Honey

I woke up this morning, the day after Christmas, with an urge to watch bears eating honey. It has been my experience that it’s best to scratch such itches before they fester, so I consulted my pal Youtube, who kindly obliged with a video of two large black bears laying siege to a wooden beehive.

The narration was a smooth baritone in the gentle, insinuating style employed by public broadcasters worldwide. I don’t know what the dude was saying because it was in German, but I did catch the words “Fort Knox” as the bears continued to assault the box. They worked themselves into a honey-scented frenzy despite the stinging objections of the bees. The battle turned when they used brute strength to tear the roof off the hutch. They yanked out the trays of honeycomb and scraped through the soft wax with their powerful claws; their pointed snouts and pink tongues became coated with golden, sticky nectar. The final narration said “fur dei beenen, (something-something) enden, fur die bearen, (something-something) fest mas laden”, which I think means “bees: zero, bears: one”, as the sugar-charged bears trotted back into the woods, their beady eyes rolling in absolute pleasure.

Paul Photo-bombs Rochi

We spent Christmas eve with new friends, especially Paul, our taiko drumming teacher, and members of his extended family. Or not. There were two kids there so all the adults were called Uncle or Auntie but in Hawaii that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s related. At any rate, it felt like family, people who knew each other well and were very comfortable together and willing to welcome strangers to their fold.

We stuffed ourselves with Hawaiian bounty and then Auntie Susie said we had to stay for The Ball Game.

The Ball Game turned out to be a ball of Saran wrap and a pair of dice. You play the game by trying to peel off the layers of plastic wrap while the person to your left rolls the dice. As soon as they get doubles, you pass the ball to them and they pass the dice to their left. As sheets of plastic dropped away, a surprising assortment of treats were revealed, and whoever managed to free them got to keep them. It started with candies and soon escalated to packets of instant ramen, dollar bills, shopping bags, baseball caps, dryer balls, bottles of hot sauce, gift cards. It was a cornucopia, such a simple idea but so much fun, way better than any dumb old pinata.

The winner was the one who made it to the center of the ball to discover a Tupperware full of pretzels and $20. Technically, Paul’s daughter Emily won, but I think I did better, scoring both a Lord of the Rings baseball cap and a Dairy Queen gift card.

If you’ve ever watched in helpless horror as the plastic slips off the edge of the box and attaches itself to the roll, you know how strongly Saran wrap likes to cling to itself. So the game took a while, everyone shouting and laughing as we tore at the plastic, our attack less violent than the Siege of the Beehive, but our pleasure just as real.

Christmas day we stayed home, opened presents (I received a jar of Wililaiki Christmasberry honey and didn’t have to fight off a single bee), ate a lot (not turkey; there’s no way we could top November’s Thanksmas celebration), tried to stay awake to watch the Grinch on TV, and were generally rather smug about how lucky we are.

And that was our first Christmas on American soil in the past three decades. So far our new life is off to a great start. And we’re going to do our darndest to keep it up with relentless curiosity, goodwill, humor, open hearts and open minds…and honey, sweet golden liquid, Hawaiian sunshine in a jar, the scent of heaven and the taste of love.

Christmas in Pahoa

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Today we witnessed the annual Pahoa Christmas parade.

We were amazed by the number of cars our sleepy village had attracted. I had assumed we could park at the catholic church, but the lot was overflowing. We managed to slip Six into a small slot behind the high school.

We found a good spot to park ourselves toward the end of the parade route. In leisurely Pahoa time, the mayor passed by, then the VFW marching band. Close on their sweaty heels came the Puna Rebels football team in purple jerseys and flip-flops. There was one float, a flatbed decked out in palm fronds and exotic flowers, not the familiar tissue paper blossoms of my youth. (I know how to make those!) Next came the Puna Ukulele association, a group of somewhat grizzled men and women strumming and singing That’s Amore, what I thought was Me and Bobby McGee but turned out to be Bill Bailey, and Mustang Sally. Oddly, none of it felt odd which was odd in itself. Next were girl scouts dressed as boxes of cookies (Thin Mints! Tagalongs!) and looking sweet enough to eat. Then the Horse Owner’s Association, their mounts festooned with tinsel and jingle bells. Toward the end was a power shovel adorned with glittering Christmas finery, its shovel filled with brightly wrapped gifts. It slowly lumbered its way down Pahoa Village Road, seeming to grin as it enjoyed its reprieve from shoving volcanic rocks around.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

But the spice in the curry is the people of Puna. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors, a variety of delights like the cheese and salami selection at a large Italian market. There are hippies, both wrinkled, gray-haired Woodstock survivors and neo wannabes, so young and bright, vegan crystal worshipers unaware that fringe and dreadlocks were once innovations. There are seniors, one-time owners of a Nebraska car wash, missing their kids now grown and flown, the lady in sparkly purple tennies muttering to her dog, the slim lady who JUST CAN’T STOP dancing the macarena. And there are kids, lots of kids, running and playing and chasing their butterfly dreams flitting among the hibiscus flowers.

I stood at the side of the road watching that rainbow of life pass by and felt it reach out and wrap my belly in a sticky web of memories and gratitude so thick I could barely breathe. I felt the charm of the village community event despite the challenges it had faced, the enormity of the changes in our lives since we left Japan almost four months ago, the fact that I was alive and well and breathing freely, supported by the strength of my own two legs. Safely hidden behind my floppy hat and sunglasses, I wept, and as I did, a little boy ran up to me and handed me a flower. At least I think it’s a flower. It could be a garage door opener for all I know, which makes it that much more charming. I laughed at my middle-aged self discovering life like a small child: a crack in the lava, the scent of an unknown flower, the pointed tongue of a neon green lizard watching me do yoga. It’s all new, all exciting, all needing to be investigated. I delighted in my own innocence.

parade flower

The parade petered out, so we wandered toward the community center and watched our taiko drum group perform a few songs. They even did Hiryu, the same song our beginners’ class is going to perform at our recital on December 14. (If you’re going to be in the Kea’au area, do drop by Hongwanji around 6:00. We’ll really try to get some of the strokes right. And there’s a potluck after!)

By the time we’d absorbed the spectacle of the parade and its people and the pepper-pop throbbing of the drums, we were ravenous. We dragged ourselves to the Black Rock Cafe where I devoured a club sandwich and fries, still exotic foods in my Tokyo tainted mind. And then we came home, exhausted but replete, where all of us dropped into an afternoon nap as sweet as the pink pads on the bottoms of Monkey Boy’s feet.

monkey nap

There are twenty-four more days of holiday cheer ahead of us. I’d best gird my loins.