Category Archives: Hawaii

Pele’s Island

Well, I haven’t written a word about my two months on the Big Island. I could blame it on the sparse internet and the black hole of cell reception that was my corner of the world but I’d be lying. I wanted a break; a chance to just feel out the place and see what emerged.

The issue now of course is that so much has happened, in my outer and inner life, that I’m at a bit of a loss for how to say it all. How can I describe falling asleep in my Kapoho shack, the tropical nighttime music of coqui frog, ocean, and confused rooster just outside the screen crowing at the moon? How can my words show you the dirt road twisting through the lush mango grove only to open onto the dry wasteland of a raw lava field? Can you see the tiny ‘ohia tree with its red blossoms emerging from that new rock?

I told my uncle my quandary when I made it to his house in Honolulu in April. How do I say it all, uncle? “You don’t,” he told me. He’s right, of course. You just “talk story,” as the locals call it, and let the stories go where they want to…

An active crater at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

A Kapoho shack

A pink blossom covered road, tucked away in Waipi’o Valley

The first thing that hit me about the Big Island, stepping off the plane from cushy L.A., was its rawness. Clocking in at under a million years old, Hawai’i is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands. (The oldest, Kauai, is six million.) Both originated from volcanoes and coral polyps where a new species might be introduced once every 20,000 years. (If you want to read a really dramatized version of this creation story, check out the opening chapter to James Michener’s 1959 classic novel on the islands.)

The Big Island is still in the active volcano stage with three of its five volcanoes going strong. You drive around and get to know places by what used to be there. “Oh, here was Kapoho town,” they say, and all you see is the gray black of the 1960 lava that took out the railroad, the general store, the homes, the cemeteries, everything. “Oh, here was the Royal Gardens, the famous black sand beach of Kaimu with its shady coconut palms.” Now, where there was ocean meeting sand, there is dried a’a (Hawaiian for “stony rough lava;” pronounced “ah ah,” like the sound you would make if you had to walk barefoot on it) extending for a mile to the sea. Continue reading


Hawaiian Roots

I’m writing this while still in San Francisco on Saturday night but when you see it I’ll be flying over the Pacific on my way to Hawaii (oh, the wonders of modern technology!).

My Grandma on board the S.S. Matsonia from San Francisco to Honolulu, 1930

California has been a time to connect with good friends, wear flip flops, walk the beach, and scratch the surface of a state I’ve known very little about but always had my eye on. From surfing in San Diego to a drive up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to a bike ride over the Golden Gate to Sausalito, it’s been an active and wonderful two weeks.

Tide pools in San Diego

San Francisco's version of a back alley

My little Subaru headed up the PCH on a stormy but brilliant night

Evening walk around Lake Merritt, Oakland

Little Italy storefront, San Francisco

Storm and sun above Big Sur

Looking out at the Golden Gate from Coit Tower

Blue House on Francisco Street, Berkeley

But I’m on to Hawaii. A place I’ve never seen but feel, all the same, like it’s a part of me already. The birthplace of my mother. The island where my grandparents met. The island where their parents met. I’ve bought a one way ticket and am ready to dive in, explore the family history, and make some of my own.

I’m landing on the Big Island tonight (Tuesday night) and not sure when I’ll get to write again — from Mike’s fruit farm I’ll be staying at first in Kapoho? From my uncle Phil’s house in Oahu? From a tent on Kauai? We’ll see how my Hawaiian wanderings unfold. As an old Siberian Yupik saying goes, “what you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know.” It’s time to know.

Much love and aloha.

My grandma with her dad (my great-grandfather "Foffie") under the hose in Honolulu

The grandparents as young kids in Oahu (my grandpa "Ogi" far right and grandma covering her eyes)

My grandma with her grandpa (my great-great grandfather, George P. Castle)

My grandma (the youngest) and her sister Anne with Mom and Dad in the pool near Diamond Head, 1926