The Long and Whining Road

In 1854, William and Jane Shipman arrived on the Big Island, overdressed and intent on passing along the word of God to the locals. Very soon after their arrival they produced little Willie Herbert, who went on to buy the 70,000 acre ahupa’a (ancient land division) of Kea’au, where he made several fortunes growing sugar and coffee and fruit. At some point, he sold off a chunk of land that later became the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm. You may recognize the brand from the overpriced mini fridge found in better hotels everywhere. But we can’t blame Shipman for that. And his son Herbert singlehandedly saved the nene goose from extinction, so we have to give the family some kudos there.

Something Willie left behind is a rather lovely plantation house by one of the only white sand beaches on the island, which fringes a cove of water in extraordinary shades of green and blue. There is a road to the house, of course, but it’s private. The only access to the beach is an ancient path through the forest, the Historic Puna Trail. So four of us brave souls put on socks and real shoes and headed for the trail.†

Us with Mick and Leah, so innocent and free

One of the fascinating things about the Big Island is its diversity. We passed different types of foliage, from what looked almost like Southwestern scrub to towering banyan trees to bits and pieces of other parts of the world that I’d seen but couldn’t name, so many sights that looked almost like other places but not quite. And some defied description.

If you look closely, you can see the Swiss Family Robinson hopping among these branches.

There really should have been a nice Japanese lady arranging ikebana in this.

The path was fairly flat but very uneven, often paved with random scatterings of stones or interwoven tree roots or blocked by sludgy mud puddles that had to be skirted. It took us 2.5 hours to reach the beach and by then my legs had turned into noodles and my bunion was pounding. The beach was just as lovely as its reputation, but I was too tired to care about much except the return hike, which loomed at the back of my mind like an axe murderer lurking in the shadows behind an open door.

“I will not whine,” I repeated to myself, again and again, as we made our way back along the trail. And I didn’t, although after a while, I stopped counting the things that hurt and tried to count the ones that didn’t. When that got to be too difficult, I went into Clydesdale mode: clop clop clop. Just keep moving. And if you need to sit down on a mossy rock and sob for a couple of minutes, so be it.

As we plodded along, a young couple passed us, both very young, very pretty and very barefoot. One by one, we looked at each other to make sure we’d seen that right. Perhaps they were earth lovers, believers in touching the land and thereby being one with the universe. More likely they were too stoned to realize how much their feet hurt. I kind of wished I was.

We finally made it back, of course, but none of us ever want to return. That is, unless the Shipmans invite us to use their private road. And while they’re at it, I wouldn’t mind a nice cup of tea and some finger sandwiches.

It’s a trek worth making, but plan on taking your time, pack a lunch, and if you can make yourself twenty years younger before you hit the trail, that would help a lot.

As they say:

He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is wise.
He who climbs Mt. Fuji twice is a nitwit.

Catalogs and Coconuts

Not so very long ago, a lot of shopping was done at home. The shopper would pore through the many pages of the Sears catalog, which was bigger than the local phone book and offered pretty much anything you could want. At one point they were even selling little girls.

In good time, the Wells Fargo wagon would rumble down the street laden with wooden crates full of hopes and dreams and cotton underwear.

We were still doing this when I was a kid. The Sears catalog was a wonderland. It was such fun looking at the pictures, dreaming of things we’d never order and making fun of the models and their goofy poses. “Yes, I’m standing here in my underwear, but I’m not looking at the camera, so it doesn’t count.”

Don’t you miss the days of shirt and sock sets?

On the growing list of things that no longer exist goes a stack of dusty catalogs; even the words ‘catalog shopping’ have been retired. All these years since Ma Ingalls turned to Sears mail order for her shoe button hooks, I turn to Amazon for everything I can’t find in Hilo. I sit in front of my computer instead of in an easy chair with a catalog cradled in my lap, but the result is the same. The squat mail delivery van, the brown UPS truck, sometimes even Lord Fedex himself–they all drop by my house bringing me hopes and dreams and cotton underwear. And if I squint my eyes and really concentrate, I can just barely hear the clip-clop of hoof beats fading into the distance.

Or maybe that’s just someone knocking together a couple of coconut shells. That’s much more likely around here.


When I moved to the States, I realized that I forgot to pack my golden Japanese credit rating. As it turns out, three decades of dutifully paying my bills on time meant nothing on this side of the pond. I figured my debit card worked fine but it would be good to have a credit card, just in case. (In case what? Earthquake, tsunami? I doubt a little piece of plastic will stanch an onslaught of boiling lava, but still, it’s good to plan ahead.)

Every store encouraged me to apply for a card, all offering tantalizing treats like discounts and cash back and pony rides, but one after another, they all refused. Macy’s sent me packing. Old Navy said forget it. The lady at Home Depot was very nice about it, telling me that I got a soft ‘no’, not a slam-the-door-in-my-face ‘no’, but nevertheless a ‘no’.

So I tried online applications. Hawaiian Airlines? No. Chase? No. Capital One? No. The bank where I’ve had an account since junior high school–and once happily gave me a Visa card? No.

I may be stubborn but I know when it’s time to circle the wagons. I applied for a Discover card. Much to my joy, they said ‘yes’ right away. A nice young man even called me on the phone. I could hear the treacle in his voice when he asked if this was my first credit card but at least he didn’t call me ‘sweetie’.

Armed with my $500 credit limit, I started using my pretty blue card, once again dutifully paying my bills. After six months they told me my credit rating had been raised to ‘fair’. And then they doubled my credit limit. And they they raised my rating to ‘good’.

About that time, Capital One changed its mind. At first, it was a casual invitation to apply for a card with an annual $99 fee.

‘No,’ says me as I dropped the envelope into the trash.

So they tried again the next day. This time saying $75 annual fee and I was ‘pre-approved’.

‘No,’ says me and the envelope joined its brother in the trash.

The next one had no annual fee but was slightly threatening, implying that if I didn’t accept I would be regret it for a very long time. With a heavy heart, I said, ‘No,’ and my trash can threatened to overflow.

Yesterday’s Capital One offer came in a much nicer envelope but had nothing original to say for itself, so it met the same tragic fate as its siblings.

Today, when the little truck from the post office stopped at my mailbox, I hurried out to see what the latest offer might be. Do my grocery shopping? Take the cats to the vet? Clean the wax out of my ears and the lint out of my belly button?

Alas, there was nothing. Capital One seems to have abandoned me. Although the environmental side of me was starting to resent the amount of paper they were wasting on me, I am oddly bereft. But will I miss them?



It seems a little crazy to drive seven miles just to buy lettuce, but the Nanawale Community Center Bodacious Farmers’ Market only happens on Sundays so that’s the only time we can buy hydroponic greens from the gentle fellow with the toothless grin and thick beard who always gives us an extra bunch or two.

As the crow flies, Nanawale and it’s neighbor Leilani are much closer than seven miles. Fortunately, there aren’t any crows around here, just a couple of sleepy tanuki.


“$8.88 a 12 pack is a very good deal.”
“You are learning, grasshopper.”

Yesterday, Rochi got home from the store without the beer he’d gone to fetch. Instead, he’d brought home a perplexed expression.

“I can’t find my debit card,” he said.

“Groan,” said me. “Where did you have it last?” I’m a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes method.

“I used it at Ace Hardware and still had it in my hand when I bought ham at the market but I paid cash there and then I had the card and the receipt and the ham in my hand and then I just had the ham and the receipt.”

We got into the car to drive back to the store, where we checked the parking lot first, not expecting much, and that’s what we found. So we went inside, to customer service. The lady in the booth was on the phone and gestured that she was already helping the gentleman waiting on the electric scooter. So we waited. Soon another lady came along, also wearing a perplexed expression.

“I left my iPhone in my shopping basket but now the basket is gone but tracking says the phone is still in the store. Are you waiting for customer service?”

I nodded toward the gentleman on the electric scooter. iPhone lady settled in to wait.

Not long after, another lady wearing the same perplexed expression came along and asked where the line began. Again I nodded toward the gentleman on the electric scooter and asked, “Did you leave something behind?”

“Yes,” she said. “A six pack of beer.”

This led to a spirited conversation about the relative values of the things we’d left behind and the difficulty of replacing them. The lady in the booth was still on the phone.

In time, a nice lady in a store uniform came along and asked what we were all waiting for.

“Well,” says I, pointing to each of us in turn. “A debit card, an iPhone and a six pack of beer. Guinness, no less.”

The nice lady opened the door to the customer service booth and handed over the beer, simultaneously digging around in a drawer. Her hand emerged, clasping a Bank of Hawaii debit card. Just then, one of the cashiers waved an iPhone in the air. We all looked at each other, simultaneously thinking, “What are the chances?” as we reclaimed our loot and headed out.

I don’t want to jinx it by giving it a name, but it feels like there’s some kind of magic afoot here in Puna. Just the other day, we were wondering: When you live in Hawaii, where do you go for a vacation?

Full Circle

Once again I find I have come full circle. From the little girl from Nowhere, Pennsylvania, I am now the little girl from Nowhere, Hawaii. Today I got to impress Rochi with my knowledge of the difference between hay and straw, not just the composition but the uses and the smells. He was a little floored by the latter.

Ah, what a lifetime of accomplishment.

Day 7: That Aha Moment

Having gone backstage to share a little pre-show love with the kids in our former group, I was shivering in the auditorium at the university waiting for the Big Island Taiko Festival to begin. Suddenly, I remembered why I had set myself a post-a-day challenge.

A week ago, I had a lovely chat with one of my besties back in Tokyo and he asked me what I’ve been up to here, what my typical day is like. I was flummoxed, not sure what ‘typical’ might even mean. Each day is different. Almost every day there is a new first, be it a new view, a new sound, a new taste or a new face. So far, at least, there’s been an almost mystical balance between being busy and stressed and allowing myself to relax into the beauty and serenity of this little corner of the world.

This Week

As the lights went down and the curtain went up, I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness and gratitude, literally moved to tears by the awareness of how lucky I am and how sure I am that turning our lives upside down and moving here was the right thing to do.

The challenge was to look at a week and see what happens and decide whether or not it is typical. I have determined that the answer is yes. It was a typical week, in all of its odd bumps and bounty, it was typical. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.