So many memorable moments!
At the end of March I returned home to some phenomenally fine weather. It seemed as though spring were arriving early to Utah in 2014; how delightful! That was not the case, although a solid month of this finery did endure.
One day the wind began to blow the dogs off their chains (freezing for a month and a half, then parching hot) and it did not cease until the end of June, ramming pollen and other irritating particulates into my poor, sensitive nasal tissue and throwing a wicked spanner into the simple act of breathing.
That was not the only damage incurred either; the poor emerging plants in the garden were whipped to within inches of their lives, if not to death. The aridity of the whole environment was so increased by the relentless hair dryer that my water supply ran out! I had some delivered and decided to buy a supplemental water catchment tank. Five hundred gallons.
Kind family/friends/neighbors helped me purchase it, build a concrete footing for it and transport it from the Thunderbird, where it arrived on a large truck, to its new home on the Northeast corner of my house to remain starkly empty for another 2 months!
On July 4th, I was serving happy families fine American fare at the Thunderbird diner when the sky opened for the first (and only) downpour of the Monsoon season! Hurray!!! The garden is home free now, I thought. What a relief; it’ll rain every day now for a while and I’ll catch loads of water in the new tank which should arrive any day now… By the time it was ready to catch rain the rain had decided to hold off for yet another month! Rains didn’t come until August was well underway.
Hawaii had not been at all lucrative for me and my savings were now pretty much depleted so I joined the gang at the Thunderbird and re-acquainted myself with the joys of being a waitress. I have to say that I did thoroughly enjoy working with the spunky servers there and the kind hearted owners. I liked turning up for work at dawn (or before!) and, at the end of the day, tearing off the apron and all the drama of the day with it. I worked 2, 3, 4 shifts per week from April to September in order to maintain my beer habit and finance the building of the “Casita Tara”.
Casita Tara, now a cozy, wee “glamping” vacation stop over, as seen on airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3720802.
More kind friends (I’m so lucky!) helped me build it, well, it would be more accurate to say that I helped them a bit! Kind friends also donated most of the materials; windows, a door, plywood and siding. Casita Tara is 8×8 enclosure of mostly windows with a 4 ft deck and a 40 mile view.
Other than the odd random friend spending the night in the unfinished Casita, the first inhabitants were a couple of friends from France who I met in Tahiti ten years prior and had not met up with since that time! One morning while pottering about (as I do) in the kitchen, Yvan and I heard Corinne screaming out from the Casita. Rushing over there my suspicions were confirmed: rattlesnake! Before the buildings inception this had been a concern of mine and was the reason for elevating it to a certain height thus avoiding the creation a haven for snakes. This snake was just passing through, investigating. He was a big fella though and I was intimidated to catch him with my stubby rake as I usually do. I rang the appropriate fellows and we watched, awed, as they coaxed him into the bag while giving us a good education on the species’ idiosyncrasies. He was re-located to a place which the aforementioned snake connoisseur recognized as user friendly to snakes!
My older girls Pinky and Whitey passed away during the winter of 2013-14 and so in Spring I adopted two new girls from someone in town who had moved and couldn’t take the chickens; Moonshine and Freddy. Back at the ranch were Reddy and her new buddy Sunshine, who Gracie had picked out in Colorado City to keep Reddy company after Whitey and Pinky’s demise. Unfortunately, Sunshine is a banty, half the size of the other girls and therefore an easy target for tormenting. She became neurotic and broody and I decided to send her back to Aunty Gracie’s back yard, which was now home to six more laying hens!! Yep, Aunty Gracie became a crazy chicken AND cat lady! Right now ALL the girls are there together but the spoiled rotten Sunshine and Reddy spend the chillier days indoors by the heater!!
And there was the brewing of fine ales….
An inspiring friend and neighbor of mine and I agreed to start brewing beer together. Ten gallons at a time. Once a month. After hours of the initial brewing process, while sipping last months’ brew, we separate the ten gallons into two 5 gallon carboys and let our creativity take over from there. Five gallons go home with me and the other five stay in Nate’s garage. Different types of yeast; some orange zest perhaps; a pinch of cardamom might be nice; what about a drop of pinion resin; dry hop with pellets or buds; Citra or Cascade? How long? These fun experiments with flavor, as well as whether the beer is bottled or kegged all resulted in delightfully different brews, one for each month from April to September!
The windows are all fogged up this morning! Brrrr.
Puna, Big Island; it is not a hot place. It is a warmish place. It is a soggy place, a friendly place, an earthy place (despite the lack of soil), a forward thinking place strewn about with sustainable living minded folk altering the paradigm of societal structure…
I have been here two weeks. My hosts are a friend from Utah who I’ve known for many years and his more reserved fiance who is a tech music star and spends lots of time away on tours and gigs all over the world. Travis is a candid multi talented artist, hot sauce gourmet, hair stylist and angel. I love my hosts.
They will be leaving for gig/holidays soon and mine will be the responsibility of caring for the 2 lovely husky dogs and wide array of exotic plants which are their other passion. These boys are a couple of months along in the construction of their new house. The grounds are already crocheted with hundreds of varieties of palms, bromeliads, fruit trees and more, overwhelming my knowledge by leaps and bounds. Their “apron” is magnificent. I am told that when a lot is purchased, the neighbors will patrol and disapprove of the new owner if he does not produce a certain curb appeal to his lot prior to building. (!) The road end of a driveway is what is known at the apron around here. The degree of disapproval varies according to the neighborhood. Their apron is magnificent.
I have entered the ocean exactly 3 times. Near here is a lovely warm pool, partially separated from the ocean by a rock wall. It is a delightful temperature. Being the windward side of the island, the water is mostly very rough and crashing onto lava rock in most places. A new friend showed me a protected “pool” inside a natural rock breakwater near Hilo. That pool is frequented by at least one giant turtle who swam nonchalantly past me in 4 feet of water. The shallow water and sandy bottom make this little place a dipping paradise with adjustable temperatures depending on how close to the river mouth you choose to venture. During a little escapade to the West Coast which I will describe further along, I had a short snorkel at Two Step (Honaunau), down the hill from Captain Cook. Here was a bright and lively coral garden with the usual suspects; brightly coloured damsel fish, parrot fish, trumpet, trigger etc. The dolphins frequently taunt snorkeling tourists here but did not make an appearance this day
I ventured by bus (Hele-on or “hell on wheels”) from Hilo to Kailua-Kona and on to Captain Cook one day, thinking this a grand plan. Little did I expect an 8 hour voyage. The beginning of my trip was pleasant, sitting at the very back of the bus and chatting with a young local fellow who was full of knowledge, interesting information and the odd stab at humour. Once he de-bussed in Waimea the scenery changed abruptly from lush tropical forest to mountain meadows to desert scape, eventually switching back to tropical lushness around Kona. The bus route is a northerly sea board route cutting off the very northernmost tip of the island.
Hours and busses later I arrived in Captain Cook and was picked up by my hostess Barbara, the charming angel fruitcake who I intend to spend January to April with at the Dragonfly Ranch (www.dragonflyranch.com). This is an adorable old-ish B&B nestled on a hillside among verdant flora and towering trees, which are incorporated in the structure.
The common modus operandi for Hawaii is to “hire” people to work for you but not pay them…it’s even difficult to find unpaid work here! While I embrace this concept, I am not quite ready to drop out of the rat race to that degree. I have three vehicles to keep on the road, man! The latest addition to my fleet is a 1983 diesel Mercedez named Sir Gallahad and whose tank is filled with locally made Biodiesel.
This island is a haven for creative folk and the markets are full of local crafts and foods. Yesterday GMO was definitively banned on the Big Island (with the exception of papaya). If finding employment is nearly impossible the ease of getting your product to the market is, by contrast, relatively simple; you just have to fork out some dough…
Speaking of dough, I have been experimenting with a new sourdough starter I built here. I am still struggling with the challenge of baking at sea level. My new friend Gerry gave me some water kefir grains and so our kitchen now has a nice variety of “enlivened” beverages: my first batch of water kefir turned out delicious, I also made a scrumptious ginger beer!
Puna, one of the 5 counties, is the youngest land formed by the active volcano and is still at somewhat of a risk of destructive activity. A mere thirty years ago a lava flow permanently cut off the southbound coastal road and smothered a village.
This threat is the main reason for the low cost of land here. I have not researched but I’m told that 3 acre lots are available in some areas for $10000. In many places there is hardly any topsoil and hobbit holes and lava tubes lurk below the surface. Trav and Evan were very careful when using equipment to clear their drive, as heavy backhoes etc have been known to plummet through a weak spot into a gaping chasm!
It is early morning, still dark and pouring with rain out there. It won’t last. Every day it rains here. The rain coat my mum gave me just as I was leaving sure is coming in handy! I am staying in a subdivision called Leilani Estates and is commonly dubbed Graylani Estates. It will be overcast here and sunny just a few miles away at the seaside. That is good news because this morning I will be joining some new friends for a hike somewhere down near the water and ending up at a little known swimming beach; a rarity on this side of the island.
OK folks, well that just about wraps it up for this update. I do have a skype interview for a part time coffee tour guide job on the Kona side. When the boys return from their holidays I plan on spending the remainder of my stay in the sun over there. The possibilities for paid work are far greater over there, as it is the more touristy side. Wish me luck!
OK, it may not be exactly HOT here but now that I am hearing from friends and family about the frigid weather in Utah I would like to express my gratitude to Madame Pele for being my gracious hostess.
Well! Reading that now, in July, in my little retreat in Utah, I giggle remembering how new and weird the vibe of that place was to me then. That was just the beginning though! I stayed until March 25th and had many more diverse experiences, which I will now attempt to portray!
I never did return to the Dragonfly Ranch; beautiful as it was, further communication with Angel Fruitcake revealed that I would probably not have been comfortable work trading there. I decided to give up looking for paid work and focus on being somewhere lovely and simply enjoying it.
Throughout December I had been corresponding with an old colleague of mine from the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary days (1992 to 2000) who had intended to move to the Big Island after 6 months on Oahu. We considered work trading together at a farm on the West side but the one she settled on did not appeal to me. I opted, instead for somewhere lovely; a lush hideaway in the Ka’u desert (!!!not!! desert, that is) on 12 acres in a place called Wood Valley at 2500 ft elevation. With a few exceptions the main highway around the island cuts in at around 1500 ft above sea level and inland from the shore by a mile or two. If you imagine the island as the shape of a volcano (5 volcanoes actually), you can easily visualize this. Most of the shoreline is bare lava and not navigable. Properties will be either on the sea side (makai) or the mountain side (moaka) of the highway. I ended up well on the mountain side of the highway; five miles up Maona Loa’s flank; apparently, not for the weather…
Man, did it ever rain…
Every single day…
Some days for a few hours; other days for most of the day; other times for days and nights on end…
I felt as though I was in a video game that was impossible to win; stay alive was doing very well. Let me explain.
I am struck by the incredible irony of these climactic extremes: at home I plant a seed and daily watch as it pops it’s head through the soil, bravely growing microscopic amounts; I water it lovingly, encourage it, coddle it and hopefully it becomes a beautiful vegetable. If I should miss so much as one of my bi-daily waterings it would wither and die. In Hawaii I flung a machete mercilessly until my arm was too tired and plants just mocked me as they regrew inches within hours! Bananas, halyconia, ginger, vines (hell vine, terminator vine, hitchhiker vine or desmodemon, to name a few). It was impossible to get ahead and difficult to maintain a level of upkeep.
My hostess was a charming, youthful but elderly lady whose husband died precipitously, leaving no instructions for the running of the farm. She was winging it and had been taken advantage of by several “helpers” who work traded for accommodation. I did the best I could without becoming overly stressed until the sheep episode…I loved the house, the serenity, the friendly cardinals, the abundance of food, the solitude. I even had a short and sweet romance! I struggled with the endless rain which actually kept increasing until I finally threw in the sopping towel and moved to South Kona for my last 3 weeks!
There I stayed on a school trust farm which had to meet a certain criteria of revenue from organic produce sold. There were pineapples, avocados, dragonfruit, macadamia nuts, bananas and ginger. There were chickens and eggs and loud, obnoxious all night cockadoodling roosters; dogs, cats, wild pigs occasionally…And other woofers. It was not as serene but it was very comfortable, pleasant and DRY! My hosts were wonderful folks. It was 2 miles from the dolphin snorkeling spot and near enough to civilization to go down the pub for a pint on occasion! Here my friend from the Sanctuary joined me, having been disappointed with the coffee farm she came to the island to work trade at. She and a sweet german girl were my cheerful companions.
Sir Gallahad is now in good hands up there in Wood Valley and I am back home where it is sooooo dry and windy I would gladly teleport back to Hawaii for a spell!
Extra wet it was in Hawaii this year; extra dry t’is here…
Ah the weather…
Here’s freezing atop Mauna Kea at sunrise.
Enchanted Summer 2013
Even as I was daily learning new aspects of trikonasana from each of my four teachers at Yog Peeth in Rishikesh, India, my wee heirloom tomato and poblano plants were poking their first sprouts through the soil in Toquerville, Utah. My mum, Maureen, started the little fellas from seed in her office.
By September those same sprouties were standing 8 ft tall and had escaped upwards and outwards, through the 1/4” squares of hardware cloth which surrounds the entire garden (including the floor). Beflowered limbs reached skywards recklessly, striving for excellence, unawares of the lurking dangers of first frost…
The simple joy and serenity afforded me by my mornings in the garden came as a pleasant, unexpected surprise to this sailorette. The addition of three little chickens to the atmosphere amazed me also. Those girls had me falling over laughing so often they were like little clown gurus!
I had many visitors between March and October; all wonderful. Some old friends, some new friends, some couch surfers who became newest friends. The lovely Miss Kelly Marie looked after the well being of all involved for two weeks while I floated down the Brown Colorado River on a baggage raft for a dory trip, a privilege for which my adorable friend Otey is responsible. Ote is the most elegant dory “boatman” (boat-woman) I ever did see. In her flowing skirt, long white gloves and straw hat adorned with an enormous, red hibiscus flower, she deftly negotiates the rapids and powers through the flat water as though she were not a petite slip of a lady.
Upon my return we built a fancy new movable chicken coop, also completely rodent proof, which would be the girls’ home in Kanab in Gracie’s back yard for the winter. The girls had, thus far, been living in “the gypsy coop” which cost me zero dollars and was put together from my lumber scrap pile and included a few blankets slung over the top…While it was adequate, it was not rodent proof (a big problem) and not mobile.
You think I’m exaggerating the rodent issue don’t you? Well believe this: the pack rats and squirrels together consumed/squirreled away the better part of a 25 lb bag of expensive, organic, small milled laying pellets before I got a grip on the situation! Shooting the “Creature” in the butt with my wrist rocket had precious little effect on the bugger who returned hourly despite my efforts at barraging his thoroughfares. Ah, but redemption was had when he brazenly entered the fancy new coop and we were able to trap him inside it! We relocated him several miles away. He must have been the gang leader as no “creature” tried his luck with the chicken pellets thereafter.
I used the appellation “creature” for these enormous ground squirrels who have reeked a certain amount of serious havoc to my house and surroundings. They can burrow at an astounding speed. During a summer that I was in Greece they burrowed all the way under my concrete pad (house foundation) and came up through a patch of dirt beneath my shower; randomly chewing on this and that inside my house…Once they had cleared the way all manner of rodent then had easy access to investigate the contents of my house, which they did, merrily gnawing on this and that as they went.
In June, when it hasn’t rained for 2 months, anything green will do! That is how my garlic, rosemary, thyme, mint and oregano were munched, one mouthful per night until they could no longer survive. Each night until a plant’s demise, some rodent would take a bite, having forgotten that he didn’t actually like the taste, spit it out and be on his way. I had planted these outside my safe garden thinking that the critters didn’t appreciate these particular flavours. Well, now I know better.
The feral cats I agreed to take to balance my rodent problem, arrived in an inadequate cage at the most dramatic time of year. Monsoons ready to burst but not quite…the environment of this two week period is comparable to a giant pimple; 120*F in the early afternoon following a long morning of very overhead sun; suddenly large cumulus clouds gather and the atmosphere fills with energy; lightening and thunder ensue along with tremendous gusts of wind. It is a most dramatic and exceptionally beautiful time BUT the precipitation doesn’t actually come and cool things down YET! After approximately two weeks of threats the rain will finally reach the earth instead of evaporating at 12000 ft (I made that up btw but something to that effect is, in fact what occurs). The pimple pops. Relief is felt by all as, at last, the cool moisture soothes everything that has been parched for months. My heart made me release the cats after 6 days and I never saw hide nor hair of them again…
On the topic of water, I saved a whole bunch of it last summer with the implementation of the toilet with a view. Having acquired sufficient information from the Humanure Handbook, the significant amount of flush water I saved which went, instead, to my garden was nothing short of wondrous. Wonder how people who live in the desert can bear to flush all that water away needlessly….
Also new to my realm was the delicious and healthy practice of lacto-ferments. Suddenly, a fascinating, novel solution to the dilemma of dealing with the occasional overabundance from the garden. I also started a new life form in sourdough starter named Enrique who produced wonderful, tangy loaves which I baked in my new oven, courtesy of dear friends in Boulder, Utah.
A whole new realm of food is now entering my life; “enlivened beverages” such as water kefir, kombucha, ginger beer plus all manner of fermented foods. My health is better than it has been in years and I feel that this is a discovery I am motivated to share with anyone interested…
So, heads up, when I return home in April sharing all this knowledge is exactly what I intend to do. See you then!