Archive for February, 2013

talkin’ story

It’s been a week of rich cultural exchange, and I haven’t even had to leave home. We’ve been hosting the Global Vigil Fire, a semiannual gathering of energy workers and shamanic practitioners who come together to light a fire that lasts for three days and is mirrored by similar actions around the globe to weave their energies together for the benefit of the world. Despite days of pelting rain and intense windstorms, they managed to get the fire roaring and welcomed us Hui folks to join in. We got a chance to listen while the local Hawaiians were “talkin’ story.” Hearing about the history of the island as passed on through the generations, I understood more why the people on Molokai are so dynamic and strong-willed in maintaining the culture and undeveloped nature of the island.

After the fire lighting ceremony, in which we all offered a blessing or intention into the fire, a Hawaiian energy healer and close friend of the Hui began the first session by toning with the participants. Zelly’s didgeridoo was covered from head to toe in a single snake skin, and she moved slowly as she sent the deep vibrations of the didge directly into the hearts of each person in the circle while others drummed. She played beautiful old Hawaiian songs on the ukelele and helped people to interpret their experiences so far in some of the sacred places on the island.  The wild winds we’ve been having here this week didn’t seem to surprise Zelly in the least: we found out that there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Hawaiian names for different winds on this island.

Later, we returned to listen to more Hawaiian music under the stars. We had heard that Lono, one of the island’s finest and most known musicians, loves to talk story so much that his music tends to become a side act. This was just fine with me, as I sat with ears wide open listening to fascinating stories of Lono’s life and of the land and people. Lono’s grandfather was a Menehune, the little people of legend who were the size of dwarves and who lived deep in the valleys and forests of the islands. With heavy lava rocks, the Menehune were said to have built the island’s more than 60 massive fishponds centuries ago, the remnants of which are still visible today just offshore from Kaunakakai. This amazing feat of human organization and cooperation allowed the Hawaiians to corral ocean fish into the huge enclosed area to catch them more easily.

Lono’s deep spiritual knowledge of the island has been passed on to him over several years through the teaching of one of the old kahuna (powerful Hawaiian priests). The Hawaiian spiritual traditions recognize three levels of being: the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. It is said that Molokai is the belly button of the universe, and correspondingly it is recognized as the spiritual centre of the islands. Way back around 600 AD, the Hawaiians built the Ililiopae Heiau, a learning and teaching centre. Kahunas from all the different islands would travel there to be tutored in the sacred Hawaiian ways. Lono told us a story of the attempted Tahitian invasion of Molokai around 1100 AD. After successfully invading the other islands, the Tahitians turned their boats toward Molokai. But all of the kahunas came down from the mountain to the shore and were able to use their collective spiritual force to turn back the Tahitians before they came ashore, protecting the people and the land. With this rich history of responsibility to the traditions and sacred places, the people of Molokai have much to be proud and protective of. No wonder they’re so willing to put up a fight when more contemporary powerful interests come to town.

Molokai is also the birthplace of the sacred tradition of hula, said to have been passed down from the goddess Laka to her people. The hula tradition was shared by DJ, another Hawaiian who also has both Chinese and Japanese ancestry, which speaks to the diverse cultural dimensions that characterize Hawaiian reality. The conventional image of hula–wide smiles, carefree ukelele music, and a context of performance/entertainment–is a contemporary adaptation that evolved alongside the tourism industry. In contrast, the traditional way involves chanting and drumming. Smiles are scarce as each movement is made slowly with great intention, representing a particular element of an ancient story or spiritual expression. DJ gracefully weaves old tradition with modern aspects, playing Molokai music created by Lono and using traditional gentle movements to tell a story. Through the hula, we learned about DJ’s life. At the end, he offered gifts to everyone in the circle. Each of us received a long, magnificent pheasant tail feather–a collection he had been keeping for a long time in anticipation of the right moment. Each person also received a bag filled with five things: a shell, which represented his sister; a kukui nut, which represented his father; a grain of rice, which represented his mother of Chinese heritage; a macadamia nut, which represented his other sister; and Molokai sea salt, which represented himself–the protector of his family.

These offerings reached into us with the knowledge that we are all one interconnected family. This week reminded me that though spiritual beliefs and expression can be vastly different from one person to the next, it is possible to come together in our diversity to celebrate and learn from each other, and to share a common vision of peace and light in the world. If we can learn anything from Molokai history, it’s that collective intention has the power to make peace a reality.

Below are some shots of DJ doing the hula and sharing music..

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These are some shots of a hike Marc and I took on the cliffs… a few mushroom friends below:

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A really cool tree we found – its trunk separated into branches that rejoined together into one solid branch..

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Marc overlooking Kalaupapa, standing on a tiny outcrop attached to a 2,000-foot cliff

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Rainbow over Kalaupapa

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Late afternoon sun looking west along the faintly visible cliffs

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Cutie patuties

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Moi

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Another beautiful tree in the late afternoon sun

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Me staring in awe at the famous phallic rock, a sacred site on the cliffs where many a couple has spent a night and woke up expecting a child. We didn’t stick around very long…

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watching whales

There’s something incredibly humbling and even spiritual about observing other earthlings relating to each other in nature. Especially when they’re 80,000-pound humpback whales and they’re diving right underneath you. On Marc’s first morning here, a handful of us were out  whale watching on the ocean at the dawn of a calm, sunny day. We didn’t have to go far–in fact, we were only a couple of miles offshore, with a view back toward the rainclouds enveloping the hill we live on. And we were right in the thick of it.

In this tiny triangle of water connecting the islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui, between 3,000-5,000 humpback whales spend the winter birthing and mating. At this point in February, it’s the peak of the season. The whales take over a month to journey 3,000 miles here from the ocean southeast of Alaska. It’s a safe, sheltered spot for raising the young calves until they’re big enough to traverse the seas without being lost to predator sharks. To do this, the calves can gain 90 pounds of weight per day, which is an incredible feat for the moms. The ocean here is particularly salty and pretty devoid of life–which makes it an unappealing place for predators to hang out, but it means the adults don’t eat for months. Imagine spending four months birthing and feeding a baby without getting a decent meal in yourself! And to top it off, the gestation period is 11 months, which means the ladies are either pregnant, new moms, or just about to get pregnant, pretty much all the time. They begin giving birth at eight years old, and continue to have a calf every 2-3 years. For whales that live to between 45 and 100 years old, that’s a heck of a lot of childrearing.

Because having a calf is such a big deal, the women have pretty high standards in a mate. So the guys are constantly battling it out to be the primary escort–a Battle Royale, according to Captain Mike. But if the guy who makes it to the top isn’t fancied by the female, she shuts him down and goes for the next in line. During the birthing season, the males are off in the rough waters ramming each other and sometimes even splitting each other’s heads and tails. Unique to humpbacks, during this season the males sing a long, structured song, repeating the song for hours. All the males in a breeding ground sing the same song–in fact, all North Pacific humpbacks sing the same song, and all North Atlantic humpbacks sing a different song.

Meanwhile, the moms and calves are hanging out in the calmer shallows. Soon after striking out on the waves, we saw a mom with her calf, estimated to be only about two weeks old. Our hearts stopped as we watched what looked to be a guy and gal doing their graceful dance together. Although we could see spouts blowing for a mile in each direction, it was pretty quiet for about an hour and we were getting close to packing it in. I was listening to the wild stories of Captain Mike, a friend of the Hui, who has a tremendous amount of knowledge of and respect for the whales. Captain Mike decided to take one last turn to check out a few spouts in the distance. The next thing we knew, we were right in the middle of a Battle Royale.

Goosebumps rose as I watched the sharp curve of a tail and matching 15-foot wing fins cruising silently under our boat. Long bubble lines on the surface in every direction signaled their paths. Over and over again, they dived and surfaced, their tiny dorsal fins like the tips of gigantic black icebergs emerging out of the waves. Just the volume of water rushing down off their backs was enough to create new wave patterns. Often, they were so close, we could study the curves leading to the black abyss in each nostril of their blowholes. The whales simultaneously breathe in one hole and out the other. Though they can stay underwater for up to six hours, the males come up to blow every few minutes because they’re expending so much energy battling each other. There were probably five or six adult males all around us. A few came up so high out of the water that we could see their mouths open and bottom jaws puffed up in an effort to look tough to the other males.

I’ll be honest–I’ve been whale watching before, and we were definitely not allowed to get that close. But Captain Mike knows the whales and the waters on a very intimate basis, and the whales aren’t bothered by the sound of boats. I know that was the closest I’ll ever get to a whale, and it was without a doubt one of the most awestruck experiences I’ve ever had–a sense of deep interconnectedness with the earthlings of this planet that together we call home. It was also a moment to celebrate what’s going right in the world–after being on the endangered species list for decades due to commercial whaling that almost caused them to go extinct, North Pacific humpbacks have resurged to a very healthy population of over 21,000 and growing.

Since the whale watching trip, we’ve hiked to the north cliffs again, observing as the whales break the surface in their tumultuous dance 2,000 feet below us. We’ve sat motionless on the front deck of the lodge, catching glimpses of spouts blowing saltwater far out on the waves. But nothing can compare to gliding alongside one of these incredible creatures, dwarfed and humbled by its sheer immensity. It puts one’s life into perspective in a flash.

And the moment you’ve all been waiting for… BIG thanks to Phil Teyssier and Tina Green for sharing these incredible shots with me!

Marc and I on the boat – photo credits to Phil Teyssier…

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The following photos are all credit to Tina Green…

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Only on Molokai do you see animals shooting rainbows out of their nostrils…

And below, with credit to Phil Teyssier and his GPS, is a map of our path off the south coast of the island.

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We got goats!

I’ve entered a new chapter in my time here. The biggest (and most welcome) change has been that my partner Marc finally arrived! With him marveling at the awesomeness of this place, I’ve been in a renewed state of gratitude for the incredibly privileged situation we’re in. As was clear during the work camp’s final walkabout tour, so much intention and effort goes into continual improvement and overall beautification of the retreat centre. There’s truly a huge community of dedicated people who call this place home and put their hearts and souls into making it even better every year. The garden is a peaceful zen space thanks to all the efforts of my garden team who transplanted hundreds of plants, expanded the growing space significantly, and left me feeling like I could take some time away to welcome Marc into the scene and catch up after a month apart. The ability to relax in the sun by the pool on hot afternoons; to eat gourmet meals and sweet treats every day; and to play games every night with our friends seems at once surreal and yet so normal. In fact, what it underscores most to me is how blessed we are in our lives on a larger scale than this experience. As one work camp guest put it last week, just to have hot running water out of a tap makes us some of the most privileged people in the world.

On that note, one of work camp’s biggest highlights was our day off. I drove down to the east end of the island with a car full of rambunctious work campers. There’s only one road to the east side, and it’s truly spectacular. Although it’s not much more than 30 miles from here, it took us well over an hour to get there as the road becomes a skinny single-lane strip clinging to the side of a rocky outcrop littered with hairpin turns. On our right, the waves crashed on the jagged rocks below us; on our left, the deeply ridged slopes of the volcano rose steeply into mist and clouds. Finally the slopes broadened out into scenic rolling hills that are greener now than any other time of the year. First we stopped at Pu’u O Hoku Ranch, or known simply at the Hui as “the ranch.” This is the incredibly beautiful 14,000-acre organic, grass-fed, biodynamic cattle ranch managed by a close friend of the Hui that supplies all of our beef. The story I’ve heard so far is that it’s owned by a billionaire American woman who was approached by the Nature Conservancy to buy the sensitive land and manage it sustainably so as to protect it from any further development. The ranch has a gardening and native plant restoration internship program similar to the Hui’s, and we got to take a tour of their nursery. They produce a lot of Kava, a plant consumed across the Pacific islands for its anesthetic and sedative properties. I tried it out in capsule form last week for a migraine, although it’s hard to say what effect it had (I went to sleep, which is a good sign!)

We hopped in the back of the truck and wound our way up the bumpy road till there were steep dropoffs covered in lush vegetation surrounding us on both sides. Looking back down with ocean and mountains all around us, we could see Maui rising up straight ahead. On our return, we stopped to visit the cutest baby goats of all time. Two curious boys–one small and sand-coloured and one white–and a little girl with chocolate spots craned their heads out of the fence to be scratched behind the ears. It was at that moment that my heart melted into a gooey soup of love.

Recovering enough to get back in the car, we wound our way further along the one-lane highway till we took a 90 degree turn around a cliff and found ourselves towering above one of the most spectacular scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Halawa (pronounced Halava) Bay is a remote river valley ending in two curved sandy beaches and surrounded on all sides by looming mountainsides. In the distant middle of the bowl, we could see a long, white line of water coming down. The Moaula Falls and Hipuapua Falls are one of the greatest sights on Molokai. On this breathtaking and deserted beach, I jumped into the waves with my new friends.

Arriving back at home, a startling surprise was waiting for us.. We got goats!!! Yes, the sandy coloured boy and the little girl are now living in a pen just beyond the door to our apartment. It was bittersweet, because that same day, they lost their mom, who had to be put down because she was sick. Motherless and in a scary new place, the kids have been wailing like crazy. They can scream and yell just like human babies. All they want is to be cuddled and fed long stalks of collard greens, and everyone just wants to do just that. The third kid joined us for a few days but has since left–a few of us want to keep them, but new homes will need to be found for all the kids. As Butch–the longtime mastermind and driver of the native plant restoration project–pointed out, the reason he’s doing what he does is because goats destroyed much of the native vegetation on the island. To have goats living right next to the native plant nursery is… well… throwing a bit of a wrench into the whole idyllic community thing. At least I get to keep the manure…..

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Bindi the whippet checking out the kids

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My adventure team posing with the kava plants at the ranch

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Looking back over the ocean, with Maui just visible

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Looking down over Halawa Bay

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Halawa Valley, with Hipuapua Falls just visible in the centre

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B2 on the rocks

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The beach and a few heads sticking out of the water

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Halawa Valley from the beach, late in the afternoon. 

 

 

a school field trip

It’s hard to believe I’ve been at the Hui for a month. In fact, work camp is already half over! It’s been an eye- and heart-opening experience meeting the people who return year after year, willing to pay to work eight full days on projects to improve the space just because they are so drawn to it. Some are friends who have been around longer than the Hui itself, some were family of friends who have now themselves become a foundation of support, some came for a workshop and fell madly in love with this place. Listening to stories of the transformation of the space into what it is now, and the ways that it has transformed individual lives makes me feel very privileged to have been chosen to come here. It’s sure a sight to see beaming, dust-covered folks in painting clothes–who are secretly doctors, university professors, and Superior Court judges back home–getting so much enjoyment out of painting buildings, cleaning windows, pouring concrete slabs, or replanting a hillside with thousands of native plants in the grueling sun.

It’s kind of like summer camp for grown up kids. Before returning to work after lunch, we suntan while bare-bottomed swimmers splash around in the pool. At three thirty every day, the Zen Team rolls in with Sweetie Cart, loaded with chips, cookies, fresh Hui bananas, and Mocha Mamas. Mocha Mamas are an institution here, the iced mocha coffees are sold a mile down the road at the Coffees of Hawai’i plantation. And oh my, are they delicious! At five fifteen, popcorn is served on the front deck and it’s a BYOB mojito happy hour. On Sunday, most people took the afternoon off to watch the Superbowl on the giant screen. So of course, it was chili and cornbread for dinner, shared with a bunch of real live Texans. Talk about a cultural experience! Yet these folks are very conscious types. In fact, we’ve been just as likely to curl up together and watch artsy independent movies and historical dramas or to have spontaneous hugging lines as we watch the sun go down. Last night, a funk jam erupted out of nowhere in the living room just as the Thai curry dinner was being served. It was a good thing we happened to be eating something that fit into an easy-to-carry bowl. Otherwise, I might have been too busy getting down to “Play that Funky Music White Boy” with silver-haired punks in sideways hats and sunglasses to have a chance to eat.

It’s true, they sure know how to keep the community vibe strong. Every morning, we all circle up together and hold hands while someone offers a prayer, intention, poem, or other expression to set the tone for the day. On the first day, a new friend shared a hilarious and touching piece of writing he’d written about how friends are like gardens. You’ve got your veggies, your shrubs, your trees, your flowers.. and your weeds. And they all play a part in life. After a deep conversation last night with one of the women, in which I described the gratitude circle I learned at O.U.R. Ecovillage that’s becoming a trend among our friends back home, she shared the gratitude circle this morning. Each person took a turn saying something they are grateful for. Among so many things, I was grateful that this simple practice had found its way into yet another group of grateful folks.

One of the most enriching parts for me, though, is realizing how far I’ve come as a gardener since I arrived a month ago. Leading the garden team and organizing the projects, I’m with a small group of women who have themselves been gardening for years, including a few that started the original Hui garden back in the day. While I’m looking to them for long-learned wisdom, they’re excited to learn a lot of the techniques I now know thanks to my internship. I’ve been showing them how to prune and train vine tomatoes, harvest fruit in the orchard, build a good hot compost, transplant young plants, and produce a highly diverse, nutritious, and beautiful salad for thirty-five ravenous leafy green eaters (trust me, it’s a significant daily undertaking). Connie would be so proud!

The last of so many memorable moments I will mention today is the heartwarming field trip our garden team took to the Kualapu’u School garden. As I’ve mentioned before, this school down the road from us is the only public Hawaiian immersion school. Eighty percent of the kids live on the homestead lands–lands that were returned to the native Hawaiians so they could farm it and become more self-sufficient. Unfortunately, farming has historically been very difficult on Molokai for a number of reasons (big winds, expensive transportation, historical/social factors) and a high number of families are third-generation welfare recipients, with very few people growing food and hardly any making a business out of it. But as the Kualapu’u School principal pointed out, the Molokai high school team is called the Farmers, and the elementary school kids should at least be exposed to food growing and have places to interact with gardens. So about seven years ago, they launched a veggie garden as their after-school program. The principal toured us around the many raised beds filled with stunningly beautiful veggie plants. Bell peppers and eggplant, two crops we’ve had trouble with at the Hui, were standing tall, strong, and healthy. Kalani, the big gardener guy, just happened to be around to answer the excited chatter of questions from my garden team. We wanted to know how they got such a forward-thinking program in place and, of course, how their plants look so good! Rich runoff soil was one factor, he said. But in his thick Hawaiian Pidgin, Kalani tipped us off to what he believed to be the real reason for the happy plants: the energy of so many happy children buzzing around them. Now there’s a wise gardener to learn from!

 

The official 2013 Hui Garden Team with our delectable size-XL salad!

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Me and QuinSerra bringing home the goods – avocados and bananas!

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Beautiful green peppers!

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Delightful eggplant!

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Marveling with the principal

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Scrumptious basil…

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The school greenhouse! what a setup!

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