Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Regular happenings on the rock

Meet Finn.  He is the adorable mascot of a shop called Suzi's Woollies in downtown Anchorage.  I just couldn't resist shooting his picture, especially since he was so kind as to pose for me. 

Here on the island, I'm already back to work at the winery.  With one employee out on short paternity leave and another who up and quit, the place is limping along with a skeleton crew.  I'm picking up extra shifts this week. With any luck, they will need me less next week.  I have oodles of reading and writing to do. 
Power was out for two hours this morning.  We were forced to process our sales transactions manually at the winery.  It's amazing how technology spoils you.  Wouldn't you know it, we were actually busy early on, so I was writing receipts like a maniac.  Amazingly, they were all accurate. My arithmetic and hand calculated tax matched the computer-register when the power came on and I could actually enter them into the system.  Thank you to the sisters at Queen of Peace School.

Ron has actually managed to do what everyone said was impossible.  He has grown corn in the rainforest.  
We have a few short rows.  The ears are small but sweet and delicious.  We also have zucchini and cucumbers coming out our ears.  I wouldn't say we're living off the land, but every little bit helps.  Cucumbers are about $2.00 each at the market here, so it's nice to be able to pick our own.

Ron and I drove to Pahala town to buy 16 new coffee trees on Sunday afternoon.  It was a beautiful day, although we drove through some gnarly vog along the way.  They were a bargain at $1.25 each.  The man who sold them to us - Andy - has five acres of mature trees in Wood Valley and processes his own coffee in small batches.  We bought some from him and are enjoying his product.  It's good stuff.

Our oldest trees are looking good, with blossoms and cherries on several.

Since Sunday, it's been raining. At least the water tank is full.

Tomorrow is cobweb day.  I plan to sweep the spiders' handiwork from the lanai.  Of course, they'll all be back within a week.  You've got to give those spiders credit.  They are persistent.

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Headed home

It's funny how you can feel nostalgic about a place after just a short time there.  Of course, it's rarely just the place that tugs at your heartstrings.  It's the memory of the people you knew and the experiences you had.  I have great affection for Los Angeles, despite the fact that it is, for most intents and purposes, one giant, exhaust-shrouded, sun-scorched, cement covered mass of urban confusion.  How could such a place make a person feel all warm and fuzzy?  But it does.  I also love the tiny town of Solvang, San Francisco, Denver, Gunnison of course and, harking way back, Portland.  Hilo gives me a little tingle every time I emerge from the airplane and into the warm, damp air, where it smells like flowers and coconut oil and the sea.  I discovered some feelings of nostalgia for the University of Anchorage campus today.  That surprised me.  After all, wasn't I just put through the ringer here, sleep deprived, brain tissue soaked and then wrung out like a wet washcloth?  I went downtown to shop around, eat one more hunk-o-halibut and check out the museum.  It was nice.  I returned to campus and, walking the familiar path from the bus station near the library to the dorms, I got the feeling. 
"Where is everybody?" I though.  "I'm going to miss this place."  Leaving feels a little like leaving home.  I guess that's because it has been home for the past two weeks.  What a fantastic experience!  I've met people I now consider friends and whom I know will remain so into the future.  I can't wait to come back.  For now though, I am looking forward to seeing my furry babies again.  And the not-so-furry one, too.

It's 11:30 p.m. and the sun has finally set here.  I'm the last of the writers to leave.  My plane lifts off for Seattle at 2:30.   

A hui hou.  Aloha! 

Friday, July 18, 2008

Adventures in Alaska

Moose, mountains and moo cows.  I've seen some!  Yay!  I was getting nervous that there was nothing more than ugly buildings and pretty trees in Alaska and that all those majestic peaks and  grand rivers were a myth perpetuated by the Chamber of Commerce.  Today a small group of ready-to-get-off-this-campus-no-matter-whats climbed into a mini-bus and headed for the hills.  Our first stop was a sustainable farm owned by Alaska Pacific University and operated by a small family who, if you like building and growing stuff, landed the perfect jobs for themselves.  It was cold and raining, but that did not dampen our enthusiasm for this outing. We spent some time in a toasty yurt, warmed by a crackling wood stove.  There, we ate box lunches (mine was a ham and cheese croissant), listened to the merits of sustainable agriculture and a little poetry.  Then we meandered around - though no for long - before shuttling off to a place called Hatcher Pass. 
At the summit, there's an old mining ghost town called Boomtown, where we were lead along a pathway and provided a wildflower introduction from a locally renowned botanist.  A few of us ventured off onto trails that wound up through the high alpine tundra toward the base of some picturesque mountains.  It reminded me of the high county of Colorado, only wetter with thicker air.  There was a collection of semi-restored buildings once occupied by the inhabitants of Boomtown, where men extracted gold from the rock.  After hiking and exploring there, we wound our way home.  En-route, our bus driver led us in a rendition of Doby Gray's Drift Away.  We all sang along to the chorus.  Next came a group sing-a-long to Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land.  It's just too quaint to believe, I know, but it's true.
When we returned to Anchorage, the sun was shining just a little. Lisa (my suite-mate) and I tromped over to the liquor store to score a bottle of red.  I'm sipping some as I type this from a plastic motel cup cleverly disguised as a plastic dorm cup.  

Speaking of wine, we finally found our way to the bar at the edge of campus last night after our readings.  It's closer than the library, for gosh sakes.  I don't know why we didn't go much sooner.  I drank not wine, but a fine, Alaskan Pale Ale. I had heard from a very reliable source that this was good beer.  I can now attest to that myself.  It was lovely: Not too hoppy, not too sweet and malty, but ju-u-u-u-ust right!

Last night was also exciting because I saw my second moose.  Well actually it was my fifth moose if you count all the babies which by all rights you should.  On Monday, several of us spotted a mother and her twin calves as they sauntered by at the edge of a nearby parking lot. Last night we saw a different mommy, this time with only one calf, but much closer.  She seemed unperturbed by the few of us watching her, so we stood there in her presence while she ripped tasty  leaves from shrubbery.  She was enormous and beautiful.  Her baby was very attentive, not taking its eyes off us.  Too cool!

The photo above depicts a fetching, Scottish Highland cow.  He's not a cow, actually, because he's not a she.  I didn't see any cajones on this fella, so I think he's a steer.  I could be wrong though.  His hair, as you can see, is really long and may have obscured my view.  Regardless of whether he's got 'em or he doesn't, you've got to admit he's got something.  A certain je ne sais qua, no? 

Tomorrow, it's back to the grind.  

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Workshopped to death

Today I was workshopped.  That's what they call it around here when it is your piece of writing that's being shredded to pieces.  Actually, it's a very good, constructive process and as a new writer I found it extremely helpful.  Yes, you heard me right.  Or read me right, anyway.  I'm a new writer.  New to fiction, anyway.  I've never had any formal creative writing instruction.  It's all been academic and journalistic.  This is different. 

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on a form of Poetry called Ghazal.  It is a poetic form of Arabic origins, but became popular all over the middle east over many centuries and eventually throughout western Europe.  Like many formal, poetic forms, it mandates certain parameters. Each Ghazal begins with a lament.  Each two-line stanza must stand alone.  There is a specific rhyming scheme with the last word or several words matching in each stanza.  Finally, Ghazal requires the author of the poem to include his or her name in the final stanza. 

Here is my first and only ever attempt at Ghazal:

That drowsy time of day, a nap
would feel so good to sleep now.

The writing's new.  Advice is vast.
The learning curve is steep now.

Lightbulb appears. Ideas are sparked.
Into my brain they creep now.

The glass is thin, this window pane,
Outside I hear a beep now.

This cornball verse, it's classic Todd.
I feel it getting deep now.

I read this in class.  Brave me, yes?  It got a laugh, which is always what my poetry's been about. None of this heavy, deep thinker stuff.  If it's not fun, forget it.

Today I learned that too much back story is not a bad thing in a first draft because it provides lots of material to cut and weave into crux of the tale.   It is a bad thing in the final draft, so get rid of the fluff and keep it simple, clear and meaningful.  I now also know that adverbs are my mortal enemy.  I shall proceed from here on out to seek and destroy them at all costs.

My only fear now from this residency is that people might ask me how I liked Alaska.  I'll have to tell them that the trail I walked between the dormitory and the classrooms 45 or 50 times over the course of two weeks was lovely, blooming with wildflowers.  It had a fresh greenness born of new summer's growth... yada yada yada... (I need to stop hanging out with poets.) There were some really hungry mosquitoes along this path.  So while Alaska is the largest state and huge by any measure, my experience here has been restricted to a half-mile path and a few conference and classrooms.  But like I said, the path is nice.

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Do-o-o-orm livin' is the life for me....

Here I sit in the West Residence Hall at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  Rainforest blog, you say?  Well, a girl's gotta get off the rock sometimes.  I guess I've been off the rock more times in the past few years than most get off in a lifetime.'s kept me sane.

After just over a day in the beautiful city of Seattle with my most fantastic of friends Gail and Janine, I found my way through the air to the last frontier.  We had a short but pleasant visit in Seattle.  Janine is training to hike Mt. Whitney so we walked.  And walked.  And walked some more.  As we walked after dinner on a quest to find the shore of Lake Union, we happened upon a Mexican restaurant.  It's not where we ate.  But the fact that we found it right when we did was truly a miracle.  I had eaten a few too many Ranier cherries at the Pike St. Market earlier that day and it was just then, at that very moment in time that they decided to kick and do their colon blowing thing.  So I just kept walking right on in to the restroom like I owned the joint. After a brief but dramatic bonding of my posterior to the porcelain, we were off and walking again.  We did find Lake Union and saw the sea planes.  We walked some more.  At one point along our journey we landed on bar stools at a place that serves 160 different beers on tap.  Like a dope, I decided to try the pear cider.  Sounds kinda good, right?  Well it wasn't even alcoholic and tasted not unlike 7-up.  Not bad, but not what I'd hoped for either.  Anyhow, it was a lovely day with the sun shining, hangin' with my pals for a short but sweet visit to the city.  I do dig Seattle.

Anchorage, on the other hand, is what I would call aesthetically challenged.  If not for the majestic mountains all around, it would be a tough sell.  Downtown is nice.  There are some cool shops and quaint watering holes.  The flowers are beautiful.  The colors here seem especially vibrant.  
Tonight, I met my professors and fellow torturees - a.k.a. MFA in creative writing students - for a lovely dinner and conversation.  What an eclectic group of creative thinkers.  They come from all over the country, although many now live here in Alaska.  This is going to be a cool experience.  No risk, no reward, right?  No guts, no glory.  If you don't jump off the cliff, you can never know what it's like to fly.  So here I am, trying to fly.  I'm going to learn how to make stuff up and then write it in such a way that someone else might actually want to read it.  

The dorms are far more secure than I remember way back when.  We have a card key that gets us into the building, then into our suite area shared by two rooms, then into our individual rooms.  Sheesh!  There's also a dorm monitor sitting behind the desk in the front lobby 24/7.  Times have changed.  The facility is fairly new and very clean.  Again, times have changed since I lived in a dorm.  This is much nicer although I will say my experience was better for building character and testing one's mettle.  Anywho, tomorrow's another day, although you'd never know that here in Alaska, since it never seems to get dark.  

I wore a maroon aloha shirt covered in tiny pineapples to dinner tonight.  Nobody else was sporting one of those.  

A hui hou.  Aloha! 

Monday, July 07, 2008

Holiday, errands and a walk

It's three days and counting until the big adventure to Alaska and my immersion into the land of graduate school. I am excited about the trip but reluctant, as always, to leave my furry babies, especially Crawford. I know Ron will take good care of them, but I still worry. I think I inherited that worry gene from my grandmother. She was the best worrier I ever knew.

I hope July fourth was a fun one for all of you out there in cyber-land. I worked a sweaty day at the winery. It was a holiday, however, so I earned time-and-a-half for my trouble. Cha-ching!

Doc was not so thrilled with the festivities Friday night. When he heard the neighbors' firecrackers, he insisted on sitting in my lap, putting his paws on my shoulders and burrowing his head in my chest. Poor baby boy. Poor enormous, heavy baby boy. He just couldn't get close enough. Lucy sat on the end of the couch with us for awhile. Whenever she heard the sound of a bottle rocket - that tell-tale whistling that goes gradually from a high pitch to a lower one - she would look up at the ceiling. It was as though she instinctively knew from the sound that something ominous was descending from the sky.

Meanwhile, Crawford and Hopps - both hard of hearing - slept blissfully through it all.

Today's big adventure was a trip to the Kea'au transfer station to dispose of my recycling. In Hawaii, you can either have your beverage containers counted or weighed. They're worth five cents each if you count them. My approach is to weigh the heavy glass bottles and aluminum cans and count the plastic water bottles. The aluminum cans don't weigh much, but I find I earn the same with them whether I weigh them or county them. Weighing them is easier for the workers at the recycling center, so that's what I do. That seems to give me the the best return. Today's haul was $8.41! Woohoo! I'll spend that and then some going to lunch tomorrow with my neighbor. Of course, I spent a good portion of that just driving to and from the recycling center.

Yesterday, I filled in for a few hours at the winery. We recently began offering tours and had our first paying customers for that service on Saturday morning. They loved it! Kathie took them on a stroll through the vineyard, telling them about the grapes and the history of the place. They saw the vat room, then got a free, private tasting. When I first started working at the winery, I thought everyone was calling it the Bat Room. Seriously. I thought that for months. It's the room where the wine is made and I just figured the name was some kind of inside joke. Anyway, if the weather's nice, the tour takers' tasting takes place outside at a picnic table. If not, they come in to one of our tasting room bars. The tour takers receive a nice little goodie bag, including a Volcano Winery logo glass. I think it's going to be a hit.

This afternoon, I drove up to Volcanoes National Park for a workout at the Kilauea Military Camp gym. The air seemed fine all along the way, but the moment I passed through the entry gate, I could see the haze. By the time I got to KMC, the vog was thicker than pea soup. I stepped out of the car, thinking that maybe it wasn't so bad as it looked. It was. I could instantly taste that nasty, mineral-laden soot on my tongue. Sucking in toxic fumes while trudging on the treadmill isn't my idea of a healthy activity. The gym is not air conditioned, so the windows are always open. It still gets pretty stuffy in there unless you open the doors, too. So, I drove back out of the park, then hung a left off the highway into Volcano Village where the air was miraculously clear. I parked the car at the Village Store, then took a little adventure walk up an unfamiliar road. To be honest, it wasn't totally unfamiliar. My ukulele lessons were on a side street just off that particular stretch. But I had never been up as far as I went today. It was toasty and the sweat was soaking through my clothes, but it felt a little cooler than my house. The road was well shaded, which helped too. I encountered a few friendly people, saw some cute cottages and a handful of ramshackle old heaps. I met three friendly dogs. You really can tell a friendly dog from a mean one. The friendly ones approach with their tails wagging. They seem to be thinking, "Oh boy! A person!" I walked for an hour. I'd have take the dogs, but I spent too long in front of the computer this morning writing and re-writing assignments for school. By the time I was finished, it was way too hot for the Hoppster and the Doctor Dog. They were still a little pooped from our walk Saturday afternoon. I returned home to cool off by washing the car. Doc and Crawford watched. Hopps stayed inside, parked directly in front of the biggest fan. Did I mention it's been hot? Sorry no photos today. Charging the camera battery.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Caring for the kitties

I called Advocats, as promised, where a representative referred me to a woman in Mountain View, who in turn referred me to another woman in Volcano. This woman's name, if you can believe it, is Cat Killum. No lie. Anyway, Cat is a very compassionate person who cares for the critters. She runs a cat shelter at her house. This woman know all about the cat family at the transfer station. She was elated with my call, because she's never gotten a message regarding the cats in which the caller actually offered to help her. She told me she is already feeding the cats. There are, in fact 12 living there that she knows of at this particular dump, along with two very shy dogs. She does not feed them near the dumpsters where people can see her, the food or the animals. She asked me not to feed them there, either. She had very good reasons. Cat explained that if people see food, they know that some one's feeding the animals and view it as a good place to dump their own unwanted felines. Or, if people see the animals around the dumpsters, they leave food, like leftover French fries or sandwiches or Cheetos or even cat food, like I did. These people mean well, but it makes her mission more difficult. She is trying to earn the animal's trust so she can capture them. If the kitties are not hungry when she comes to feed them, they don't come around and she can't get close. If she can't get close, she can't catch them. Sometimes, she actually posts signs asking people not to feed the cats. She explains that they are already being fed and that she is trying to trap them. Cat feeds this brood in a more discrete spot nearby, at the base of a knoll below the main dumpster. Doing so allows her to get slowly close to the animals, earning their trust. She says that she removes about a dozen cats from that transfer station every year. Some are introduced to the other cats at her refuge where they live happily ever after. Some of the kittens are socialized if possible and put up for adoption. All are spayed and neutered. Some cats are too wild and do not adapt well to the cat refuge and cannot be socialized well enough to be adopted. So they are released back at the transfer station after they've been fixed. At least that way they can't make any more babies and they are well fed. There is also some pretty good natural shelter in the area. So Cat actually asked me to stop feeding the kitties, but wondered if I would be willing to give her a break now and then if she needs one, stepping in to feed them in her place on occasion. Yeah, I'll do that.

The writing assignments are coming fast and furious from my professor. I think I've cranked out more copy in the past week than I have in the past two years, including this blog.
My feet are always simply killing me after a day at the winery. It was actually busy today with a steady stream of customers all afternoon, so there was little time to take a load off. The weather has returned to normal. Rain. So since I don't have to worry about my water supply, I opted tonight for a good soak in the bathtub. Feet feel better now.

A hui hou. Aloha!