Tag Archives: Puna

Maybe Ten Bites

I’m mowing in a long-sleeved shirt, trying not to bump any palms, flinching every time I feel anything resembling a bite.


I want to love this place, the good and the bad, the way the Hawaiians do, without fear. But the ants are here now.

They found us. Actually, they are all over Hawaii since 1999 when they arrived from Florida in our very own Puna suburb, Hawaiian Paradise Park. These are not the red fire ants I knew on the mainland.  These are from South America and have been spreading throughout the tropics for 100 years.

All the labyrinth ladies have them and, in fact, my first miserable week-long itchy bite was at the labyrinth itself back in May. I thought it was a spider. Different people react to the bites differently.

Then last month, while dragging bromeliads and hacking down vines and ginger gone wild, connecting to the land Hawaiian style, I got maybe ten bites. At Game Night, a week later, the bites were still driving me nuts.

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“Those are Little Fire Ant bites!” one of the ladies said when I called them spider bites.

“We don’t have fire ants,” I said, quoting the Bearded One, who quoted the former owner of the Hippie House, as I scratched fiercely under my breast for the 7th day.

“Uh, I think you do now,” she said.

One woman told of having the welts for three weeks and having to mix a paste with Domeboro powder to get relief. One told of getting a bite in her eye. I gasped.

All the ladies chimed in. Aloe, Tee Tree Oil, wash off with soap and water and apply vinegar —

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— wear long socks on your arms while weeding, call Zachary and Luna, call Justin, go to littlefireants.com. I wrote it all down.

“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” they chorused as I departed.

So I told the Bearded One. He set the prescribed peanut butter traps the next day.


Within 20 minutes, the sticks and peanut butter were covered with the tiny red ants. I’ve hardly gone outside since. Too much itch.

Until this week.  When Justin came with his environmentally okay bait and sprayed.

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It takes only 5 or 6 hours for the ants to haul the poison to the queens, but mowing isn’t when I got bit before. The ants like the trees. You just bump a branch and they fall on you.

Earlier this month, before our son Austin (aka His Majesty) and his girlfriend Kunga left Hawaii for the mainland to visit family and seek their fortune, Austin and his friend Nate harvested 70 coconuts from several of our coconut palm trees.




They used Nate’s “stand,” a little platform secured to the tree trunk as they climbed.



“Did you get any fire ant bites?” I asked when Austin came in, sweaty and happy.

“About fifty,” he said.  “They really rained down.”

“FIFTY!” I was horrified. I would die.

“I get them all the time, Mom. They’re not THAT bad.” This is pretty much exactly what the Bearded One says.

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“Go take a shower!” I said, trying to save him. “Wash with soap and water! Vinegar! Aloe!”

He agreed, probably just to cool off.

As he showered, Kunga and I looked out the kitchen window. At Nate. Who lay flat on his back on the ground under the clothesline.

“What’s he doing?!” I asked. “Is he okay?? He could get bitten!”

Kunga smiled. “Grounding,” she said sweetly. “Just grounding. Listen to him.”

He was chanting. Fearless in the face of the ants, grateful to be here on this wondrous island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, living a lovely yoga-esque spirituality that not even the risk of a fire ant bite can wreck.

As I mow, I’m noticing places that I want to clean out, pineapple islands grown over with weeds and vines, drooping palm leaves. I also notice 10 different blooming red flowers, a pair of yellow birds, several blue dragonflies, and a neon green gecko. The Bearded One hauls my grass clippings to his now THREE banana beds. He hasn’t had a fire ant bite all week.

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I admire the new shed, the Bearded One’s 60th birthday present, which sits in the back corner of the acre under shading palms.


The garden tools will be so easy to access. Soon, I think, soon the ants will be gone.

Finally I dump the last catcher-full of clippings onto the banana bed next to the clothesline as it starts to rain. Two more days and we’ll put out the peanut butter traps again, I think, as I run for the house. See if we still have the ants. And even if there are a few, which we’ll continue to treat, I vow to lie down under the clothesline, when it’s not raining, and when the Bearded One isn’t watching, and ground myself deeper still in the Big Island.

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.


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.


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.


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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“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.


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?”


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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He is whistling and wearing a brown wide-brimmed hat, shorts and sandals. It’s our twenty-something son, aka His Majesty, who is now living in Puna, too, and was just dropped off at our house after hiking at the ocean with 20 other yoga enthusiasts he works with at Kalani Retreat Center, a 40 minute drive south of here. He looks like a hippie.

“Hey, Dude!” shouts the Bearded One from the lanai where he has laid out the gillion pieces of our new barbecue His Majesty has blessedly agreed to assemble.



I look out the kitchen window and scream, “He’s here!” as if this is the Second Coming of Jesus Himself. It could just be this week, but there’s sure a lot of religion on this island. Native Hawaiians are a spiritual people, and so are the Japanese and Filipinos who live here. Whites or haoles are a minority. There is a small church of some kind on every other corner in Hawaiian Paradise Park.  Nothing big.

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On Tuesday, I meet Emily Naeole in the laundromat, candidate for County Council and as she says, “on a mission from God.”


She is my age, 57-years-old, native Hawaiian, and full of the Holy Spirit. We talk story a bit, and then we hug and say goodbye before she starts praying with a spiritual hippie couple our ages who we met earlier.

We go to the grocery store and an elderly Japanese man helps me find a coffee dripper cup, and when I laugh and use the word “lucky”, he is horrified. “No luck,” he says and points up. It was God, is all I can understand. But he is adamant.

I finish our neighbor Jim’s novel and return it to him with compliments for his story and spunk. It turns out he is not only a survivalist and a 79-year-old first time novelist, but also a minister of the Ten Commandments and contributes daily on Christian websites.  His truck bumper stickers proclaim his religious beliefs plainly.

Then there are the so-called Punatics — the army of hippies young and old who are socially active for Mother Nature in Puna. The hot issues I’ve detected so far are GMOs and Geothermal energy. Marijuana is illegal, but widely used and minimally prosecuted. Political signs show lots of young politicians. One of the WWOOFers at the farm we stayed at for seven weeks is a Rasta. He actually cut his calf-length dreads while we were there. Fifteen years of growth. He will never ever cut his long beard, though.

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Spiritual seekers really do seem to congregate here.

“Hi, Sweetie,” I say and give His Majesty a huge hug.  He takes off his hat and he’s sunburned, except for his head which is just short of shaved bald.

I cut up a white pineapple,


which the Bearded One harvested earlier from our acre where there are hundreds, and which our neighbor Jim says are so good you can eat the core.  I agree with him on this.


The three of us talk on the lanai and munch and watch hundreds of giant black carpenter bees hover around the nearby dead tree that is their palace.  Like flying ping-pong balls. They’re a tropical island bee and not aggressive to humans, just to wood.  We watch them a lot.  “It’s a Zen thing,” says the Bearded One.


We tell all our news – plans to cut new windows upstairs with Tom on Thursday,

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ordering the water catchment tank, the delay of delivery of the thin-film solar panels and the big generator for the solar batteries until mid-July, and the successful installation last weekend of the Eccotemp tankless propane hot water heater which works great.

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His Majesty will have a shower later, he says. After he assembles the barbecue.


But before the barbecue, we go back inside and he lays a big baggie of Kalani granola — he works in the kitchen — on the counter for me and starts doing yoga on the kitchen floor. He tells me about teaching his first yoga classes.

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Seven people came to one of his 6am classes. They all liked it, he says, and are spreading the word.


The Mosquito Net Cloak of In-Itchability

“There’s our WWOOFers!” I sing out to the Bearded One as he drives us through the main curve in Highway 132, halfway between Pahoa and the Kapoho farm where we are staying until we can move into the Hippie House on June 2.


“Is that the Skipper?” The Bearded One checks the rearview mirror and flicks our right blinker, which is on the fritz and buzzes loudly. Rough roads and torrential downpours are notorious in Hawaii for causing car malfunctions and jarrings-loose. We are just returning from helping our friend Tom, who was stuck up in Volcano with a broken brake line.


“Yes!” I’ve turned around in my seat and add, “And he has practically the whole farm with him!”

The Bearded One waits for cars to pass, makes a U-turn, then drives up behind the Skipper’s car – a Toyota 4-Runner like ours only 3 years newer, and its hood is up. The Skipper, who is 24-years-old and a former Marine and tattoo artist, waves happily and jogs to our window. He and his girlfriend Ginger are transporting 3 of our small web of friends on the island – organic farm workers who work for lodging but no pay (“WWOOFers”) – Gilligan, Thurston Howell III and Mary Ann – into Pahoa, and a hose has busted. Do we have any duct tape?

No, but a plan is hatched to get some at the farm, and then the Bearded One will return the Skipper to his truck. These hardworking, adventurous, optimistic people in their 20s and early 30s are all so nice, I feel like I’m in the right place, doing the right stuff, at least when I’m not going insane with itching from mosquito bites.


When we are on the road again, I offer the Skipper and Gilligan some Benadryl anti-itch cream, which Tom, who is a former nurse, gave me after I was savagely bitten up in Volcano.

Volcano is the town near the top of 4,090 foot Kilauea, an active volcano just a half hour drive from the Hippie House.


Tom is building a house there for a lovely woman named Kay who is also a fern expert, and today it was cold and wet and I was reminded of Seattle as Kay and I talked and drank tea in her little temporary shed/house and the men worked on Tom’s truck. Seattle has mosquitoes, too, just not this time of year. Hawaii didn’t have mosquitoes at all until 1832, Kay tells me, as I scratch my ankles into swollen red welts.

The Skipper and Gilligan rub cream on their own bites. The ocean breeze blows across the lava field at Four Corners, the Bearded One turns left onto Highway 137, the bumpy part of the drive, then it’s just a ways down the Mango Tree Road (the sign calls them Exceptional Trees, and they are) to the farm.

P1000181 Gilligan helps me haul groceries and ice to our jungalo, and the Bearded One leaves with the Skipper and the tape. A gecko hitches a ride on the windshield, and the Bearded One opens his window at 55 mph and lovingly encourages the little lizard on his trip across the glass and finally into the car.


Geckos are on our side in the Mosquito War. They are bug eating lizards, bright green with blue and orange markings, or brown to blend in, and we love them, even when they poop tiny poops from the rafters down onto the bed. No biggie.

I load the ice into the cooler and store the sandwiches, salads, Cokes and cream cheese there, then pack the instant oatmeal, chips, raisin bread and cookies in the ant-proof Tupperware. Well, pretty ant proof.


Finally, I run cold water over two wash cloths and lie down on the bed, under the white mosquito net of in-itchability which protects our sleep, lay the cool cloths on my ankles and rub more cream on my bites. Bliss.