Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Heading home

My nose is finally thanking me after so much of torture. After several days in the semi-arid climate of springtime Gunnison followed by a night in bone-dry Phoenix, the bleeding has finally stopped. As I sit here at a communal computer terminal killing time in the Honolulu airport (at 20 cents per minute, no less), the warm, humid air is healing the surface membranes and soothing my sinuses. Aaaaaaaah!

Is it possible to claim two hometowns? I'm sure I'm not the first to try. I suppose you can claim as many as you wish, depending on the size of the carbon footprint you are willing to stomp on the earth. I claim both Gunnison and Hilo as mine. They are wildly different places, yet have some stiking similarities. In Gunnison, of course, you say, "howdy" or "how's it goin'?" to passers by. In Hilo it's, "aloha" or "Howzit? How you stay?" In Gunnison, my hair is a little wavy, but mostly straight. In hilo, it's borderline afro. In Gunnison, there are now plenty of brown people. I see them at City Market and strolling downtown. But you almost never see photos of them in the paper. Not so in Hilo. Brown people are everywhere, as are yellow people, haole people and poi dog (mixed race) folks. They are all in the paper. That said, the paper in Gunnison is exceptionally well written and designed. The Hilo paper is mediocre to fair.

The list of differences could go on for awhile. So, what do these places have in common, you ask? Well, the people are pretty friendly. Both towns are loaded with hard working stiffs earning peanuts for wages. Gunnison and Hilo are both pricey places to live. Both rely on tourists for an economic jolt, though not so much so as their vacation hot-spot neighbors. Both have mountain views, although Hilo's is less frequent due to cloud cover. So that's enough of that.

The community of Gunnison is a generous one. Last week's relay for life is proof of that. The community raised about $40,000 for cancer research. I went to the event Friday night. It was freezing. I spent time lighting luminarias (bags with candles in them) until my fingers would no longer function. Then I walked the Western State College track, the oval along which the personalized bags were placed. Each bag recognized the name of a loved one that had either died from cancer or who had survived. I found my dad's along the straight-a-away, where instead of solemn walkers strolling along in the chilly darkness, I briefly imagined Dale Ernhart Jr. whizzing by, tipping his helmet to pops as he sped by. Something about the quiet of the night, the twinkle of the bags and the whispers of those rounding the track made the occasion particularly emotional for me. I felt the tears begin to roll down my cheeks as I remembered my dear ol' dad. As sad as it made me feel, I was glad to be there, thinking of him.

I enjoyed reunited with several friends while visiting. A hike up the front face of Hartman Rocks with my buddy Delaney on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning was the highlight.

The cabin is still intact. The mule deer will peer into the windows for me regularly (as will a few human friends) to make sure all is secure. I know the place will miss me, but I have confidence it will keep on standing, strong as ever until my next visit.

Now, it's time to go sit a little closer to my gate here in Honolulu. I've already stopped in for a Longboard Lager at Stinger Ray's and caught a snippet of Bruddah Iz crooning over the intercom, so I know I'm getting close to home.

Photos will be posted soon....

A hui hou. Aloha!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Furry squatters

Greetings from Colorado, the forest green Subaru capital of the world. I'm here, rattling around in my cabin with only a small table, two chairs and a futon mattress for furniture. Still, it's good to be back in my old stomping grounds. The spring wind is trying hard to suck the rain forest moisture from my every pore. Too late. California already did that. It's been good to spend time with my BFFs in CA. They've all been great support.
The weather's actually borderline balmy here in Gunnison. It was a brutal winter for folks here. I think I'm glad I missed that, although I guess the powder on the mountain was epic. Now that the snow is melting and the mercury is rising, people act a little like they've just been let out of prison after a long sentence. The cabin is a little worse for the wear. The snow bent the iron railing that frames the front porch and the north fence is sagging in the moisture laden pasture. Otherwise, it's all good. I managed to light the pilot on the hot water heater last night when I got in. The plates that cover the hole where you stick the lighter-gun were a bear to remove for some reason. It's a good thing nobody was in the house to listen to me swear.
I also removed the insulation I'd placed at the base of the garage doors, only to discover the cozy sleeping quarters of about a dozen meadow voles. They scurried about, frantically discombobulated, trying to find their way out. So I helped them out a little by opening the door. Luckily, none had made their way into the house. Where's Abby the tabby when you need him? Oh yeah. He's in Hawaii, lounging on the lanai.
I'm off to the hardware store now. That's were I spend most of my time when in Gunnison, bonding with the guys at True Value. I opened a window in one of the bedrooms to air the place out. The fixture that usually enables me to crank it open pulled right out of the wood. So I need wood putty and new screws. It's always something with an old house.
With no Hilo humidity to give it bounce, my hair's gone straight. While I'm missing my natural curls, I am enjoying the sunshine.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rainy day lunch with my neighbor

Ron claimed to have tried Sombat's on a trip he made here before we actually moved. He said it was, "terrible." Yet all I've heard from locals here was that it was ono, excellent and according to some, "da bes'" Thai food in town. My neighbor Kathy and I ventured down there for lunch today and I must say, it was pretty ding dang good, gun funnit. Ron admits he might have been thinking of another place. He says now he doesn't think he actually ate there. He's da kine lolo l'dat.

Kathy and I enjoyed a shrimp veggie dish with peanut sauce and something they call "coco soup," which is a coconut milk-based taste treat, loaded with fresh veggies, curry seasoning and in our case, chicken. We also each indulged in a Thai iced tea. Not so good for the cholesterol count, but yummy.

The weather has turned back to.... you guessed it. Rain. Go figure. Right here. In the rainforest. Who'da thunk? What's the world coming to?

Crawford left two of what we call, "love dumps" in the house today. Poor baby. She can't feel them coming out. Usually, we're really good about taking her out often so she can leave them in the lawn. Luckily, they're always small and firm. They don't smell, either, which is weird for poo. It does, however, make them harder to notice until you accidentally step on them in your slippers.

I found a place to design a simple, yet custom headstone for my dad. It'll have some graphics on it that I think he would have appreciated and which reflect his passions in life. I still can't believe he's gone. I get the urge now and then to pick up the phone and give him a call. I still picture him parked in front of his T.V., watching either Fox news election coverage or NASCAR races on the Speed channel. He should just pick up the phone.

I'm headed out on yet another trip. On Thursday, Hawaiian Airlines will whisk me away to California for some wine tasting with my pals. Then it's on to Gunnison to visit the cabin and chat with the realtor about selling it this summer. I had originally thought I would opt out of this voyage, but Ron convinced me I should go, spend some time with friends and take the plastic off the windows before summer arrives in the Rockies. So, off I go into the wild blue yonder.... again.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Goodbye old paint

Whenever I embark upon a project, I envision how it's going to go long before I begin. When I actually start, it never goes exactly how I imagined. It's alway way more challenging and time consuming than I expected. Still, projects can be satisfying, especially if each little milestone toward completion is appreciated and savored.
So it is with my long overdue plan to spiff up my kitchen. It began Sunday with painting the ceiling. That has to be done before anything else. So up the ladder I climbed. The cottage here is plantation style, with horizontal slats spanning large, vertical wood beams. The wood beams are dark brown; the slats are white. A long handled roller won't do. The work must be done up close, by hand. I started with the white. The iPod was acting up a little, so my inspiration was the local classic rock radio station. Each section between beams took about two hours. I managed to finish three. Only seven sections to go....
I think I got nearly as much paint on me as I did the ceiling. That's always the case. I'm kind of a messy painter. Whenever I see video of abstract artists throwing buckets of color onto a canvas, I think I'd like to try that sometime. Given the chance, I would be a total slatherer. (You know: slatherer. As in, 'one who slathers.') I do have a pretty steady hand for edging, however, so I can be precise when I need to be. Not precise enough on this venture, however, as I actually found paint splotches on my chest and my stomach, despite wearing a long-sleeved shirt. At one point, I knocked the brush off the top of the ladder. It fell eight feet to spat on the floor below. I'm pretty sure I said, "Shit!" Yep. That's what I said. A few white specs found their way to my hair, my hat notwithstanding. They don't really matter much, since there's already a little salt going on with my pepper I've got up top these days anyway. I think of it as cheap, but slightly stiff highlighting. I must say, the kitchen is looking nicer already. Once the ceiling's finished, I'll move on to the walls. They will be tinted a light, pale yellow. The cabinets come next. After that, I'll shoot for new counter tops, tile flooring, a stove and maybe even a fridge that doesn't rust within 90 days. I expect this project to span the next year...
So last night, my right shoulder was screaming and my back felt like I had done about 150,000 reps on the seated row machine. I tried to switch off to my left hand regularly while painting, but it wasn't enough. I'm here to tell you, though, that Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) really does work.

Back up the ladder I go.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Halema'uma'u, it's a gas!

It's high drama at the winery these days. Business is down, so hours are being cut and pennies pinched. It's partly because of the recession and the fact that we've lost two air carriers to Hawaii in the past week. It's also because of Halema'uma'u. That's the crater in Volcanoes National Park that's been billowing volcanic gases. While Pu'u O'o vent sends lava to the ocean, Halema'uma'u is belching big time, rumbling like a freight train and generally acting like a volcano about to blow. It's unlikely to explode ala Mt. Saint Helens. It has, however, been spewing ash that resembles glass shavings into the air with such force as to travel through the air to Pahala, 20 miles away. People are leaving more offerings to Pele than she's seen in decades. I may head up there tomorrow and leave a head of cabbage and a Corona. Hey, those are two of my favorites....

(By the way, I stole this photo from images provided on the Web by the USGS. You can check out the latest at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park link listed on this blog.)

I've recently heard some great news. I've been accepted to the University of Alaska's Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. I chose UAA among several other low-residency programs for one reason; a good excuse to visit Alaska once a year. It's also a relatively new program, which means they'll likely bend over backward to make this a positive, challenging experience. I'm excited! Oprah's book club selection, here I come!

I've been meaning to share this funny bumper sticker I saw in Oregon before returning home. On a car in the Silverton, Oregon Taco Bell parking lot was an old beater Toyota sporting a placard that read, "The reason I'm driving so fast is that I really have to poo!" Shoots, brah! I know that feeling. Pedal to the metal, all da way to da lua.

Here in Hawaii, you know you're catching on to the lingo when you understand the difference between a luau and the lua. A luau is a feast. The lua is where you go sometime after the feast. Get it?

We had some visitors in the winery today from the Czech Republic. So naturally we were joking with lines like, "Hey, Czech them out," and "Czech please." It's been slow, so simple, cheesy humor gets us through.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Monday, April 07, 2008

A nice day on the island

It's back to life as usual here on Hawaii island. Today, we made a pilgrimage to Costco for toilet paper and other sundries. We also bought ourselves a Christmas present. Better late than never....
Ron and I have been living with a tiny, 20" set with a grainy, slightly off-color picture forever. So today, we bought ourselves a new T.V. Funny. It didn't look so big in the store. Now that it's here, however, it seems enormous. We're going to have to re-arrange the furniture in our tiny hovel so that we can sit a little further away from it. It's awesome!
For the last couple of weeks, I have been eating as though I possess the metabolism of a teenage boy. When my dad was in the hospital, I actually forgot to eat. Now, I can't seem to stop. It's very comforting, but it's also fattening. Starting tomorrow, I must find something else satisfying to do. Writing this blog is one such activity.
It's been a bit crazy around here, what with the Merry Monarch Festival going strong this week and the freak stranding of several thousand travelers due to the bankruptcies and closures of Aloha and ATA. Several people who've come into the winery have told me their tales of woe. Of course, there are worse places to be stranded than Hawaii. I'm not feeling their pain as much as I might be if they were stuck in DeMoine or Fargo.
The festival has gotten huge. It may actually be too huge. The even sells out the first day tickets go on sale months in advance. The crush of people this year was so great that I heard from some people who actually had tickets but chose not to fight the crowd. Instead, they went back to their hotel rooms to watch the dancing on T.V. There's talk of moving the event to Honolulu, which would probably ruin it. People come from near and far to watch the biggest hula competition in the world. They also come because they love Hilo and the sense of old Hawaii you can still get here.
The drive across the island was beautiful today. The Hamakua Coast was lush and green, the ocean glistening in the sunlight. Today was a good day to be on this particular rock in the Pacific, whether you were stranded, visiting or living here.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Aloha to my dad

It's been several weeks since my last blog entry. I've just returned from a sad and somewhat harrowing three weeks in Oregon. My father passed away.

It all began about a month earlier, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He learned shortly thereafter that his cancer was advanced and had metastasized to his bones and lymph nodes. His doctor told him he might buy a little time with chemotherapy, but his prognosis was poor. Dad tried to convince himself and us that he had a great chance of beating the odds and would be around to harass us for a several years to come. Deep down, however, I believe he knew better than the doctors themselves just how very sick he was.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 12, he was on his way to his first chemotherapy treatment. He had, of course, insisted on driving himself to the appointment. En-route, he suffered a major stroke, which paralyzed his entire left side. His brain was unable to send signals to the rest of his body, preventing him from braking and steering his truck. He sailed through a red light and into a school bus. Fortunately, he was traveling slowly and no kids were seriously injured. Dad sustained a nasty bump on the head and a minor, painful neck fracture, but no life threatening injuries. Rescue workers had to cut the door off his truck to get him out. When they got him to the hospital, they scanned his head to learn the nature of the stroke. They found multiple tumors in his brain. The cancer had spread there too. One of the tumors had bled out, causing the stroke. After 8 days in the hospital, he died. The cancer had won the war before my dad had a chance to step onto the battlefield.

Fortunately (if there can be something fortunate in all of this), he woke up, regaining lucidity. Friends and family came from near and far to visit with him. Those who couldn't make it to the hospital called him on the phone. He was well aware of everyone around him. Dad was able to spend quality time with those who loved him most. I was with him too, holding his hand until the end.

I miss him.

I've decided to post the obituary I wrote for him here, as a tribute to my dad.

Cecil Lee Todd

March 27, 1936 - March 20, 2008

SILVERTON - Cecil Lee Todd lost his short, but hard-fought battle with lung cancer on March 20, 2008. He was just shy of his 72nd birthday.

He was born in Carroll County, Missouri on March 27, 1936. Cecil moved to Silverton, Oregon when he was six years old, along with his parents, Ernest and Christine Todd, older brother Ernie and younger sister Tootsie (Florence). His childhood was a happy time, spent, as he would say, "runnin' around" with Ernie and their cousin, Jack Todd. He had plenty of pals, too and was well liked by his classmates in school. Cecil graduated from Silverton High in 1954. He played both linebacker and center for the football team there.

After graduation, Cecil traveled to Texas and California, winding his way through the southwest, sewing wild oats and seeking his fortune. He never found that fortune, but he had good fun trying. He returned to Silverton and married Beverly Steinberger in 1958. The couple raised a daughter, Toni, in Salem. They were divorced in 1978.

Cecil worked at Kilgore-Blackman Lumber in south Salem for 23 years. Toward the end of that stretch, he fell in love with Mickie Bennett and adopted her family as his own. Cecil and Mickie eventually separated, but remained best friends throughout his life.

He moved to Concord, California in the early 1980s. There, Cecil lived with Marilyn and Tom Long, Mickie's daughter and son-in-law. He worked for Tri-City Fencing for 15 years before retiring in 1999.

In recent years, he had returned to his old stomping grounds in Silverton. There, he enjoyed bumping into old friends and acquaintances. He also made a few new friends, too.

Cecil was passionate about politics and would rail against the democrats to anyone who would listen. He enjoyed hunting as a young man, belonged to the NRA and remained an avid gun collector throughout his life. Cecil also loved football, cars and especially NASCAR races. Recently, he embarked upon a new hobby: making jerky. Spicy or mild, he shared it with family, friends and a few pooches in his neighborhood. Cecil adored his granddaughters, Christina and Callie Long. He bragged about them constantly.

Cecil was a man who admitted to a few unhealthy vices. "If I had known I would live this long," he said in later years, "I woulda taken better care of myself."

Friends might describe Cecil as a real character. He was warm and easy-going , willing to share a yarn with anyone who would listen. He was also a good listener himself, a great sounding board if you needed to talk through your problems out loud. On the other hand, he was as stubborn as a mule when it came to taking advice. Dogs, cats and kids loved him. So did his family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. We'll all miss him very much.