"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, August 31, 2009

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming ....

...to bring you a special announcement. My flight back to Alaska leaves Maui at 3 this afternoon. I'll overnight in Anchorage, then drive home the next morning.

I have several more Hawai'an stories to tell you, three of which involve Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. They contain lots and lots of photos of the inside of Haleakala crater. However, I have taken great liberties with Madame Pele in those stories, ascribing to her words and actions my muse made up, a completely fictionalized story.

I will post them this week, AFTER I am off the island and safely home. Just in case, you understand. One should not take liberties, even editorial liberties, with Madame Pele. You think I don't live out there on the edge? Just wait.

In the meantime, here's a completely safe story about geese.

You're a Rare Goose, Indeed

Little more than half-way across the floor of Haleakala crater, we rounded a hillside and approached Kapalaoa (Kah-pah-lah-OH-ah), where we would break for lunch. I spotted three geese, the rare, endangered Hawai’ian Nene (NAY-nay) on the grassy lawn near the cabin. We dismounted, and I wandered towards the geese to take pictures. I expected them to fly away at any second.

Two let me get closer and closer, but the third flew away and perched on a rock nearby.

Nene are the official state bird of Hawai’I, and are the world’s rarest goose. Descended from the Canada goose, the Nene were once plentiful in the islands and an important food source. As their numbers dwindled to frighteningly low numbers, a restoration project revived the goose population, and today they are found—and protected—on six of the islands. There are none in the wild on O’ahu.

As the sandwiches and fruit and cold drinks began to cover the picnic table, the Nene came even closer, until they were at my feet. A nearby sign warned not to feed them. They have plenty of their natural diet available to them, and soft-hearted hikers might accidentally choke the geese by feeding them something they are unable to swallow, such as trail mix and granola bars.

Ranger Ted came over to sit by me. “You know, he said, “you’re supposed to stay a hundred feet away from endangered species.”

“I can’t help it,” I answered, “if these geese can’t measure.”

The Nene are endemic to Hawai’i, the only place in the world they are found. Named for their soft call, the females and males grow to 19 inches tall. The females weigh between three plus and five and a half pounds. Males typically weigh from three plus to six and a half pounds. They are distinguished by the unusual vertical lines on their necks.

Much of the work in the crater, both by park employees and volunteers, involves protecting and keeping track of the Nene. Most of the Nene are banded for identification purposes, but many are not. Traps are set in the crater for rats, feral cats, and mongoose who prey on the geese and birds that live in the crater. The Nene population in the crater is estimated at up to 200 geese.

Long gone from the islands and the world, is the Nene-nui (NEH-neh-NEW-ee), a relative of the current Nene, but standing almost four feet tall, and weighing 19 pounds. Only fossilized remains have been found.

As we mounted up and headed out of Kapalaoa, the Nene scurried for the picnic table to search for any food we might have dropped. The Park Service may have asked us not to feed the geese, but someone forgot to tell the geese it was illegal. They also forgot to teach the geese how to measure out a hundred foot separation.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Workin' Our Tails Off

This was no “ya pays yer money, ya takes yer trip” into the depths of Haleakala crater. I’d made a solemn promise to Ranger Ted that—if I were allowed to go—I would work my tail off on whatever chores he assigned me.

Permission was granted; project not disclosed. Only after we reached the far side of the crater at an area known as Paliku (pah-lee-COO), did I learn what we were there to accomplish.
Before I let you in on the project, I need to explain something about going into the crater.

Anyone can go. You pay your money to an outfitter, who will lead you on a guided horseback trip a couple miles down and a couple miles back. He probably does longer and perhaps overnight trips, too.

In the center of the photo are riders with Pony Express, an outfitter that takes clients into the crater by horseback.

Or, you can walk in. “In” is a bit—no, a whole lot misleading. “Down” would be much more accurate. There are a couple other routes, but most folks start at the Visitor’s Center observatory at the top of the crater road. The elevation there is just under 10,000 feet.

Hikers are told to yield to horses, and stand quietly beside the trail. Some places are steep and narrow, and accidents can and have happened with spooked horses.

You walk down a number of switchbacks on a trail called “Sliding Sands.” Obviously, this trail traverses a steep slope covered with black sand. Once you reach the floor, there are trails in several directions, and you MUST stay on the trails.

Side trail to cinder cone, with hikers.

Now, back to work. When we arrived at Paliku (pah-lee-COO), on the far side of the crater, Ranger Ted pointed to a picturesque wooden fence that was the closest boundary of a large horse pasture. We were to take that down, and replace it with a cable rail fence.

Our project was to take down this old rotted fence and replace it with new posts and cable

Ranger Ted didn’t know it, but he was talkin’ my language. Demolition is something I can really get into. I would have started right then, but I thought it would be best if I could get my knees working again, so I decided to wait until morning. Until then, I would occupy myself settling in to my corner bunk in the Paliku cabin. We had brought sheets and pillowcases with us, so we busied ourselves with making up our beds. There were pillows and gray wool blankets for our use.

While fresh Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets baked in the oven of the cabin’s wood burning stove,
I unloaded my saddle bags. I wanted to keep my footprint in the cabin as small as possible, so I stashed all the clothing and Australian duster raincoat under my pillow. This not only kept that stuff out of the way, but made it easier to read in bed, with a flashlight tucked alongside my neck, or with the small reading lamp I’d brought.

That's my bunk, the bottom one behind Andy.

Holly, Betsey and I removing all the wire holding the fence together.

After all the wire was off, Betsey started pulling nails from the 1x8 boards, which would then be cut up for firewood. All metal had to be saved, because it would be carried out of the crater. We pulled off the batten board that covered joints, and anything else that had been added over the years to prolong the fence’s use. Then came the fun part.

Made short work of that fence. Except for the wretched posts. Some were 4x6” treated posts, some were metal posts with a flange that were driven two or three feet in the ground. Pulling, prying, digging, cussing—all were required to pull those posts. Along with brute male strength.

In the meantime, Ranger Ted, Andy, and Bruce were working on the short leg of the L, pulling out the old posts, digging new holes, and installing new, treated posts. When all the posts were in on that leg, Ranger Ted summoned me to help him, while the guys continued with posts on the long leg, and Holly and Betsey pulled nails and stacked boards.



Ranger Ted had a heavy, heavy, hard, dense chunk of wood that had been one of the old fence posts. Twisted and rotted on the outside, with beetles crawling through tunnels in the wood, I wondered why he was using it for a horizontal brace at the end of the run.

The mamane wood horizontal brace.

Then he asked me to hold it up while he marked it for cutting. Criminy! That thing was heavy. As soon as I had a chance, I grabbed the cutoff and looked. Inside was the densest wood I have ever seen, as dense as the diamond willow found in Alaska.

Mamane fence post in outer pasture.

Mamane tree in pasture.

Close up of mamane tree branch.

On and on we worked, post holes, braces, holes, pulling 3/8”marine grade stainless steel wire rope (cable) through the new posts. By late, late afternoon, the assigned portion of the new fence was done. The original plan was that Ranger Ted and his next crew of volunteers would do the final section, from the gate to the barn.

The completed part of the fence.

Not-so-early the next morning, a bedraggled , tired crew started on the next section of fence.

Holly and I try to remove a steel T post that's driven deep into rocky ground.

Demo went okay, but digging those wretched post holes in rocky ground was miserable, hot, back-breaking, hard work.

Andy backfilling and tamping rocks into the hole.

L to R: Betsey, Danaielle, Bruce, Whitney, Holly, the post hole crew.

Bruce removing old gate, and Betsey pulling nails from boards.

Sometimes one crew had to wait for another crew to finish its assigned task. That’s when Danielle and Whitney brought out the cookies to restore our energy.

Unknowingly, they created a bad habit, one that would rear its ugly head many times the rest of the afternoon.

A tired crew driven to the ground by Ranger Ted, who is--at the far right--the last man standing.

While we were all lying on the ground, the subject of climbing the vertical walls around us came up. Then someone mentioned that there was fencing on top of those ridges, and pointed out where the fence posts could be seen. Out came the binoculars and the 22mm lens. Sure enough, some pour souls had built fences on those ridges to keep feral animals out of the park. That seemed to do much to restore our energy by putting our project into perspective.

See anything that looks like a fence on that ridgeline?

See that lone white fence post?

How about now? I see several. You should be able to click on these photos to enlarge them to full screen. On the opposite side of these peaks is rainforest.

Danielle scratching our initials into the gate hinge post concrete, the only one in concrete.

The entire crew helped pull cable through the posts, and Ranger Ted used a come-a-long to stretch it tight.

By now even Ranger Ted was tired, but he WAS pulling the lower cable through with a come-a-long.

Danielle caulking all the holes.

Finally, it was time to put the finishing touches on the fence. Wedges were driven in the holes to hold the cable tight and where the cable was pulled through, the holes were caulked.

The fence was finished.

Bruce loading up the tools.

Obviously the fence posts followed the contour of the uneven ground, which is why they don't look the same height. Pele had a great deal to do with that, as lava and lava rocks are not easy to dig in.

I asked a couple people to look. Neither could detect any sign of a tail on my posterior, though as close to the ground as it was dragging, it was hard to see.

Promise fulfilled, Ranger Ted. Ask me back any time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Have you ever despaired that your solitary voice will never be heard, like the tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear?

Have you and your friend or spouse decided to stay home on election day because the two of you, favoring opposing political candidates, will only cancel out each others’ vote?

Do you ever wonder if one person can truly make a difference?

Then consider Maui, son of Hina. When his mother complained that the sun moved so quickly across the sky that the fruit could ripen and the kapa (bark cloth) would not dry, Maui climbed to the top of Haleakala, the House of the Sun.

With strong ropes braided from his sister’s hair, Maui caught the rays of the rising sun and held them fast. The sun pleaded for life, and promised to move more slowly during the summer months. Maui released his hold on the sun, but left the ropes attached to remind the sun of its promise.

And that is why, in the evening when the sun is setting, the ropes (rays) can be seen binding the sun to the earth.

The Gathering Place

It was a reunion of sorts, though the original participants have passed away. We, the two daughters and the son of those who had been young men in the 1930s, discovered our fathers had something in common. They had all been members of the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the CCC provided work for unemployed men during the Great Depression years of 1933 to 1942. Projects in every state, including the territories of Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, concentrated on the preservation of natural resources, whether national, state, or municipal. Volunteers signed up for a six month hitch, with the option of extending up to two years. For this they were paid $40 a month (a stipend went to dependents), and provided food, clothing, and medical care.

My father had worked on projects in upper New York. Obviously he had already met my mother, as I have a postcard he sent her from there, marking the spot of his camp in ink. Betsey’s father was assigned to Utah. But Ted’s father had the best job of all, though the work was back-breaking, the place hard to reach, and the temperature changes extreme.

Ted's father and his fellow crew members were given the task of building a cabin in the depths of Haleakala crater on the island of Maui in Hawaii. The chosen spot was hard up against an almost vertical rock wall of lava that could be reached from two directions, and only on foot. The location’s Hawai’an name was Waikekeehia (why-keh-kee-HE-ah….I think), and means “the place where the clouds gather. (The cabin was called Paliku (pah-lee-COO), which means “vertical cliffs.“
When clouds gather at this elevation, they are not simply fluffy white amorphous masses adding photographic color and dimension to a blue sky. The clouds at this elevation are all about moisture, some 200 inches a year. A seemingly wispy white piece of cloud passing by envelopes you in a misty moisture, and you know instantly what it feels like inside a cloud.
Ranger Ted
Of the few places that receive enough rainfall for dense vegetation, Paliku is the greenest and lushest . The estimated hundred acres of fenced horse pasture is an equine lovers Nirvana, and I imagine the equines feel the same. At the top of that rock wall is the beginning of rainforest, as well as Pohaku (po-hah-COO), the “belly button” of Maui.

One access point was the summit of the crater at more than 10,000 feet. Ted’s grandfather had worked on the construction of the 22-mile long road that switch-backed and serpentined its way up the outside of Haleakala. (Today, bicycling from the top of the crater down that road is a huge tourist draw, especially at sunrise.)

Another access was a steep, rocky trail up a jumbled lava flow in the Kaupo (cow-PO) Gap. The gap is one of two huge bites out of the rim of Haleakala crater, each caused by lava flows and erosion. The Kaupo Gap is the closest to Paliku, where Ted’s father worked on the cabin building. All the construction materials had to be hand-carried into the crater up this steep, rough trail. Beginning in a cool koa forest, the trail eventually broke out into the sweltering weather and thin air of a 6380 foot elevation.
Today, the Paliku cabin is for park ranger use only, but trekkers are accommodated in a nearby cabin and a designated camping areas. Paliku can sleep twelve people in four sets of triple bunk beds. A small kitchen is off to one side, with a propane two-burner cook top and a wood burning iron stove. There are cupboards, a long counter with a sink, and running water from its faucets, cold water only. Water comes by gravity feed from catchment cisterns, huge wooden tanks outside the cabin.

At one side of the kitchen is a small closet-type room for storing the pressed-wood logs used in the wood-burning stove, as well as perishable foodstuffs, for the room remains cool long into the day. At the other side is the bathroom, and it is literally that. A sink is to the right, with running water, and a shower stall is to the left. In front of the shower stall is a small bench with an aluminum wash basin, and a small cook pot.

To take a shower, water is heated on the wood stove, poured into the basin, and tempered with cold water. Standing in the plastic shower stall, you pour water over yourself with the cook pot, lather up, and rinse. It’s wonderful, especially after a long day of hard work in the hot sun. The outhouse with its chemical toilet is outside and up a grassy knoll.
The view from the outhouse is spectacular, looking out over Paliku cabin and horse pasture, across the top of Kaupo Gap, towards the volcanic mountain tops of the Big Island. The outhouse is an especially nice place to watch the sunsets that spread across the face of Kaupo Gap.

Evening at Paliku.

Fluorescent lighting supplied with electricity from solar panels on the roof replaced the white gas lanterns that had been used for many years. Other than painting the screen door with a contrasting brown paint, no maintenance work needed to be done on the cabin this time.

Our job, the one for which I had volunteered without knowing the project, was to take down and replace the fence in the inner corral. While picturesque and wonderfully photogenic, the late 1930s-era fence had reached the point of needing replacement to safely contain the four-legged beasts of burden for which it was intended.

Now, some seventy years after three young men from far different parts of America had volunteered for public service in the Civilian Conservation Corps, children of those men gathered at Paliku cabin, at the place where the clouds gather. Two of us, Betsey and myself, were also volunteers, and Ted, the son of the man who helped build the cabin, was here to lead us in this project. Once again, I found that things had come full circle in my life.

And the clouds? They helped by staying on the other side of the crater’s rim during the two work days so we could complete our project on time.