Science. Nature. Culture. Hawaii. Mark Twain. Place attachment. Here is a selection of articles I’ve written on these topics for a variety of publications–online and print. I’ll be adding more, so keep checking back.
Why Rare Hawaiian Monk Seals Are Lining Up to Get Their Shots
On a summer day on the island of Kaua`i, a Hawaiian monk seal hauls his 500-pound body out of the surf and galumphs toward a nursing female and her newborn pup. When he gets a few feet away from the mother, she arches her back and faces him, head high. He does the same. She barks. He barks. Snot and saliva fly.
It’s typical—if awkward—monk seal courtship behavior, more posturing than physical. But scientists are concerned that this kind of scene could swiftly turn into a deadly disease outbreak for one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. The Hawaiian monk seal has been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1976, after its numbers were devastated by decades of hunting and other forms of human contact. Read more.
Why It’s Time to Embrace Breadfruit
At the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian islands, a stone’s throw from where a plantation once grew and milled sugar cane, sits a restaurant 25 years in the making. Chef/owner Tom Pickett has tweaked his menu (gone are the wedding cakes) and experimented with ingredients (think smoked wahoo on a pizza) to create a bakery by day and pizza shop by night. These are the creative ways an entrepreneur survives — and in Pickett’s case, thrives — on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
And while Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza may feel remote even in its location on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Pickett’s restaurant is still perfectly poised to evangelize for a local superfood likely unheard of on the mainland: breadfruit. Read more.
How Hawaii Charmed Mark Twain
On March 18, 1866, a 30-year-old writer named Samuel Clemens arrived by steamer in Honolulu to report on the Islands for the Sacramento Union. Now, 150 years later, we explore how the famous author’s one-time visit turned into a lifelong love affair with the Islands. Read more.
A New Law Brings Back Subsistence Fishing in Hawaii
Presley Wann remembers life on the north shore of Kaua’i, Hawaii’s fourth-largest island, during his 1950s childhood, when there was a gravel road to the beach and cows, not cars, traversed its path.
One early morning, Wann tagged along when his uncle went fishing, watching as he dove into an underwater sea cave for lobster, pried limpets off rocks, and threw his handmade net to catch kala, a species of unicorn fish. Or maybe it was moi, a threadfin—decades have weathered the memory’s details a bit. Read more.
Hawaii’s Hawaiian Monk Seals Are (Finally) Having a Good Year
In a rigid-hull inflatable boat, four biologists pull up to a dock at French Frigate Shoals. Behind them, a sign tacked to a dilapidated boathouse reads, “Welcome to Tern Island. International Port. Population four. Elevation six feet.”
At just over a kilometer long, Tern Island served as an airstrip during the Second World War. Today, it’s one of the last bastions of Hawaiian monk seals.
For the past 30 years, scientists from the US government’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program have been coming to this atoll—one of eight sites in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands used by the team in its efforts to save the endangered seals. Read more.
Breadfruit: Food of the Future
Like fashion, food comes in and out of style. Take the coconut. Once considered a novelty drink of the tropics, coconut water has shed its husk and is now packaged in sleek, 14-ounce bottles, selling for $3.50 a pop.
If Diane Ragone has her way, the next food to rise from the ashes of changing cultures and tastes will be breadfruit. What’s more is it just might curb world hunger along the way. Read More.
“You might want to wear these,” said Laura Berthold, handing me a pair of rain pants.
Four days of rain had triggered the cancellation of two previous outings we’d planned to explore Waikamoi Preserve, a sanctuary for native Hawaiian plants and animals on the slopes of Haleakalā volcano. Berthold and I were finally meeting under sunny skies at Hosmer’s Grove in Haleakala National Park, the air above us as crisp and clear as only the day after a tropical storm can be. A research technician with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, Berthold leads teams into the high-elevation, 8,951-acre rainforest preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy.
“It’s going to be muddy,” explained the tall, lanky bird researcher, sliding her long legs into her own pair of rain pants. Hefting a backpack onto her shoulders, she headed around a locked gate. Rain and mud are two things found in abundance in Waikamoi’s rainforest. We were in search of a rarity: the kiwikiu, Maui’s most critically endangered forest bird. Read More.
Secret Garden: Nu’alolo Kai on Kauai
The sun had yet to crest the sheer, 1,500-foot cliff wall behind us when we took a break from pulling weeds. One woman tossed her work gloves aside and kicked off her shoes. Another dialed up a song on her iPod and handed it to Sabra Kauka, leader of our weekend work trip along Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.
There’s no cell phone or Wi-Fi service anywhere along this 16-mile stretch of high cliffs and verdant valleys in northwest Kauai. So, for the five days of our service trip, entertainment was mostly of our own making.
Kauka inserted the iPod’s earbuds and tilted her head, her strong facial features a study in concentration as she drummed the song’s beat on an upside-down plastic bucket. As the first sonorous syllable of the song passed kumu hula (hula instructor) Kauka’s lips, two women in the group dipped their knees in response and an impromptu hula performance commenced. A wave of chicken skin—what locals call goosebumps—moved across my body. My gaze shifted to the lava-rock cliff behind us, where a giant “X”—the natural crisscrossing of two ancient lava channels—appeared deeply etched. Read more.
Flight Risk: Getting to Know Kauai’s Endangered Newell’s Shearwater
Sitting at the fingertip-shaped end of a narrow mountain ridge in camouflage pants and rubber boots, Dr. André Raine plucks a white-splattered leaf from an old ohia tree and holds it to his nose.
It’s a rare sunny day here, in the mountains high above the town of Kalaheo on Kauai’s west side. A bog just behind us is evidence of the usual precipitation this place receives.
“This is fresh guano,” Raine says, holding up the leaf.
After traversing a four-wheel-drive road, hiking a muddy hour or so to the ridge’s 1,000-feet-above-sea-level elevation and picking our way down another ridge through a tangled mat of uluhe (false staghorn fern), evidence of fresh guano is a good thing for the diehard bird guy.
“There was probably an exchange of partners [here] last night,” says Raine, project coordinator for the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project. We study the foot of the old ohia tree, its gnarled roots the perfect location for a nest of Newell’s shearwaters. Read more.
The Art of Making Vanilla
A three-mile drive on a curvy, country road along Hawaii Island’s Hamakua Coast will take the full weight of your foot to make the increase in elevation and deliver you to Paauilo, 2,000 feet above sea level. Here, you will relax your foot and step out into the crisp air and face the hefty wooden doors of bright, yellow building with a tin roof that was once a slaughterhouse, coffee mill and is now home to a vanilla farm.
Ah, vanilla. Who doesn’t like vanilla? It has to be the most comforting scent and flavor in the world, and as I would soon learn, it is also the second-most expensive spice in the world.
When I arrived the Hawaiian Vanilla Farm in Paauilo, the skies shone blue. Read More.
Get to Know Farmer Ed Otsuji
Otsuji Farms may be known for its beets and lettuce greens and kale and spinach and daikon and turnips and cilantro and green onions and a variety of other fresh farm produce, but the most important item on the Oahu farm to Ed Otsuji is what sits on his head.
“It’s my signature hat,” he said, standing in the driveway of his farm in a Hawaii Kai subdivision, overlooking Maunalua Bay. He was wearing jeans, a long-sleeved plaid shirt and hiking boots. An iPhone was clipped to the waistband of his pants. “I only have two hats, and they no longer make them.” Ed speaks with a soft, even voice, the kind you lean in to hear. “It’s almost time to take it to the dry cleaners.” Read More.
Enshrining the Shrines
Lawa‘i has always been a gathering place. The name translates as “forgiving waters,” and for centuries Hawaiians from all parts of the island journeyed to a heiau in this south Kaua‘i valley in search of healing. In the late 1800s, the island’s earliest Asian immigrants were also drawn to the valley; eventually, the heiau was joined by Taoist and Shinto temples and, in 1904 by a series of eighty-eight small Shingon shrines meant to replicate a traditional temple pilgrimage route in Shikoku, Japan.
By the late 1960s though, the shrines and the temple route had fallen into disrepair. And they might have remained that way if not for the fortuitous day when Lynn Muramoto visited the valley, saw the shrines and decided to go to work on their restoration. “It was very clear to me that this is why I am here,” says Lynn, whose grandfather came to Hawai‘i from Japan more than 100 years ago. In fact, the call was so clear that she quit her job as an elementary school teacher and, in 1990, became president of the newly founded, nonprofit Lawa‘i International Center. Read More.
Beyond the Rim: Hiking Volcanoes National Park
Like all good national parks, this one provides an informative brochure with your $10 entry fee, and like a good tourist, you use its map to navigate the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive. You use the park’s well-marked signage to guide you through a circuit of overlooks, information centers and museums. You stop at Volcano House, Volcano Art Center Gallery and Sulphur Banks.
At the park’s Visitor Center, videos and ranger talks fill your brain with facts and fascination. You see the difference between the smooth and ropy pahoehoe lava and the jagged aa lava. You hear the story of Pele, goddess of the volcano, and how she visited all the other main Hawaiian Islands before arriving on the youngest, pounding her digging stick in the ground and declaring Kilauea her home.
You grasp the concept of plate tectonics—how all the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago—including Midway—once sat over the hot spot deep within the Earth’s mantle that continues to push Hawaii Island higher into the air. You learn that Kilauea and Mauna Loa are two of the world’ most active volcanoes and that Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on Earth, rising 56,000 feet from its base on the seafloor. (That’s 27,000 feet higher than Mount Everest.)
And, at some point, you decide you want to experience the place. Read More.
The Message behind the Massage
Many years ago while vacationing on Kauai, I called a resort spa to schedule a massage. The reservationist on the other end of the phone asked, “What kind?”
“An hour,” I replied.
“No,” she corrected me. “What kind of massage would you like—Swedish, shiatsu, sports, lomilomi?
I felt like I was reading the wine list at a posh restaurant. I just wanted a massage to melt away the tension. “What’s lomilomi?” I asked.
“It’s Hawaiian-style massage,” her soothing voice explained.
“Is that like a Swedish massage?”
“Well, it depends on your therapist. It’s typically deeper and might include chanting or music.” Read More.
Taylor Camp Memories
In 1969, more than 400,000 people attended the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. The Grammy for Record of the Year went to the 5th Dimension for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The times, as they say, were a-changin’.
On Kauai, the decade closed with the start of a new community. The story goes that a group of people — as few as three, as many as 13 — were tossed in jail for vagrancy and illegal camping. Howard Taylor, the brother of actress Elizabeth Taylor but a complete stranger to the vagrants, bailed them out and invited them to live on his six acres of land just west of Limahuli Stream on Kauai’s North Shore. His invitation may have come just after — or just before — he got wind that the state was going to condemn his beachfront land for a state park. Read more.
“Why go to the desert,” Edward Abbey once famously asked. “Really, why do it?”
He had his reasons for not going: The roaring sun, fetid water holes, patient buzzards, pink rattlesnakes, dreary wind, and rain like lead shots.
And I had mine: The long, sleepless, red-eye flight across the Pacific Ocean and the road trip down the length of Utah. The hundred-degree heat that would, I feared, trigger an avalanche of the hot flashes ruling my life of late. The hard, hot ground on which we’d spend five more sleepless nights. The tossing and turning and groaning and sighing husband beside me in our narrow tent—who didn’t want to come in the first place. Read more.
Hawai`iloa Sails Again
Jerry Ongies likes to get things just right. “How tall is this?” he asks as he unclips the handy tape measure attached to the waistband of his jeans. “About 18 inches?” He uncoils a length and stretches it across a box at his feet. It measures exactly 17 inches. “That’s too low,” he says. “Imagine you’ve got your stove in here, and you’re cooking. The whole thing is way too low.” Read more.
Jazzed About Juice
The sun was starting to angle for the horizon when Cas Schwabe looked at me, eyes watering and the hairs on her arms standing on end, a phenomenon Hawaii residents call chicken skin, and the rest of the world refers to as goosebumps.
We had been sitting on a bluff at the edge of a horse pasture a few hundred feet above a remote Kauai beach for a couple of hours. Below us, a lone fishing skiff interrupted the graduated blues of the ocean–water was so clear and surprisingly calm that we could see a shadow cast by the boat. But it wasn’t the setting that made Schwabe emotional. We were talking about juice. More specifically, the Kauai-sourced fruit and vegetable juices she makes and sells under the moniker Akamai Juice Co. Read more.
What? There’s Another Whale Besides the Humpback?
At the marina, six biologists popped out of their van, hauling a dozen waterproof Pelican cases of all sizes and colors. They stashed their gear on a 27-foot Boston Whaler with military precision. Within a few minutes, we pushed off and motored out of the harbor. I took my spot on the bow pulpit, the extended prow of the boat–think hood ornament of a car.
My job as a volunteer on board would be to stand on the bow and scan the water 180-degrees, from left to right and back again and again and again and again and again and again. In search of odontocetes. Or, toothed whales and dolphins. Like spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins and rough-toothed dolphins. Even better, high priority species like short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, pygmy killer whales and beaked whales. Best of all: false killer whales. Read more.
The numerous rivers around Kauai get their start at the island’s rainy center, Mt. Waialeale, and flow down to the ocean like spokes in a wheel. One of them, the Hanalei River runs through a stunning wildlife refuge where endangered Hawaiian waterbirds play. This day, I’m in the middle of the river, but I’m not looking up at the birds; I’m looking down at my feet—surfing. Read more.
Koa Kahili says there’s a proper way to eat chocolate: Take a piece and rub it around in your fingers to aerate and warm it up. That brings out all the flavors, he notes. That also explains why the tips of his fingers are brown.
The scientific name Theobroma cacao translates to both “food of the gods” and “the chocolate tree.” In the United States, we refer to the plant and all its products before processing as “cacao.” After processing, the solid cacao seeds or the juice they produce might be called “food (or drink) of the gods.” Some certainly call it a daily necessity. But in all cases, its most common name is “chocolate.” Read more.