Monday, October 18, 2021

Shaken, Soaked, Left Out In The Sun

Physically undamaged, mentally unmoored
Nobody told me there'd be days like these. Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, mama.

—John Lennon
The thing about earthquakes is, they're loud.

If it goes on long enough, the sound blots out everything, even the shaking. And you just hold on, wishing for it to stop.

Or, maybe that's just me.

Last Monday there was just such a quake here on the Big Island, and as tropical island experiences go, I give it a 2/10—too loud, too scary, do not recommend.

Having ridden out a 7.1 earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, I *may* have convinced myself at some point that anything less would be completely manageable. And yes, I *do* get tired of being wrong all the time, thanks for asking.

Anyhoo, that was Monday morning.

(Def not on Twitter at 3:30 a.m.,
but appreciate the thought.)
By Tuesday evening 
we had regained our equilibrium, just in time for things to get damp.

To be clear, only the outside things got damp—but they got really, really damp. I'm not sure exactly how much rain we got here at Singing Whale Farm, but reports along the Hāmākua Coast said from 3-6 inches. I have no trouble believing that. The water bucket out front was overflowing by Wednesday morning, and the catchment barrels were much heavier than the day before. I know this because I moved one of them, and—damn. Water isn't just wet, it's heavy.

Related: The thing about relentless rain on a metal roof is, it's loud. 

"Nice place you got here."
If it goes on long enough, the noise wakes you up countless times throughout the night, and you just lay there hoping the water doesn't invite itself in to have a look around. 

Pretty sure that's not just me.
Since our arrival on Hawaii Island:
  • Kīlauea has sprung to life like a magma jack-in-the-box
  • The earth has quaked multiple times (including m3.8 just this morning)
  • The rain has been an exuberant, repeat visitor
A pessimist might think their new home was trying to kill them—but not us!

We prefer to think of it as a huge, wet puppy, giddy with excitement to see us! Sure, it'll probably knock us down and get muddy pawprints everywhere and pee all over the place...but c'mon—it's a puppy!

(Are we really *this* weird? Maybe {nods slowly} may be.)

I'm in a rainbow state of mind
As a counterpoint to a week of ruckus, I'd be remiss not to mention the regular appearance of jaw-dropping rainbows practically in our back yard. They pop up like peaceful fireworks—all the color but none of the commotion—and each one has caused us to stop and stare in wonder.

They're a reminder that beauty and bedlam don't exist side by side—rather, they overlap with casual precision.

Recent events helpfully reaffirmed what we already knew—that there are downsides even in paradise and...there's no such thing as paradise.

There's only the place we are—and what we make of it while we're there.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Off The Menu

King grass, aka "a royal pain"
halibut with sour cream dill sauce and roasted rustica veggies
weathervane scallops piccata with 
organic home grown broccolini
cheese tortellini with home made organic pesto, vegan sausage, arugula salad

I stumbled across this partial-week menu recently and just started laughing.

This is decidedly not what we're dining on here at Singing Whale Farm.

Near-instant access to fresh seafood (and an array of other fresh ingredients) is easy when you're living in Seattle. Here? Not quite so easy.

Not complaining, mind you. Just observing the differences that always come with living someplace new. Apparently it's the things we took for granted that surprise us most when they're no longer there.

We will adapt.
In the meantime, we're still very much in pre-farm mode. We've planted some things (pineapples and palm trees and finger limes, oh my!) and done some much needed hacking of king grass (which can grow up to 15 feet high if you let it). 

But the fact is we're not even moved in yet. Half our stuff is still in Seattle and there's another shipping container in our future. Where all *that* stuff is gonna go is anybody's guess. 

The dogs are getting used to the idea that this is where they live now, so that's a win. The cats are another story. 

See, the Seattle cats and the Hawaii cats aren't getting along—at all. Please envision four cats loudly hissing and growling and shrieking and swatting and shredding a perfectly good sliding-screen door—that's how things are going with them.

The good news: we live in Hawaii!! 

The additional good news: we now own a 42" riding lawnmower! And a power washer! And a couple of portable bluetooth speakers!

We can now mow the king grass and power wash the cats and listen to music whilst whistling a happy tune!

Yay, Home Depot delivery!

Also, yes I really am celebrating a lawnmower and a power washer! And using lots of exclamation points! Who even am I any more??
Back to the menu.

There may not be any halibut, but there's plenty of ahi and mahi mahi and opah and ono at the markets in Hilo and Kona. They're all delicious and (near as we can determine) sustainably and locally fished.

I've found no scallops, but even if I had, I wouldn't buy them. They'd be frozen and shipped in from thousands of miles away, and there's no way to prepare food with that kind of carbon footprint that doesn't end up tasting like petrochemicals.

Tortellini and fresh pesto and vegan sausage and ridiculously fresh, local greens? We can have that! All of it! And we have! Booya!

To sum up, there's no point living someplace new if you're gonna insist on living and eating and consuming the same ways you did before. Serious colonization vibe, thanks, no thanks.
The young man who delivered the mower, et al, kindly gave me some safety guidance on mowing the rolling terrain around our house. That was *very* welcome, but better still was that he described the hills and swales as "hoop-de-doos".

I love it here.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Total Body Freakout

Moving to another state?

Good for you!

It's a great way to exercise your body and exorcise your mind at the same time!

If I had been thinking, I'd have filmed this entire delightful process. The before and after segments would have been, uh, unintentionally funny? 

The farther down this road we go, though, the more that lucid thinking eludes me. I've gotten good at "overthinking" and extremely efficient at "reacting without thinking," but...

Important note: those aren't nearly as helpful as actual thinking. 

Especially when action is required! And decisions must be made. Hastily! 

Moving-Related Tasks That Are Fun AND Good Exercise:

{checks list}

Okay, changing that to
There were unexpected things
hidden in this mulch pile

Moving-Related Tasks That Are Good Exercise:
  • Clearing the deck of plants and furnishings ahead of power washing deck
  • Actual power washing of deck
  • Moving plants and furnishings back onto clean deck
And as long as we're power-washing things...
  • Climbing ladder to power wash moss off the roof
  • Moving ladder multiple times in hot pursuit of more moss
  • Actual power washing of moss off the roof
Let's re-clean all the things!
  • Re-cleaning power-washed deck, plants and furnishings, driveway, et al, because power washing the roof is hideously messy and moss flies everywhere
  • Re-wash formerly clean windows because
  • I'm not very smart 
Let's break some things!
  • Dismantle blue chicken coop and haul the pieces up from the back
  • Demo grey chicken coop and haul the pieces to the transfer station
  • Deconstruct predator fencing and netting while cursing predators nonstop
Let's talk about mulch

Mulch, as a general matter, is useful stuff. It quickly refurbishes places chickens have roamed for the past three years, and will eventually help restore the habitat to its lush PNW origins.

Yay, mulch!

Important note: mulch doesn't move itself. It requires shoveling, carrying, dumping, and spreading. These activities are all good exercise! Especially on the steep slope between the mulch pile and the back of our house!

Related: I've never seen so much mulch, let alone hauled it from one place to another. One day our driveway was clear, the next day it was buried in shredded tree-stuff. It was many, many days before the driveway was clear again.

{sighs, re-checks list}

We have so much more to do—and just three and a half days to do it.

Maybe this would be a good time to stop writing and start doing.

#notfreakingout #atall

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Completely Normal

We were out walking the dogs when the cops rolled up.

Three SUVs, lights on, came to a halt perpendicular to the sidewalk, not more than 15 feet from where we were standing.

We stopped and waited, expecting some sort of explanation. Instead, in a conversational tone, one of the cops just said, "Keep walking."

"That was our plan," I said, and we kept walking.

Half a block later we were home, still looking over our shoulders, still wondering what was going on. In the interim, several more SUVs had arrived, and the cops were out of their cars, searching for someone. Overhead, a sheriff's helicopter appeared and was circling—low and at times right over our heads.

Meanwhile, pedestrians ambled by, cyclists cruised past, almost as if the increasingly abnormal scene was completely normal.

We sat in the sun on our front deck, occasionally venturing to the sidewalk in front of our house to see if anything different was happening. The little bridge over the ravine had been blocked off, and car traffic was being diverted. A couple more police vehicles came and went, yellow tape was deployed, cops patrolled the stretch of sidewalk in front of the still-parked SUVs.

Two women walked by, checking Twitter on their phones. "Any update?" my wife asked. "Just something vague about the fire department responding to a 'scene of violence,'" one of them replied.

A second helicopter was now circling the area, but aside from that little had changed in the half-hour since we returned home. We sat on our deck, reading the paper, searching Twitter for any kind of update. There was nothing.

By 7 p.m. the helicopters were gone, along with most of the police cars. I went inside and began the completely normal routine of making dinner—music in the background, a baseball game on mute on TV.

By 8:30 p.m. dinner was over and Anthony Bourdain was getting sloppy drunk on "No Reservations."

That's when we heard the shots.

Outside, there was nothing to see, but someone on a bullhorn was calling for "Junior" to come out of the house.

"Drop your weapon and come to the front door with your hands up."

Again. And again.
This happened four days ago, and this morning the neighborhood seems completely normal. Almost insanely so.

I've given some thought to the people who live closest to the scene. Some are empty-nesters, some have very young children. I wonder what they're thinking, how they're processing that beautiful summer evening. What they saw out their windows, how they're explaining it to their children.

Because as it turns out, "Junior" is dead. He reportedly shot himself right around 8:30 p.m. 

Earlier, not long after we walked by their front door, Junior shot his mom several times. Somehow she made it out of the house and was rushed to our local Level 1 trauma center. There's been no word how she's doing.

Junior was 20 years old, his mom is 44. We didn't know them.
We still haven't walked back past the house. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Holding On Loosely

"What's wrong?"

[sobbing] "I'm just having a moment."

When the moment came, it arrived quickly and landed like a ton of wood shavings from the bottom of the coop.

[still sobbing] "I've just been holding on too tight for too long."
It started in February, during a snowstorm. 

Melissa was in Hawaii, which meant I was home solo. This has never been a big deal, mostly because year in and year out managing our little urban farm has always been manageable.

In February, though, the coyotes showed up.

And I got belligerent.

The most immediate expression of my hostility was simply standing watch over our chickens. Every morning, just as the automatic coop doors opened, I was out back, coffee in hand. Rain or shine, cold or not-quite-so-cold, a pile of throwing rocks here, a big stick there.

Outwardly I didn't make a big deal of it. It just became something I did, part of my daily routine, part of our responsibility to our creatures.

Inwardly, though, there was fear and frustration and dissonance.

Dissonance, because I respect the role of predators in a healthy ecosystem—and yet I literally wanted to kill these intruders. 

Frustration that despite our counter-measures—from hazing to fencing to visual screens—the coyotes kept coming back.

Fear that the coyotes would succeed and I would fail.
I learned the sounds of warning from the crows and alarm from the chickens. Their cues were invaluable, but not infallible. 

Which meant not a day went by that I didn't react to some unseen threat, real or otherwise. I would fly down the stairs and out the back door, triangulating off the crows' position in the trees and the defensive posture (or lack thereof) of the hens. 

"Where is it??" I would literally ask the crows as I scanned the fence line and the neighbors' back yards.

Often the alarms were false...but sometimes they weren't. Sometimes a coyote, or a hawk, or a raccoon was actually within rock-throwing distance. Three times an attack was in progress. Twice, one of our girls died.

Yes, I took it personally.
This cycle of watch-alarm-reaction continued, sometimes multiple times a day, until the day we re-homed the girls ahead of our move.

My moment of ablation came the next morning, when I would've normally been out with them.

Some days I still hear them back there. I don't *think* that means I'm crazy. 

I just think it means I was part of their flock, rather than the other way 'round, all along. 

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Oh, Sh*t It's July

Seems like only yesterday it was June.
We're officially two months from Hawaii.

That's when the dogs, cats, and I board a plane bound for Kona and don't look back. 

Unless, you know, the flight plan calls for a banked turn or two before heading out to sea. In which case I might literally look back. 

Figuratively, though, not looking.

Hang on a sec...{frantically checks "Hawaii Move Timeline" check list}.

"I thought YOU checked the list."
It's fine. Nothing due today.

Missing something on that list has become one of my biggest fears. Because it feels like every line item is completely dependent on every other item, and missing even one of them will cause us to end up floating somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in "Joe Versus the Volcano" but with a shipping container instead of immaculately matched steamer trunks.

The most complicated of the tasks (and the one with the least margin for error) is the paperwork required to bring the dogs and cats with us. It's almost as if Hawaii doesn't want people importing animals from out of state—so they demand a portfolio of paper and a stack of cash to test their resolve.

Never did a welcoming sign
feel quite so ominous.
Do everything right, and we get to take our creatures home with us from the airport. Do something wrong, and (here's what keeps me up at night) "...the law requires dogs and cats that do not meet all of the specific requirements to be quarantined for up to 120 days upon arrival in Hawaii."

{frantically checks list for the 57th time}

Breathing...we're's fine.

To be fair, the state has some very good reasons for its stringent policies. The most important of which is that Hawaii is rabies-free—and they want to keep it that way. Shoot, we want them to keep it that way. I'd just prefer not to be made to feel quite so jittery about it for the next two months.

Fortunately, we have a very kind and competent veterinarian helping us through this process—line by line, form by form, test by test. I really don't know what we'd do without her. Besides lose more sleep, obviously.

Two months. Sixty days. In some ways, it still feels a long way off.

In others, it feels like the plane is at the gate, waiting. 

{frantically checks list again}

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Five Little Dominoes

Our flock is smaller today.

Clem, Edie, and Viv
Because yesterday we re-homed Clementine, Edie, Mathilda, Scarlett, and Vivian. 

For a variety of reasons (risks to their health and safety chief among them) we decided against taking them with us to the Big Island. 

Instead, we sent them off with friends who we know will care for them with the same devotion we have.

That doesn't make it any less of a gut punch.

This morning's coyote patrol was quiet. Not just because the coyote was a no-show (thankfully), but also because the energy out back was...subdued. I'm probably projecting, but it felt like our seven remaining girls noticed how different things suddenly are.

Scarlett says 'Hi'
(among many other things)
There was a time when Mathilda and Scarlett were the only survivors of a dog attack that took three of our girls.

From that low point, our flock eventually grew to 14—before a hawk killed Gracie and a coyote took Alice. We grieved every loss, and were aggrieved by our inability to protect them. 

Which is why sending them away is so fraught with regret.

A couple years ago I would have been mystified by my attachment to these gals. If today-me could time-travel to explain it to past-me, the conversation would no doubt be schmaltzy—and unconvincing.

Mathilda, the world's
smallest Jersey Giant
I'd probably say I was surprised to learn that chickens have such unique personalities. That they're funny and social and like to hang out with their people. That from the start, you find yourself talking to them like they're a dog or cat. And that you end up loving them the same way.

Then I'd probably trail off like, "You know what I'm saying?" And past-me wouldn't know. At all. In fact, he'd probably look at me like I was nuts. At which point, I'd give him a little smile and say, "You're gonna have to trust me on this one, dude."

By mid-July, most likely, the rest of the girls will be off to their new home. We will miss the daily chick chats, the comforting routine of tending to them, even the steady undercurrent of worry about predators.

It's the price we pay for caring about living creatures—especially the ones we're responsible for.

We know, logically, we're doing the right thing for them. But logic will be cold comfort when the yard goes quiet.