Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


The inhabited portion of Kauai is shaped like a donut. In the middle or the island, its summit nearly always shrouded in clouds stands Mt. Wai’ale’ale whose 451” of annual rain fall make it the wettest spot on earth. It’s really what’s left of the rim of the crater of a once massive volcano that has been extinct for thousands of years. The terrain in this central part of the island is a quagmire of cliffs and swamps all of it overgrown with thick vegetation. More recent arrivals to the island have followed the ancient Hawaiians’ example and stuck to the coastline.

All the towns in Kauai are found near the ocean and the only road connecting them circles the perimeter. There is no way through the mountainous interior. If you want to get from one side of the island to the other, you go around. Some roads lead part way inland and Kuomo’o road will take you as close to the base of Mt. Wai’ale’ale as you can get. It winds up through the forest before the pavement gives way to a rough dirt road. At the end of the dirt road is the trailhead where I went hiking yesterday.

The central part of the island has captured my imagination. It is truly an untamed wilderness. It’s there, but you can’t get to it and you can only catch glimpses of its edges when the clouds part but what you do see is a wonderland of lush mountains and innumerable waterfalls. Beyond those waterfalls lies a huge swamp at over 5000’ above sea level. The mystery is irresistible.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to the top of Mt. Wai’ale’ale but there’s still plenty of island to explore. The trail I sought was not maintained and there were no signs to point me in the right direction. Within five minutes of starting my hike I was lost. Tracing trails so faint they could have been pig trails around in circles, I crossed the same bog three times in mud up to my knees only to end up right where I had started. After an hour bushwacking less than a quarter of mile from where I had parked I was about ready to quit when I finally found the real trail. It wasn’t much of a trail; the brush crowded it from both sides and I had to stoop as I hiked to keep my head from hitting the branches which closed overhead like a tunnel. But it led me along a beautiful hike up the mountain and through the lush, jungle-like landscape. For 2 and a half miles I thrashed before arriving at my destination. If I had turned around and gone back at that point I would have had a challenging and beautiful five mile hike but I hadn’t come that far just to turn around.

There’s only one sugar cane operation left on the island but cane used to be king and in the 1920’s someone built a mile long tunnel through the mountain to get water from all those beautiful waterfalls to their plantation. The irrigation tunnel is no longer used but it’s still there and I had come to explore it. Standing at the mouth of the tunnel I starred into the blackness and saw a tiny point of light. That point of light became the focus of my attention for the next half an hour as walked through the tunnel. The light I saw was the other end of the tunnel. As I approached it, it became larger while the light from the entrance became smaller. It seemed to take a very long time for the point of light to become larger. I’m not prone to claustrophobia or fear of the dark but this was pushing it.

And then the batteries in my flashlight went dead. Did I mention that I was alone? I know people who like hiking but I couldn’t think of anyone who I could count on to see this expedition all the way through. (Where’s Brain when you need him?!) I told myself the situation wasn’t so bad. I had thought to bring extra batteries. They were in my backpack. All I had to do was find them and put them in my headlamp –all 4 batteries with the + and – ends oriented correctly- without being able to see. I also noted it was important that I not drop them into the ankle deep water at my feet. Breathe deeply, work carefully and in a few moments it was done. The beam of light sprung to life and I was on my way toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
On the other side of the tunnel I ate lunch in a beautiful canyon at the headwaters of the Hanalei River –the same Hanalei where Puff the Magic Dragon frolicked. As I ate I thought a lot about batteries. The spare batteries I had put in my headlamp were rechargeable and rechargeable batteries have a finite capacity to be re-used before they loose their ability to take a complete charge. I wondered how old the batteries were. I pondered the question of just how completely fucked I would be if my batteries ran out again. There was absolutely no other way out of this canyon and I hadn’t seen another sole all day. I had no map, no compass, no extra food and no cell phone service.

And there was still another tunnel left to explore. To understand why I was interested in the second tunnel let me quote from the Ultimate Kauai Guide Book’s description of the end of the second tunnel. “Scoot up and you’ll emerge in a Shangri-La that will make you giddy with joy –a cathedral of 200 foot sheer walls so steep they actually lean INWARD. Water drips from above creating an exotic backdrop. To the left is a pounding waterfall. The setting is unbelievable and worth all the effort you went through to get here.” I’m not even quite sure what Shangri-La means but it sounds pretty fucking good!

But my experience with the flashlight going out in the first tunnel had left me wary. I decided I would just see if I could find the entrance to the second tunnel and then decide whether to proceed. I found it without difficulty. In a pathetic attack of wishful thinking, I put the old batteries back in my headlamp and half-convinced myself that the feeble yellow glow could get me through. I figured I might as well go a hundred yards into the tunnel just to see what it was like. I didn’t really need a flashlight near the entrance anyway. The moment of truth had arrived. On the one hand I had no spare batteries and I did not even no for certain if I had enough life in the rechargeable batteries to get me back through the first tunnel let alone enough to make a round trip through the second tunnel and make it back through the first. On the other hand I had come so far already and “Shangri-La” was SO CLOSE. I had been fortunate enough to come on a sunny day. It rains a lot in that part of the island. Who knows when I would have this opportunity again. What would you do?

Well, I turned around and went home. Shangri-La will have to wait for another day and next time I’m going to bring a suitcase full of batteries.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Feral Cats

Have you ever pondered the feral cat situation? Last August I moved into an apartment in Berkeley, California where I met Lucy. Lucy is one of those cats that likes to play hard to get. She mewed coquettishly and pranced about all squinty-eyed and rubbing up against things but she would not let me pet her. Today I met a cat on the other end of the spectrum. It had strangely squished looking ears and lay on the counter of the Moloa’a fruit stand where I was munching on an avocado sandwich and slurping on a smoothie with four different kinds of fresh tropical fruit. Squishy Head was completely oblivious to everything around him, completely focused on his continued studies of napping. I don’t know for a fact but I suspect Squishy Head has been working on those skills most of his life. Even a passing lizard did not arouse his predatory instincts so much as the swish of a tail. It was only when a toddler went from petting him to virtually smothering him with his enthusiastic affections that Squishy Head was moved to get up and slink on down the counter a little ways. My point is that Squishy Head didn’t mind if you pet him. He didn’t mind much of anything at all.

But I’m not here to blog about Squishy Head. He probably has his own blog. I’m here to blog about Lucy and other feral cats who do not have internet access. Lucy WAS certainly a people cat. She knew how to communicate with people. She new how to say, “look at me aren’t I adorable” and, “why don’t you feed me?” This cat had clearly targeted me as a sucker. She persistently hung around the front door and greeted me when I came home or came around my back window. I was hooked. The fact that she wouldn’t let me pet her only made her more enticing. I thought if I was patient she would warm up to me but it never happened. I bought cat treats which she ate out of my hand. Once she accidentally rubbed against my leg, but whenever I reached out my hand she bolted.

I talked to my neighbors and learned a few things about Lucy. She did not belong to any of them. She had lived there for at least seven years and the previous tenant of my apartment had fed her. I never learned how she got the name Lucy.

Lucy expected me to feed her and not just the occasional kitty treat. I didn’t want to adopt a cat, especially a cat that wouldn’t let me touch her and I didn’t think Lucy wanted to be adopted. It was clear she was born feral. She was accustomed to being around people but she was never held or pet and she did not want to come inside. So should I feed her? That question brings me back to the “feral cat situation.” Do you remember that from before all the Squishy Head stuff? Feral cats are common most places where people live. They are neither pets who have a human looking after them nor wild animals with their own place in the natural world. Many cities consider them a problem and while extermination is going out of fashion, cats that are truly feral cannot be rounded up and given out for adoption because they will never become pets. Only kittens who are handled by humans can do that.

So is it wrong to feed a feral cat? I had no reason to believe that Lucy was spayed. By feeding her would I be contributing to growth in the feral cat population? I didn’t plan to necessarily live in that apartment for long. Would it be responsible for me to feed her for a few months and then move leaving her without a regular supply of food?

There are cat people out there who advocate a “trap-neuter-release” strategy for dealing with feral cats. In other words it’s ok to feed them but you should trap them in a cage, take them to a vet to “fix” them and then release them again so they won’t go on to breed and make more feral cats. Seems like a good idea and I can’t help but think that this would be a much tidier blog were that what I had done. Maybe I should invoke poetic license and make up a story about trapping Lucy and taking her to the vet but the truth is that I just starting feeding her. She seemed hungry.

Enter The White Cat. Turns out while Lucy may have known how to work humans for what she needed she was not so adept and positioning herself within the feral cat hierarchy. The White Cat was not at all charming, He ran away at the first site of a person. He was dirty and looked –well- kind of like a stray cat. He would slink around in the shadows near the back porch where I fed Lucy and as soon as I was gone he would scare her away and eat her food. I was outraged. This interloper was stealing food from MY Lucy. What to do? If I stood by and waited I could ensure Lucy got her food since The White Cat was afraid of me and would not approach while I was there. But why did I begrudge The White Cat food? I had no more responsibility to feed Lucy than I did The White Cat. Besides Lucy seemed to know how to look out for herself while the White Cat had a sort of desperate, pathetic quality that made it seem like if I didn’t feed him he’d surely perish. So I figured I would just put the food out and whoever got it got it. The result was daily feedings for The White Cat while Lucy looked forlornly on. Later I discovered that feeding The White Cat distracted him enough that I could sneak some other food to Lucy while he ate and he wouldn’t try to steal in from her.

In May I put out the last cat breakfast and left the sealed container of cat food on the back porch in hopes the new tenant might find it and get the idea to feed the cats. I expect Lucy had similar ideas. I didn’t solve Berkeley’s feral cat situation. I didn’t even solve Lucy or the White Cat’s long term problem of finding food. I just fed them for a few months and I figure that’s better than nothing. Did I do the right thing? You be the judge.

If you’re still reading at this point I commend you. Perhaps the rather long and rambling story of some cats I fed once is not as interesting as some of my other blog entries, like the last one about the mailbox, for example. You may be wondering what this has to do with a toolbox, a change of underwear or a surfboard. “What about the feral cats in Hawaii?” you may wonder. There are feral cats here along with pigs and goats. (For more about feral goats see “Operation Billy Goat”) Mostly there are feral chickens and LOTS of them. I haven’t started feeding them yet but there is this one sad looking hen that keeps hanging around my back door. Hmm…

For more info on feral cats check out (it’s not a joke)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Snow

A mailbox. Pretty simple right? You move to a new address; you get your mail there. That's what I thought. There are some unusual aspects of postal delivery in Kauai. When I moved into my new place in Princeville (aka Haolewood) I got forms from the post office so that I could have my mail forwarded. But when I talked to my friend in the neighboring town of Hanalei she told me that there was no postal delivery in Hanalei or Princeville. I talked to the previous tenant who told me that UPS would deliver packages but no, in fact there was no regular mail delivery and that if I needed mail service I should try to get a post office box. “IF I needed mail service?” I guess I had never really pondered the mail-free lifestyle and I wasn’t sure that I was ready. When I looked at the place and signed the rental agreement I failed to notice that the house simply did not have a mailbox.

The Princeville post office is only open from 10:30-3:30 so during my lunch break one day I went to inquire about a PO box. There were none available there or at the post offices in the two neighboring towns. My name went on a waiting list 50 long. Post office boxes here are like rent controlled apartments in Manhattan. Those who have them never let them go and those who don’t are out of luck. I was finally able to get a mail box at a private mail service at significantly greater cost than a post office box.

In the meantime I noticed that many of my neighbors had mailboxes in their driveways. And one day as I was walking to the nearby shopping center to check my mail box I saw a mini-van with a post office logo and a dude delivering mail. He was a rural letter carrier who drove his own vehicle, wore no uniform and delivered mail in Princeville. He explained to me that all I had to do was put up a mailbox, fill out a form (which he gave me), put it in the box and raise the red flag. He would pick it up and begin delivering mail. I did as he said. So far the only letter I have received was the test letter I sent my self. It read “Dear Boreas, I hope you are enjoying your new mail box. Love Boreas,” and it had a Honolulu postmark.

I don’t know how old this house is or how many people have lived here, but until that letter arrived no one had ever received mail here. I’m not sure why the whole situation seems so funny to me.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Operation Billy Goat

My associate had told me only to meet him at Nawilili Harbor. I would receive further instructions when I got there. “Go past the one lane bridge to the park on the left” he told me. When I arrived he told me to park next to him while he loaded a backpack and a rifle wrapped in a garbage bag into the back of my truck. He glanced around nervously and climbed into the back of my truck himself, instructing me to drive a little further down the road. Our destination had still not been revealed to me.

I pulled over next to a tree lined river. A small opening in the vegetation provided a clear path from the road to the water. Soon a small boat motored toward us. My associate spoke to the pilot in hushed tones and I could decipher very little of the heavy pidgin they spoke. I gathered only that his other boat had been boarded by the coast guard and we had better stash the rifle out of site. He was nervous about his rear mounted engines getting stuck in the mud and he told us to stand near the front of the boat as we pulled out into the river.

We crossed to the other side of the river to a similar opening in the trees and disembarked with our gear. I was now where few Haoles ever tread. I had the distinct feeling that what we were doing was not entirely legal. I was right.

But what were we doing? This vegetarian of nice years was going hunting on the 4th of July. To be more precise I was tagging along with my friend who was going hunting. I did not participate. My friend was born and raised on Kauai and when you get his voice mail it explains that he can’t come to the phone because he’s “either on the ocean or on the mountain.” When he offered to take me to his favorite hunting spot I explained that I didn’t hunt but I loved hiking and when you take away the part about shooting animals isn’t that what hunting is? Here was an opportunity to do something very new to me and to go somewhere seriously off the beaten path.

We were hunting for pigs and goats. Piggy got away but Billy wasn’t so lucky. I watched as my friend pursued and killed a goat and then beheaded, de-hoofed and gutted it. We loaded the remaining meat into a backpack and returned to the pick-up point. A “hike” of about four hours through steep and overgrown terrain, on unmaintained use trails or no trail at all, we were the only people around and were treated to stunning ocean views.
That’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to hunting. I never fired the gun. The only time I held it was when I posed for the picture.