leaves and twigs and thin branches. A jungle gym. He gestures grandly as I approach for a look, grins and just says, “Moby Dick.”

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Special Delivery

“I knew I would be saved.” Those are the words I keep hearing him say, our 23-year-old son, aka His Majesty, who ran and then hitchhiked the 25 miles across Puna to our house three days after Tropical Storm Iselle hit.

We are cleaning up the yard all day on Monday, piling up ohia branches and huge palm fronds and other debris.

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The power is still out and even though we’re off grid and using a generator until our solar panels are connected, we are still without internet or phone.

His Majesty leaves the 27-acre Kalani campus in Kalapana after working his 6am-1:30pm kitchen shift, running north on Highway 137, also known as the Red Road because it used to be made of red lava cinders, with his cell phone and wearing only shorts and running sandals.

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He is looking for a cell phone connection, for a nice run, and for us.

“Let’s just drive down there,” I say to the Bearded One as we collect fallen coconuts. “We can ask around, find him, see that he’s okay.” I’d said this exact same thing to him and our friend Tom the night before, and neither thought it was necessary or advisable. He’s thriving, said Tom. He doesn’t want you checking all over campus for him, said the Bearded One, who is not worried at all and who gives me the same answer today.

So instead I imagine him at Kalani and send a feeling of concern and love his way. I imagine him wanting to contact us and not being able to. I imagine him getting a ride here somehow. I help the Bearded One lay mulching donut rings of debris around the base of the palms.

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His Majesty’s skin glows light brown and his blond Mohawk ruffles in the breeze. He runs virtually barefoot, just a thin strip of rubber with a strap. He has been craving a nice long run for weeks now. He is strong, his yoga practice coming into its own.

The Red Road is a tiny roller-coaster road running adjacent to the Puna coastline along the ocean.

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Three nights ago 30 foot waves crashed onto its narrow two lanes and 70 mph winds downed hundreds of trees and branches across it. It’s passable now, but power lines still dangle along its shoulders throughout the hamlet of Opihikao 2 miles into his run. They say it will be 2 weeks or more before power and any phone reception is restored this far south.

His plan is to run until he gets some bars of reception, then to call us to come pick him up. Unfortunately, we have no phone reception at all and he realizes this after he calls 3 times, stopping his run, over the course of an hour. After the last call, a woman working in her yard greets him warmly. “Out for a run?” she asks. She isn’t hugely concerned for his safety. She tells him she enjoys a good run, too.

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She offers him water, which he declines but which, he tells me, also somehow clarified his feeling that not only was he okay, but he was also supposed to be there. He’ll run to Pahoa, he decides, and then hitch a ride from the main highway, Highway 130. It’s a popular spot. Even we have picked up hitchhikers there, people we recognized. His chances are good. This will be his first hitchhiking experience. Not a good idea in Seattle. So be it.

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The Bearded One says then, “Check this out.” He’s discovered a coconut with a new tree sprout growing up out of it.

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Treasures everywhere. Chain saws whine in the distance, and another helicopter swoops overhead and races up the coastline toward its destination.

A policeman stands in the middle of Pohoiki Road, just a mile from the junction with the Red Road. “You can’t go through here,” he says.

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“Yes, sir. Is there a detour route?” His Majesty is a bit lost. He smiles and is uber polite. The aloha is not returned. “No,” says the officer curtly. “How far to Pahoa from the Red Road?” “I don’t know.” “Where does that road go?” “I don’t know,” and the officer turns and strides away. He’s probably stressed about his own family and he’s just stranded out here, is how His Majesty continued on with his good feeling as he turned around and ran back down Pohoiki toward the Red Road.

Albizia trees grow an inch a day. The locals call them the tree that ate Puna, and this has come true with Iselle.

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Hundred and twenty foot tall albizias tower over the roads to Pahoa. They are huge and round and can shade half an acre. One was just cleared today from our road. We decide to take a walk down to Maku’u, which has lots of albizias.

He’s run about 10 miles, two toes are sore and blistering and he sticks his thumb out. A handful of cars pass by, and then a Camry pulls over and a woman about my age smiles and asks where he’s headed.

“Pahoa!”

She shakes her head, says she isn’t headed there but did he realize that Pahoa is a long long long way on this road?

“It is?” He shrugs and smiles. “I’m new here.”

“Yes, it is. Perhaps next time a map is in order.”

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She smiles and wishes him well.

He thanks her, waves goodbye, breathes, stretches, and focusses on the next step. He is not concerned. He decided to have this adventure.

We step out of our driveway, and I admire the silvery and gold windsock from our wedding that I hung on a tree in front of our house.

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“Someone’s gonna steal it,” says the Bearded One, but he doesn’t suggest removing it. It’s too beautiful, shimmering in the breeze after the storm. We hang a bag of pineapples on our neighbor Jim’s gate, and then head off on our walk.

His thumb is out but he’s walking, so he smells the marijuana before he sees the low-rider red pickup truck pull up beside him. Two huge Hawaiians say, “Brah!” They tell him they are headed to Pahoa and to hop in the back. As they turn down Pohoiki and pass the same policeman, he and His Majesty spot each other and wave the shaka, the Hawaiian aloha hang-loose hand gesture of pinkie and thumb.

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As a child, His Majesty was mystical, a Hogwarts graduate, eager to learn to use my pendulum and fill in his own numerology chart. And now here he is, magically dropped off on Pahoa’s main drag by the Hawaiian brothers, in front of the Thai restaurant where two of his Kalani friends eat dinner. The island will provide. These are friends who insist on sharing their food and giving His Majesty a ride straight to us, the last 8 miles of his trek.

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“Someone’s here,” says the Bearded One. We’ve just returned from our 2 mile walk, it’s about 5:30, and there is a strange silver sedan in our driveway. It’s empty. We see no people. The Bearded One marches ahead of me and opens the gate. I’m still pondering the car when I hear shouting. The instant I hear it I know who it is.

He’s already given his friends the house and grounds tour and each man carries a perfect white pineapple. I hug them and thank them and then I pluck white and yellow plumeria blossoms and poke them into their pineapples as they leave.

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He gives us the story in pieces, the spirit of it wholly magical. The island simply picked him up and delivered him.

Cyclone Sleep

It’s 2am and I am wide awake listening to Hurricane Iselle blowing across the Puna coastline less than a mile away. The Bearded One sleeps next to me like a baby.

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I’ve been wired since 9:30 when I thought the house was crashing in, but it was just the wind blowing out the plywood sheet from one of the big new windows upstairs.

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The Bearded One was awake then, too, and together we nailed the storm sheet back up. He fell asleep soon thereafter.

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Since then, I’ve listened alone to the wild rhythmic shuttering and slamming of the tin roof, and pondered the fate of our solar panels, installed just two days ago on the upper north roof.

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The Bearded One, our son, and our friend Tom worked all day Tuesday hauling the nine 35-pound thin-film photovoltaic panels up two ladders and connecting them to the previously installed framework. The panels are made to withstand wind and rain, but not palm trees falling on them.

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Hurricane Iselle (followed by Hurricane Julio) has been bearing down on us all week, the first hurricane to hit any of the Islands in 22 years, and the first in more than a century for the Big Island.  Because of its cold, deep coastline waters (hurricanes like warm water) and our two gigantic volcanoes, such a direct hit is quite rare. The locals are all justifiably hesitant to get worked up, but Iselle hasn’t veered or weakened, and the schools –

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which just started on Tuesday, were closed today for storm preparation. It’s also two days before the primary election.

After we boarded the windows, we spent the evening listening to the radio – the internet was already out – and eating storm candy I’d bought. We sat on the lanai in the breeze and noticed the lack of mosquitoes. The wind began to pick up and we repeatedly saw lightning that lit the sky up aqua.

Then we came inside to the dining room, where we moved our trusty inflatable mattress again after the solar panels moved out, and went to bed.

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Now the wind is absolutely screaming. I watch the 12-inch diameter mango tree just off our lanai bend and flop like a rag doll.

The head of the mattress is against the northeast wall of the house, looking directly toward the ocean. I turn over and get up on my knees to look out the windows and, unbelievably, in the light of the full moon, see 70 foot palm trees in our front yard blown horizontal, bending like dandelions, the wind is so terrible. The straining, creaking, breaking up sounds coming from the metal roofing are other-worldly. Impossibly big and scary.

“Sweetheart! You have to see this!” I am not afraid for my life, but the irony of this whole situation is killing me. The Bearded One is the storm freak, he who longs to be blasted by immense ocean waves, and he is sleeping through this.

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He groggily agrees and slowly props himself up enough to bear witness. “Wow,” he says.  He watches for maybe a minute. Then he goes back to sleep instantly and sleeps until an hour after sunrise, after I’d been up and assessed the damage. The solar panels are okay! We lost trees –

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a beautiful palm, an ugly cedar, a loathsome albizia, and 3 or 4 big ohias.

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A big palm is leaning down against another palm, threatening to just let go and crash down onto the ancient above-ground swimming pool serving still as our water catchment tank. The new one’s been delivered but isn’t all hooked up yet. If the pool gets crunched, we’ll have no plumbing water.

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All of Puna is without power, internet and phone, and it will be weeks in some areas before it gets restored. No one was killed or even seriously injured, and the final wind measurement was 70 mph, bumping it down to a Tropical Storm from Hurricane. I can hardly imagine the blinding intensity of a 100 mph wind. The house wouldn’t be standing.  Not in a direct hit.

When I get back inside, the Bearded One is finally awake. He rolls over, then pushes himself up off the floor mattress, an inch, another inch, higher and higher, until he is at last standing. He puffs up his chest and raises his arms triumphantly – ta da! – into the Olympian “V”.

“You survived the storm!” I say.

He beams with his accomplishment and says, “I stuck the landing.”

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Island Babe

Sweat beads on my upper lip. Then my entire face seems to break out in moisture, followed by my neck and the middle of my back. We moved from Olalla, Washington on the 47th parallel, to a tropical island on the 19th. We’ve lived in Hawaii 4 months now, 2 months in this house. I haven’t sweat like this in 35 years.

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“There’s mildew on my suitcase,” I say to the Bearded One, who sits on a folding chair beside the pile of solar panels in front of a fan in the dining room. When it’s hot, the secret is to sit still.

I’ve just come from the storage room where our friend worked this week on the new electric breaker box, and where all our clothes are stored, as well as the twin inflatable mattress that I just yesterday cleaned the bejesus out of. I did that while the guys – the Bearded One, our friend and our son – installed the solar framework on the roof.

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The plan is to put the panels up this week, weather permitting.

“Oh, there’s also a pile of suspect mainland clothing in the storage room,” I add. “We need to just chunk ‘em.” I look my sweetie in the eyeball. His instinct is to hoard. “We need to move them on.”

“What about when we go back to visit?” he protests.

“Wearing mildewy clothes?” I say.

“Good point.”

I’m still feeling a bit gritchy after the generator and water pump conked out last night and showers (or even spit baths!) seemed to become optional.

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The Bearded One got it working again, thank the Goddess of Generators. I’m all for natural, I tell him, but even birds take baths! I have standards, I say. We may be hippies, but we aren’t dirty hippies. I’m learning how to live in this climate with 130 inches of rain a year. Which lessons include no upholstery, no enclosed cabinets or storage, hang as many of your clothes as you can, and get wool futons for bedding. Wool doesn’t absorb the moisture. It’s full of natural lanolin.

“And then there’s all these new tops,” I say and point to six lightweight, brightly colored frocks my sister, the Goodwill Goddess, mailed this week.

“Fash-un show! Fash-un show!” chants the Bearded One, grinning from his folding chair.

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“Okay,” I say, a smile slowly spreading across my sweaty face, “as long as we sort your clothes, too.”

“Done.”

And so it begins, me parading around in feather-light cotton tops, mixing and matching with equally breezy bottoms. You need so few clothes here, really, I say, as the Bearded One heartily agrees. But it’s when his eyes twinkle and he tells me that he likes how I’ve gained some of my lost weight back that I start to have fun.

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I like the weight back, too, I say, and then add, “Your turn.”

He has no trouble jettisoning the pile of undershirts and three precious wool sweatshirts, or two of his three long-sleeved dressy shirts, or even two of his three pairs of jeans. It’s not until he gets to his stocking hat, dickie and gloves, the staples of his life for the past two decades, that he is stumped.

“What if we go hiking up on Mauna Kea?” he says.

I look at him. “A dickie?” I say.

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In the end, he puts them all in the give-away bag.

“I love to get to live with you,” he says, twinkling again. “You’re such an island babe.”

A drop of sweat drips from my nose, and I lick it off. “Yep.”

Boddah You?

He’s Hawaiian and in his twenties and has been working hard all day squirting orange oil into the wood in our house to kill the termites.  For the last hour he’s been up on the roof.

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Now he is taking a break, munching on a juicy red fruit the size of a cherry tomato from the enormous bush beside the barbecue.

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“Ono,” he says to me, smiling. His long-sleeved blue tee shirt says Akamai Pest Control.

“Yes,” I say, “ono!” I’m drinking a glass of water on the hot lanai, after sweeping termite poops into corners all day.

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“Strawberry guava,” I add, thrilled that I not only know that “ono” means delicious, but also what these recently ripening lovelies are called. “I just learned their name.”

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Akamai (Ah-kah-MY) means “smart” in Hawaiian. I am trying to learn some Pidgin, the language that evolved here so the immigrating Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipinos, Americans and the Hawaiians could do business.

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It’s rarely appropriate for a white person, a haole (HOW-lee), to try and speak Pidgin, but frequently helpful to understand at least a little bit of it. It’s beautiful and melodic and I’ve loved listening to the workers speak it to each other all day.

“I heard that they’re considered an invasive species,” I say.

Akamai shrugs. “Boddah you?”

I shrug back. “I don’t know,” I say. “It’s hard not to like them.” He grins and nods his approval.

These remote islands have very few native species. Everything migrated here at one time or another. Still, some species are just more invasive than others – like these strawberry guavas which threaten other plant species with shade-casting thickets and dense mats of surface feeder roots. Mongooses, mosquitoes, coqui frogs and gigantic albizia trees are all non-native invaders.

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Akamai laughs, his smile charming, and eats another of the sweet treats without a bit of guilt.

Our friend Tom says that to see the highest impact invasive species, just look in the mirror.

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Humans are the main invasive species in Hawaii by far. I’m particularly aware of this, of my whiteness and newness, and I want to join in, not invade. So I am honored that Akamai hangs out with me during his work break.

This week we’ve had lots of deliveries, and I try to be a good haole.

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The catchment tank guy, a huge Hawaiian man who helped the Bearded One and His Majesty roll the 1550 gallon tank around the side of the house, wouldn’t accept a tip.

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Two guys, one white, one Hawaiian, delivered the big generator that goes with the solar system. They accepted a handful of Hershey’s kisses.

All were kind and interested in what we are doing, being off-grid. HELCO power connections can be had even here. It costs $7500 just to tie in, we tell them. By the time we put in cables and trenches and conduit and paid official electricians, we’d easily be in the $20,000’s. Plus years of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Hawaii’s average rate is around 38 cents per kilowatt hour. More than triple the national average. So it’s not surprising that there are so many people open to solar here.

We show them the system we are designing, the 9 panels on the dining room floor, the boxes with the inverter and other components, and the 4 expensive batteries.

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The Bearded One built a plywood and recycled shutter box to protect them from the elements. It’s tucked neatly under the house. Now we have the final piece, the propane generator backup. All this, for about $7500.

Tom and our son hope to help install the system this week, and maybe even Akamai, since he is so good working on roofs. Presuming, that is, that the roof is dry.

Akamai looks up from under the towering strawberry guava bush as the Bearded One walks toward us from around the side of the house. “Brah,” the young man calls out as he waves to my haole husband.

The Bearded One smiles. Brother.

Later, I jokingly congratulate him on getting his first brah.

Ten Glugs

The Bearded One is all soaped up in the shower when the generator runs out of gas. I know because I am sitting by the lantern in kitchen with our son, His Majesty, and the electric fan stops. Then I hear the Bearded One whistle for help. “Oh no!” I cry. I spring into action.

This is a clear “Mom” overreaction to the generator stopping, and His Majesty lets me know. “Sheesh, Mom. Calm down.” He is yoga man, but he is also a naturally calm soul whose chill presence in the kitchen at Kalani has gotten him promoted to trainer already. He gets up and turns on his headlamp. “I’ll go fill it up.”

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“Thank you!!”

He pats me on the shoulder, says, “It’s okay, really,” and walks through the dining room, which no longer houses our inflatable bed, but is full of solar panels

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which we’d hoped to install today, but Tropical Storm Wali has been bearing down on us all week, the tin roof’s wet and too dangerous to walk on, and tonight the rain is supposed to be torrential.

The Bearded One has been preparing for the storm all week, including building a rain-proof box for the solar batteries. He loves storms. Lately, it’s just been hot and humid. The storm was due at 6pm. It’s 7:30 now. The Bearded One gave up and got into the shower.

I run to the bathroom to let him know help is on the way. I am a bit frantic, I admit. This week, on top of the storm preparations and the solar panel delivery, our tiny electrical system died, so we had no running water in the house for a couple of days until Tom told us how to hook the pump directly to the second generator. For those days, we hauled water from the decrepit old open catchment tank (new one due to be delivered this week) to flush the toilet

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and drove the 2 miles to Tom’s for a shower. I heated potable water on our propane stove for washing dishes. Living off-grid means learning your own infrastructure really well, hauling in drinking water (8+ pounds per gallon…), monitoring the propane supply, and the ethanol-free gas for the generator, and it’s still a bit overwhelming to me.

“How are you doing?” I ask my sudsy sweetie.

“Tell His Majesty that from the small gas can, the generator takes just ten glugs, and then it’s almost full.” His mind is still under the house, where he was juggling fuel cans and engines and electrical wiring all day with His Majesty while Tom installed the fourth window upstairs.

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I spent the afternoon cooking a spaghetti casserole while Tom’s dog Rufus watched me from the lanai and waited for the drippings.

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All of us took timeouts to check the radar on the computer to see how the storm was materializing. Up to 12 inches, some said, but it seemed to be dissipating. Still there was plenty of flood risk, which energized the Bearded One. Our house is kind of down in a hole.

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“Once the lava is saturated,” he said to me with absolute earnestness, “all hell will break loose!”

“Got it,” I say, race to the storage room window which is right above the generator, shout “Just 10 glugs!” His Majesty shouts, “Okay!” and the generator is going again in minutes. He comes in and we resume our conversation in front of the fan, which is a lifesaver with no breezes and humidity that turns cardboard limp as tissue. This is the tropics.

Rain drops begin to plunk and then pound on the tin roof. His Majesty’s eyes flicker under his headlamp and he smiles. “I love that sound,” he says.

“Here it comes!” shouts the Bearded One from the bathroom.

We laugh. “He is so funny,” I say.

His Majesty agrees. “His timing is great.” Then he gets his guitar and walks out to the dark lanai. It’s 7:40 and we’re heading to bed before too long. No TV, no lamps. The Bearded One sits on the lanai, too, listening to the rain and the guitar music and even plays some himself. It’s been a long time since he’s touched a guitar. I can feel his happiness.

When the rain stops, we listen to the ocean, which is extra loud, crashing into the lava cliffs of the Puna coast less than a mile away. “Concussive,” he says, giddy. “Want to go to the ocean? See if we can get blasted?”

I say to the boys, “Probably time to go shut down that generator. Save the gas.”

“Almost ready, my sweets,” says the Bearded One. “Just one more glug.”

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The Gift of the Keiki

Harley and I meet outside the laundromat. I sit on a bench near where her dad’s minivan is backed in reading my book about mothers and children. She marches right up to me in her tee shirt, flops and leggings. She is missing her two front teeth. The bottom two are fresh and new and jaggedy, and her bangs are pinned up and back from her smooth, tanned face with a barrette. Children are so beautiful.

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She sits down beside me on the bench and shows me her Addition Practice worksheet, her name HARLEY written in enchanting child script. I look over to her father who is smoking in the open back hatch door, we smile at each other, and Harley becomes my laundry buddy. “Auntie,” she says, “what is 4 plus 5?”

I flush, flattered to be addressed in this lovely, inclusive Hawaiian way, even if this blonde child clearly isn’t native. She is a keiki (kay kee), though, Hawaiian for child, and she tells me she’s 6 years old and has lived in Hawaii for 2 years, so Hawaii is her home. All keiki call adult friends Auntie and Uncle. This is a first for me, and I love it. I close my book.

Of course I know the answer, but I make her count my fingers, which she wants to do anyway.

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We talk for a bit. Her mommy is inside the laundromat doing 7 loads. My husband is inside the hardware store looking for some tool. Our clothes are in 3 washers. Harley lost her two front teeth just yesterday. She has a cat and two dogs and lots of chickens. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” she crows and laughs. She is out of clean clothes and says I must be, too, because I seem to be wearing my jammies – which I am not.

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I’m wearing a long blousy sleeveless top over tie-dyed gauzy pants which the Bearded One saw at a little shop in Pahoa called Puna Style, so we splurged. This is my best outfit! Harley would like for me to read to her. She hands me THE GOODNIGHT GECKO.

Back in the 1980s, I wrote and published six children’s novels. Part of that life was speaking in schools, and I did as much of it as I could.

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All three of our kids endured me talking to their classes. “Why do they want you to write your name in their books?” our oldest daughter asked. I’ll always remember that. No answer I gave really satisfied. A genuine stumper. I remember that life, so long ago. I could be Harley’s grandmother.

As I’m adding numbers with her, the Bearded One appears. He is a natural with children and suggests to Harley that she might not know what 1 plus 0 is. Her eyes fly open, she says, “I’ve know that one for years!”

She helps us check our washers, rotate the heavy clothes into two dryers, and then she wants to play the twinkling 50 cent game machines against the wall. “Do your parents give you money for them?” I ask. “No,” she says. “Let’s do more sums,” I suggest. I’d love to give this child some small gift, but not money.

She is restless and runs back and forth from us to her mom, who waves from two corner dryers she’s been folding clothes at forever.

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“Auntie! It’s done!” she shouts to me across the room to let me know my dryer load has stopped.

“Thanks, Harley!” I give a thumbs up.

As the Bearded One brings over piles of hot dry laundry and I begin to sort them on the table, two bright orange bullets of foam roll out. Harley is mesmerized. Her eyes are huge.

“Earplugs!” I say. “I must have left them in my pocket.” I show her how they work. “I wear them when I mow, and when the big generator is on.”  Our friend Tom was at the house putting in the third upstairs window, and his generator rocks the house.

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“We have 5 generators!” says Harley.

“Well then, you can use these,” I say and offer them to her, contingent on her mother’s approval. Harley is thrilled. She asks me to put them in her ears, very gently.

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The Bearded One walks over and pretends to speak directly to Harley but makes no noise at all as his mouth moves. Harley howls with laughter.

Then she dashes to show her mom. I shout that they are just cleaned, and her young, ponytailed mom smiles and says thanks. Harley races back to give me a big hug. Her sheer delight at the small gift is energizing. I’m thinking Auntie got the best gift here.