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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

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.

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