Isabella Bird & Other Historical Non-Fiction to Read While Traveling

I have a good friend coming to visit here on the Big Island next week, a history buff like me, and I’ll have to find out if she’s ever read Isabella Bird.

isabellabird

I love reading an interesting book about a place while exploring it, and I highly recommend Isabella Bird’s book if you’re planning to visit (or if you live in) Hawai‘i.

I can remember reading Sarum when visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and Jane Austen in, of course, Bath. And Michener’s Iberia (or parts of it anyway; I remember a great section on gazpacho that sent me seeking the stuff at every turn) while in Portugal. And, oh, The Agony and the Ecstacy while in Rome — that was a wonderful decision.

Isabella Bird was born in England in 1831, and (from Wikipedia), “was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel.”

Gotta love that. 

She sure did travel. Among many other adventures (and writings), she was in Hawai‘i in the 1870s, and later wrote the book The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of The Sandwich Islands. She was a thorough, descriptive and upbeat writer and I enjoy reading her accounts. I also admire her for traveling alone as a woman in the 19th century and having so many great adventures.

Here’s a description of Hilo from her book:

What Honolulu attempts to be, Hilo is without effort. Its crescent-shaped bay, said to be the most beautiful in the Pacific, is a semi-circle of about two miles, with its farther extremity formed by Cocoanut Island, a black lava islet on which this palm obtains great perfection, and beyond it again a fringe of cocoanuts marks the deep indentation of the shore. From this island to the north part of the bay, there is a band of golden sand on which the roar of the surf sounded thunderous and drowsy as it mingled with the music of living waters, the Waiakea and the Wailuku, which after lashing the sides of the mountains which give them birth, glide deep and fern-fringed into the ocean. Native houses, half hidden by greenery, line the bay, and stud the heights above the Wailuku, and near the landing some white frame houses and three church spires above the wood denote the foreign element. Hilo is unique.

Hilo still looks pretty much like that! I can picture it. It’s a great book if you’re interested in reading more, and it’s easily available in paperback.

What books have enriched your travels? I’d love to hear.

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I Married The Photographer

I have an essay on the last page of Hawaii magazine’s August issue. It’s about living here in this beautiful place.

My husband Macario is a professional photographer who, among other jobs, shoots a lot of Big Island photos for the PacificBasin Communications magazines. So they called him to photograph me for the article. (How convenient is that?!)

And so we went down to a nearby river and we both stood in it, pretty much. And here’s the side of the photo shoot you don’t usually see — because the set-up for a photo shoot takes awhile, and I get restless. And then I start taking photos of the photographer.

Here’s another article Macario and I both worked on. That one, for Honolulu magazine, is about the 6.7 earthquake that hit the Big Island a couple years back, and how clean-up was looking one year later. 

People often say something along the lines of, “Wow, a photographer and a writer. Perfect!” It is fun when we occasionally get to work together. We didn’t meet on a job, surprisingly, but rather at a baby lu‘au where he was friends with the baby’s dad and I was friends with the mom.

It was just a tidy coincidence that our work interests were so compatible. It’s a fun partnership all the way around.

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Hawaiian Style: Eating Poi

My husband Macario harvested some kalo (taro) and made some fresh, delicious poi today. Our 4-year-old couldn’t get enough. And then we had some more.

poi

In the old days, poi was pounded with stone pounders, and Macario, who comes from a long line of kalo farmers, can do it that way, too. But nowadays, we use a Champion commercial juicer. So easy. I think some of our ancestors would have used a Champion juicer if they’d had one. 

It got me thinking about an article I once wrote for the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine Hana Hou! It’s all about poi — history and culture, taste, making, eating.

I dug out the article and reread it, and then I thought maybe you’d like to read it, too.

Poi is such a staple food to Hawaiians. And it’s so delicious. If you read the article you’ll see how important poi is to us.

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Freelance Writing & Kukui Nut Trees

For lunch today, I had a picnic with my husband and little girl in the shade of our big old kukui nut tree. We brought along my daughter’s Bob (learning to read) books, and decided we will call it “The Reading Tree” and sit there sometimes to practice reading. She loved that.

After we ate and read and played some little kid horseshoes, I lay back on the green- and blue-striped picnic blanket and watched a white, cottony cloud barrel across the perfect blue sky. After awhile, my daughter and husband wandered off and I actually napped briefly. When I woke up, it was to the feeling of warm sun on my face when the kukui leaves momentarily parted. It was excellent.

It was a work day.

Oh, the freelance life is definitely not all sitting around in pajamas and watching Oprah, let me tell you. 

If you’re good at what you do, and busy, it’s really an awful lot of work. I can remember, years ago when I started freelancing, being surprised at how hard I was working. (Maybe I had been expecting pajamas and Oprah.)

It is, of course, a real business with real work that needs to get done, well and on time. In addition to the interviewing, writing and revising, there’s always marketing that needs to be done, to keep the work coming in, and then invoicing and estimated taxes and lot of other paperwork, and keeping up with supplies, because nobody’s filling the supply cabinet but you. And a whole lot more.

Generally I keep regular work hours, which is what works best for me. I don’t sleep in on a work day (unless I’m sick, and then the flexibility is lovely), and I don’t chat on the phone during work hours. There is work to be done.

Once in awhile my regular work hours just aren’t enough, and there have certainly been times when I’ve worked into the wee hours, or pried myself out of bed much, much earlier than my body appreciates to squeeze in a couple extra hours.

But then again. Then again — occasionally I take the time to do something like have a lovely, relaxing picnic with my family in the middle of the day.

And then I am reminded of how much I appreciate the freelance lifestyle. The work is interesting, I have total control over how my career progresses, and I can sometimes take a little time off to do what’s important to me and my family — like picnicking and then napping under a kukui nut tree. I can’t imagine living any other way.

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Happiness is a Warm Pond

Another place I sent my mom and her friend recently, while they were here touring the Big Island, was Ahalanui Park. It’s next to the ocean down in Pahoa and has a lovely, thermally heated pond.

The pond used to be part of someone’s estate down there in volcano country. Long ago owners enclosed the ocean end of the natural pond with rocks. They left a channel between the rocks, so the tide still moves in and out throughout the day. Now the pond is part of a county park.

The water feels delicious, like a very, very warm bathtub that never goes cold. And the setting is beautiful. Slipping into this water, in my book, is just about perfect.

Once I took a visiting friend there around lunchtime and we sat there, soothed and happy, talking until it got dark. 

My mom and her friend loved it, too.

We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place.

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Hilo Rated a “Dream Town”

It’s official, though we here in Hilo already knew it. 

Hilo is one of the country’s “Dream Towns.”

Bizjournals.com just reviewed 140 “micropolitan areas” in the country (From Bizjournals.com: “A micro consists of a central community with 10,000 to 50,000 residents, along with the surrounding countryside. It is, in effect, a small-scale version of a metropolitan area.”)

Hilo came in #41.

This really isn’t a surprise to most of us who live here. It truly is a wonderful place to live. The town is fronted by a beautiful crescent bay lined with coconut trees. Unlikely as it sounds, the bayfront is void of development (because of the area’s propensity toward tsunami–which is, perhaps, one of the only non-dreamy aspects) and is, instead, parkland. It is lovely.

Buildings in downtown Hilo are all low-to-the-ground, nothing more than two stories, and many were constructed in the early 1900s and so there is interesting architecture everywhere. I wrote a book called Exploring Historic Hilo if you’d like to read more about the town’s history, and see some terrific old photos.

There are good restaurants, interesting shops and one of those terrific old movie theaters, the Palace Theatre, that shows art house movies. The farmer’s market at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street sells amazing tropical flowers and even more amazing tropical fruits (think lychee, rambutan, papaya, mango, durian, longan and dragonfruit, just off the top of my head).

The air smells of salt and flowers and the pace is slower here, and that suits us just fine. It’s a casual, laidback lifestyle with lots of friendly people. If you see someone walking around in a suit and tie, they’re certainly here on business from somewhere else.

Bizjournals.com used different categories than mine to come to its conclusions. It used U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze 20 statistical categories — such as population growth, commute times, median household income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, homeownership rate, and others — to calculate each town’s “quality of life” score and rank the cities. 

In 2006, Hilo’s “micropolitan area” (Hawai‘i County) had a population of about 171,000, the average work commute took 25 minutes and residents had a median household income of $55,390.

Here are the country’s top 10 “dream towns,” but I’m happy here in #41. I’m not going anywhere.

  1. Bozeman, Montana
  2. Jackson, Wyoming
  3. Durango, Colorado
  4. Easton, Maryland
  5. Laramie, Wyoming
  6. Edwards, Colorado
  7. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
  8. Pierre, South Dakota
  9. Silverthorne, Colorado
  10. Los Alamos, New Mexico
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Hilo Travel Guide, That’s Me!

My mom, who lives in California, is spending a month up at Volcano, housesitting for a friend. She is loving the cool, crisp weather and the absolutely beautiful rainforest location.

a peacock in Volcano
We saw a peacock in the road when we drove up to Volcano the other day!

This week she has a friend visiting her and they are having fun touring the Big Island.

And because my mom has never lived here (it’s my father’s family that’s from here), she’s been calling me and asking for ideas. I am enjoying thinking about fun things for them to do.

Last night the question was, “Where should we go to eat some good seafood?” 

I suggested the Seaside Restaurant in Hilo’s Keaukaha area. The casual, easygoing restaurant has enormous fishponds and raises its own fish. Before or after you eat (or during if you have a young one who gets a little too restless; I speak from experience) you can wander their boardwalks and look at the fish in the beautiful big ponds.

The best time to arrive is at dusk. Ask to sit “outside,” which, it finally occurred to me once, is actually inside. It’s sort of an enclosed patio, I think. Perhaps it was once outside. Anyway, they’ll know what you mean and seat you by the windows where you can see out.

There is a tree growing in the middle of the vast fishponds, and at dusk a rather enormous number of white egrets land on it. They flutter around the tree, looking for fish. It’s quite a sight to see all that shocking white out there on an unlikely tree in the middle of the water. 

And the fish is very good. I usually order something furikake-encrusted.

When I suggested the Seaside and told my mom how to get there, after having dispensed some other touring ideas in the last couple days, she joked, “You should be a travel guide!” And I thought about how much fun it is to share all the great places we enjoy visiting here on the Big Island. 

In the last couple days they’ve gone up to Waimea and toured the historic homes there at Parker Ranch, brought us malasadas from Tex Drive In in Honoka‘a, and checked out beautiful Akaka Falls, inspiration for the beautiful song of the same name. Here is someone named Rachel singing that classic song. I just pulled the video off YouTube on a whim — but what an incredible voice! Rachel, you’re amazing!

Coming soon on our Hawai‘i travel agenda: throwing the prawn traps into our stream, to be followed by a delicious, and very fresh, prawn dinner.

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Let Me Introduce Myself

Here in Hawai’i, we introduce ourselves when we meet by telling who our family is and where we’re from; we put ourselves into a context, and try to establish some sort of a connection to each other. It’s traditional among Hawaiians. So let me tell you who I am.

My name is Leslie Lang and I am a freelance writer living near Hilo, Hawai’i. That’s on what we call the Big Island of Hawai’i, on the east (windward; rainier; lush) side of the island.

My father’s family is from this island. Some go back to the beginning, when Polynesians first landed on this island and eventually evolved into Hawaiians, and others were English and Chinese.

My mother’s English/Irish family is from West Virginia, deep in the most beautiful hills where the trees turn brilliant reds and oranges and yellows in the fall, and where they make really good cornbread in a skillet in the oven. I do that too.

It’s a pretty diverse genealogical background, huh? I love it all.

My family lives in my grandmother’s wonderful old rambly home in the country. It’s a good life.

I have a lot of stories to tell and some other things to say, and I am a writer, and so, voila! A blog.

I’ll post here about:

  • Freelance writing (Who, what, where, how and probably even why)
  • Being self-employed (Coming soon: Is it riskier, in this or any economy, than working full-time for one employer? Or much, much safer?)
  • Living in Hawai’i (It’s a pretty great place to live)
  • Historic Hilo town (I wrote a book recently about beautiful Hilo and its history)
  • and, I’m sure, how all these subjects intersect in my life

Whether you are looking for a writer, are yourself self-employed as a writer (or want to be) and are interested in how others do it, or are interested in Hilo or Hawai‘i in general, I hope you’ll check back! Or even subscribe to my feed. I’ll try to keep it interesting. And please, always feel free to continue the conversation by leaving a comment.

You can also always contact me at leslie@leslielang.com.

Aloha,

Leslie

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