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September, 2010:

Plastic Heartache

October / Octubre from Rafa Herrero on Vimeo.

This isn’t Hawaii specific, but this footage of sea turtles and plastic floating in the ocean should help you remember to pack a reusable grocery bag and to say NO to plastic at the ABC Store, the Whaler’s General Store, the myriad of convenience stores dotting the tourist focused communities around the islands. It’s just heartbreaking.

Hat tip to Sebastian Tobler on Uptake.

The Kukui Nut

Kukui, or candlenuts, at the Amy Greenwell Garden south of Captain Cook, HI

Kukui Nuts, Amy Greenwell Garden

While there’s nothing quite like being draped in the smell of plumeria, kukui net leis last indefinitely and travel a lot better. I have two kukui nut leis, both gifts — one from Michael, the smiling guy behind Tiki’s Grill and Bar in Waikiki, given to me on my first tourism sponsored trip to the islands, the other from Julie, the embodiment of aloha and the woman behind the Moloka’i Visitor’s Association. There’s a third one bundled with the husband’s aloha wear, kukui nut and ti leaf, from our wedding on the beach in Maui.

The kukui nut  is rich in oil and was used as a light source by the early Hawaiians. Skewered in a stack on the tough spine of a coconut frond, each nut would burn for about 15 minutes — that’s why they earned the name candle nuts. The kukui tree  was imported by the Polyneisians who used it not only for light, but for medicinal purposes, for dying tapa, for preserving fishing nets, and more.

To make a lei, the nut is shelled of its tough green hull and polished to a smooth finish, then drilled and strung on a ribbon. Mostly, you’ll see them in dark brown or black, though they do sometimes come in a rare pale color. Some sources say the kukui nut is associated with Lono, the god of peace and prosperity. Because of its practical use as a light source, it’s also become associated with education. When someone drapes a kukui nut lei around your neck they are passing along the gift of peace and light.

It can be hard to keep the significance of the kukui nut in mind — you’ll find stands full of kukui nut leis everywhere, your hotel lobby, probably, the ABC store, the farmer’s markets,the airport. As likely as not they’ll be bearing “made in the Philippines” tags. But the kukui nut is more than a shiny brown seed, it holds light and the spirit of Lono. That makes for a lei that’s more than just a souvenir.

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Brother Noland, The Father of Jawaiian Music

It’s easy to think of Hawaiian music as something static, a little ukulele, a little lap steel, a sweet falsetto and the resonance of slack key. But it’s very much an evolving form, pulling in outside influences to make something different, but still uniquely Hawaiian. Where Hawaiian music collides with the distinctive beat of Jamaican reggae, you’ll find Brother Noland.

Brother Noland might be best known for Coconut Girl — it’s in the sound track for Pineapple Express and earned him the title “Father of Jawaiian Music.” His new album, Hawaiian Man, has a more traditional tenor, Hawaiian songs sung (mostly) in Hawaiian with lots of sweet chiming notes from his guitar — and some of that melancholy sentiment that makes you pine for the islands. Here’s Brother Noland in the studio recording the title track for Hawaiian Man.

Brother Noland is on tour and he’ll be here in Seattle on September 27th for a show at the Triple Door, a venue that hosts lots of great Hawaiian music. And I’ve got a pair of tickets to give away. All you need to do is leave a comment, I’ll drawn names on September 22nd and notify the winner by email.

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Photo by Woody1778a via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Your Guide to the Volcano

Warren Costa packs a damn fine picnic. Big sandwiches bursting with fillings, the perfect pineapple, and those One Ton chips that I can’t seem to find on the mainland. That’s not, in itself, a good enough reason to take a volcano tour. Nor is the opportunity to gawk at Warren’s spectacular tattoos, though I don’t know when I’ve seen finer work.  Those are some nice extra benefits, but really, the reason you want to visit Volcano National Park is because Warren, the man behind Native Guide Hawaii, knows the park like, well, forgive the cliche, the back of his hand.

Warren says that he grew up with the park as his playground, he’s FBI, after all — From (the) Big Island. But also, he worked in the park for many years as a natural resources manager, building fences, removing invasive plants and seeding native species. He also worked as an archeologist, doing field surveys and mapping. All those years off the trail and in the back corners of the more than 200, 000 acres of park mean he knows where the cool stuff is — the vertical lava tubes left behind when floes wrapped around tree trunks, the spatter ramparts, and more. He knows the names of the plants and the birds and where to find them. Led by Warren, you’ll wander off the road, off the trail, and while you might not know where, exactly you are — or how to get back to the car — all those years in the park means he knows exactly where the minivan is.


Halemaumau Vent

Last spring, I spent a day exploring with a small group of visitors and Warren. During that time we stood in complete darkness in the under-visited part of the Thurston Lava Tube, learned about the difference between various kinds of trees, looked for but did not see honey creepers, petted giant hairy ferns and little red lehua blossoms, and stood watching the steam and gas stream in to the sky out of the Halemaumau volcano vent. Warren answered all of our questions with patience and good humor all day long, and hey, did I mention he packs a damn fine picnic?

Sure, you can take the ranger led hikes in the park — and really, you should. The park service does a great job of introducing you to the geology and natural history of the region. But if you want to slow it down and see the park from a  local perspective, planning a trip with Native Guide Hawaii can deepen your understand and appreciation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and for Hawaii.