All Bus Up

“If it works, and it’s in Puna, it’s worth something,” Tom says to me. I laugh, but I don’t believe it. “It’s all bus up!” I say.

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Tom is here disconnecting the old stove that came with this house, and installing a longer propane line and an electricity box for the new one we bought, which is being delivered this afternoon.

The windows are open as they always are, and we can just hear a bulldozer rattle and clank down the road.

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Last year I was pioneer woman breaking new ground, moving to Hawaii, living off-grid, baking dozens and dozens of cookies in an all bus up stove. This year I’m getting a new stove.

All bus up is my favorite Pidgin phrase. When we bought the house, we tried to make their lawn mower and string trimmer part of the deal. The seller said, “Sure, you can have the mower, but the string trimmer is all bus up.”

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I love how it sounds, how it makes me smile when I hear it again. Lawn-mowers, string trimmers – all bus up! Store-bought eggs, all bus up! This ancient, rusted stove is not literally all bus up, but it’s pretty far gone. There is just no way it’s worth anything. I would feel guilty even giving it away on Craigslist.

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The Bearded One and Tom almost can’t get the stove out because of the window ledge.

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It must have been here for at least 20 years, since the house was built. And now, it’s in the middle of the kitchen floor. Rusted sides, one lone non-sooty functional burner, a long-stopped clock (6:30), and a choking brown dust layer on the floor beneath the oven.

Bulldozer treads bang in the distance, metal plates on solid rock. There is no soil here. Not 8/10 of a mile from the ocean. This 500-year-old lava is virtually brand new. Pahoehoe (puh-hoy-hoy) lava flows pile up, and composting takes eons. I’ve watched the bulldozer work. A brown man in a bright blue shirt drives the bulldozer back and forth, over and over and down and around the bus up lava rock, grooming it to build, breaking it down into workable size chunks for altering the rough landscape into a big pool table.

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This is not how our place was done, by a long shot.

I set to work cleaning the floor and wall and anything else that needs it as I wait for the promised phone call from the Home Depot delivery man saying, “We’ll be there in half an hour.” The Bearded One doubts it’ll all work out as promised. It rarely does here.

Finally the phone rings. It’s them! What? The man who was supposed to convert the gas jet to propane didn’t get the message?

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He will do the conversion on Monday? They deliver to the other side of the island on Tuesdays. Wednesdays they don’t deliver. She apologizes, but the plan is all bus up and we won’t get our new stove until Thursday, five days away.

“No stove for five days!” I say to Tom a few minutes later. I hang my head. “What I would give to have the old one back.”

He smiles. “It’s already hooked up. I just used your new connections. You can have it back now.”

I laugh, deeply relieved. It’s still working. Kind of like the whole world. Even if it’s all bus up.

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Beach Boys

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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The Land of Ooze

“What time is it?” I whisper to Katherine, the only lady at the monthly Game Night wearing a watch. There are ten of us here at Marge’s and this is our second round of Catch Phrase.

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I was first invited by my friend Deborah. I had a great time in October, missed November, and tonight – December 3 – she just got up and demonstrated several 1960s dances (Twist, Watusi, Jerk and Pony) and our laughter rocked the entire 16 mile square subdivision.

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“Eight forty-five,” she says.

“I said I’d be home by 9,” I say and a couple of the ladies across the table just howl at my curfew. We are all wild and whooping it up, sipping wine and munching pupu platters and staying out late. Still, half the women live in other subdivisions, one has an outside job, and yet another’s cat allergies have kicked in and her eyes are watering. Everyone agrees to wind it up.

By 9:30 I’m out the door with my empty cookie plate and a big slab of apple pie in a plastic box for the Bearded One.

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The moon is huge, just 3 days from full. I see the constellation we call The Three Twinkly Ones – Orion’s Belt – clearly and think as I always do when seeing these three stars in a row of our three adult “kids,” all of whom were actually here together last month.

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After they left, unsurprisingly, I felt a bit bereft, pondering life and my navel and badgering everyone for a definition of home.

NeNe, my swimming buddy, says home is where your beloved is. The Bearded One says home is where you don’t want to live anywhere else. Our younger daughter, the Nurse, says home is where her hair products and cat are.

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I climb into the dark truck. It starts right up and stays started. Monday it was with Ed at Kolohe Car Repair on 19th Street getting its fuel pump relay replaced. Hawaii is hard on cars. Lava cinders grind the tires down, salt water and vog eat the paint and feed the rust, and the roads are rough. “Just gonna rattle the truck to death,” says the Bearded One.

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On the other hand, it’s December and the weather is exquisite, in the 60s at night, low 70s during the days with sun rays and a trade wind breeze. These are the reasons we moved here 8 months ago.

I back out the pitch black driveway and swerve to avoid a pothole the size of a toilet. I think how Ed the Mechanic reminds me so much of Virge the Mechanic back in Washington, good guys who come to our house to pick us up since we have just one car. I don’t want to be in Washington, though, I think.

I feel tired as I drive through the dark. I weeded one of the pineapple patches earlier today while the Bearded One weed-whacked.

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I can only imagine him trying to stay up for me. It’ll be 10 before we’re in bed. This with a man who went to bed at 2-3am most nights for the first decade or so we were back together.  He shifted his clock for me.

I turn left onto Paradise Drive, past the piles of uprooted albizia trees from Tropical Storm Iselle back in August, and I’m halfway home.

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One of the other Game Night women behind me turns right toward Pahoa, where the lava flow has picked up again after stalling out last month. “The vog set off our smoke alarm last week,” she told us between game rounds and pupus refills. She shrugged and smiled – what can you do?

The lava river has split and is oozing more toward us now, but it’s still miles away. A slow motion, months-if-not-years event.

And the feral pigs. One of which, a small black hog the size of a golden retriever runs in front of the truck as I turn onto our road off of Paradise.

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The Three Twinkly Ones and the moon shine brightly above our house as I enter our driveway. It’s 9:40 and the Bearded One greets me at the door in his jammies – electric blue surfer boy pants. The house behind him is dark.

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“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I say. His eyelids droop sleepily and he mumbles something about being happy that I had fun as he shuffles toward the stairs.

“Here,” I say, “I brought you some pie. Maybe a few days’ worth.”

“Pie?” He looks at my outstretched hand.

“Apple.”

He perks up, takes the pie to the kitchen and turns on the light. There is our new microwave oven, the smallest available at Target, but still uses lots of watts. Carefully he microwaves the pie, and then sits down by the window under the universe of stars and eats it all. There’s no place like home.

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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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