working at 88

 I paused when I saw the amazing opening painting in a review of Jasper Johns' recent work. Then I read the review, which I don't often do, and saw the painting above. Because of the reference to Burrows, whose son I know from Life  magazine, I looked up the photograph Johns was inspired to paint from. The story of Farley's mission in Vietnam more than 50 years ago is heartbreaking and can be revisited in this article.
     Just synchronicity that another doomed mission in Vietnam was going on at the same time I was reading it.
"Farley Breaks Down," by Larry Burrows, 1965

I think I actually like this rendering better than the first one, but both are awesome.


back to reality

My place
 Landed in NYC with a thud a week ago. Bad news from friends and relations—illness, injuries and death—cold weather, apartment problems (plumbing, always plumbing), taxes still to finish, bills to pay, etc. And then there's the News, which I'd been ignoring.
   The bright spot was that I have gotten to see a lot of friends, including two gala evenings in a row (as you should be able to tell by Keri Pickett's outfit since she spent the night at my place and then went to Donna's without going home in between). Another bright spot: I have done the wash.
Donna's place. And, no, she hasn't finished her book yet.


just one more

 Yes, I am in New York, but I still have some pix and things to say about Hawaii.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Smoky Valley has some overlap with the Ozarks. There are junk cars, meth addicts, barking dogs, horses and mules, gunshots, rivers that flood regularly, people hostile to outsiders, yards that look like a bomb exploded inside the house and spread the contents all over the yard, and —well you get the idea. There is staggering natural beauty in both places too, and warm welcomes, and the kind of ease that comes with clement weather and not having to work all that hard.
    I have not figured out why I feel at home in such places. Did the Ozarks come first or Smoky Valley? I lived in the Ozarks when I was a kid, but in a university town. Then was drawn to Kauai. Now both places feel like home.
   People keep sending me this link to a photo essay about men of the Ozarks, but I guess I'm going to have to reup my subscription to the Washington Post to actually see it. Unless I can read it from this link.
There are like three of these junk cars next to the swinging bridge. I guess they crossed the river one too many times.


we hate to see you go

Moonlight over the Kakuda residence

 There's a song they sing in Smoky Valley when you've overstayed your welcome:
We hate to see you go
We hate to see you go
What the hell you waiting for
We hate to see you go

Made the rounds bidding adieu to the friends who showed me so much aloha. (No, not those in the pickup truck—every resort knows the I-hate-tourists problem.)
And I'm en route back to snow land.

I got lei-ed


trouble in paradise

Her T-shirt says "whatever."

The only homeless person with a BMW I've met.
 This is June. I met her at a boat landing, where she has been living with her youngest sons in her BMW SUV for two years., since she lost her home. Her sons are in their twenties and both have jobs—one works at a taco joint and the other at a grocery store—but they can't afford to rent a place. June has had three abusive husbands. I didn't ask her how old she is, but at a guess she is in her 60s. The authorities wink at her presence, because she keeps the worst of the other homeless off, the meth addicts and thieves. They, along with hippie throwbacks, have taken over many of the beach parks. There are showers and bathrooms and garbage cans. And the views are great. It's not a bad life. I should know!
The view from June's car.



 Full moon, rainbow—what more do you want? In my imagination the clouds below say "Nini," as in Nini come home. Well, I will be this week. Sorry to leave, but eager to see the grands and my friends and relations. Aloha. Oy.



Lumahai, back in the day.
My favorite beach in all the world is Lumahai, where a stream of cool fresh water flows across the sand and into the ocean. It is the location for South Pacific and many another film. My college friend Laura, with whom I first came to Kauai, recently sent me these pix of me and her and Hannah and her son Sam playing there. I couldn't get there this time because the road from Hanalei has been closed for over a year due to landslides and flooding.
Lauda, Hannah, Sam, me
I thought I might get over at least to Hanalei, but I only made it as far as Poipu, where I was driven back by a large population of tourists. Not that I have anything against tourists, except that I'd just as soon not hang out on a crowded beach where once I bodysurfed alone. And so I heled on back to Waimean and the dry side. It may not have as many waterfalls as Hanalei, but it's a lot less crowded.
Brenneke Beach at Poipu, now

Kekaha beach, first ditch, now


the boys

I guess they are old now, but Jimmy and Owen don't look a bit different to me.
 Jim is Ruth's son. I met his parents first, when I was singing in the church choir, and then invaded their house. When they turned 21, Jimmy, as I can't help but call him, and his best bud Owen started showing up at the Sunrise Cafe, where I worked. They would talk story in unintelligible pidgen and toss back a few Olympia beers, I seem to recall. Jimmy often recounted how Owen had saved him, standing up for him when he was being bullied as the only haole kid in school.
     Months later, Jimmy became my boyfriend (after I dumped the guy who was into guns), and I displaced Owen when I moved into the canyon house, where Ruth now lives in a splendid addition to the old shack. Jimmy and his second wife ("the Lord sent her to me") live further up in the canyon in a collection of sheds, with chickens, dogs, horses, a mule, and Jimmy's visiting grandkids.
Jimmy and Katie's tented installation serves as living room, kitchen, tackroom, family room and office. Yes, they have internet and running water, but no plumbing. The other night Jimmy cooked Francolin Erkel—the laughing bird, like a pheasant—for dinner.
 When I met them, Jimmy was working with his father as a farmer, and Owen was working for his father as a carpenter. Later on, Jimmy worked for Owen's father as a carpenter and then, after a foray onto the mainland and into marriage, became a contractor himself. Owen and his four brothers continued working as a team for many years. "Their job sites were the quietest ever," says Jimmy. "Our sites are all, 'What are you doing? Not that way!' But they're a well oiled machine. Each knows what to do without even speaking."
   Owen and his oldest brother have retired from the family business, but the three younger ones continue on. Owen goes hunting about once a week. Hunting the feral goats and boars is a big "ting" on this part of the island. Owen uses a black-powder musket some, but prefers bow and arrow. He lives next door to his brother John, both bachelors, and they hang out in a garagelike outdoor space between houses that serves as kitchen and entertainment center. Their other brothers and many friends drop by for pupus and beer (the favorite now on Kauai, as everywhere, is Bud Lite) and cooking shows and and news shows.
   But Jimmy and Owen hardly ever see each other.
Owen still calls me Slick, which he named me almost 50 years ago. I took Owen the leftover Erkel that Jimmy cooked. He loved it. "James always did make good adobo," he said. "Especially goat."

In their gathering place, Owen and brother John check in on their shows. Owen still misses his dog, Gypsy, but John has recently acquired a chocolate lab puppy. Their household now feels more complete.



If I have any aloha spirit, I learned it from this grand dame. She is always welcoming.

The evening view from Ruth's lanai.
 This is Ruth. She lives in a castle at the end of the road and welcomes all comers, the embodiment of the aloha spirit. She is 86, but she still plays the organ in the church where I briefly sang in the choir. Her husband Jim was the choir director and a notable singer, invited to every local wedding to sing the Hawaiian Wedding Song and funeral for Aloha Oe. Ruth calls him "My Jim."
    They met when she was a high school student and he the music teacher at her Iowa school. When she graduated, he asked her out and took her to see the movie South Pacific, which was shot on Kauai. He had been stationed in Hawaii in World War II as a musician in the service. "How would you like to live there?" he asked Ruth when the movie was over. "Oh, yes!" she replied. She was playing trumpet in a touring all-girls band and did not see it as a career path. They married—he 30, she 18—and moved to Kauai. They lived here until his death some years ago of cancer.
   Nowadays, Ruth lives in the house at the end of the valley without "my honey." She greets everyone who drives up—strangers as well as friends—and invites them in for pupus. Though two of her sons live on the property, she gets lonesome for her Jim every evening, when they used to stroll on the beach together or sit on the lanai in the valley and watch the sun set. I try to go and visit at that time of day, when she drinks her watered-down margueritas and watches her game shows, starting with Jeopardy, on to Family Feud, turning down the sound for the news, and finishing up with Wheel of Fortune. In the morning, she has to practice the organ for the next church service. There is a new choir director.
At a Rotary dinner, Ruth is joined by her daughter-in-law, daughter and granddaughter.


winter storm

I did not know that our weather here had made such a splash nationally. Yes, it was quite windy, 35 gusting to probably 60, maybe more. There were branches and trees down and wires down. The power was out for a couple hours yesterday. The waves started to get big.
My car got sandblasted, and I didn't dare try to make it to Polihale, where the waves were said to be 15-20 feet. Whether that's Hawaiian measurements (from the back) or haole measurements of the face (30-40) I don't know. The river came up suddenly, and we didn't know whether the valley would flood. I had one car wind up in a tree years ago, where it hung for years. Didn't think that would be good for the rental car. But it was warm by my measure (60s) and often sunny, and nature promised a letup yesterday afternoon. Today the weather is fine. No worries!


brudda iz?

 Somewhere on the horizon, you can see Ni'ihau, an island that has been completely populated by Hawaiians. The Robinsons, generations ago of New Zealand, own the island. They ran sheep and cattle on it until recently, when they began grazing on their lands on Kauai, once leased to sugar cane companies. 
   Anyway, one evening years ago, I sat on this beach in Pakala as the sun set and listened to an enormous man play a tiny instrument and sing Hawaiian songs. I may have even tried to add harmony, though I cringe at the thought now. When I later saw Brudda Iz—Israel Kamakawiwo'ole—on You Tube here play and sing, I thought of the man I heard on the beach, water lapping at our feet. I asked around here recently, because I couldn't remember who had taken me there or who the musician was. A friend said, "Was Brudda Iz, no? Or his brudda. They stay by Pakala, where the boats from Ni'ihau landing." Indeed, Iz's first band was called Sons of Ni'ihau—his mother was born there. So maybe that magic night was thanks to Iz. I can't ask him, because he is dead longtime now. And I still can't figure out who took me to Pakala.



 How many chickens do you see in this picture? Since I was last in Kauai, 15 years ago, it has become overrun. Chickens at the beach. Hens running their broods across the roads. Chickens in the grocery parking lots and parks. They have tried to make a virtue of it a la Key West, selling chicken stuffed animals and chicken postcards, but the fact remains that there are too many of them for one island. And they don't only crow at dawn either. The whole day—and often night—is a chorus of crowing.


winter rains

Oops. The Waimea River takes another prisoner.
 The rain can come up quickly, making people scurry off the beach. Mt. Waialeale, the inactive volcano that anchors Kauai, is one of the wettest places on earth. The eighth wettest, actually, with some 450 inches of rain annually. And the rain is very localized. The river can come up suddenly and unexpectedly. It floods the Cassel's farm almost annually. And vehicles trying to get across to Makaweli Valley can get surprised. Like this one yesterday. I used to fairly routinely drive cars across there, but the last time was probably 15 years ago.
People head for shelter. Poultry not so much.
Rain fell as I sat down to my second Rotary Club meeting. 


year of the tiger, no, pig

The calm area below where we camped is known as Queen's Pond. I didn't realize that was amusing until, like, last week!

 Christine picked me up in her truck at 7 ayem. The sun hadn't come up over the ridge yet, and it was dark. She's the granddaughter of my friend Ruth and was taking her mom and me out to Polihale in her four-wheel drive truck. Fortunately, since it took my rental Camray about an hour to get there on the corrugated roads. We got there before the sun hit the beach, and mother, daughter and dog headed off towards the Barking Sands Missile Range, while I toiled up the dune I once lived atop. As the sun started hitting the sand I heard the Star Spangled Banner being blasted over Navy base speakers. Yikes!
On the way home, we remembered the Year of the Pig. Turns out Christine and I are both Tigers, which makes her about 20. "I am living my life vicariously through you, I told her. She said, "So now do I need to be a hippy and gather an entourage of gay guys?"

She surfs, she snorkels, she travels in a holoholo truck with tangerines. I can relate.



 In 1985 or '86, Douglas and Johnny and Barrett and I went up towards Mt.Waialeale by horseback with Pepito and Galen and this guy, now going as Chief (though if his uncle Pepito were alive he couldn't claim that title). He is mostly Hawaiian with some Chinese and Spanish. After being in and out of "incarceration," as he puts it, he discovered a talent for pen-and-ink drawings. They are mostly of real places, but he doesn't draw in situ.The pictures burst fully formed from his mind.
  He is one of 17 children, and not the only one with anger issues."They all like fight," another friend told me. But he was the child most interested in learning the wisdom of the kapuna, the old folks. At 66, he is almost one of them himself. He introduces me as Auntie. I am, after all, two years older. And he is still so proud of the Life piece I did about boar hunting with him.
I have pretty much been living on pupus. Sushi, ahi poke, boiled peanuts, papaya and pineapple.


old hawaii

There is another swinging bridge. It goes across the Waimea River and leads up into Makaweli Valley. That's pretty much the only way to get there, unless the river is low and you have a holoholo vehicle. I used to drive rental cars across on my way to see Pepito Makuaole, but the bottom has silted up and become soft these days, as have I.
   You're not really allowed to go there unless you know somebody. But fortunately I do. Pepito has died ( see what i wrote about him here), but Chief, one of his acolytes I went boar hunting with, is still living there. So I wandered over the swinging bridge and through the keep-out gates beside the Makaweli River and found myself among flooded taro fields in an older world.
The Makaweli River was rushing and muddy from rains in the mountains.

"No worries, I looking for Chief!" "You find him by the middle taro fiend, under the mango tree."

Taro fields are as green and lovely as rice fields.

And, yes, that structure is for real. No tourist eye has soiled it.