Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swimming with no fishes

The weather's been pinch-me beautiful lately, so yesterday I made plans to take a swim, never mind the tidal surge my entrance into the waters of Hilo Bay might create around the Pacific Rim. After a productive shift tutoring at the Hawaii Community College Learning Center, a visit to Abundant Life Health Food on the bayfront for an organic cane sugar soda and a sprouting, sprouted with sprouts, multi-grain bagel -- which isn't a bagel at all despite what they call it on the label, but more of a donut-shaped doorstop -- felt well deserved after a morning's work. At the entryway to the store, a woman, 60s maybe, sat with a cardboard sign that said, "NEED FOOD." A young man came through the doorway just then and handed her a beverage and a sandwich. I watched as she settled onto the sidewalk with her gift, then went inside.
My own frugal purchase in hand, I returned to my car to find an elderly man standing inches from my back bumper. He announced that he had run out of gas and would like to, "earn" enough money to buy a gallon to get home. Thin as a Kenyan marathoner but frail and pasty, his polyester pants and an equally flammable shirt gave him a look that suggested he'd fallen from a jet liner by accident, a charter filled with pentecostal ministers en-route to a convention maybe, in the 1970s. He spritzed my back window with Windex, then rubbed and squeaked it clean with a rag. I handed him two bucks, thanked him, wished him luck. Out on the highway, I approached the first signal and half expected to see a Mexican man selling bags of oranges or bouquets of flowers at the intersection. Then I'd have thought I was the one who had fallen from a plane and landed smack onto the pavement, L.A., 1986.

Nourished, quenched and beach park bound, my swim suit, snorkel gear and I jiggled with the the rumble of the engine and our anticipation of a cool plunge in the blue Pacific. The plan was to hit Leilewi or Richardson, two local beach parks with great lagoons, but they were both packed, with no place to park but the street. That's the way it is every sunny day in Hilo, even if it's a Tuesday. So I settled on Onekahakaha. It only looks hard to pronounce. Break it apart -- Ownay...kaha...kaha. Put it back together. Say it fast. Easy. It's known as a keiki (kids') park because of its shallow, sandy-bottomed swimming hole, and there were, as always, toddlers with their mom's splashing about, but also a fair number of beefy, tough girls with tattoos and a healthy smattering of elders, drawn, no doubt, by the placid water and the horseshoe pits. Apparently, it's the keiki/tita/kupuna park, the latter group to which I must reluctantly admit affiliation.

I plodded across the pahoehoe, tossed my reef shoes onto the lava, donned flippers, mask and breathing tube and pushed in against the incoming tide. Hilo beach parks are not known as great snorkeling spots, but I brought the gear anyway, more for the benefit it presents when swimming than for spying sea life. Even so, I was surprised to see not a single fish. There were rocks overgrown with kelp that looked like wiggling Shrek ears, and an odd, white, worm-like creature writhing within reach on the bottom. Plenty of leaves floated on the surface, plus one sandwich bag, which I snagged and stuffed into my pocket. Yes, pocket. With my gams, and to avoid chafing, I always wear surf shorts, which conveniently have pockets, tank suit very much. A few sand crabs darted hither and yon, but no fish. Onekahakaha was relinquished to the use and abuse of humans decades ago, as were all the beach parks along this stretch, the shallowest areas long trampled and made inhospitable to coral. No coral, no fish. This shoreline was once covered with homes, but two tsunamis, 1947 and 1960, prompted government officials to rethink the wisdom of redevelopment. There are still houses along the road that will be swept away when the next big wave strikes. A few newer houses on the makai side (toward the sea), built upon thick, concrete pillars 15 feet off the ground, stand in stubborn defiance as they face Chile and San Francisco, as if to say, "Bring it on." As tall and stalwart as these structures look, however, my money is on the ocean.
Even without fish, the water felt perfect, the sun warm and bright. Just beyond the barrier rocks, the surf pounded. Spray caught by the breeze and blown into the air created a salty, fragrant haze. There was a high surf warning along north shores of all the islands yesterday, but some of that swell made its way to the east side, too. It's not every day you can see curling, six-foot waves breaking in Hilo Bay.

On the way home, a visit to Wal-Mart, my least favorite place, did what it always does; it makes me feel thin, less frumpy, classy even, never mind my wet, uncombed hair and wrinkled t-shirt. This feeling is always fleeting, of course, for the simple fact that I am there, perusing the aisles for deals like everybody else. My very presence in the store belies all the snobbery and rhetorical self-aggrandizing. The truth is, I am, no more, no less, and whether I like it or not, one of the Wal-Mart minions. So much for the healthy, sprouted, sprouting sprouts and the organic cane sugar soda. They sell cheap cheese doodles and Diet Pepsi at the big box. Thin? Less frumpy? Classy? Right.

Malama pono. A hui hou. Aloha.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cats, Cajuns and coffee

The coffee trees, dolloped with white flower clusters that look like snow from a distance, are showing promise for a fruitful winter. We've learned this week that a voracious beetle called the coffee berry borer has invaded our islands, one that drills into the cherry to feed, then further into the seed, or bean as it's known, to lay its slimy little eggs. These are not the same beetles previously featured in this blog. Rather, they are tiny, the size of a sesame seed, and much more destructive. These bitty beasts are a scourge, accounting for crop losses of 20 percent worldwide, and should never have become a problem in isolated Hawaii but for the state's stupid policy of allowing imported, green coffee beans. They're almost impossible to eradicate, since the larvae develop inside the bean. Who knows how many of these we've all brewed up in our Mr. Coffees over the years. Hawaii allows other plant importation too, and with lax inspection, we've acquired fire ants and coqui frogs in recent years. I've often wondered why they inspect our suitcases for agricultural products when we leave the islands, but not when we travel toward them. Luckily, no beetles have infected our coffee. We don't process other farmers' harvest (or even out own, yet) and we are nowhere near any other coffee growers, so we should be safe. That's not to say any of a dozen other menaces might not strike our orchard, but for now, our trees are healthy. Our biggest nemesis is fungus. This is the rainforest, after all. We might have enough coffee this year to harvest and process. I'm hoping for at least a potful of my own, medium-roast brew.

Last night, my friend and neighbor Kathy and I went to see the Red Stick Ramblers at the University of Hawaii Hilo Performing Arts Center. They were great, providing us with a dose of culture not of these islands. This band is authentic Louisiana, true to its Cajun-French roots, of the bayou, of the south. Check 'em out.

I had a job interview at The Palace Theater last week. Four members of the board asking about my experience with multi-tasking. I broke into a sweat during our discussion, not for nerves, but for the humidity and heat in Hilo, and thereby inside the old, un-air-conditioned building. They were a friendly, easy group, very nice, though they seemed more interested in my writing than my office skills, so it's hard to say how the interview went.

Last spring, our Lucy, the cranky calico, had laser surgery to remove cancerous lesions from her nose. The surgery gave her a cute little Janet Jackson pinch, which she has worn well. Her nose was much improved for several months, but now, the cancer is back, in the form of a tumor inside her nostril. It's inoperable locally, though the vet says we might fly her to Honolulu or Maui or the mainland for a CT scan, radiation and/or surgery. Lucy, however, is elderly, blind and FIV positive, so the vet also warns that doing this could stress her out, exacerbate her other conditions and possibly spark new maladies. She also tells us it would cost a few thousand dollars. So, we will do our best by Lucy, here, at home, continue to spoil her as we always have, and give her the best life possible for as long as possible.

Speaking of Lucy, the queen is on her perch, awaiting her dinner.

A hui hou. Malama pono. Aloha.