Saddle Road

We had to make a quick trip to Honolulu for a Very Important Meeting. We didn’t want to go, but it was Very Important. That meant making the drive to Kona Airport on the Other Side of the Island. Hilo’s population is much larger than Kona’s but most of the tourist stuff is over there so they got the bigger airport and the discount airlines. They also get most of the tourists and the hideous resort hotels, so it’s a fair trade.

The quickest way to go is Saddle Road, which crosses the island from Hilo to Kona. Our elevation at home is about 315 feet. On Saddle Road, we travel through a couple of forest reserves as the road rises and rises, eventually topping off at 6632 feet as we race past Mauna Kea, and then we drop down to Kona, our ears popping as we arrive at the airport, which is barely above sea level.

On the way there, an occasional wisp of cloud appeared in the distance, but overall the sky was crystal clear. The roads were dry. Donkeys and goats wandered about at their leisure. I remember commenting that it was my first time to travel Saddle Road when it didn’t rain.

We got to the airport, flew to Honolulu and flew back. We couldn’t wait to get back so we hit the ground running, so to speak, but caution is advised. There’s a sign at the entrance to Saddle Road saying there will be no sign of civilization for the next 50 miles. It’s no exaggeration. There’s the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, but that’s a long drive up the mountain and the temperature drops as the sun sets, quickly turning paradise into an arctic wasteland. Otherwise, there’s one filthy Porta Potty at the entrance to a hiking trail around the halfway mark. I advise you to hold it if you can.

As we began the ascent along Saddle Road, there were a few drops of rain, but only a few. Somewhere before the road leveled off, a thick, cottony layer of fog rolled across the road, in puffs at first and then in thick, rolling waves. Soon our only guides were the lines painted on the road and the taillights of the car in front of us. And then it started to rain, pelting sheets of water that blotted out the landscape accompanied by gusts of wind that threatened to toss our little Honda into the coarse lava at the side of the road.

Then the rain stopped and the fog returned, wrapping itself around us and muffling the strained hum of our engine. As we sped along the road, the outlines of spindly brush emerged from the mist, deployed in nearly symmetrical patterns, the ethereal ghosts of soldiers fallen in forgotten battles, forever wandering the moonscape of past lava flows. I imagined them raising spears above their heads, threatening retribution for past and future wrongs.

And then we emerged from the froth, the rooftops of Hilo welcoming us back as we gently sailed down the last sloping miles. The soldiers receded into the distance and the past as we drew closer to our house, our cats, our bed. Puna wrapped its welcoming arms around us and we sighed with relief. Home.

Maintenance Ms.

I had an appointment with my new PCP–that’s Primary Care Provider–who is a Nurse Practitioner. She’s very nice but I can’t figure out what to call her. She’s not Dr. Fields. Nurse Fields sounds condescending. I’d feel like I was back in high school if I called her Ms. Fields. The receptionist said I should call her by her first name, but I can’t do that, not after so many years of living in Japan. I really want to call her Sensei, which is a grand title: respectful, applies to anyone in a position of knowledge and you don’t have to remember an actual name. But If I call her Sensei, people will either think I’m showing off or that I’ve been watching too many Karate Kid movies. So I guess I will stick with mumbling.

At any rate, she gave me dire warnings about my A1c level. I am tempted to blame this on Hawaii and the enticing variety of colorful, sugar-laced delectables available here. To be honest, I have consumed more sugar in the past six months than I did in the previous three decades. Sweets were easier to avoid in Japan; they look pretty but don’t taste very good.

Alas, I have no one to blame but myself for the pickle I’m in, so I decided it was time to learn about food, to figure out the difference between fad diet miracle supplements and real food. I looked around locally, but this is Puna and all I found were Keto Paleo Earth Worship Vegetarians, which is all well and good but I refuse to be the sort of person who has to hide her Mac and Cheese mixes in the back of the closet.

Plan B: Check the Hilo Community College website, but all they offered was a medical nutrition course for nursing students. Plan C: Consult Mr. Google. What I found was what I already knew. Eat real food, food that comes from the earth, not from a can or a plastic package. Stick with the outside aisles of the supermarket. Don’t fall prey to shiny packages; if a color doesn’t exist in nature, it’s probably best not to eat it.

Along that journey of discovery, I came across an unexpected opportunity.

Well, fancy that.

I have always been a big fan of new experiences and the past few years have excelled in that department. Among many others, I bought a house. I’ve never owned a house before; I’ve never owned much of anything. Until now, when the toilet acted up, I called the landlord. Now I own the toilet, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and I should probably know a little about how these things work. So I pulled up my big girl underpants and registered.

At $75 for six weeks of instruction, 8 hours a week, the class is certainly a bargain. We have two evening lectures along with four hours in the shop on Saturdays. Our teacher is terrific. She has a lively wit and an interest in pretty much everything. She’s one of the only female construction workers in Hawaii, a licensed welder currently working in drywall. We will spend a few weeks on basic carpentry and then move on to plumbing and wiring.

The other students are there for the same reason as me: we all want to have more control over our living spaces, and thereby, more control over ourselves. Yesterday, in our first shop class, we started making a sawhorse. I used a circular saw for the first time, and it was way more of a thrill than I expected. Then I learned how to pound in industrial grade nails. I’m proud to say I only whacked my knuckle once.

My First Cut

I now own leather work gloves, safety glasses, and a pair of ever-so-cute canvas work shoes. I’m loving the class, soaking up new vocabulary and touching things I’ve never touched before. At Home Depot, unlike at the supermarket, my eyes would slide along the rows of shiny tools appreciating their aesthetic beauty but having no further interest. It’s a whole different kettle of nuts and bolts when you’re running a tool yourself. This is power, in every sense.

And you can call me Maintenance Ms.

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.

No

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?

No.

Lettuce

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.

Magic?

“$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.

Day Six: Shoot!

Nothing happened today. Or rather, I did nothing today. Or rather, I didn’t do the stuff I usually do, which means starting the day with yoga or power walking. It was late–the bird concerto had already ended–and I was feeling a little out of kilter. So I spent some time on the stretch pole, something that bring balance, centering and calm.

Yesterday had tired me out. Rochi’s work permit finally came last week and that meant we had to go to Social Security and get him a number. That all went well enough except that I handed over the documents and the man behind the glass said they already had his application. Very odd. He spent some time fiddling his keyboard and then wrote the number on a Post It. Perhaps the same fairies who guided my tax return through the Japanese postal system (long story) had followed us to Hawaii. At any rate, that was weird and those thing always leave me feeling a little discombobulated.

Then we finally made a decision about the generator but realized we couldn’t bring it home. The store people would help us load it, but even if the weight didn’t send Six to Honda heaven, we wouldn’t be able to get it out of the car when we got home. So we paid for it and left it at Will Call to be called for once our beefy neighbor gets back from Kona.

So I thought it might be wise to lay low today. I made a turkey and bacon sandwich for lunch and then the mail came. Lo and behold, Rochi’s social security card arrived along with a summons to immigration for the interview where we try to convince them we really have been married for 30 years. I’m not worried about that; we can annoy each other very convincingly, but it will mean a trip to Honolulu. We’d both rather sleep on a cactus than do that, but 1) it should be the last step in making Rochi legal and 2) it will be so very nice to come home again.

I booked our flights and found a decent looking Airbnb then walked down the street to feed our neighbor’s cat and now we’re settled into leftover chicken adobo with avocado sashimi along with salad and a bit of brie.

See? Nothing happened today, not a darned thing.