New Writing Goals: Set in Concrete

diablo lake cascade mountains

Two days after we returned from our last-minute, end-of-summer vacation, my daughter was back in school and I was back to work with some new writing goals. I settled back into my home office with the renewed vigor and enthusiasm that comes of going out into the world and experiencing different places, people and ways of life, and then returning home to appreciate your own familiar routines with a fresh eye.

And, it turns out, with a bit of a spring in my step. In addition to the freelance content marketing writing I do, I came home excited to revisit some of my creative roots, such as essay writing.

Long ago, I launched my freelance writing career by selling an essay about how many Hawaii graduates wear congratulatory flower leis stacked to their eyebrows. I sold it as a personal commentary to NPR’s All Things Considered and it was my first-ever freelance sale. I sold them, and voiced, a couple more essays after that. Later I did several commentaries specifically for Hawaii Public Radio. I’ve published essays elsewhere, as well, but not for years. Life and work got busy and I got out of the habit.

Suddenly, surprisingly, ideas are again leaping out at me, so many that I am carrying around a yellow composition book to catch them.

I also want to get back to writing books. I’ve written a couple books that publishers approached me about, but now I’m ready to focus on my own books. One of the things I’m sure about in life is that if I don’t write the books I have inside me, I’ll regret it.

Fresh Start, New Goals

The start of a new school year feels like exactly the right time to add these writing goals to my plate. It’s astonishing to me that school here starts at the beginning of August, and that they call it “fall semester” with a straight face. Maybe that’s why this summer zipped by before I got around to planning our vacation.

I booked our quick, last-minute trip to Seattle, chosen partly because we get tired of being hot all the time and expected cooler weather there. It turned out to be unseasonably warm, but our five-day getaway was great nonetheless.

writing goals

We stayed with one of my favorite cousins, and kept stopping at fruit stands for delicious peaches, nectarines and Rainier cherries like we cannot get at home. I loved catching up with my cousin and his family, and stuffed myself with too much ripe sweet fruit, and then I ate more.

We drove over the bridge at the northernmost end of beautiful Whidbey Island and spent a whole day cruising down the long, narrow island. It was fun to poke around in the island’s galleries and bookstores and see its cute, wild bunnies. We ate a delicious lunch at the Noe José Cafe in Oak Harbor (where a waiter mentioned that the owners are Noe and José and the name is a play on words: The “No Way José” Café). Dinner was great barbecue from The Big W Food Truck in Langley, where we ordered alongside locals who all seemed to know each other or the truck owners. Some were picking up dinner while walking their dogs. At the end of that good day, we drove our rental car onto the ferry on the south end of the island to head back to the mainland.

We spent a different day driving through the Cascade Mountains, where we ate good food at 5b’s Bakery in Concrete, Washington. It was highly recommended on Yelp, and Yelp was right.

Some interesting facts about Concrete:

They made the concrete for Seattle’s Space Needle there. Author Tobias Wolff attended Concrete High School. And while 1938 Concrete residents listened to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio drama, there was a town-wide power failure that also took down telephone service. People fainted, others grabbed their families and headed into the mountains, and the town’s reaction made international news. Also, Concrete has ghosts.

In the North Cascades, we hiked through forests of pine and fir that smell like camping. We watched eagles soar quietly back and forth over the rushing Skagit River, and looked down at beautiful, huge, calm lakes of the deepest aquamarine.

We went indoor skydiving, which I didn’t know I would love that much, although not so much I would ever jump out of a plane.

At the crowded Pike Place Market, we touristed-out by taking photos in front of the first-ever Starbucks and its original logo in the window. We had lunch there just off the beaten path and I ordered a BLT. It included “S,” the freshest, most perfectly prepared salmon I’ve ever eaten. (“Salmon and bacon in the same sandwich!” said the waitress in approval. “There’s nothing better.”)

Writing Goals: As Good as Salmon and Bacon

Turns out she was right. It’s another great memory to have back here at my desk where I am rejuvenated about doing satisfying work. I have plenty of good assignments, hospitality technology and other content marketing writing work, for which I am grateful. Every day is different and interesting and I enjoy what I do.

But the change in scenery – and people, places, things, ideas – made me arrive back home feeling able to do anything. It’s exciting to add essays and books back into what I write. This is my public declaration so you will hold me to these goals, even if (when) the next new thing distracts me. Look, cute wild bunnies!

I’m interested to see where I’m at with these writing goals by the time this 2017-18 school year draws to a close. I scheduled a follow-up blog post on my calendar for next May. Watch for it here. I’ll blog about my creative progress along the way, too.

Is there something you aren’t making yourself get around to? Will you regret if you don’t even try? Feel free to make your own goals declaration here if you’d like, and we can encourage and remind each other to make these things happen.

And stay tuned.

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Time Travel Incident?

Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Memoirs, Content MarketingDon’t you want time travel to be real? I do. How interesting would that be?!

This article, All The Evidence that Time Travel is Happening All Around Us, is really fun. It opens with a clip from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie that shows an extra walking down the street who seems to be talking on a cell phone, which someone only noticed in 2010. There’s a clip from a 1938 movie that shows something similar, too.

My thought: Who would these people who had cell phones, long before cell phones existed, have been talking to?

There are some other good stories on that page. Some are ridiculous and others are fun to lightly contemplate. I’m not a nutter, don’t worry. But I love thinking about it.

And in the meantime, until someone clears it all up for me, I will continue to enjoy good time travel books.

I am, for instance, a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of books. A friend and I were talking about these books today. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it starts when a 20th-century English woman leans against an ancient Scottish stone circle, and passes out. When she awakens, she sees what she thinks are period actors around her — but it turns out she’s traveled two hundred years into the past. Gabaldon is a great storyteller and the books are also wonderful novels of historical fiction. Very fun to read (or listen to. The Audiobooks in that series have a great reader).

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed reading aloud Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time before bedtime; I remember this book fondly from my own childhood. Now we are working through its sequels (we’re listening to A Swiftly Tilting Planet in the car right now). Those are great time travel books for kids.

And there’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, that was fun to read, and I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine in decades — better reread that — and I also enjoyed Stephen King’s book 11/22/63. That book is very different from his other books: it’s heavily researched historical fiction. He sure knows how to tell a story.

Flavorwire has an interesting article called A Brief History of Time Travel Literature:

A Brief History of Time Travel Literature

Yesterday, Stephen King’s newest work, 11/22/63, a novel about a man who travels back in time via a storeroom to stop the JFK assassination, hit shelves. Inspired by this newest addition to the time travel literature genre, we got to thinking about a few of our favorite time travel stories, and particularly about all of the different ways those fictional mortals manage to thrust themselves back and forth in space-time. From our vantage, there are a few types of time travel that we see used over and over again: mechanical (time machines and the like), portal-based (stepping through some sort of floating hole in the space-time continuum), fantastical (ghosts or other unbelievable phenomena), magical/item-based (some sort of artifact that holds the power of time travel), and the simply unexplained (because why does it matter? Get to the cool future stuff already). There are hundreds of novels and short stories about or involving time travel, so these are a few of our favorites, plucked both from the beginnings of the genre and from contemporary literature….

Click here to read the rest.

This CNN article is called Time Travel: Can It Really Be Done? and is science-y. Did you know that “time runs a little bit faster on the roof, where gravity is imperceptibly weaker, than in the basement, for example”?

This article from Huffington Post is a fun read, too–it’s one columnist’s take on The Top 10 Time-Travel Books. I’m taking notes.

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Driving to a Hawaiian Volcano

Here’s an article I wrote about the volcanoes here on the Big Island awhile back. It also hints at a little bit of my own family’s history.

We really live in a remarkable place.

Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter, Content Marketing, HawaiiOn Hawaii’s Big Island: Powerful Pele’s Playground

By Leslie Lang on 08/30/13

My grandmother used to tell me about her Hawaiian great-grandfather, who drove long-ago tourists up to the Volcano in a horse-drawn carriage.

Back in the late 1800s, the journey from Hilo took two days, with an overnight stop to rest the horses and travelers. But once they arrived, the landscape undoubtedly looked very much as it does now.

Still an otherworldly land worth visiting, the unique Volcano area is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Sprawling, huffing and erupting within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea and Mauna Loa exhibit nature’s drama in action. But while change and creation, and birth and destruction, are part of the park’s inherent nature, I can still see what my ancestors very likely saw: a moonscape in places, where ghostlike trees hold their ground as ethereal steam swirls from a landscape pocked with vents….

Read the rest here

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Investigating a Life – But Whose?

Wallage Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Angle of Repose is on my list of favorites. Wow. Stegner once said, “It’s perfectly clear that if every writer is born to write one story, that’s my story,” and I get it. I’ve got one of those in my head, and maybe that’s why I recognize and am so drawn to his.

Leslie Lang, Memoir, Biography, Writer, GhostwriterIt’s a novel in which a retired and wheelchair-bound historian sets out to write a biographical account of the lives of his extraordinary grandparents, who went West a hundred years before and carved out a life for themselves on the frontier.

Angle of Repose is a 1971 novel by Wallace Stegner about a wheelchair-using historian, Lyman Ward, who has lost connection with his son and living family and decides to write about his frontier-era grandparents. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. The novel is directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, later published as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West

Lyman Ward narrates a century after the fact. Lyman interprets the story at times and leaves gaps that he points out at other times. Some of the disappointments of his life, including his divorce, color his interpretation of his grandparents’ story. Toward the end of the novel, he gives up on his original ambition of writing a complete biography of his grandmother.

Stegner’s use of Mary Hallock Foote‘s historical letters gives the novel’s locations—Grass ValleyLeadvilleNew AlmadenIdaho, and Mexico—an authentic feel; the letters also add vividness to the Wards’ struggles with the environment, shady businessmen, and politicians. Lyman’s position in the contemporary culture of the late sixties provides another historical dimension to the story. Foils for this plot line include Lyman’s adult son, a Berkeley-trained sociologist who sees little value in history, and a neighbor’s daughter who helps transcribe Lyman’s tape-recorded notes while she is home on summer break from UC Berkeley, where she has been active in the “hippie” counterculture movement. – Wikipedia

So it’s a novel, albeit one using primary historical sources, about a biography. It’s a little complicated to describe, but it works.

This article, which I just came across, calls it “an investigation into a life. But whose life?”

Ostensibly, it explores the life of Lyman’s grandmother, illustrator and writer Susan Ward, reconstructing it from sources including her letters and notebooks as well as her published writings and drawings. And a very interesting life it is, too: from an elegant, cultured existence in Brooklyn Heights, surrounded by sophisticated people and domestic luxuries, she moves west with her engineer husband Oliver to places that, in the 1870s, were still works in progress as outposts of American “civilization.” As jobs come and go and hopes rise and fall, they move around, from California to Colorado, from Idaho to Mexico, each time in a new way re-establishing themselves as at home.

In all his guises (as narrator, as Lyman, as Susan), Stegner writes wonderfully about the landscapes of their travels. (So too, perhaps, does Mary Hallock Foote, the real 19th-century woman on whom Susan Ward is based and some of whose letters are incorporated verbatim into the novel — I say “perhaps” because her materials are not identified so I don’t know what words are hers.) The descriptions are never conspicuously stylish or artful. They are just wonderfully specific and tactile:

“They came out onto a plateau and passed through aspens still leafless, with drifts deep among the trunks, then through a scattering of alpine firs that grew runty and gnarled and gave way to brown grass that showed the faintest tint of green on the southward slopes and disappeared under deep snowbanks on the northward ones. The whole high upland glittered with light.” Read the rest

Three thumbs up. Here’s what others say about it if you are interested in learning more. I’m hoping to talk you into reading it. One likes to share one’s favorite things.

Publisher Comments:

Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions — to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward’s investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.

Reviews:

“Brilliant….Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enhancement of life.” Los Angeles Times

“Masterful….Reading it is an experience to be treasured.” The Boston Globe

“Cause for celebration….A superb novel with an amplitude of scale and richenss of detail altogether uncommon in contemporary fiction.” The Atlantic Monthly

“A fine novel, engrossing and mature…for when all is said individual lives are very much like bits of detritus, rolling down from the high places of stress and emotion until they reach that place where the tumpling and falling stops and they find their angle of repose. To chronicle this movement as well as this novel does is high art — and first-rate writing.” San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

 

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Painting Pictures About Hawaii

Hawaii writer, Leslie LangI specialize in writing about Hawai‘i, where I live and have deep roots, in addition to ghostwriting memoirs, biographies and family histories. I help Hawai‘i individuals, small businesses and larger ones with their content marketing.

From the Content Marketing Institute:

Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

I’m familiar with Hawai‘i’s culture, its language and orthography, and many of the islands’ movers and shakers. Whether it’s writing content about Hawai‘i’s business, travel, culture or people — or something else — I do it. My master’s degree in anthropology, specifically the cultural anthropology of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, makes me knowledgeable about and able to write well about Hawai‘i’s culture and people. My journalism degree and background means I know how to conduct research and find the information I need.

Who hires a writer like me to write content? Hotels (I’ve written for the Kohala, Halekulani, and Trump Waikiki hotels, among others), representatives of trade industries (like Hawaii Hospitality magazine), airlines (Hawaiian Airlines, the former Aloha Airlines), travel companies (such as Jetsetters, Fodors.com), online behemoths (such as Ancestry.com), human resources companies (ALTRES), other corporations (Trek Bicycles) and local businesspersons (Richard Ha, and many others). Just about anyone who has a business and a message to impart, in other words.

I’ve been in this business full-time now for about sixteen years, and it’s been interesting to see content marketing emerge. It’s sort of a new buzz phrase, content marketing, but really it means writing articles, web copy, blog posts, white papers, reports, and the like to help tell someone’s story. It’s very much what many of us writers have been doing all these years.

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Memoir: Isabella Bird in the Sandwich Islands

When Isabella Bird was 19 years old, in Yorkshire, England in 1850, she had an operation to remove a tumor from her spine and the operation was “only partially successful.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s written that afterwards she suffered from insomnia and depression and her doctor recommended, as so many did in those days, that she travel. I wish I had a doctor like that. Though I’m sure Kaiser wouldn’t cover it.

Her father must have been a remarkable man, because four years after that operation, when she was 23 years old, he gave her 100 pounds and told her she was free to go wherever she wanted. Wow! Let’s recap: She was a woman in somewhat poor health in Victorian England who took off and traveled the world, apparently fearlessly.

Isabella Bird, Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer

She traveled first to North America, and stayed for several months in eastern Canada and the U.S., writing letters home to her sister the whole time. Upon her return to England, she referred to those letters to write her first book, a work of travel writing and memoir called The Englishwoman in America. (The full text is online at that link.)

When her father died in 1858, she and her sister and mother moved to Edinburgh, which was her home for the rest of her life. She continued to travel, returning to North America three times and going once to the Mediterranean. Then, in 1872, she boarded a ship in San Francisco that was headed for New Zealand.

She decided to get off in Hawai‘i and she remained here in the islands for six months. I don’t think any visitor ever had a fuller six months in Hawai‘i than Isabella Bird. She learned to ride a horse astride, instead of sidesaddle like a proper English lady, and journeyed to the top of Mauna Loa. She did not travel like an invalid, that’s for sure. Travel seemed to agree with her.

Later, she wrote about her pleasure in “visiting remote regions which are known to few even of the residents, living among the natives, and otherwise seeing Hawaiian life in all its phases.” She recorded her great stay in Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1875 (original title, The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs & volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands). Full text here.

Though her books are often categorized as travel writing, they are also memoirs. “A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995). Bird was a keen observer and we are the better for being able to read her memoirs, and get glimpses of the worlds she stepped into.

People live more happily than any that I have seen elsewhere.  It is very cheerful to live among people whose faces are not soured by the east wind, or wrinkled by the worrying effort to “keep up appearances,” which deceive nobody. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

My daughter and I went to look at Rainbow Falls yesterday, a beautiful waterfall in the Wailuku River that has a lot of Hawaiian traditions associated with it, and I always think of Isabella Bird there. She would be astounded to see it now. While the falls probably look about the same, here’s how we got there: we drove our small SUV  up Waianuenue Avenue, and then turned onto a well-paved, wide street that leads to the falls and then turned into its clear, open parking lot, which is large enough to easily accommodate the numerous tour buses that roll in and out of there every day. There are bathrooms there, too.

Here’s how Isabella Bird got to Rainbow Falls, which was then known as Anuenue Falls (did you know that Waianuenue Avenue is named for its wai anuenue [rainbow waters]?), in 1872. They were on horseback (my emphasis): “Miss Karpe, my travelling companion, is a lady of great energy, and adept in the art of travelling. Undismayed by three days of sea-sickness, and the prospect of the tremendous journey to the volcano to-morrow, she extemporised a ride to the Anuenue Falls on the Wailuku this afternoon, and I weakly accompanied her, a burly policeman being our guide. The track is only a scramble among rocks and holes, concealed by grass and ferns, and we had to cross a stream, full of great holes, several times. The Fall itself is very pretty, 110 feet in one descent, with a cavernous shrine behind the water, filled with ferns. There were large ferns all round the Fall, and a jungle of luxuriant tropical shrubs of many kinds.”

She traveled extensively after her stay in the Sandwich Islands, though she settled down in Edinburgh for awhile after her sister died of typhoid in 1880 and married her sister’s doctor. He died just five years after they married and then she took off traveling again, and writing memoirs of all her great adventures.

It is a strange life up here on the mountain side, but I like it, and never yearn after civilization. – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

Her works (this list is from Wikipedia):

Her adventures included traveling alone on horseback from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, riding alone through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut, spending several months snowed in a cabin with two young men, and being wooed by a lonely outlaw (these stories are all from her A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1879).

In Amritsar, India, she established a hospital named for her sister, the Henrietta Bird Hospital, and in Srinigar, the John Bishop Memorial Hospital, named for her late husband. In northern India, she met up with someone and traveled with him to Persia, crossing the desert in mid-winter and arriving in Tehran, it’s said, half-dead. From there, she led her own caravan through northern Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey. She did many, many other interesting things in her lifetime; these are only a few.

She was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society (1892). When she died in 1904, at 72, she was in Edinburgh packing her trunks for a trip back to China.

“There is also a dog, but he does not understand English.” – Isabella Bird, The Hawaiian Archipelago

I am so glad she was compelled to write as she traveled and explored, and then to publish. It’s as though she’s speaking to us from the past and telling us all about how it was for her then.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that many of the books above are available to read on Google Books for free, because they are out of copyright now. And many of them are free on Kindle – I feel a binge coming on, and I’m off to do some downloading. If only there were more reading hours in the day!

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Hawaii Content Marketing & Rock Stars

Do you know that buzz phrase “content marketing?” It’s what businesses are calling the content they hire us writers to provide. Here’s the best definition of content marketing that I’ve come across; it’s from the Content Marketing Institute:

Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content Marketing is showing the world that you are one. – Robert Rose

Content marketing is a focus for me, and much of the content marketing I do is related to Hawaii, where I live and work. I know Hawaii well, and my journalism background and years as a freelance writer makes it easy for me to research and write (or ghostwrite) about just about anything – whether it’s related to Hawai‘i’s business, travel, culture, people, or something else.

I don’t have links to many of my articles on my website right now, so I am compiling a list here. This is just a small number of the many and varied magazine articles, books and blog posts I’ve written for various businesses, corporations, hotels and media outlets in Hawaii and elsewhere.

On Business & Current Affairs:

Hawaii Travel

Hawaii Culture

Hawaii People

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Kahoolawe, 3

I learned to thatch on Kaho‘olawe. We’d brought big bundles of pili grass over with us on the boat, and then passed them hand-to-hand to shore. At the hale (structure) that the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) constructed on the island, my friend and I learned how to take a small chunk of it and tie it into place.

You take a handful of the dried grass (which I learned was actually, in this case, broomsage grass) to about the thickness of three cigars, and then hold it up to the piece of nylon cord tied to the small log. You take the cord and go across the front of the pili, behind the log, behind the pili, down in front of the log, and around the cord twice. Then tug it hard, and work it back and forth in both directions to tighten it. Then you move on to the next one.

Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer, Content Marketing,
Hawaiian family in front of thatched house, photo by J.A. Gonsalves, 1855-1931. Hawaii State Archives.

I really liked it. When, very occasionally, I work with lauhala or make lei and do some other kinds of handcrafts using natural materials, I’m always reminded again how much I enjoy doing that, and always wish I had the time and energy and room in my life to dive deep into it and learn to do it well. Our modern lives can be so removed from having the time and space for that sort of thing, or at least mine is.

Some people manage to build a life around the crafts that are important to them, and I admire that. So many of us, though, live busy, run-around lives that the old Hawaiians with their old-style lifestyles might have a hard time understanding. The traditional style – where families and communities live near each other, and share, and help, and where people make and gather what they need – makes so much sense to me.

That’s pretty much how life worked on Kaho‘olawe, and I liked it.

Dinner that night was rice, shoyu chicken, and dried and fried fish (fresh that day). I helped make cole slaw (cabbage and carrots, rice vinegar mixed with sugar, and some mayonnaise). And after dinner some people sat around talking and Tom made ‘awa. He boiled a huge pot of water, and then squeezed some powdered ‘awa in a red bandana into the water. We all had some while we talked and it was good. A man played Hawaiian music on a young boy’s ‘ukulele and sang, and at one point a lovely, tall, elegant woman got up and did a beautiful hula. The little girls, too, danced some cute hulas, and there was a lot of laughing and singing and talking. It was so much better than TV or even Netflix.

During our stay there, I heard murmured stories about what people had occasionally seen on Kaho‘olawe, where it’s quieter in just about every way and so it’s easier to see and hear. Seeing a person out of the side of the eye, again and again. A feeling that someone was following him around, for days, and then a kupuna back home saying, “You brought someone back with you.” Dreams. “Seeing” a child crying on the ridge.

The Hawaiian friend I traveled with barely slept for four days. She saw someone standing in the trees at night, a woman, and told me about it the first morning. She had been unable to turn away and sleep. The woman was there again the second night, and again she barely slept; it was starting to show on her face. That second night, she woke me up. “Do you see her?” I looked, and you know what? I did see her. But the woman didn’t bother me the way she did her. She watched the woman and I went back to sleep. I don’t know what it meant, but I don’t think it was meant for me. I never knew what that experience said to her.

Kalei told us that in 1992 they had a ceremony on Kaho‘olawe to dedicate a place they were restoring, and helicoptered in legislators from Honolulu for it: Dan Inouye, Pat Saiki, Patsy Mink, John Waihe’e, lots of others. The legislators all sat on the cornerstones and promised to always consider, in their legislation, the well-being of Kaho‘olawe for seven generations – with the knowledge that if, after agreeing, they didn’t keep their word, their spirits wouldn’t lele (leap to the next place when they died).

When we left Kaho‘olawe, it was just the reverse of arriving but also different. We packed our things to be passed through the ocean to the boat – but without quite as much care this time, because if the clothes got a little wet, oh well. We made a human line from shore to pass all the gear onto the Pualele. Several people got stung by jellyfish as we prepared to leave, but nobody had a bad reaction. There were three boat trips to get everyone back to Maui, and we helped load each of the first two, and then sat, chatted, ate crackers and had coffee for an hour and a half until the boat returned.

We went out on the third trip, and this time it was rough weather. It was freezing standing in the water, and the sea was rough. The captain slowed down as we passed along the “inside” of the crescent of Molokini crater, and I counted 17 boats of all different kinds and sizes, from yachts down to Zodiacs and everything in between. One had a ladder from it down into the water and people were snorkeling right off the boat.

Then the captain sped up again, and we headed for Makena landing on Maui. And then a flight back to O‘ahu, and on my way home I stopped at the Safeway in Manoa because I needed to pick up some food.

I was almost knocked over by the massive amounts of artificial lights inside that enormous grocery store; my eyes were physically pained. And I was struck by how there were people bustling everywhere, and hundreds of thousands of every type of item available for the picking up.

It had only been four days away from all that, where the sun was our light, choices were simple, and people weren’t moving around in such a focused hurry, but the sudden transition back into our busy, hectic world was an enormous shock.

I was left with so many realizations from the long weekend on Kaho‘olawe. That it’s good there are still places where a person can observe and live a quieter lifestyle, get a glimpse into older Hawai‘i ways, and help in a small way to preserve it. That it’s important to hold onto those places and those ways. And that, if we’re lucky, we can bring a bit of what we learn back home with us and fit it into our modern lives. Kaho‘olawe really does have a lot to tell us, as one of the PKO members told us. I listened.  •  PAU

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

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Kahoolawe, 2

We got to the Hawaiian island of Kaho‘olawe by first taking an airplane to Maui, then a fishing boat, and then a small Zodiac. We climbed out of the Zodiac and waded over an uneven rocky beach bottom onto shore, trying to stay upright as waves broke against us.

About 70 people were there on that four-day weekend 20 years ago. In addition to college students like me, there were Boy Scouts wearing red t-shirts, and young Hawaiian immersion school kids and their families who all spoke Hawaiian. The first afternoon, I came across a young boy sitting on the beach with his ‘ukulele, picking out the theme song to the TV show The Addams Family. Our stay on Kaho‘olawe was never as ominous as that suggested, though. It was a very positive experience.

We were being hosted by the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), a group working to restore the island that the U.S. military had been bombing for decades. After decades of protests, the Navy’s live-fire training exercises ceased in 1990, and the island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawai‘i that same year I visited: 1994. The Hawai‘i state legislature established the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today it can only be used for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes.

There were boundaries as to where we could wander, the PKO people told us as soon as we arrived on the island. We could hike about 10 to 15 minutes in each direction, they said, but don’t go further than the green beach that way, they said, unless you’re with someone who knows it. They spoke about it casually, but you could tell they knew what they were talking about. I had no desire to go where they said not to go. Places were not off-limits for the reasons we’re used to. It’s not that they were someone else’s property; it was that they might still have live bombs on them. Sometimes bullets work their way up in the sand, they said, and don’t pick them up because some are live.

But other than that initial warning about what’s off-limits, there wasn’t much talk or worry about bombs. Hakioawa, the valley that the PKO uses for its home base, had been checked for live ordinance – “cleared” – eight or ten times, someone told me. “Though last time they did find a fire bomb in the back,” he said.

That first day, a woman named Kalei gave us a small tour of the camp area. When we got to the men’s heiau (temple), only the men went up and we women waited below, and vice versa. The women’s heiau, which was much larger but also more exposed to the wind and eroding, is across the riverbed from the men’s, and lots of baby rattles and other women’s and babies’ things have been found there, she told us. And there were burials of babies who didn’t make it. She pointed out one area and asked us not to walk on it because a burial had been found underneath. “If it were my grandmother, I know I wouldn’t want you walking there,” she said. She told us that this place, and a site being covered up by construction of O‘ahu’s H3 highway, were the only ones known to have heiau situated right across from each other like that.

We hiked up on the cliff to look at the fishing shrine of Ka‘ai‘ai, and a traditional fishpond, whose shape and function was destroyed by the military. She explained that they bombed large targets they could easily see from the air.

We saw the mo‘o that the Hawaiian goddess Hi‘iaka fought. She severed its head, which is now a prominent rock on the hill, and she threw its body, which landed directly across on Maui and became a small hill that’s easy to spot. The mo‘o’s tail landed in the channel and now we call it Molokini.

Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer, Ghostwriter,
Molokini  (photo by Forest & Kim Starr)

The U.S. Navy, charged with clearing the island of live ordnance now, stays on the other side of the island where all the white sand beaches are, and we never saw them or had any sort of interaction. That other side is also the site of Smuggler’s Beach, where opium smugglers used to stop. But the PKO chose this valley for their site because it has the most mana: there are heiau, petroglyphs, and it’s where people used to live. It’s not the best part of the island physically, one of them said, but it is spiritually.

They asked us to sign two legal releases, one from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, and the other from the U.S. Navy. “We’ve been known to withhold food from people until they sign,” the PKO’s Hokulani joked, or was she serious? Everybody signed.

It’s unusual, as an adult, to be completely dependent on others for your food! But it was never a problem. The kitchen, which was also the gathering place where people hung out, was outdoors and well-appointed with huge gas burners and pots and enormous woks. I helped make egg salad sandwiches for lunch that first day, and there was also peanut butter and jelly, and pretzel sticks, carrots, celery and apple and mango slices. There was always coffee on, a very nice and civilizing touch, I thought.

Dinner that first night was turkey chili with brown rice, and a vegetarian stir fry. There was also cole slaw and fish soup, which was salty – I think they used seawater. There was plenty to eat and it was tasty, in that way that eating outside is almost always better.

After we ate, we went around in a circle and talked. A guy named Peter said he had just graduated from medical school, so he would be the doctor if anyone needed medical care, but only if it was easy. Otherwise, he said, he’d ask the nurse who was along. Someone asked him where he graduated from and he said, “UH.” Someone else joked, “So don’t ask him any hard questions.”

One man talked about growing up on Maui and how his sister used to scream in the night when their windows shook because of bombs exploding on nearby Kaho‘olawe. The circle was quiet as he spoke. Another woman, who’d grown up in Lahaina on Maui, said she never dreamed that someday she would be on Kaho‘olawe.

Tom told us that the island can tell you a lot, but you have to listen. “You’d be surprised,” he said. I slept very well that night and dreamt a lot, but could only remember the dreams being of people and things in my everyday life. I didn’t hear Kaho‘olawe speaking to me in my dreams that first night.

A few of us hung out there after dinner, drinking hot cocoa and talking some more. We got to talking about Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf, which came to mind because of all the mice on the island. It was a great group of people. Among a handle of others, there were a couple of our hosts from the PKO, including the guy in charge of the water project and reforestation/revegetation work who lives off-grid in Ha‘iku on Maui. A UH student from Moloka‘i had also grown up without electricity – both were used to going to bed and waking up with the sun. There was a professor from UH Manoa, and a neuroscientist from USC and her husband, who is with the American Friend Services. The Friends do work on peace and justice issues and have an interest in the return of Kaho‘olawe to the Hawaiian people, I learned.

The atmosphere on the island was relaxed. Breakfast the next morning – a work day – was hearty and solid: it was oatmeal, to which you could add granola, raising, peanut butter, guava jelly and or honey, and it was at 8:30 or 9, not at the crack of dawn. Things got planned and done, but at a good and relaxed pace. There was no hurry.

Some people, mostly men, hiked up after breakfast to work on the watcher catchment. I’d hiked up there the day before to look at it, and what a beautiful view from that point: Lana‘i off that way, Maui over there. You could only see the water tank, which was painted camouflage, from the beach if you knew it’s there and looked for it.

Most of the women stayed down at the camp. Tom, from the PKO, said a bunch of ‘ōhi‘a logs we’d brought on the boat needed to be moved from the beach to the thatched hale they’d constructed on the island, where they would replace some that were rotting. He said, thinking out loud, “They’re pretty heavy, though. Some of them weigh up to 200 lbs. If they don’t get moved this morning, that’s okay.”

A young college student spoke up in a strong voice. “Hey, we’re women!” she said. “We can do anything!” It was an empowering and rallying call and I think we all stood up straighter. We worked together and easily moved every one of those logs, and then a bunch of other, longer and thinner ones that needed to be moved, as well.

Afterward some of us women hiked out to the “bathing beach,” about a half mile off and kapu after 4:00 for women only. Fresh water is a precious commodity on Kaho‘olawe, and it’s not wasted on bodies.  The bathing beach is a sandy beach where you easily walk into the ocean and wash your hair and clean off red earth of Kaho‘olawe off your body. Your feet (and the rest of you) get very dirty with the island’s rich-colored red-brown dirt. They call it a Kaho‘olawe tan. I felt very clean and renewed afterward.

Read Part 1

 

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Kahoolawe, 1

In June of 1994, I was a very busy student at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, earning a master’s degree in anthropology and taking a lot of Hawaiian language classes while working full time at an airline. An opportunity came up to go to Kaho‘olawe with a group from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), and I jumped at it. I knew that four days on Kaho‘olawe – where there was no electricity, no houses, no roads – would be very different from the busy life I was living on O‘ahu, and I was curious to meet the island itself. It’s one you cannot visit on your own; you have to be with an authorized group.

Kaho‘olawe, near Maui, is one of the major Hawaiian islands but it has no permanent residents. For decades it was used for live-fire bombing exercises by the Army. Now a dedicated group of people was working to restore the previously heavily bombed and barren island. They occasionally took small groups to the island, both to educate them and to get some help with the work.

Kahoolawe, Hawaii, Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter

From Wikipedia:

Kahoʻolawe (/kəˌh.əˈlɑːw/; Hawaiian: [kəˈhoʔoˈlɐve]) is the smallest of the eight main volcanic islands in theHawaiian Islands. Kahoʻolawe is located about seven miles (11.2 km) southwest of Maui and also southeast of Lanai, and it is 11 miles (18 km) long by 6.0 miles (9.7 km) wide, with a total land area of 44.97 square miles (116.5 km2). The highest point on Kahoʻolawe is the crater of Lua Makika at the summit of Puʻu Moaulanui, which is about 1,477 feet (450 m) above sea level. Kahoʻolawe is relatively dry (average annual rainfall is less than 65 cm or 26 in) because the island’s low elevation fails to generate much orographic precipitation from the northeastern trade winds, and Kahoolawe is located in the rain shadow of eastern Maui’s 10,023 feet (3,055 m) high volcano, Haleakalā. More than one quarter of Kahoʻolawe has been eroded down to saprolitic hardpan soil.

Kahoʻolawe has always been sparsely populated, due to its lack of fresh water. During World War II, Kahoʻolawe was used as a training ground and bombing range by the Armed Forces of the United States. After decades of protests, the U.S. Navy ended live-fire training exercises on Kahoolawe in 1990, and the whole island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaii in 1994. The Hawaii State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve to restore and to oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today Kahoolawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.

My friend and I arrived at the Honolulu airport with our duffel bags and looked around for other people equipped like us, with water jugs and their belongings packed in plastic bags (there are no direct flights to Kaho‘olawe, and you have to have some contact with the ocean to get there). It occurred to me that it sure took a lot of planning and packing and stuff to prepare to get away from civilization, at least the way we were doing it. But anything you need on the island, you have to haul in. There are definitely no Safeways or 7-11s on Kaho‘olawe.

We spotted a couple others and together we flew to Maui, where more Kaho‘olawe-bound people had gathered. We all jumped into various pickups and station wagons belonging to Maui members of the PKO. The Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana is the group that forced the end of the bombing of the island – at, it turned out, great personal cost.

In 1976, a group of individuals calling themselves the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO) filed suit in U.S. Federal Court to stop the Navy’s use of Kahoolawe for bombardment training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental laws and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the island. In 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii allowed the Navy’s use of this island to continue, but the Court directed the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement and to complete an inventory of historic sites on the island. On March 9, 1977, two PKO leaders, George Helm and Kimo Mitchell, were lost at sea during an attempt to occupy Kahoolawe in symbolic protest. In 1980, the Navy and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana promulgated a consent decree that allowed continued naval training on the island, monthly access to the island for the PKO, surface clearance of part of the island (10,000 acres), soil conservation, the eradication of feral goats and an archaeological survey. – Wikipedia

They dropped us off at Maui’s Ma‘alaea Boat Harbor, where we stacked our belongings on the dock in front of the Pualele, the boat we would take in the morning. Someone told us, “This is where you’ll be sleeping, and we’ll be back later.” We spread our sleeping bags out along a grassy slope between two roads, right there in the middle of the boat harbor, and I thought 3:30 a.m. would come fast, but it didn’t because I lay awake for a long time. My friend and I saw some tourists come out of a nearby steak house and ogle us; we heard them say, “Look at the homeless people!” That gave us the giggles.

It was a beautiful night. The full moon in the very pale blue-gray sky was making the ocean shimmer with silver. Straight ahead of where I lay on the dock, a tall, majestic-looking mast and a coconut tree waved back and forth in the breeze, the coconut tree making the bright moon peek in and out. I saw a shooting star.

We could tell when it was getting close to 3:30 a.m. because there started being some activity. In the bathroom I put on my bathing suit, shorts, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, we sealed our bags as tightly as we could with duct tape and then we formed a human chain from the line of plastic bags to the boat and passed it all onboard, holding it up out of the ocean. Then we got aboard ourselves.

The early morning boat ride from Ma‘alaea and Maui, which took us along the Alalakeiki Channel, was glorious. We went along the Kihei side of the island and eventually passed the small, beautiful, crescent-shaped islet of Molokini. The air was so clear that I could see the Big Island beyond Makena. As the sun rose, it looked as though it exploded out of the top of the Maui volcano Haleakalā: an intense ball of light in the dawn sky, outlined and glowing.

We watched Kaho‘olawe getting bigger and more defined, and then when we were close, a small Zodiac ferried us and the gear most of the rest of the way, in several trips. When it was my turn, I saw that they took us in close, and then we got out into the waist-deep ocean. Again, we formed a line from the boat to the shore and passed all the plastic-bagged goods, water bottles and food supplies to shore, hand-to-hand. A huge sack of cabbages was passed through the ocean, and I wondered if it would taste salty when we ate it. We stepped onto Kaho‘olawe, and carried all the water and food up the marked stone trail to the well-established outdoor kitchen.

Then we went and found our campsite. We hung the tarp we’d brought above where we would sleep, to protect us from rain, and raked away keawe thorns with a rake from the tool shed there. We put down some of our large plastic garbage bags and spread out our sleeping bags atop them. There were tiny bold mice everywhere on that island, so we hung our snacks in a backpack from a tree.

Every time the Zodiac dropped off some more people from the Pualele, someone sounded a pū summoning us to the beach and again we went into the water to pass their things onto shore. It got easier each time, because all the kitchen stuff had come in on that first boat, and also because there were more people to help each time.

When we’d been approaching the island by sea, all I could see was a small dark rocky beach surrounded by keawe that looked dead and lifeless. But when we went ashore and got busy, I realized there were signs of life everywhere. Vegetation, and tiny but carefully marked cartons of “dry water,” which was time-released water, I learned later, for the reforesting. Carefully laid paths. A nice kitchen area, with coffee, and an old Navy locker set up a smoker. There was fish in there, ulua, that first day.

In 1993, the Hawaiian State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve, consisting of “the entire island and its surrounding ocean waters in a two mile (three km) radius from the shore.” By State Law, Kahoolawe and its waters can only be used for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes; fishing; environmental restoration; historic preservation; and education. All commercial uses are prohibited.

The Legislature also created the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to manage the Reserve while it is held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian Sovereignty entity. The restoration of Kahoolawe will require a strategy to control erosion, re-establish vegetation, recharge the water table, and gradually replace alien plants with native species. Plans will include methods for damming gullies and reducing rainwater runoff. In some areas, non-native plants will temporarily stabilize soils before planting of permanent native species. Species used for revegetation include ʻaʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa), ʻāheahea (Chenopodium oahuense),kuluʻī (Nototrichium sandwicense), Achyranthes splendens, ʻūlei (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia), kāmanomano (Cenchrus agrimonioides var. agrimonioides), koaiʻa(Acacia koaia), and alaheʻe (Psydrax odorata). – Wikipedia

When everybody was there, we stood in a circle near the shore and people from the PKO thanked us for coming. They said how important it is for people to see what they are doing there, and what it’s like on the island, and why they keep coming back. We went around the circle and when I introduced myself, Tom, one of the people in charge, said, “We’re very happy to have you here.” I told him, very sincerely, that I was very happy to be there, too.

(to be continued)

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