The three men point right at my tank top, their mouths hanging open. They’re all freezing in this blasting wind at the shoreline. The Bearded One is with them, having passed me in the truck as I walked the mile to the ocean.
The beach boys – sixtyish “Brian,” barefoot and boisterous with a beer in his hand; “Dennis”, 72, Chinese from L.A., with an ancient terrier strapped in a harness to his chest; and “Carl,” a young Hawaiian who we just met – are all talking a mile a minute until I walk up.
“Aloha,” I say, trying to ignore their stares. “Seen any whales?”
“Aren’t you freezing?!” says Brian. “I’m freezing!”
Dennis shivers looking at me, and cuddles his dog. “Aren’t you from Alaska?!”
The Bearded One lived in Alaska for a few years back in the mid 90s and, in these situations, he sometimes tells stories of his dog mushing and gold mining adventures. No wonder Dennis thought I was from Alaska.
“I’m from Seattle and this is not cold,” I say and notice for the first time every one of them is wearing a jacket. It’s 65 degrees but the wind is strong. “There’s no wind chill!” I say.
“Wind chill,” Brian says slowly. He ponders. He shivers.
I laugh. “It’s hormones, too. I’m always hot,” I say, wink, and Brian and the Bearded One both hoot.
We take a break from the conversation to scan the Pacific for whales. The season’s apparently slower getting started this year. A few splashes, but no actual humpbacks.
Brian, Dennis, Carl and a few others come most every evening as we do to look out at the ocean and just hang. Sometimes I bring home-made cookies. “Mike,” one of the regulars who lives right on the ocean says there are some whales out there, but not very many. He and his wife hear them singing at night. He remembers years when you could see dozens of babies leaping through the water across the bay. Where are they?
Clouds in the sky to the east turn brilliant orange and red, reflecting the sun setting on the other side of the island.
Dennis tenderly pets his dog. He rescues all kinds of dogs and brings turkey treats for Mike’s dog. He once told me, “Never buy a dog from a hippie,” and I started to laugh, but he was deadly serious. I didn’t inquire further.
To the south, two different rain squalls sweep toward us on the horizon. The ocean is so vast, I can’t see it all at once and have to turn. No whales, though.
And then I remember the big news. “Hey, did you guys hear? Malama Market is closing on Thursday!”
“No way!” says Brian.
“Yes, that was my response,” I say. The Bearded One is nodding. Everyone will really miss Malama’s.
“Longs, too?” Dennis asks me. Longs is the drug store across from the Pahoa Marketplace where the Malama grocery store is, and where the new lava flow is now less than a mile away and moving fast, 300 yards a day. It could be in the Malama parking lot on Christmas. It could be on Aisle 3.
“No,” I say. “For now, it’s just Malama and the gas station closing.”
“They’re bailing!” says Carl, surprising me with his vehemence. There aren’t a lot of any kind of businesses in south Puna. Then he smiles. “I mean, aren’t they, like, jumpin’ the gun?”
“I know,” I say. “It’s hard.” Not only is Malama the main grocery store for miles and miles, it employs 83 people. It’s where we’ve gone for food, gas and propane. Now we’ll go the other direction, north to Keaau and Hilo. But people in Pahoa and south Puna will have even further to go, plus if the lava takes Malama, it will be just a few hundred yards from the highway – a real game changer.
Brian shakes his head. “They don’t want to wait until they’re on fire,” he says. “Makes sense. It’s a shock, though.”
“They should build a berm,” Carl says, smiling.
“Like that guy, Albert – “
“Albert Lee!” says Carl. “I’m related to him.”
“He was on the front page of the paper,” I say. Albert Lee, who lives in Pahoa, bulldozed a 12 foot high berm to stop the lava or at least divert it from his house – with his neighbors’ blessing. Unbelievably, the lava stopped all on its own just in front of his berm. That was a different lava flow.
Carl is really laughing now. “He’s a rock star!” he says.
It’s getting dark and the party for us is ending. Carl pulls out a fishing pole for some night fishing. It’s time I get around, leave all these good vibrations behind, bid goodnight to the beach boys and to the ocean and whatever whales are there. We’ll keep coming back. Wouldn’t it be nice? God only knows. Fun, fun, fun.