There seems to be an undeniable connection between the Peninsula and the 'Big Island' - the local name for the island of Hawaii, the biggest and youngest island, which is still being formed over the hot spot in the middle of the Pacific tectonic plate.
In fact, our Peninsula operates much like an island. It has that "you can't get there from here" feeling. For travelers, tourists and homesteaders alike, it's a specific destination - it's not on the way to anywhere else.
Supplies must be trucked or shipped in; waste and all our natural resource products must be trucked out. Our water supply is limited to the 'lens' of fresh water under our Peninsula (and wouldn't it be great to know exactly what that volume is?) or low-lying ground water repositories.
The Big Island is the same - although it is a big enough land mass to have its own watersheds. You may have to fly to Honolulu on the island of Oahu to get there, but once on the Big Island, you simply sink in and marvel.
Pete and Martha Hanner know this island well. Their daughter Ann and her husband Phil Gaddy moved to the Big Island seven years ago. Phil parlayed his history degree into a librarian job in the remote village of Pahoa while they found land and built a home. Now they're settled as caretakers on 20 acres on the side of Mauna Loa, just overlooking where Madame Pele is pumping lava into the sea and making hundreds of acres of new land.
Remember too that Dobby Weigardt's daughter Karen and son-in-law Peter Field, now living on Oahu, have just purchased 60 acres near Kurtistown on the Big Island perhaps to begin some kind of nursery business.
And, that tiny village Pahoa? - also the spirit home of John and Aileen of Aileen's barbeque sauce fame. No wonder I found shave ice at their little café in Ocean Park when I returned to the Peninsula after decades away. And, served up with my barbecue pork sandwich, a side of creamy cold macaroni salad - a sure Big Island give-away.
Hawai'iana legend and lore is alive and well on the Big Island. No more so than during the Merrie Monarch festival - for music, chant and hula, the dance specific to Hawai'ian Islands - which I returned to this past week.
This festival, now in it's 46th year, is named after King David La'amia Kalakaua, the Hawaiian Monarch who revived the hula after it was banned by missionaries for almost 70 years.
The festival, called by some the "Olympics of Hula," brings together world class dancers and musicians to compete for prizes in ancient and modern style hula. Dance troupes called halau (every vowel is pronounced in Hawaii'an - so say, glancingly, ha-la-oo) and directed by Kumu Hula (hula masters) prepare, sometimes for years, for their seven minutes on stage.
The famed "hula hands" of the wahine, or female dancers, are still fluttering tenderly. But in my humble opinion, there is nothing sexier than the kane hula, the dances for men. Imagine big buff nearly naked guys swinging their hips while doing, in unison, precise and exquisitely beautiful gestures, and you get a small idea of the thrill.
On the occasion of the visit of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani to the United States, a New York Times article of Dec. 31, 1874, states:
"The afternoon was spent by King with his ministers, and the evening devoted to hula-hula - a national dance - to the music of drums and rattles of small stones shaken in a calabash. The hula-hula is fast dying out, but was formerly in great repute, and hundreds of both sexes devoted themselves to the profession. It is now much modified, though still sufficiently wanting in modesty to deter foreigners from witnessing it."
Kalakaua would be proud that these inspired dancers of 2009, still "fleshy as is the fashion here" are still performing.
In fact, everything about Merrie Monarch is beautiful. Even waiting in line. Tickets are very difficult to come by, but there is one night open to the public and folks begin lining up at the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium in Hilo before 4 p.m. for the 6 p.m. show. Even so, you pass by all the lei stands on the way and marvel at the array of traditional strings of flowers, ferns and seeds.
Last year, we went to Merrie Monarch with Ann and friends who had managed to get tickets. This year, Ann stayed home so we visited her - we sat in their modest but beautiful home, made infinitely larger by their view out over palm trees and to the Pacific Ocean beyond.
As ukuleles were emerging from their cases, Phil talked a little about the physical systems he built. "There's only a 10 degree difference between night and day here. We stay mostly between 72 to 82 degrees, so there's no need for a heat source."
He goes on, "A couple days this winter got down to 58 degrees."
They forgive me for rolling my eyes. Then Ann adds, "But, gee whiz, so we had to put sweatpants on. And it doesn't get too hot because we get the trades."
Phil has installed a 1,680-watt solar array made up of two types of panels manufactured by Siemens and a Japanese firm.
He explains, "We bring in power at 12 volts direct current then run it through an inverter to change it into 120 ac. Direct current is more functional so you use less energy, but we march to a different drummer in the U.S. Our electrical systems are all due to Thomas Edison and his light bulb."
After lunch, I rode back through tropical splendor to the home of friends Jim and Sue Ellen Rhodes, to what is affectionately called "the ferns." I arrived with all sorts of items to plug in - computer, toothbrush, camera, cell phone - and was quickly given some 'off-grid' lessons about energy conservation.
Jim's system is similar to Phil's though distributed differently. He's got four PVC solar panels that he runs into four "deep cycle sixes" (this is battery lingo). He has two inverters wired into his system to ensure that if one fails the other kicks in; and, for back up, he's got a Honda EU 3000 generator that cost about $2,000.
Jim started his homestead in the '70s with a Bucky-style geodesic dome, and his office is still there; so there's a second solar system using a Black and Decker 750 watt inverter to power his computer and Internet connection. Jim says he gets about two hours a day of computer time for a week.
Chez Rhodes, the fridge, hot water and stove are liquid propane; they have two nine-gallon tanks and spend about $35.
I tried to juice up my appliances in town whenever I could and discovered that market day in Hilo can't be missed. Baby bok choy, red bean mochi, haupi'a (sweet coconut pudding), lupulu (corned beef wrapped and baked in taro leaf), malasadas (small sweet Portuguese doughnuts), durians (fruits that look medieval weapons of mass destruction) and other delights crowded the rigged up tables and benches.
The flowers were equally stunning - I even found purple anthuriums in the Pahoa market.
All in all, island life is mighty fine, whether it's sandy beaches or lava shores - we're swimming in the same ocean.