Wednesday, September 29, 2004
And then, halfway back, there they were! One big old turtle, floating around on a big flat rock, nibbling on something, soon joined by a slightly smaller friend. For nearly a half hour I had them all to myself - for as big as they are, you can swim right by them and not even notice them, because they're pretty much the same color as the rocks around them. Tired as I was, I really had no choice but to hang out with them for as long as I could. I thought about trying to signal Brett, who'd long since gone back to shore, but was worried that if I started waving my arms trying to get his attention the life guard would think I was drowning, launching a potentially embarrassing and unnecessary rescue.
So we floated. The turtles knew I was there but didn't seem to mind. ("Pretend you're eating the same grass they are," they guidebook helpfully suggested. Well I couldn't really reach it, but I did sort of tailor my movements to theirs and hover around a rock next to theirs as much as I could.) They eyed me now and then and seemed pretty accepting. Every five minutes or so, they'd float up to the surface, stick their little head up for a breath of fresh air, and then sink back down for some more of the algae buffet.
After a while, the smaller one peeled off and went flapping away like some crazy, shell-encrusted bird. Boy, are they graceful in the water - long, slow, elegant flapping of their fins. I followed for a little while, doing my best to swoop along with it, but I know that in comparison I probably looked ridiculous. Maybe it felt sorry for me - eventually it stopped and found itself a nice rock and let me get another look at it up close.
The other snorkelers eventually found us, but for a while there it felt like I was just another fish, or perhaps just another turtle. Just me and the big guys, hanging out in the pond.
Here's a link to a cool video of Hawaiian sea turtles... It's hard to get a sense of scale from this, but this is not your average pet turtle. The ones I was watching definitely weighed more than i do, and were 4-5 feet long.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
The geography of the big island is split into two distinct zones – the rainy side, over near Hilo in the east, and the dry side, on the north and west. We’re staying on the dry side, up in Waikoloa, just outside the huge Parker Ranch. The landscape here is an odd mix of the American west and tropical Hawaii. We’re in the midst of scrub land and old lava flows. Where no irrigation or lava beds exists, the land is dry and golden brown, dotted with grasses and rolling hills, rock outcroppings and the occasional scrubby tree. Turn the other way from this straight-from-Montana landscape and you see ocean, incredibly blue, stretching out to the horizon. You can play perception games with this too – Montana. Hawaii. Montana. Hawaii. Fun.
The Montana side:
Around Waikaloa, the homes with irrigation have beautiful gardens – plumeria, bougainvillea, palms and ferns, aloes, and hundreds of other tropical plants. I’ve been reading two books on tropical landscaping that Tenaya’s mother has in the house since I got here, learning to identify a bit of what I see, but the variety is amazing and for the moment I’m too much of a neophyte to identify much beyond plumeria. The homes without irrigation have… well, nice brown grass.
And then there are the lava flows – huge craggy rock beds, dark chocolate brown, extending for miles on end, often bisected only by the road in their passage directly to the sea. Every time I see one, I’m struck by how much they look like freshly tilled earth, but on a giant scale. It’s as if some immense being took a hoe to dark, fertile earth and churned it all up, and we’re the ants wandering around in it. Lovely as that image is, they’re razor sharp and you’d probably break both your ankles trying to hike around in them, or lose your balance and sever all of your fingers trying to break your fall. So far we haven’t really explored them much.
The lava here moves slowly and is very predictable, but does now and then take a town off the charts. We were looking at a map yesterday of the lava flows down by Kona and the botanical gardens and beaches that were lost, along with the town of Kalapana. (Click here for some interesting images of the town begin swallowed.) It’s hard to imagine losing a whole village to the slow, inexorable torrent of lava, but it happens. The lava flows near Kona eminate from a new crater called Pu’u O’o and have been flowing since January 3, 1983. Right now, its sister, Mauna Kea, is about to erupt for the first time in 20 years. Then again, according to this report, so is Mt. St. Helens, back home. (Interestingly, the news about Mt. St. Helens made the local paper here in Kona. The fraternity of volcano-bearing states is apparently strong.)
Random volcano facts, courtesy of our favorite guide book series: “Hawaii, the Big Island, Revealed”:
- 2,900,000,000 cubic yards of lava have erupted from Pu’u O’o since 1983
- Number of dump trucks this would fill: 200 million
- Number of homes destroyed: 182
- Total area covered: 40 square miles
We haven’t been over to the wet side of the island yet – it’s a couple hundred miles over to Hilo, and as with the other Hawaiian islands we’ve visited, there are very few roads that lead straight across the interior to wherever you’re trying to go. (That’s where Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are busy doing their volcanoic best.) We plan to drive around the southern end of the island in a few days to Volcano National Park, but we haven’t relaxed quite enough yet to take on a big road trip right now.
Driving on the islands, as we found out earlier this year on Kauai, can be tough. Yesterday we headed down to Kona, about thirty mails from the house in Waikoloa, hoping to get a quick breakfast. We ended up in one of those amazingly bad traffic jams you get on an island with only one or two main roads which everyone has to take to get anywhere. Turns out there was a diesel spill just south of Kona from a collision between an SUV and a truck, no major injuries but enough to snarl traffic in both directions and on both of the major highways for a good two hours. That about did it for our urge to explore for a while. We eventually did get to Kona, had breakfast (banana French toast) at a place with a mindblowing view of the water, did our grocery shopping, and went home, but we haven’t ventured out of the top half of the island since.
Staying put is pretty pleasant in itself. The house we’re staying in –- loaned to us in an astonishing fit of karma-inducing generosity by the parents of our friends Scott and Tenaya – is just gorgeous, nicer than nearly all of the houses I’ve ever lived in. Huge, cool, and lovely, with ceiling fans in every room to waft a breeze around, it has an immense white-tiled kitchen, and the bedroom is lined in windows. On the back there’s a beautiful screen-enclosed porch (called a lanai) with a large comfy couch that we spend hours lounging around on, reading. It's usually ten degrees cooler out there by the end of the day than it is in the couch. (Brett's asleep there right now.) There are nice beaches close by, and we did go out late yesterday afternoon for an initial dip in the warmest water I’ve ever swam in and some snorkeling, but we’re taking it easy and moving slow.
As an added bonus, somehow, there’s random wireless internet access, for free. I don’t think it’s coming from the house, but it’s somewhere nearby. I discovered it by accident when I pulled the laptop out onto the lanai one morning to write a little and suddenly found myself connected. This lets us upload the pictures from the digital camera and post them. I don't kid myself that I have a ton of readers here -- more like two regular ones that I know of (my sister-in-law Marilyn and my friend Mike) -- but still, it lets me live out my fantasy of travel writing for a while.
Monday, September 27, 2004
About twenty of us get off at Kona Airport, on the big island of Hawaii. The other hundred or so folks on the plane boarded in Maui and are bound back to Seattle. I don’t envy them the long, dark flight ahead of them. The stewardesses who accompanied us over on the first five hours of the flight all switched over to other flights in Maui, so the new crew is looking fresh and remarkably unbleary-eyed compared to those of us staggering off the plane. We’re all shedding layers as we do – we’ve gone through a major climate change over the course of the day. The smart ones have dressed in layers – skirts or shorts with long sleeved top layers that will see you through the flight but can be peeled off like onion skin upon reaching Hawaii. By the time we get to baggage claim, we’re seeing much more skin than we did before.
Brett buys me a lei, because he didn’t last time we were here and regretted it – I pick out a lovely white-and-yellow plumeria rope, simple and elegant, and – boy! – fragrant as anything. It perfumes the whole cab on the way to the house we’re staying at. I wish it would last forever - plumeria, or frangipani, is the most gorgeous flower, all creamy white with a center that sort of redefines what the word yellow means, as if previously it had been a rather dimly held concept that only now starts to have meaning. It can't survive in our Seattle climate, so I'm doubly glad to see it again after a nine month break from our last trip.
Our cab driver, used to taking people to the big hotels, is a bit nonplussed by the fact that we’re going someplace else, somewhere he apparently has no idea how to get to. Luckily, our hosts have given us printed directions to the house we’re borrowing from them, and after a few read-throughs we head off into the night. I blink out the window sleepily and wonder if I’m hallucinating – although it’s black as pitch out there and seemingly rocky (I’ll find out tomorrow that these black areas are old lava flows), I keep thinking I see large white lettering on the side of the road – not on signs or billboards, but on the rock face themselves. I keep catching a white blur out of the corner of my eye that looks like letters but goes by too fast to resolve. Am I imagining things? Making letters and symbols out of grassy plants that are reflecting the headlines? I can’t make any sense out of it – this is a mystery that will have to wait until later to resolve.
One thing that amazes me about the trip to Hawaii is this feeling – being over unbroken ocean for four or five hours straight. It’s such a vast expanse of nothing but blue. Just like my drive from the far east coast of the United States to the far west coast in 1997 opened my eyes to the sheer breadth of my native country, this flight has twice now begun to crack my skull and insert an understanding of the sheer vastness of the planet. Even on the longer flights to Europe which I’ve taken numerous times now, you’re over land most of the time – crossing the whole US, then Greenland, then Scotland, with short stints of water in between. Not so here. Nothing in my Midwestern upbringing ever prepared me for the experience of living on the westernmost edge of my continental shelf, of diving off it and winging my way across the Pacific.
We’ve taken this trip twice now. The first time, the waves were choppy but today the ocean has been smooth as glass, reflecting the occasional cloud bank, looking for all the world as mild as a backyard pool. It doesn’t appear to be moving at all, but I’m fascinated with it nonetheless, imagining the life teeming under the surface, the schools of fish, the whales and sharks, predators and prey, the wrecks deep below, the trenches where humans have never gone. It makes my head swim. No pun intended.
Elsewhere in the world, hurricanes are tearing the Florida coast, Haiti, and other neighboring islands apart for the second time this month. Here, the sea is so calm that you can play games with perspective, confusing your brain – are you looking down at white clouds silhouetted against the water, or up at the blue sky with clouds beneath it? It’s confusingly plausible that it could be either. Ever fascinated with those moments when you can trick your brain like this, I play with this off and on for hours.
Flying, for all of its inconveniences, can still be an interesting experience.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Saturday, September 25, 2004
The sunken gardens - a former quarry:
Up close look at a bee in the rose garden:
Nice color combination in a border:
Beautiful "hot" colored border:
Monday, September 20, 2004
So here in Seattle, it's raining, most of the time. Wettest, grayest September of the last five years, it seems like. I took out the first of the tomato plants this weekend - the black cherokee produced three huge, mottled, purply tomatoes which were mouthwateringly sweet, then three rotted ones, then it rotted up itself and died. I cut it out on Sunday and was sorry to do so - tomatoes are the main reason I garden, and when the first plant comes out I must acknowledge that I'm not going to have fresh tomatoes for much longer. The cherries are still producing, though, as are the lemon boys and the medium-sized red ones whose name I've forgotten.
There was the lightest hint of a frost on the grass today when I left the house. Not real frost, of course -- too early for that -- but a precursor of frost, a pre-mortem of my garden's denuouement in four weeks or so. We've turned on the heater and taken out some of the screen inserts in windows around the house. I can occasionally see my breath in the mornings or late at night. It won't be long until it's time to mulch and lay things to rest.
I'm looking forward to it, and to planning next year's garden. Or gardens. I just signed up for a P-Patch at one of Seattle's local community gardens. There's one just down the road that appeared to have space free when I walked through it a few weeks ago, so I'm hoping I can get in. This will give me room for the big rambling stuff I can't really fit in my yard -- zucchini, pumpkins, bean towers, big huge dahlias, maybe some corn. My friend Jacki may garden it with me. It'd be nice to share the planning this winter and some of the heavy watering next summer.
Everything that's left in the yard is enjoying the rain very much - the Queen Elizabeth rose has burst into yet another round of exuberant bloom (show off!) and the Sceptre'd Isle rose, it's quieter cousin, is about to rebloom as well. The lavender hedges are blooming anew. Nearly all the sunflowers are out - the latest arrival is one dark red Chianti species. The new seed dahlias have settled in happily into the old vegetable bed, and out front, the parking strips are yet again a veritable jungle of weeds. Craziness. How do people keep up with this?
Is it just that the parking strips used to be grass forests? None of the other beds disappear under weeds after a week or so of rain - they get little infestations but nothing I can't keep up with. The parking strips nearly disappear every time it rains for more than 48 hours. I'd leave it but my parents are coming in a week or so and I was hoping things would look nice when they did. They haven't seen it since last year when it was untouched by the hand of man. But it looks unlikely that I'll get through it in time.
One final note - a year ago this very day, I was marrying the best guy in the world. The year has flown by, and I still feel lucky every day:
And because it's vaguely gardening-related, here are the beautiful flowers we had on our tables - dahlias, persimmons, hydrangeas, edible grapes, dark red roses, rosemary, and sage:
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Anyways, here it is today. I expect it to bloom around 2007 for the first time - usually takes three years.
Monday, September 13, 2004
This weekend's gardening-related tasks included:
- Pull grass out of the parking strip for ten minutes, until friends show up to go on a garden tour. Oh yay, an excuse to stop weeding.
- Walk around Phinney for two hours looking at other people's gardens and feeling less and less creative myself when I see the amazing things other people do with their teeny tiny little yards. Pretty impressive.
- Show Jacki how to use a pitchfork.
- Give away a whole bunch of my Swanson's holiday dollars. How did I get so many of these?
- Go to Swansons to buy garden mulch - soon I'm going to finish weeding the left parking strip (the right's already done) and lay down the winter layer of mulch/compost. Might as well load up. Except that while I'm there I "accidentally" buy:
- Cool weather lettuce starts
- Two trailing rosemary plants
- Two winter savory
- About fourteen terra cotta pots (on sale, always need 'em) and saucers
- Two suet birdfeeder cages and sticky stuff to go in them (birds = eat bugs)
Husband: "Did you buy plants again?"
- Rip out the last of the kinnick kinnick from the rock wall out front. Man, is that stuff hard to get out. End up climbing up into the rock wall to leverage the thing out with the pitchfork, then still having to use the secateurs to cut a bunch of deep roots I just can't get out. Fill an entire plant waste bin with the remnants.
I've always hated that shrub for some reason. Just found out, though, that it's sacred to several indian tribes and is often smoked in ritual. Hrm. Maybe I should've saved some.
- Plant the two rosemary plants and the sea holly I bought last week out there instead. Admire the order I've brought to this little six foot patch of dirt.
- Look down and notice that I'm standing in a good foot of weeds at the base of the rock wall. Pitchfork those all up and tear them out. Save the heucheras. Think about planting something invasive, like mint, that will at least smell good and just letting it run, since it's a confined area and there's no room to jump to a bed I actually care about from there.
- Stop and play with neighbor's puppy, who loves when I dig.
- Go to backyard. Finally get frustrated by my slimy (literally, slug heaven), sprawling zucchini plant and rip it out. Wow, does this open up some new ground. Compost the areas it opens up and plant the new lettuce there. Which probably wasn't a great idea given the whole slug thing, but who knows. Which brings to mind our favorite pub name from a recent trip to London -- the Slug and Lettuce. But I digress.
- Plant the winter savory in two squares of the vegetable bed.
- Organize pots in the carport.
- Sweep the front walk where I was going crazy ripping things out.
- Water all the new stuff I planted.
Whew. All this in about two hours. But this is fun for me. This is one of my flow states. Time just goes by unnoticed. It's like writing.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
This came up at a party we were at tonight, where several of the women were gardeners, and at least half of the men in the group seemed to agree with Brett, or at least be willing to entertain the theory. They're too big. They loom over you. They look like they could eat birds or small children.
I've always been interested in plant folklore - so I decided to look into this a bit. Native American folklore about the sunflower has been lost, but this page gives a good description of what some of the early settlers considered the plant's properties -- antimalarial properties, a source of yellow and dark dye, a source of flour. It was believed by the Mayans to be a treatment for snakebite, and was revered as one of the highest of plants. This page explains sunflower's supposed magical properties: enhanced fertility, perception of the truth, wish fulfillment, virtuousness, and good luck.
Evil? Sunflowers? Ballocks.
Monday, September 06, 2004
And then this year, in conjunction with the new gardening obsession, I just got over it. Spiders are incredibly beneficial to the gardener -- as this page points out, spiders are considered to be the "most important terrestrial predators, eating tons of pest insects" every year. Like earthworms, they're absolutely essential to the environment.
They're constant inhabitants of my tomato jungle on the back deck. I've had to learn to live with them simply to pick the day's harvest of cherry tomatoes. At first I was squeamish about doing so, but now I gingerly reach through their webs, trying very hard not to destroy anything, and say hello to them as I go about my work. They spin gigantic creations over my garden gate. There's one large garden spider who lives inside my back porch window. And of course there are the ubiquitous daddy longlegs who live in the front yard - every time I weed, I come across whole families of them, scrambling away in fear, their entire concern simply to stay moist and stay alive. I say hello. I wish them well. I try hard not to hurt them.
Shortly after we reached our detente, though, I was struck by another (for me) mindblowing relevation -- spiders are, well, kind of beautiful. Weeding at our rental house, one day in July, I saw a spider who was so striking that it made me wish I could paint -- big white orb of a body, soft pink stripe up the middle, the color of a snapdragon or a rose. Web searches a month later told me this was a candy stripe spider. Tonight, I found one of these in the back yard, living on my pink nicotania plant. I've condensed the picture a bit here - click this link to see it full size. (The blue background is actually the table cloth we have on our deck table right now - but it fills in nicely as a photographer's background, doesn't it? :) )
So thus begins my more peaceful relationship with the arachnids of the world. I'm still a little scared of the big black house spider that's living in the basement at the bottom of the stairs -- when I bring the laundry up I mutter a quick hello, try not to look too closely, and hurry up the stairs. But who knows, maybe by next summer I'll be friends with her too.