Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm relieved to report that picking Jungle Mac Nuts is not nearly as terrifying as picking Jungle Coffee

I'm relieved because I've spent about 5 billion hours picking mac nuts over the last two months.

In fact, it's all rather benign.  Imagine strapping on knee pads and taking a dishpan and 5-gallon pail and a few burlap sacks out into a Macadamia Nut grove, where the nuts are literally littering the ground.

You are given a "bay" to pick, a grid between mature mac nut trees.  You pop your iPod earphones in, crank the dance tunes, and for 2.5 hours, you're on your hands and knees picking nuts off the forest floor as fast as you can go.  The only decision you need to make is which nuts to pick up. 

{Insert hitchhiking joke here.}

Sometimes what looks like a nut is just an empty husk, and the nut has fallen out already.  Sometimes the nut has started to rot or sprout or it's infested with ants or partially eaten by rats. 

The mac nut grove is quite shady and cool, as the trees were planted with just enough spacing for each canopy to reach the next tree, producing 100% shade on the forest floor before.  There are a few ambitious mac nut tree seedlings which manage to sprout here and there, which we pull out.  These seedlings are referred to as "keikis," (pronounced 'cake-ease'), the Hawaiian word for children.

About 3 1/2 full dishpans produce two full 5-gallon buckets, and two 5-gallon buckets make one guinea sack full of nuts.

In 2.25 hours I can pick 4 full bags.

Not that I'm bragging mind you.  But I am pretty good at picking nuts.

I also usually get to sort all the hulled mac nuts the next morning,  a job I love as it happens to take place right beside the pullet coop, where I can chatter with the "girls" as I make my way back and forth with racks full of nuts ready to stack and dry.

No ants swarming over my body.  No spiderwebs wrapping around my face.  Occasionally I see an earwig (ish) or a small centipede (yikes) which I stay away from, but for the most part, benign.

Oh, and one of my other favorite parts about the mac nut forest?

That's where Beyonce the Red Jungle Fowl hen lives.

All by herself.

Every mac nut forest needs a Beyonce. 

Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

(image from here)

There is a family of Kalij pheasants who live in the vicinity of this farm, and who wander past our tiny cabin several times a day on their way to and from their favorite spots.

The eight-acre tropical coffee and macadamia nut farm we're working and living on this winter has a perimeter fence of 4"x4" welded wire to keep out feral pigs (and loose dogs, both of which there seem to be a lot of on the Big Island) and keep in Zeena the farm dog.  The lowest several rows of wire have narrower spaces than the higher rows (to keep out the piglets).

Every time I see the pheasant family near the perimeter fence, I stop and watch how they behave.  The mama pheasant, nearly invisible in her coat of brown camoflauge feathers, hops up a couple of rows and pops on through a 4" opening above the rows of smaller holes.  Once safely on the other side, she waits patiently in the vicinity and watches the rest of her family.  She is always calm and quiet, only murmuring a few quiet "urr urr" noises to her baby every now and then.

Papa pheasant, who walks with a slight limp, usually follows suit, although it takes him a little longer it seems to remember how to get through.  Male baby, however, always follows the same behavior pattern - keeping his head lowered, uttering lots of loud "urr urr urr" noises, he scans the lowest rows of fencing for a gap big enough to slip through (he is nearly adult-sized) and runs frantically back and forth along a section of fence maybe 20yds wide.

No matter how many times he runs back and forth along the fence, he never finds a gap to slip through, because there are no wider openings in the lowest rows of wire.

Despite his mother easily hopping up and through the fence several times a day, he has not learned to stop and watch her and learn from her behavior.  He continues to run frantically along the fenceline looking for a gap.  Several times every day he repeats this behavior.

It reminds me of the story I'm sure you've read before:

A man walks out of a bar and sees a drunken man searching the ground under a lamp post for his house keys. The first man decides to help him, and both search around for a while. Finally, the first man asks, "Are you sure this is where you lost your keys?" The drunken man answers, "No, I dropped them in the alley, but it's too dark there to see, and the light is better under the lamp post."

How many times do we look in the same place for our lost keys, or purse, or remote control, certain it is there, when it is clearly somewhere else?  How many times do we do the same thing over and over again, hoping for new outcomes?  Date the same kind of person, have the same arguments with our spouse, return every day to our "safe" but boring jobs while our creative spirits wither.

How many times do we get stuck in the same thought patterns - "I can't change things, this is the way life is, there is nothing I can do."

We are all like frantic baby pheasants running back and forth looking only at the bottom of the fence for a gap that doesn't exist.

When we remember to stop and look up, we see all the opportunities in front of and around us, just waiting for us to take the time to look for them.  We see others leading by example. We see we can fly over the fence, or hop up and go through the bigger gaps.

We see new possibilities and opportunities.

If only we remember to look up.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our love affair with a rental car-upgraded-free-to-a-Jeep recently led us on a wild tame ride up Saddle Road to Mauna Kea in search of snowy summits.

This little loo is located at 13,796 feet, at the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

{Yes, I used it. I am a pinnacle pee-er}

It shares mountain top space with no less than thirteen different telescopes, built by eleven countries.

If there is life on other planets, the folks on the summit of Mouna Kea will be the first to know.

Our trip up to the mountain was surprising, the way the flora changed from jungle at sea-level to open grasslands dotted with grazing sheep and cattle as we climbed upwards, reminiscent of Papa Bear's stomping grounds in Wyoming, a far cry from tropical Hawaii.

That is one of the coolest things about Hawaii - the diversity of micro climates.  Like snow on Mauna Kea, for example.

After a brisk walk about at the summit, we were all in favor of getting back in the warm Jeep and heading back down to the ocean for a dip.

I wanted to find the good snorkeling beach a fellow passenger on my flight over had recommended, somewhere in the vicinity of Mauna Lani resort.

We found a couple of beach access points, but I'm not sure either of them were the right one.  The first one was a long, paved trail through a region covered in collapsing lava tubes.

{Don't worry mama - the liquid lava is long gone.}

Very cool, but I don't think the mom that recommended the beach we were searching for had dragged her two very small children down that very long path. 

We gave up on that hike and found another beach access.  The parking lot was dotted with feral cats.  I took that as a very good sign, probably a message from our clowder on the mainland that they missed us and wondered why we have abandoned them.

{We're coming home soon kids!}

When we got to the beach, it was near sunset.  We met an old wise man there that we mistook for a transient at first, until he taught us a life lesson I won't soon forget.  More on that story later.

We opted out of a swim due to the cooling temps and setting sun, but stayed for the sunset, which Papa Bear capture nicely in the palm of his hand.

Summits to sea-level, snow to surf.  You really can find it all on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Aloha -

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's been a tough six weeks since our arrival here in early December.  Technical, transportation, physical, mental and emotional challenges have plagued us from the get-go. 

I broke my new Nikon P&S camera (scratched the lens badly) our first day on the island, then broke my old backup P&S Canon (seawater leaked into the waterproof case).  My work laptop died completely.

It really is a wonder I've been able to post at all.

But there are always good things in every tough situation, and tonight I am choosing to focus on a few of those things that buoy me up and make me smile.

Sorting mac nuts near the pullet house. How I miss the happy sounds of my flock at home.

My nightly ritual of climbing the highest hill on the property and watching the sun sink into the clouds over the ocean

Greeting the family of Kalij pheasants lingering near the outhouse on  my return to our tiny, cozy cabin.  The male offspring still has not gotten the hang of jumping through the fence, so I often see him running back and forth along the fence with his parents patiently waiting on the other side.

My crabby husband, reading an iBook on his phone in bed. 

{OK, so it doesn't make me smile that he's crabby.  But it does make me smile that he's my  husband, despite his occasional donning of the Crabby Pants.}

Having a computer that works so I can write when stuff piles up in my head. {Thanks to my crabby husband for the backup laptop}.

All of my peeps - literal and figurative - back on the mainland rooting for us as we hang in there for these last two weeks.

We couldn't do this without all of y'alls support.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I thought I knew some stuff about bananas.  I really did.  It's probably the first fruit I ever ate as a baby, and I have continued to enjoy them my entire life. 

But I have learned some new things about bananas during our time here at the farm.  Things that have surprised even me.


Bananas do not grow on trees.  They are an herb!  Despite their sometimes-ginormous size (some of the plants here are 30' tall!), they are really a perennial herb and their trunk is made up of many leaves tightly wrapped around a single stem which turns into the fruit-bearing flower stalk.

It can take many months for the bunch to ripen, and once the bunch is harvested, the original stem dies.  So how do bananas continue to grow?  Side shoots spring up near the base of the original stem and produce the next generations of fruit.  It can take 12-18 months for these stems to produce fruit.

If you cut a banana (stem or leave stalk), it will drip a clear liquid.  Do not be fooled - this seemingly-benign liquid will change colors as it dries on your clothes, staining them a nice blood-red-brown color.

{Apparently, bananas have blood, too.}

There are over 400 varieties of bananas world-wide, with the American favorite being the yellow Cavendish.  They grow several different varieties on the farm here, and the "apple banana" and "dwarf Cuban reds" are two of my current favorites.

The banana flower was considered to be a phallic symbol in medieval times, and thus bananas were banned from nunneries.

Actually, I made up that last one.  I doubt banana herbs grew in Europe in medieval times.


More than you ever wanted to know about bananas.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Papa Bear and I each have a few things on our Bucket List (aka do-before-we-die list).  Visiting Hawaii was on PB's.


Snorkeling was on both our lists.

Check check.

Learning to surf was on mine.

So this weekend, while simultaneously enjoying the thrills of having a rental vehicle at our disposal and also enjoying the company of friends from Wyoming visiting Kona, we decided to take the advice of several locals and visit Kahaluu Bay for some surfing lessons.

The waiter at Bongo Ben's recommended we rent boards and hire instructors at Kahaluu Bay Surf & Sea which is conveniently located right across from Kahaluu beach, so that's where we headed, where we teamed up with surf instructors Isha (pronounced Eye-Sha) and Ben for some ultra-beginner instructions.

We picked the right place to go!  Both instructors were very patient in explaining things to us, none of us having been on boards before.

Our on-land instructions included an introduction to the parts of the surf board (nose, tail, rails, deck & fins) and we all practiced "popping up" into surf position from laying on our bellies on the board.

This sounds easy enough, and on dry land, it isn't too hard.  It's way more difficult when you're trying to balance on a board on moving water.

After our dry-land instructions, we headed out into Kahaluu Bay following Isha, who tethered a buoy which would become our "home base" between each wave we road.  We were warned about the rip tide which was pretty strong, and we discovered just keeping our boards close to the buoy would be a challenge with the size of the waves in the bay that day.

While the rest of us clung to the buoy and attempted to keep our boards pointing into the oncoming waves, Ben and Isha each headed out with an individual surfer for their first real wave.

My board was a wide, stable, 11' board, and when Isha yelled for me to paddle then gave me a push onto the wave, I stood up and went several yards!  It was exhilarating! 

Once I paddled back to the buoy I found out PB's board was a foot shorter than mine and he was having trouble balancing on his, so I traded him.  For the next few wave attempts, I was not able to stand for more than a second.

Blessings and curses often come in the same package.  PB got seasick during the lesson and decided to head in early, so I got the 11' board back. 


My last wave in for the day was a long sweet one and I stood the whole way in.

I could barely lift my arms by the end of the lesson, and my ribs, knees and pubic bone were all bruised from laying on the board through many a wipe out and bouncing through the waves.

I surfed.  Badly perhaps, but I did it.

Which brings me to Jenny Lawson and the Traveling Red Dress project.  Which sounds like it has nothing to do with surfing. But it has everything to do with having a Bucket List and tenaciously pursuing one's dreams, no matter how "insensible" they may seem to others.

In Jenny's words:

"I want, just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies. I want to be shocking, and vivid and wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be. And the more I thought about it the more I realized how often we deny ourselves that red dress and all the other capricious, ridiculous, overindulgent and silly things that we desperately want but never let ourselves have because they are simply ‘not sensible’.

Things like flying lessons, and ballet shoes, and breaking into spontaneous song, and building a train set, and crawling onto the roof just to see the stars better. Things like cartwheels and learning how to box and painting encouraging words on your body to remind yourself that you’re worth it."

"Find your red dress. And wear the hell out of it."

Monday, January 2, 2012

I know you've all been wondering, "How do you take care of yourselves in your primitive-tropical-Hawaiian-jungle-environment with no flush toilets or hot running water?"

I'm here to show you how we take our jungle showers.

Sadly, I lost the very adorable picture I had of Papa Bear in the jungle shower when my laptop went on the blitz and died. 

{Don't worry, it wasn't a Nudie-Judy, and if my laptop is resuscitated I will post that pic here.}

SO basically the shower works like this: 
  • Fill shower bag halfway with water.
  • Place bag, black side up, on black tailgate on black tarp. (Breadfruit optional)
  • Let sit in the sunshine for several hours.
  • Hoist bag up to shower room with ingenious pulley system.
  • Take hot (but quick) shower in Jungle Shower.
This system works brilliantly as long as the sun shines.

Here on the Kona coast, the sun usually shines in the morning, then clouds up by 12:30pm or so (just in time for us to get done with our work shifts).

A shower around 4:30pm on a cloudy day will be a very brisk shower.  I'm not tough enough for that treatment, so when that happens, I take a kettle of near boiling water, mix a little at a time with the shower bag water in a water pitcher and pour the warmed water back into the bag. 


Just like showering at home.  But without so much water. 

Aloha -

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Papa Bear and I rounded out the last of 2011 with a full day - chores (pulling vines then pruning banana leaves), a swim and snorkel at Two-Step beach, and a burger at Keokis (just a mile up the road from the farm).

Home by sunset, since we are carless, we are now chillin' in the cabin, listening to fireworks being shot off somewhere in the neighborhood, thinking about how thankful we are to have such full and interesting lives, and remembering all of our peeps (both people and poultry) on the mainland, who we miss immensely.

Happy 2012 everybody!

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