Ka’upulehu dryland forest

We had an amazing day today! We had three main priorities in coming to the Big Island: to see Volcanoes National Park, to attend the 10th anniversary pa’ina for the Cornell Sustainability Semester, and to visit Ka’upulehu dryland forest, where Trinity did her internship that helped her discover her passion for restoring native plants – and ruthlessly exterminating invasives.

We spent most of the day there – checking on plantings that Trinity did three years ago, checking on plots that other Cornell interns had done, visiting paths and places that Trinity had walked and worked on, exploring new areas that had opened since, including a newly built plant nursery, walking part of the border fence to make sure no feral goats had gotten their heads stuck trying to get in, and finally getting to have a long talk with Wilds, Trinity’s internship supervisor who wrote one of her recommendation letters to the ESF grad school program she will begin in the fall semester, and the current Sustainability Semester intern.

My biggest accomplishment of the day was not falling down! The hillside is quite steep and the paths – along with the forest area – is mostly chunks of jagged a’a lava. It’s difficult to find secure footing and totally impossible to walk quietly, as the chunks of lava rock grind noisily against each other as soon as you apply weight. At least, you don’t have to worry about someone sneaking up on you! I am proud to say that my little used hiking boots now look well-used after just a few hours on the abrasive a’a.

If you would like to learn more about Ka’upulehu, here are a few links about it:  http://www.hawaiiforestinstitute.org/our-projects/dryland-forest-projects/kaupulehu-dryland-forest/    http://www.drylandforest.org/ho%E2%80%98ola-ka-makana%E2%80%98%C4%81-ka%E2%80%98%C5%ABp%C5%ABlehu

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

Sunday started with Trinity and I attending Mass. In a strange turn of events, the church, St. Michael the Archangel, is just one block down the street, but, at the moment, they are constructing a new church, and so are holding Mass in a large tent a few miles away. It was a children’s Mass, with children in the choir – singing and playing ipu – taking up the collection, and bringing up the gifts. It was also First Communion for one little girl. In this parish, instead of all the second graders receiving First Eucharist together, each child receives when they and their parents have completed the preparation process. Because it was a children’s Mass, we chanted a couple of prayers in Hawai’ian. The priest was a guest, visiting from The Philippines for the month. He preached a lovely homily about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Eucharist, and prayer. I have always loved that gospel passage and have often wished that they had recorded all that Jesus taught them on the road.

In the afternoon, we went to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a national historical park on the Kona coast. It is the only surviving example of a pu’uhonua, which was a place of refuge in the days before the kapu laws were abandoned. In centuries past, the laws were very straightforward and the only penalty was death, to be executed by the witness(es) to the offense, lest the gods express their displeasure at the broken kapu by sending down a lava flow, storm, or some other calamity. If, however, the person who broke kapu could reach a pu’uhonua first, the kahuna pule (priest) could absolve him/her and s/he could return to the outside world. The trick was that the pu’uhonua was walled off within the royal compound, where commoners could not set foot, so the only way in was to swim at least half a mile in the ocean to reach safety.

Others could also seek safety in the pu’uhonua. The chiefs would declare a battle a week or so in advance. This gave women, children, and men too old or sick to fight the opportunity to seek shelter in the pu’uhouna to avoid being killed in the battle. There was a take no prisoners approach to war then and no such thing as a non-combatant, so, unless you were a warrior, you needed to leave the area where the battle was to be fought. After the battle, those who had sought refuge would be free to return.

We went to a ranger talk before we walked around the grounds. He had made whimsical insect sculptures, woven from coconut palm. He gave them to wahine (women) who answered questions. Trinity got one early on because she could remember and pronounce Pu’uhonua o Honaunau; I got one later for remembering the name of one of the four major gods, Lono, to whom the main temple there was dedicated. The insects are supposed to be used for stirring mai tais, but ours will probably stay dry! The ranger also played a bit for us on his nose flute. I hadn’t ever heard and watched one being played. The sound is haunting but lovely.


Saturday night, we attended the tenth end-of-season pa’ina (dinner or feast) for the Cornell Sustainability Semester in Waimea. This was the program that our younger daughter, Trinity, attended three years ago. (It’s a fantastic program which you can read about here.) We weren’t able to travel out to Hawai’i the semester she attended, so it was a happy coincidence that the three of us were planning to be on the Big Island the same week that the Pa’ina was occurring and we gladly accepted the invitation to attend.

The pa’ina was held at Wai’aka House, where the students live with the program director and her assistants for the semester. It is located in Waimea in the Kohala region, which is the oldest part of the island. Kohala volcano has been extinct for a long time, and, while still mountainous, has eroded into grasslands that have been used for cattle ranching in recent times. From Wai’aka House, one can look across to the astronomical observatory on the also-extinct but still almost 14,000 foot Mauna Kea.

We have been reaping the benefits of the program by travelling with Trinity, who has been able to suggest favorite places to visit and can tell us about some of the geology, plants, animals, and cultural sites we have encountered. It was especially nice to be able to go with her to visit her home while on the Island, where we were warmly welcomed as part of the ‘ohana, which is usually translated as family, but which encompasses not only blood relatives but also those with whom you share your life.

Trinity knew a number of the people there, including the program director, whom they addressed as Kumu, which means teacher, and her daughter, one of the program assistants who had been a fellow student the year she attended, and several of the aunties and uncles who had assisted with cultural studies and other topics, and the director of her internship, Wilds. We also spent a lot of time talking to people we hadn’t met before, who were very warm and interested in sharing experiences with each other.

The students prepare the food, which included many traditional dishes, such as kalua pig and poi – we later saw a video of some of the preparations; my favorite dish was the salmon lau lau, in which salmon is wrapped in luau leaves (which you eat with the salmon) and ti leaves (which serve as a wrapper) and steamed.

After we had eaten, there was a traditional ceremony where one of the aunties and the kumu hula (master hula teacher) chanted and invested each member of this year’s program with a kihei, which is a rectangle of cloth that each person had decorated with symbols meaningful to them, draping it around their torso and tying it over their shoulder. Then, each person explained their design and the students also told a bit about their internships.

The moving climax and conclusion to the evening was a hula that the group presented on the lawn near the big side porch, wearing their kihei and head, neck, and ankle leis that they had made themselves. The whole group did the oli (opening chant) and then did traditional hula with the kumu hula chanting and accompanied by an ipu (gourd drum). Then, the students and assistants thanked Kumu for her love, leadership, and general awesomeness for the semester and presented her with flower and woven ti leave leis.  They concluded with a thank you chant, in which Trinity and many of the guests joined. It was touching to hear Trinity sing a chant in Hawaiian that she learned three years ago.

I was so happy to see Trinity return to a place and to people who were so important to her. Trinity’s major was designed to be very broad and her concentration within it was discontinued after her sophomore year. It was the Sustainability Semester, her internship, and the discovery that she enjoyed eradicating invasive species and nurturing native ones that gave her a new focus, leading to her internship with Cornell Plantations and her upcoming master’s program in conservation biology. We will always be thankful to Hawai’i, Kumu, Wilds, and Cornell’s Sustainability Semester for helping her find her passion.


Black sands and green sea turtles

The main task we needed to accomplish today was changing sides of the island, going from Volcano on the leeward side and about 3,800 feet elevation to Kailua-Kona on the windward coast. We were following Route 11, but made s short side trip to visit the Punalu’u Beach Park.

It is one of the famous black sand beaches, formed when hot lava met the ocean, became brittle, and shattered into grains. Trinity showed me that among the black grains were green crystals of olivine, which is prevalent in the flows of Kilauea, and also a few yellow crystals. On the inland side of the black sand is a ring of coconut palms and beyond them a freshwater duckpond filled with flowering plants. Between the sand and the surf were black lava rocks, some with algae clinging to them, and some trapping little pools of water on or among them that sheltered shellfish and tiny fishes. In other places, the black sand stretched beneath the waves with no intervening rocks.

Best of all, in two areas of the beach, partitioned off by arcs of what looked like a giant jump rope, were several large green sea turtles, sunning themselves in the morning light. The sea turtles are endangered and people need to stay 25 feet away from them, which is why the ropes are placed in an arc around them when they come ashore. There was also a section roped off more permanently where eggs had been laid, so that people would not inadvertently disturb their nests.

I was so glad that we got to see them with Trinity. She has loved sea turtles for a long time and years ago we “adopted” one for her through the Sea Turtle Conservancy. She named her adopted turtle Merryl, which means “bright as the sea.” Here were Merryl’s distant cousins, three to four feet long and weighing several hundred pounds, slowly pulling themselves up the black sand beach to sun themselves, leaving ridges in the sand leading back to the Pacific.

Volcanoes National Park – in the rain

One of the things I definitely wanted to see on the Big Island was Kilauea, one of the still active volcanoes. Even though it was raining lightly, we decided to go to see some of the indoor exhibits in the morning, hoping that the forecast that showed the showers ending at noon would be correct. We enjoyed the visitor center, especially the ranger presentation on the five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawai’i, and braved the crowds at the Jagger Museum. We were also able to walk along a trail with numerous steam vents.

After lunch, it was still raining, so we decided to drive the Chain of Craters Road, a 19 mile road that descends 3,700 feet to the ocean. It used to be longer, but a 2003 lava flow covered the last ten miles. Because we were getting only intermittent drizzle, we walked the Devastation Trail, which goes through an area that was buried by cinders in a 1959 eruption. We could see the plants slowly making headway. My daughter Trinity, who spent a semester in Hawai’i with Cornell’s Sustainability Semester program, recognized some of the plants. We were also able to see a pair of large birds, not too far from the path, eating berries. (When we find out what they were, I’ll come back and edit.) Although there was a sign nearby instructing visitors to leave the berries for the nene, we know these were not nene.

As we continued driving, we would encounter patches of rain forest juxtaposed with lava flows, some with signs dating them. Some of the flows were pahoehoe, which is smoother or ropy in texture, while others were jagged a’a. You could see areas where the road had to have been closed for long stretches until the lava cooled enough to allow the road to be cleared. As we continued to descend, we reached an overlook where you could finally see the ocean. The showers had finally ended, so we decided to try the Pu’u Loa Petroglyph trail, which takes you along relatively flat flows to see petroglyphs carved in 400-700 year old stone. We were about half a mile in when the wind picked and the hardest rain we had seen all day blew in. By the time we made it back to the car, we were drenched to the skin.

I felt very intrepid for braving the elements, but I do regret that we had to turn back before reaching the petroglyphs. I had wanted to pray there for my daughters, both of whom have very special connections to Hawai’i. While I would pray to my God, it would be in keeping with the tradition of the natives of Hawai’i, who for centuries have visited the petroglyphs to pray for their children.


We flew into Hilo last night, picked up our rental car, and drove to our home for the next two nights, Volcano Guest House, which is not far from the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. We are staying in “The Upstairs” of the main house, which is a conversion of the bedrooms of the now-grown children of the house into a two-bedroom mini-apartment.

The house where we are staying and the cottages and other outbuildings are built to be as self-sustaining as possible, with solar hot water heating (with electrical back-up for rainy days or heavy use), rain water catchment, and wood stoves, with electric space heaters and extra blankets and electric mattress pads for chilly nights.

One of the accoutrements is a (hand-cranked) flashlight. That seemed a bit curious, but last night we understood why it is necessary.

Last night, we experienced the most darkness we had seen since the flood in September 2011 left us with no electricity for several days. Given that our bodies aren’t adjusted to Hawai’i Standard Time yet, we awoke about 2 AM, which constitutes sleeping in until 8 on Eastern Daylight Time, to total darkness. Because it is raining, there was no moonlight or starlight. There are no streetlights and the Volcano Guest House buildings are carved into the rain forest with as small a footprint as possible.

Coincidentally, I have read been reading/hearing a lot about darkness lately. The darkness near here that makes the Mauna Kea observatory one of the finest in the world. The threat to the Kopernik Observatory in our hometown from the light pollution of gas wellpads and flaring right across the border in PA. The Dark Skies initiative that reserves certain places to retain as much of their natural darkness as possible. The imagery of the light coming into the darkness at Easter Vigil services. A cover article in a recent Time magazine on Barbara Brown Taylor and the spiritual lessons of darkness.

Enveloped in the darkness, we were able to get back to sleep, awaking with the still-rainy dawn to the songs of unfamiliar birds.

60th Anniversary

Today is my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. The whole family feels blessed that they have achieved such a rare milestone. Most couples are not blessed with such longevity combined with mutual love and regard for one another. It’s not that there haven’t been challenges over the years, including health issues, especially with my father, who has survived three separate types of cancer and a double bypass, while dodging a strong family history of Alzheimer’s. But they always persevere and get back to their routine with each other, taking walks, going to exercise class, running errands, lots of conversation and a healthy dose of laughter.

They are not, however, big party people, so their anniversary celebration has been a family affair. Because they retired near us twenty-five years ago, we see them often, but my sisters live further afield, so the celebration has had several parts. It started last month with a visit and special dinner with my older sister and her husband, who travelled up from Maryland. The main part of the celebration began yesterday with the arrival of my younger sister and her family from NYC and featured a lot of gaiety as they presented my parents with a part pre-recorded, part live presentation of sixty things for their sixtieth anniversary, culminating in the cutting of celebratory wedding cupcakes with Italian soda toast in (plastic) champagne flutes. For the big day today, we had a lunch out at one our favorite local places and tonight my parents will have a table for two at their favorite local Italian restaurant.

Their marriage and their love for one another is an inspiration. I wrote this poem for the occasion and they gave me their permission to share it on my blog.

For Mom and Dad – On Their 60th Wedding Anniversary

April 19, 1954
Easter Monday
Patriots’ Day and
Your wedding
Elinor married Leo
“One of those Americans”
(Translation: Irish-American,
not Italian-American)
But that didn’t matter
There was plenty of love to share

By December of ’62
Three daughters and
Friends and neighbors and
As years went by
Daughters’ friends
(including a dance company
or two)
Still plenty of love to share

The family grew
Adding heritage from
more parts of Europe
Constructing our version
of the United Nations
With plenty of love to share

In retirement
in JC
at Castle Gardens
at GSV
Still encompassing
Others in your circle of love
Sixty years
With plenty of love to share




An amazing video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyDdVJ81Ixs is making the rounds. It shows a woman who was deaf and is hearing for the first time. What isn’t being as widely reported is that the woman chose to have cochlear implant surgery now because she is rapidly losing her eyesight, upon which she relied to read lips. Her brain, never having had to deal with sound before, will take time to learn how to interpret speech, but, as her eyesight continues to dim, she will still be able to communicate as her ability to understand spoken sounds improves. In the end, it’s not the method of taking in information and expression that matters; it’s that there is a way to experience and share thoughts, joys, hopes, and fears.

The Scripture readings at my church for the Fourth Sunday of Lent http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/033014.cfm  center around sight and include the story of Jesus curing a man who was blind from birth on the Sabbath. As the story is told, it becomes apparent that the greater gift is that Jesus reveals his identity as Messiah to the man, who has been thrown out of the synagogue for defending Jesus in the face of questioning by the religious authorities. As the deacon who was preaching noted, the cured man received not only physical sight, but insight. Those who clung to the rule of no work on the Sabbath had physical sight, but not insight into the healing power of God, which is beyond the human boundaries of time and circumstance.

In the end, it was the ability to be open, to take in new experience, to grow, to change, to ponder, to learn, to communicate one’s own truth, to connect on a deep level that was important. No matter the state of our individual faculties, insight is possible if we are attentive.

Daylight Savings Time

I just realized that my blog did not automatically switch over to Daylight Savings Time. I briefly considered re-setting the time manually, but decided against it. Not being a fan of DST, I thought I would make a (tiny, inconsequential) protest by keeping my blog on standard time. 😉