Gutter Talk

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I’m baking cookies, it’s a gorgeous Saturday morning, the sun is charging the solar batteries, and the Bearded One and Tom – the Boss and the Expert respectively – work to channel our annual 140 inches of rain from the roof into the new 1550 gallon catchment tank. They’re trying to beat a fast-approaching rainstorm.

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Tom calls the shots; the Bearded One approves them, or respectfully questions them. Mostly they work independently and are silent. The conversation is frequently tool-oriented. Tools were overwhelmingly the main items selected by the Bearded One for shipping over in our 4 foot cube packing box from the mainland.

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“That’s a great pair of tin snips,” Tom says, as the Bearded One cuts the pieces of gutter. The Bearded One recently told me of a drill bit extender of Tom’s that has saved the day countless times. He’s got to have one. They share each other’s ladders and saws freely, and know exactly who owns what.

They come in for a cookie break and Tom asks for a piece of paper to sketch the plan.

They’ve already got the new brown gutter installed, which will carry the rain in a Rube Goldbergesque route from the metal roof to the downspout, then flow down through PVC pipe leading across about 10 feet to the big plastic green tank just off the south corner of the house.

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At the actual catchment tank opening,

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the first drops (including leaves and other roof debris) bypass the catchment tank and shoot straight down into a First Flow Diverter which is a pipe that goes about 20 feet and then ends.

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The first flow debris goes there and the pipe keeps filling and backing up that 20 feet so that it’s relatively litter-free water that heads into the elbow pipe and down into the catchment tank. A threaded cap screws off and the debris is easily removed. Tiny holes are drilled into the pipe to let the water slowly drain out.

Plumbing isn’t the mystery that electricity is. Electricity is magic, completely indistinguishable from voodoo. Plumbing is machinery – simple tinker-toys – but the ingenuity of this system feels magical.

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Clouds move in and the guys don’t break for sandwiches until 2:30. Their minds hover over the project as they chew. The Bearded One tells how our solar read-out lost its memory when the generator ran out of propane. As it coughs and sputters, the electrical power it is sending to the inverter starts looking somehow “wrong.”

Tom explains about the automatic shut off, how the inverter is wired to protect itself. “I don’t deal with this,” he says in a little inverter voice, “it could hurt me!” The Bearded One cracks up laughing. Tom laughs, too.

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Two hours later and it’s starting to rain. The men rush to get the last pipe blue-glued into place and we watch as the first flow drips out the elbow. Both men whoop and cheer. I love being around happy men.

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My Solar System

Sunday evening at 6:20 pm, it’s just now completely dark and the little read-out screen in the back bedroom closet says 91.  That’s percentage charge in our solar batteries solely from the sun.

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I walk back into the kitchen to report the number to the Bearded One, who records the time and number in our Solar Book of Knowledge (we have other Books of Knowledge), a small lime-green notebook in which we collect these numbers for further study. We record these numbers all day, sometimes every half hour.

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It has to do with learning how to protect the batteries from ever going below 75%.

“Check,” he says. He’s just come inside after his full day of transplanting pineapples,

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stripped off all his clothes on the lanai, and is now sprawled naked in front of the fan in the living room. It’s just the two of us here.

We haven’t had a sunny day since the solar system became operational last Thursday. A foot of rain over the weekend. It’s beyond humid. My posture along with everything else is limp.

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We barely got the percentage up to 94, which is where we need to get it each day, either by free sunshine or expensive propane-powered generator. It’s all new stuff to us. I’m ready to be completely charged by the sun.

My swimming buddy NeNe has been off-island, too, and I miss her and our swimming. I’ve been cleaning and baking and getting the house ready for our younger daughter, the Nurse, who is coming in two weeks. She came two months ago and we talked and swam and she hung out with her brother down at Kalani and took a yoga class. This time she’s bringing another exhausted hard-working nurse with her,

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and I hope the sun is shining for them. Rain or shine – two totally different approaches to paradise.

The Bearded One gets up to take a shower and I head in to the kitchen to heat burritos and rice.

I’ve decided the girls (girls? they are ICU nurses!) should have the den area, not the back bedroom where the solar read-out is. The den’s a nicer room, has a better finished floor, and I’ll buy some colorful sarongs for the walls. They’ll need reading lamps, too. Everything is revolving around the kids – a whole ‘nother solar system.

“I want everything to be perfect for them,” I say to the Bearded One when he steps out of the shower.

“Me, too,” he says, and I think of his role as stepdad these 18 years. He’s very good at it. As he puts it, he knows his place — he sees the glass ceiling and embraces it.

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“You do what you can,” he’s said on other occasions. “It’s a good gig if you can get it.”

The phone rings. It’s 8pm. “Who could be calling at this hour?” I breathe a whiff of worry until I answer and hear our oldest daughter’s, “Hiiiiii!” And then, “I’m fine, is this too late?”

My internal battery charges as we talk. She has negotiated a break from her job and if it’s okay here, she’d like to come visit, arriving a day before her sister leaves and staying until just before Thanksgiving. Our son will be here, too.

“So all three of you kids will be here for a whole day!?” I shriek. The Bearded One is listening and smiles wide.

The planets have aligned. The sun is warming us now. Our solar reading soars.

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I Lava Rock ‘n Roll

It’s 7am and the Bearded One and I sit together in silence at our little card table. I sip Mango Maui tea, he reads the newspaper. Raindrops plop and bong the metal roof overhead, doves coo through the screens.

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One of the things I love about our new life here in Hawaii is going to bed together and getting up roughly around the same time. This happens because we have had no steady source of electricity, and when it’s dark the day is over. But it’s also because we have no TV, which the Bearded One misses, especially the football, but he’s otherwise enjoying and adjusting to the TV-free life. He doesn’t want one around. Me, neither.

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I lean over and see a sun in the weather box on the front page, along with the latest on the lava flow. We need sunshine today because Tom is coming with the final final final part to make the sun, not our generator, power the batteries. Our solar installation and Madame Pele each have their own unknown temperament and timing and neither can be rushed or predicted worth a hoot.

The rain picks up and I stand, stretch, and walk to the kitchen for more tea. Jeffrey the Gecko hunts in the window over the sink. He looks at me and licks his lips. “Good morning, Jeffrey,” I say.

When I return, the Bearded One has fetched his boombox, an ancient Sony CD Radio Cassette-corder that he used to crank up for the goats in the barn back in Washington. Now it is our sole electronic entertainment.

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We are a Norman Rockwell painting from the late 1950s as we huddle around the radio and listen to Garrison Keillor on Saturday nights.

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The Bearded One is switching through radio stations.

“A warm, loving God…election fears…referendum in the Crimea…Love, it’s what makes Subaru a Subaru.”

And then, subdued and serene, “This is NPR News…Lava has been flowing toward the small town of Pahoa on Hawaii’s Big Island since June and is oozing closer to dozens of homes. Renee Montagne speaks to Hawaii Public Radio’s Molly Solomon about the eruption and how prepared residents are.”

The Bearded One turns up the volume. Official, worldly reporters are a few miles away in Pahoa, hunting for stories. We are on international news.

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We listen as if we lived in Australia. We hear about residents who are still around after the weeks of waiting, how they have most of their belongings in storage now and will move when the lava actually flows into their yards. Watching the actual destruction will bring some closure, they say. It’s nature and this is a 30 year ongoing flow that’s already covered up 50 square miles down in Kalapana and is now branching out. We live on an active volcano, after all.

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One resident calls it “surreal, a slow-motion disaster, a lava glacier,” another talks about how it “makes people aware of their community and who they live around.” One mother says her kids ask every day, “Is the lava coming?” and today she told them, “Yeah, it’s here.”

As we listen, we smell the sulfur smoke through the rain, since the wind is coming from the south.

“That’s reporter Molly Solomon with Hawaii Public Radio, who’s watching the lava flow heading towards the town of Pahoa. Thanks very much.”

Goodbye, international spotlight, I think.

The Bearded One picks up the boombox, sets it in his lap, and switches stations. I’m antsy. The rain still falls, and it’s looking less and less like a solar work day. We have a few more quiet hours before we need to start the generator.

“I – Love – Rock-and-Roll,” blasts from the boombox.  Joan Jett growls and grinds out the girl beat, and I hop up and start singing and dancing.

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Time to let off a little steam. The Bearded One rocks back and forth with the boombox in his lap.

Then it’s over, and the Bearded One lowers the volume. The rain drops continue bonging the roof, it’s another day in Hawaii, and I sit back down and finish my tea.

Owl Be Back…

He lost it a month or so ago now, when I first mopped the dining room floor with orange oil. I moved our inflatable bed and there was the little green tail, maybe 2 inches long and still wiggling.

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Since then I’ve been able to easily identify Jeffrey, my pet gecko, amongst the dozens of geckos that live at our place. I believe he lost his tail in a gecko skirmish, of which there are many. It’s growing back now.

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Jeffrey has spent lots of time with me in the kitchen this last week as we prepared for Hurricane Ana – which swung south and missed us but gave us lots of rain and a reason to cook and clean.

We have no cat yet – inflatable beds and the responsibility for a domesticated animal are my reasons.   Still, oddly enough, I don’t feel pet-less. When I moved half of a plastic Home Depot shelving unit into the middle of the kitchen as a work island,

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Jeffrey hopped on and looked right at me, his little throat pulsing. Time to bake again, he said. It’s been so long. I’d like a brownie to go with my Coke, thank you very much.

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I baked brownies, and they were good.

So it’s Sunday morning, and I’m baking again. Cookies this time. The Bearded One sits at our little table and reads the newspaper. I woke him early when I thought the water pump might be on fire. It bangs and thumps like a dragon under the house, which is normal, but the smoke smell isn’t.

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Turns out it was vog and smoke from the Pahoa lava flow 10 miles away. All the rain on the lava and burning forest.

I smelled it earlier on our walk, too, though it was beginning to dissipate. The air was saturated and there were three dead Cane Toads on the road, lured out by all the water and squished by cars.

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They’re big toads, the size of a baseball glove, and I considered having one as a pet. Lizards, dragons, toads — what’s next? It’s starting to feel a bit like Harry Potter around here.

Jeffrey isn’t around as I get out the baking supplies, so I call for him. The Bearded One laughs from his chair.

Just then I look up and see the flash of a giant wing out the kitchen window. “Look there!” I say. “I can’t believe it!”

The bird is very large and has settled in an ohia tree 20 yards from the window. I can’t see its face, but there are feathers flying everywhere as it jams its beak into the prey. Which I see is another bird.

“Is it a hawk?” The Bearded One sees the beak now, which looks like an eagle to me. And the head is white.

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“It’s mid-morning, how could it be an owl?” I say, but I grab the camera and race outside.

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I circle around and snap numerous pictures, but I’m not sure it’s an owl until she looks straight at me.

It is an owl. She continues to eat her dove as I watch. I talk to her. She lets me take her picture straight on. She is wild and she is no pet but she is happy to see me, too.

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There are only two kinds of owls in Hawaii, the Barn Owl and the Pueo or the Hawaiian Owl which is endangered. About a week ago what I guess to be this very owl flew right in front of us on an early dusk walk, flapped once and took a right turn.

Whatever kind this owl is, I hope she comes again.

First Light

“Come look here.” Tom grins and walks over to the lamp on the kitchen counter. It’s late afternoon and he has been working hard here all day. He reaches for the lamp plug and leans over the counter to one of the new virgin outlets he’s installed over the past weeks to electrify this old off-grid hippy house.

“Is this IT!?” I say, and then run out onto the lanai to call the Bearded One. “Electricity!” I holler, and the Bearded One leaves the site of Moby Dick (the downed cedar he’s making into a jungle gym for little kids) –

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and all the hugelkultur beds (dirt atop rotting tree limbs) –

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he’s constructing from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Iselle’s debris to witness the birth of the first electricity to travel through our new wiring.

Snap. The dining room is bathed in light.

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The dark tongue and groove wood of the room glows. But the most amazing thing is the silence. No generator is on. Silent light. This electricity is from four bright-green solar batteries under the house which cost about $500 each and come charged. They will last 15-20 years if we take care of them well, not letting their charge get below 75% and adding distilled water to them monthly.

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“IT WORKS!” Tom says. We clap and hug and decide to celebrate the moment sitting around the vintage wooden card table I bought at a garage sale last week for $15 –

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and drink Coke (the Bearded One), Mountain Dew (Tom) and potable water (me) and bask in the color and the quiet.

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Tom sat here earlier on this long hot and humid day with his computer, studying electrical connection diagrams. Now he sits back and stares off into space. Sweat streams down our faces.  It’s the tropics.

A breeze rustles the palm leaves outside and then fingers its way through the screens and across the room. “The trades are coming back,” Tom says and the Bearded One and I both pray he’s right. In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve experienced the first direct hit hurricane in 150 years, a volcanic eruption and lava flow slowly descending Kilauea toward our closest town, and the hottest, muggiest September since the 1940s.

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Tom tells us he’ll be back tomorrow to hook up the big new propane generator, which will fill the four bright-green solar batteries on rainy days.

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Our nine solar panels are installed on the roof, but not hooked up yet. A needed part was shipped Fed Ex priority, but ended up on a barge for 4 weeks, so we’re living on batteries (juiced up with a big generator an hour or so a day) without solar panels.

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This is okay. The Bearded One and I are saturated with new information at each increment of this path. Now it’s learning to nurture batteries for a long life.

Tom packs up his tools and by the time he says good-bye, it’s close to 6pm and getting dark. The Bearded One and I sit down again and are discussing how batteries and fancy electric cables are now a fact of life and that he must get another propane tank since we have another mouth to feed (generator), when there is a loud knock on the door. The Bearded One hops up. It’s Tom.  He charged his computer in his truck all day, and then ended up staying longer than he thought.

He just stands in the doorway for a long moment, looking mildly flummoxed but still grinning as he asks, “Got any jumper cables?”

 

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Watts Up?

We are steeped in all things solar as the new system and the rewiring of the house near completion simultaneously. I have been getting lessons in electricity.

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Our 5-gallon water cooler is supposed to be able to help me get it.

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I walk over to the cooler in the corner of the kitchen, slip my plastic glass under the spigot and poke the release button with my thumb. Water gushes into my glass because I filled the cooler this morning. When the level in the cooler is low, the water pressure out the spigot is low, too.

Still, I’m startled by the power, recognize instantly there is some principal of electricity here that the Bearded One was trying to decipher just last night, but I really didn’t get it. He walks by as I fill my glass.

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“Pretty good amps,” I say as the glass fills in seconds.

“No…” he says, smiling sweetly at my effort. “The amperage is the same as it was before you filled the cooler.  Amps are the spigot.”

I’m going to understand this, I say to myself. Even if it’s just that Amps are the spigot.

Back in August, our contractor friend Tom, in a thoughtful, poetic moment after working on the solar system all day, tried to explain electrical terms – Volts, Watts, and Amps — to the Bearded One and me. He sat back in his chair on the lanai and said, “Electricity flows like water.”

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The Bearded One sipped his Coke and said, “We’re making electricity fountains.”

Tom said, “Wattage equals current. Voltage equals how fast the water is moving.” Then he smiled, thought a second and added, “Amperage is how narrow the channel is.”

“Oooo,” I said and raced inside for my notebook. I had to write it down, it was so beautiful. Perhaps, some day, I would understand electrical language, I remember thinking. Not yet.

Then last night I was looking at ceiling fans on line trying to find the ones Tom mentioned that used only 14 watts. Fans can be real energy suckers.

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There was only one that did this – Aeratron – and all the rest were much much higher, 58 watts and up. I showed this to the Bearded One.

While he was studying the Aeratron description, I ran upstairs to get my notebook. I glanced out the window to the southwest where, at midnight last night, I could see the glow from the slow-moving lava flow 8 miles away lighting up the low clouds like a football stadium.

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Anyway, I found the water analogy in my notebook and ran back to recite.

“That’s a really good way to put it,” he said.  “But Voltage and Wattage still confuse me.”  He looks a moment at my written notes.

“Amps are the spigot,” he says. “The spigot didn’t change.”

“No, it’s the same spigot.”  I begin to sip.

“It’s just the tube size. The spigot. How much the system can carry.”

“I understand,” I say, and I do. “Amps are the spigot. But the water pressure increased, so is that more watts or volts?”

“The increased water in the cooler is Volts,” he says. “Volts are electrical potential. And Watts are just a combination of volts and amps!”

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I stare hard at him. “Amps are the spigot. Volts are gallons of water in the cooler. And Watts are how hard it comes out, as a result of the first two things.”

“Yes,” he says. “There’s also Resistance, how much the system itself is altering the flow, and that’s measured in Ohms.  Guess that’s the Zen part of electricity.”

I close my eyes, say “OMMMMM” Buddha-style and back out of the room, completely forgetting my nice full glass of water.

“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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