Friday, December 10, 2010

Singin’ in the Rain

Yes it does rain often in Hilo and after my last posting on the trade winds it made me wonder even more, “Why?”  Since the wind is coming across the open ocean from the east and then hitting the mountains, it seems the air would pick up moisture as it goes over the volcanoes and drop it on the Kona side of the Big Island.  But no, thanks to the phenomenon of orographic (my spell checker keeps wanting “pornographic”) precipitation the rain drops on Hilo and the Big Island’s east side.

Before defining this let me say that much of the rain comes at night.  For instance, I play golf just about weekly and have not been rained out once; rained on occasionally but not rained out.  And the average temperatures are superb as you can see below.

So to recap, in Hawaii, local climates vary considerably on each island due to their topography, divisible into windward (Koʻolau) and leeward (Kona) regions based upon location relative to the higher mountains. Windward sides face the east towards northeast trade winds and receive much more rainfall; leeward sides are drier and sunnier, with less rain and less cloud cover.

The rainfall is caused by orographic precipitation which is when masses of air pushed by wind are forced up the side of elevated land formations, such as large mountains. Upon ascent, the air that is being lifted will expand and cool. This cooling of a rising moist air parcel may lower its temperature to its dew point, thus allowing for condensation of the water vapor contained within it, and hence the formation of a cloud.

If enough water vapor condenses into cloud droplets, these droplets may become large enough to fall to the ground as precipitation. In parts of the world subjected to relatively consistent winds (for example, trade winds), a wetter climate prevails on the windward side of a mountain than on the leeward (downwind) side as the moisture has been removed by the effects of orographic precipitation.

Full Wiki
In the state of Hawaii, Mount Waiʻaleʻale on the island of Kauai is notable for its extreme rainfall, as it has the highest average annual rainfall on earth with 460 inches.

A true-color satellite view of Hawaii shows that most of the vegetation on the islands grows on the north-east sides that face the wind.

Hawaii Islands
The result of this phenomenon on the Big Island is one very green side with waterfalls (the eastern) and one very sunny, dry side (the western).  Most of the resorts are located on the western side and served by Kona International airport.  Waterfalls and beautiful greenery are on the eastern side and served by Hilo International airport.  We prefer life on the “green side,” with visits to the beautiful beaches around Kona. (See East Side/West Side - All Around the Big Island
 for other contrasts.)  And rain does bring these!

Devany Vickery-Davidson

Friday, November 26, 2010

That’s the Way the Wind Blows

We were accustomed on the mainland to the prevailing wind coming from the West, and tailwinds making the travel from say Denver to New York generally much faster than the return trip.  When we moved to the east side of the Big Island I assumed that we would be on the leeward (“away from the wind”) side of the island.  But no, in the middle of the Pacific the prevailing winds turn out to be from the east, putting us on the windward side after all.
It so happens that solar radiation warms the air over the equator, causing it to rise. The rising air then proceeds south and north toward the poles. From approximately 20° to 30° North and South latitude, the air sinks. Then, the air flows along the surface of the earth back toward the equator.  This phenomenon creates several effects well known to pilots of ocean sailing vessels.

The Doldrums
Sailors noticed the stillness of the rising (and not blowing) air near the equator and gave the region the name "doldrums." The doldrums, usually located between 5° north and 5° south of the equator, are also known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ for short. The trade winds converge in the region of the ITCZ, producing convectional storms that produce some of the world's heaviest precipitation regions.

The Horse Latitudes
Between about 30° to 35° north and 30° to 35° south of the equator lays the region known as the horse latitudes or the subtropical high. This region of subsiding dry air and high pressure results in weak winds. Tradition states that sailors gave the region of the subtropical high the name "horse latitudes" because ships relying on wind power stalled; fearful of running out of food and water, sailors threw their horses and cattle overboard to save on provisions.
The Trade Winds
In the central North Pacific, the trade winds represent the outflow of air from a great region of high pressure, known as the North Pacific High, typically located well north and east of the Hawaiian Islands. The North Pacific High is a semi-permanent, subtropical area of high pressure in the North Pacific Ocean. It is strongest in the Northern Hemispheric summer and is displaced towards the equator during the winter.  

Blowing from the subtropical highs (or horse latitudes) toward the low pressure of the ITCZ are the trade winds. Named from their ability to quickly propel trading ships across the ocean, the trade winds between about 30° latitude and the equator are steady and blow about 11 to 13 miles per hour. In the Northern Hemisphere, the trade winds blow from the northeast and are known as the Northeast Trade Winds; in the Southern Hemisphere, the winds blow from the southeast and are called the Southeast Trade Winds.  http:/
Hilo Hawaii is located roughly at 19.7 degrees north of the equator (see my earlier blog Changes in Latitudes).  As described above the trade winds at this latitude blow westward from the northeast thus putting the east side of the Big Island facing the prevailing wind known as the Northeast Trade Wind.  Whereas, in the mid-latitudes where most of the United States mainland is located the “westerlies” blow eastward. In fact in both the northern (30N to 60N) and southern (30S to 60S) latitudes, the prevailing winds are from the west. wikipedia

Confusion resolved!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It is Illegal to be an Ugly Governor in Hawaii

Yes that’s true.  It is against the “Aloha Law” for a Hawaiian governor to act ugly or mean spirited in carrying out their duties.  You may find the actually law at the end of this entry, but it all has to do with the meaning and spirit of Aloha.
Many Hawaiian words have multiple meanings and perhaps none more so than aloha.  Aloha is the most popular Hawaiian word known and spoken around the world.  It is also among the most sacred and powerful of all Hawaiian words. Speaking it over time is said to have the power to transform one's attitude, heal one's negative emotions, and to help protect and guide one's lifetime journey.

Hawai'i is also the only American state to have two official languages, Hawaiian and English. However, a third unofficial language is also widely spoken, Pidgin which is a slang combining words from many aspects of island life and culture. Instant Hawaii 

Pidgin was used as a way to communicate amongst the various nationalities that were in Hawaii to work the fields, containing enough English language references to generally communicate with their supervisors who primarily spoke English.
We recently adopted a kitten and wanted to give it a Hawaiian name.  We settled on Pili Aloha which was suggested be a friend and which we understood to mean “esteemed companion,” which it does.  However, it could also mean any combination of the following:

To cling, stick, adhere, touch, join, adjoin, cleave to, associate with, be with, be close or adjacent; clinging, sticking; close relationship, relative; thing belonging to, connection. Pili maikaʻi, fitting nicely, compact. Hoa pili, intimate friend. Koʻu pili, my partner.

Aloha, love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity; greeting, salutation, regards; sweetheart, lover, loved one; beloved, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, lovable; to love, be fond of; to show kindness, mercy, pity, charity, affection; to venerate; to remember with affection; to greet, hail. Greetings! Hello! Good-by! Farewell! Alas!
And if that does not impress you with the beauty of the Hawaiian language, how about the name of the state fish?  It is humuhumunukunuku'āpua'a.  
Rivaled perhaps only by the longest place name in America (in Massachusetts) which my brother for some reason can pronounce flawlessly:


From the state Charter:

§ 5-7.5 "Aloha Spirit".(a) "Aloha Spirit" is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self.  Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.  In the contemplation and presence of the life force, "Aloha", the following unuhi laulā loamay be used:

           "Akahai", meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness; 
           "Lōkahi", meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony; 
           "ʻOluʻolu" meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
           "Haʻahaʻa", meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
           "Ahonui", meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaiʻi. ''Aloha'' is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ''Aloha'' means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ''Aloha'' means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.

(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the "Aloha Spirit". [L 1986, c 202, § 1]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Babe Ruth in Hilo

With the World Series in progress it seems fitting to discuss Babe Ruth’s presence in Hilo on the Big Island -- particularly since his Hilo visit was memorialized in such a spectacular way.  The year was 1933 and The Babe was in Hawaii to play a series of exhibition games against various local teams.
About that same time several park commissioners in Hilo decided that it would be a good idea to have celebrities’ plant banyan tree saplings along the Waiakea Peninsula.  In late 1933, Cecil B. DeMille was on the island filming "Four Frightened People".  Several of the actors planted trees in their own honor, along with Mr. and Mrs. DeMille.  Some eight trees were planted in October 1933. And in addition to the movie stars, one tree was also planted by one of the most famous men in America, Babe Ruth.  This drive, now named Banyan Drive is also known as the "Hilo Walk of Fame.”
Over time probably some fifty trees were planted with many surviving until today having grown into a thick canopy, making it popular for walking.  The Waiakea Peninsula is anchored by the beautiful Liliuokalani Park and Reed’s Bay Beach Park, and not far from the Hilo airport.  The name comes from wai ākea which in Hawaiian means "broad waters,” and sometimes what is now called Hilo Bay was once called Waiakea Bay.
The Banyan tree is an example of a strangler fig that often begins life in the crown of another tree. Its roots grow down and around the stem of the host, their growth accelerating once the ground has been reached. Over time, the roots coalesce to form sort of a pseudotrunk.  Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.
The first banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida.  The tree, originally only four feet tall, now covers 400 feet.  Robinson Crusoe, in the 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe makes his home in a banyan tree.  Due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching, the banyan is also extensively used for creating Bonsai.  Taiwan's oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan in Tainan.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Big Island = Big Scary Story

As we approach the Halloween holiday, it may be appropriate to retell a frightening story that happened here on the Big Island; in fact just some twelve miles south of Hilo in the quiet village of Ola’a.
Ola’a is in the sacred Ola'a forest, which was once an area restricted to bird-catching families (whose occupation was to collect hulu or feathers for the ruling class) until the abolishment of the kapu system in 1819 and the arrival of the missionaries shortly thereafter. A small church was established in 1835 to serve Hawaiians living in the area. As Hawai'i island developed with small coffee farms and with the establishment of sugar plantations in the 1890's Ola'a saw the arrival of immigrant labor.  Soon the church and community embraced an ethically and culturally diverse plantation community.  Ola'a Church
Ola'a Church

In 1947 in Ola’a children were playing near the local pond when one of them fell in and drowned.  The boy, named Tanaka, was later found by divers sitting on a rock with his eyes and mouth open and body swaying with the currents.  Yet, he was dead and his corpse was retrieved and buried.

Later, people who walked by the pond would often fell something tug at the bottom of their trousers. Rumors spread that the boy’s spirit was trapped beneath the water.  In his book, Obake Files, Ghostly Encounters in Supernatural Hawaii, Glen Grant writes:

“On some evenings the villagers could hear a cry emanate from the pond in the middle of the night. At first most everyone believed that the haunting cry was the wind blowing through the tall sugar cane fields. But a few of the older people said they knew the spirit of the Tanaka boy- cold, wet, and desolate at the bottom of the pond. The soul was crying out for help and deliverance. Trapped in this world by accident, he sought someone’s spirit as a substitute. They would take his place at the bottom of the pond so that he could be free to go to the otherworld.

“Those who were present at the second accident swear that the other boy was pulled into the water against his will. It was the noon hour. He was walking about 50 yards behind his father along the edge of the pond, occasionally picking up a flat stone to skim across the water. When he fell, he screamed out to his father that something was pulling him into the pond. He clawed at the earth, trying to hold on, to fight back. But in what seemed like an instant, the force tugging at his legs pulled him into the watery depths of the pond. By the time the young boy’s body had been located, it was found sitting naturally on a rock on the bottom of the pond. He seemed so natural sitting there- arms placidly at his side, eyes and mouth open, swaying gently to and fro in a light current. Fortunately, the rescuers were able to bring him back to the surface in time to be resuscitated.

“A Shinto priest was brought from Hilo to bless the waters, and the haunting cries finally ceased. Yet, on peculiarly dark nights when the evening skies seem bathed in black ink, those who live closest to the pond say that they sometimes hear the Tanaka boy’s cry. But are the cries melancholy or sinister? And will the Tanaka boy ever find peace?”  Weird Hawaii

Pretty spooky…..I’d say!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sugar Cane in Hawaii

By the mid 1800s, the Hawaiian kingdom’s economy was not very bright.  Sandalwood, ( an important trade item, was almost gone from the forests of Hawaii.  And whalers who wintered in Hawaii and restocked their boats were fewer in number; partially because the need for whale oil had diminished as petroleum became a source of fuel for lamps.
The Great Mahele of 1848 allowed for the private ownership of land for Hawaiians and foreigners for the first time. Many American and European businessmen quickly gained control of large tracts of land that led to the development of agriculture and especially the sugar industry in Hawaii.

Sugar was brought to the islands by the early Polynesians who chewed on the plant as a source of energy and food.  In 1778, when Captain Cook happened upon the Hawaii islands, the lands were already abundant with sugar cane.  The first serious sugar plantation was at Koloa, Kauai in 1835 by Ladd and Co.

In September 1835, Ladd & Co., began the first major Hawaiian sugar plantation. Hooper, Brinsdale, and Ladd managed to do something that no one else had previously done in Hawaii. With the help of missionary settlers, they obtained the first major land lease in Hawaiian history.  The lease comprised 980 acres in Koloa, Kauai, which was set aside for sugar cane production. The lease ran 50 years at $300 per year.
The missionaries were bent on making farmers of the Hawaiian natives so Ladd & Co. fell nicely into those plans. By employing Hawaiian natives, they would be teaching them the skills missionaries felt were so necessary.  However, perhaps not so surprisingly, native Hawaiians were far from eager to work the fields and the native population had been reduced to 70,000 people by the 1850s, diminished greatly by disease. Ladd history

Sugar meant plantations and mills and the need for workers. Plantation owners turned to workers in devastated areas of the world that were ravaged by wars and famine initially in China, and then Japan, the Philippines and Portugal which explains the rich, varied racial make-up of present-day Hawaii.
The Big Island's lava soil and regular rainfall offer ideal conditions for growing sugar cane.  Ah Kina, a Chinese planter, began raising cane at Amauulu above the town of Hilo in 1851.

Among the biggest producers of sugar cane was the Pepeekeo Sugar Company not far from where we now live along the Hamakua Coast. When it was established in 1857, it was named Metcalf Plantation after the owner Theopilus Metcalf.  When Metcalf died in 1874, the new owners of the plantation changed its name to the Pepeekeo Sugar Company.

In the early 1960’s Hawaii produced a million tons of sugar cane annually.  One of every twelve workers participated in the sugar industry.  And these workers were among the highest paid in the world.
Ultimately cheaper sugar from the Caribbean and other locales doomed Hawaii’s sugar cane industry.  The last plant closed on the Big Island in 1996.  However, the islands still possesses a rich agriculture industry, with large amounts of papaya, vegetables, coffee beans, flowers, and macadamia nuts still being grown and produced.  Hawaii Island is also known as the Orchid Isle due to its large production of tropical orchids.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ancient Hawaiian Fish Ponds

I spent a weekend recently at the Fairmont Orchid at the Mauna Lani Resort, and learned that the Kalahuipua'a Fishponds are the spiritual center of the area.  Predating even the earliest Western contact, the ponds are from the days when the land and sea supported the Hawaiian Ali'i (royalty) -- the original inhabitants of the land.

The first true fishponds were probably built during the latter half of the fifteenth century.  And increasingly thereafter as chiefs could command the labor necessary to transport the tons of rock and coral used in the enclosing walls. These ponds, which yielded several hundred pounds of fish per acre annually, were not only feats of engineering technology, but reflected chiefly power and were a major symbol of the intensification of agricultural and aquacultural production.
Auburn University

The Hawaiian people practiced the most advanced fish husbandry among the original peoples of the Pacific.  Fishponds (Hawaiian: loko I’a) were typically shallow areas of a reef flat surrounded by a low lava rock wall built out from the shore.  Several species of edible fish such as mullet thrived in such ponds, and methods were developed to make them easy to catch.  The Hawaiian fishpond was primarily a grazing area in which the fishpond keeper cultivated algae; much in the way a cattle rancher cultivates grass for his cattle.  Ponds were fed with cut grass, mussels, clams, seaweeds, and taro leaves. The porous lava walls let in seawater or sometimes fresh or brackish water but prevented the fish from escaping.

The ancient Hawaiians and their vast system of fish ponds are one of the foremost examples of successful fish farming in the world. Royal fishponds and ancient walled fish traps were part of the everyday landscape of old Hawaii.  When Captain James Cook reached Hawaii in 1778, there were approximately 360 fishponds producing almost two million pounds of fish per year. uhh.hawaii

The coastal fishponds and their resources were the exclusive property of the district chief and were not a major economic resource to the general population, who were prohibited by kapu from fishing, collecting seaweed, or polluting the pond. 
Joseph Farber

Commoners, especially women, were seldom in the vicinity of royal fishponds. There was little advantage for commoners to live near a pond for fear of breaking the kapu.  (Kapu means forbidden, though it also carries the meanings of sacred, consecrated, or holy.  In ancient Hawaii, kapu refers to the ancient system of laws and regulations.  An offense that was kapu was often a corporal offense, but also often denoted a threat to spiritual power, or theft of “mana.”  Kapus were strictly enforced. Breaking one, even unintentionally, often meant immediate death.)  Possibly after abandonment of the kapu system in the early nineteenth century did the population concentrate more around these ponds because the resources became available to them.

By 1985 only seven ponds remained in use. It is estimated that the yields from the Hawaiian fishpond systems operating before the arrival of the Europeans would be on par with most contemporary extensive aquaculture systems; yet the traditional Hawaiian fishponds did not receive fertilization from animal or human wastes of any kind.

I have no idea how many fish ponds are in use today.  I did see notice of a recent study, supported by the National Science Foundation of a project at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, whose goals were “to improve upon current techniques and management practices for marine aquaculture, through a detailed study of historical techniques that were used successfully throughout the Hawaiian Islands.”

With the world's fish populations dwindling at an alarming rate, interest in aquaculture is on the rise.  From the ancient loko iʻa to the advanced aquaculture research facilities at UH Hilo, Hawaii has a long tradition of innovation in this fieldThe reemergence of the use of fish ponds may one day be an important source of ecologically sound and sustainable fish production and an important export business for the people and state of Hawaii.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mark Twain: “The Cherimoya is Deliciousness Itself.”

“We had an abundance of mangoes, papaias and bananas here, but the pride of the islands, the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya, was not in season. It has a soft pulp, like a pawpaw, and is eaten with a spoon.”  (Mark Twain, The Sacramento Daily Union, October 25, 1866, Kilauea, June, 1866.)

Ever since I read this quote by Mark Twain almost one year ago (see Monkey Pod Tree) I had been searching out the cherimoya.  We spent this past weekend in the Waipio Valley on the Big Island, considered one of the ten most beautiful valleys in the world, and home to the steepest county road in the nation, at a fund raiser for the Slow Food Organization -- and to my great pleasure, I was given two cherimoyas.
The taste has been said to be indescribable, or a mixture of banana and pineapple, but to me it seemed slightly pear-like in its flavor.  The texture was of custard.  And, yes it was magnificent!

Even Purdue University had this to say, “Certainly the most esteemed of the fruits of the genus family annonaceae, also called the custard apple family, is the cherimoya.”

The family is comprised of flowering plants consisting of trees, shrubs or rarely lianas (vines).  With about 2300 to 2500 species and more than 130 genera, it is the largest family in Magnoliales (yes, like the magnolia tree). The family is concentrated in the tropics, with a few species found intemperate regions like the paw-paw in the Midwest of the U.S. which is the largest edible fruit native to America.

The cherimoya is believed indigenous to the interandean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia.   In 1790 the cherimoya was introduced into Hawaii by Don Francisco de Paulo Marin. It is still grown in the islands and naturalized in dry upland forests.

The flesh of the ripe cherimoya is most commonly eaten out of-hand or scooped with a spoon from the cut open fruit. It really needs no embellishment but some people in Mexico like to add a few drops of lime juice. The skin and seeds are not to be eaten.  Occasionally it is seeded and added to fruit salads or used for making sherbet or ice cream.  The seeds are often crushed and used as an insecticide.

I had read that it was probably apocryphal that Mark Twain really said on tasting his first cherimoya that it was “deliciousness itself,” but entering in Google the words “Mark Twain” and “deliciousness itself” yielded 916 results, and then on page two, I found it!
“We had an abundance of fruit in Honolulu, of course. Oranges, pine-apples, bananas, strawberries, lemons, limes, mangoes, guavas, melons, and a rare and curious luxury called the cherimoya, which is deliciousness itself.”  (Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872)

Two famous botanists from the middle of the 19th century had this to say about the cherimoya.

Thaddaeus Haenke, geographer and explorer in South America, called it a "masterpiece of nature.”

And, the famous fruit expert and botanist, Dr. Berthold Carl Seemann, who traveled widely and collected and described plants from the Pacific and South America. said, “The pinapple, the mangosteen and cherimoyas are considered the finest fruits in the world, and I have tasted them in the places where they are said to be at their best and reach their highest perfection--the pinapple in Milagro (Ecuador), the cherimoya on the slopes of the Andes and the mangosteen in the Indian Archipelago."  Dr. Seemann's unhesitating choice was reported to be, of course, the cherimoya.

I am not aware of any Hawaiian cherimoya mail order farms, but you can buy them from California growers.  One example is  You indeed owe it to yourself!