Tag Archives: humpback whales

The Boy Spouts of America

The Bearded One lifts the empty box Nala came in from the back seat and I shoulder my purse and grab the gallon ziplock bag of my chocolate chip cookies and we head into the veterinarian’s house, which is just another house in our immense subdivision here in Puna, Hawaii. I am a nervous wreck.

Our 8-month-old kitty was spayed today and we’re here to pick her up. I feel like a new mother these days (at age 58) with this new kitty around to nurture. Maybe once engaged, mothering never ends. Besides, everywhere we go there are babies.

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*   *   *

Earlier in the day, our older daughter called to ask for my chocolate chip cookie recipe. She and her husband, the Captain, are having a baby in July which will be the Bearded One’s and my first grandchild and we are over the moon.

Right now they are nesting. The Captain is gardening and working a city job and won’t be fishing this year, and our daughter wants to bake cookies. I tell her I’ll email the recipe. I tell her the story of Nala getting spayed today, how nervous I was, and then I tell her again I will be there for her, that I will fly to Seattle when she comes home from the hospital.

“We’ve decided not to find out the sex,” she says. This is a change. For weeks she’s wanted to know.

“Remember when you were a kid how we used to check the cookie bottoms to see if they were boys or girls?” I ask.

“No!”

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“Lift up the edge – burned bottoms are boys.”

She is appalled.

*   * *

Nala is heavily drugged. She can’t walk a straight line.

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She is helpless and needs to be somewhat contained, and can’t go outside for a day or two. The doctor says she did great in surgery. He is an older white guy with wire-rimmed glasses, sneakers and a sweet smile. I thank him and hand over the bag of cookies.

*   *   *

We get Nala home and settled in a barricaded area downstairs, and when she is sound asleep, we decide to go to the beach, as we often do, to watch for whales. Sure enough, there are several fins and spouts a ways out, so we hang around for a while and watch. Humpback whales come to Hawaii from Alaska in the winter to birth their young.

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The pod moves across the horizon from left to right. Everyone points and shouts when we see a spout, and then we see an extra big spray and a smallish humpback baby breeches for all to see.

“The Boy Spouts of America!” says the Bearded One and everyone laughs.

*   *   *

At home, Nala is missing. We walk in the front door and the barricaded corner is empty. The box she came in is pushed aside, and it is clear she escaped. But where? No way she could have handled the stairs yet. We call her name. Nothing. We search the entire bottom floor, all her favorite places.

Behind the stove and fridge, on the towel shelf —

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— in the bathtub, on the suitcase in the guest room closet, under the stairs. No Nala.

I race upstairs, even though it’s impossible that drunken kitty could be up here. I am frantic.

But there she is. Asleep under the bed, on my side. “There you are,” I say softly.

“Mew,” she says, and goes back to sleep.

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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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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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