Seven days, seven black and white photos of your life. No people, no pets, no explanations.
Poliʻahu is one of the four goddesses of snow in Hawaiian tradition; and an enemy of Pele, goddess of the volcano. She resides on Mauna Kea and is Hawaii’s most beautiful goddess. Poliʻahu mingled with mortals on the east slope of Mauna Kea and was hōlua sledding with them one day when a beautiful stranger challenged her. The stranger had no sled, so she borrowed one to run against Poliʻahu. In the first run, Poliʻahu won, and then she exchanged sleds with the stranger to be gracious, and won again. On the third run, the stranger opened lava streams in front of Poliʻahu to try to win the race, revealing herself as the goddess Pele. Once she recovered from Pele’s attack, Poliʻahu threw snow at the lava and froze it, confining it to the island’s Southern end. Pele is said to rule Kīlauea and Mauna Loa on the southern end of the island, but Poliʻahu controls the northern end of the island.
Mauna Kea, when measured from the surface of the Earth (on the floor of the ocean) is 33,000 feet tall and is actually the tallest mountain on Earth! But when you measure from sea level, the summit of Mauna Kea is at 13,796 feet, because most of the mountain is below the surface of the ocean. The road getting up there is a rocky gravel road and 4WD is required. I think a lot of the rental car companies don’t allow tourists to go up there in the rentals, but we had the Rodeo – there are perks to driving in an old beater SUV! The road really is rough though people – it is definitely a bumpy trip to the top, so if you plan to go, be careful!
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked out this novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I was looking for an audiobook that was available without waiting from the library website. All I knew is that it was a historical novel, telling the story of the fictional Alma Whitaker.
Alma was “born with the century,” in 1800, the daughter of Henry Whitaker, a man who was born poor but made a fortune in the business of plants. Alma is bright and hard working, but not at all pretty. She takes after her father and begins to study botany, at a time where women are generally only taught the finer arts of music and sewing.
Alma makes her way in a man’s world, never catching the attention of a man in a romantic way, but achieving successes with her research in botany. But she’s lonely, she wants companionship, and perhaps most of all, she wants intimacy.
The novel follows Alma throughout her entire life, weaving an intricate story of characters, showing the joy and tragedy of a life whose outcome you don’t always get to choose. Is it enough to find a career when most women simply find themselves to be the mother of children and in charge of a household? Do we ever really know if others around us are happy or truly satisfied with their lot in life? Is it possible to accept the pain of losing our loved ones? Do we ever stop yearning for that which we do not have?
Alma’s life takes her from her father’s home all the way to Tahiti, as she seeks new plants, but also the answers to the questions she has about the human condition. Along the way, she encounters so many others, who are flawed, imperfect and richly complex, all just trying to do what Alma is doing – find happiness.
Gilbert’s writing is excellent. Amazing. Despite what might seem at first a dry topic, this is a must read. Although it is long, I was entranced until the very last page.
Day 2, Thursday, May 11, 2017
After the City of Refuge, I visited the Painted Church nearby. It wasn’t a planned stop; I drove by and saw the sign and decided to check it out. The Painted Church is officially known at St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church. It was built in 1899 in a simple European Gothic Cathedral style, marked by the pointed arch on the exterior and the vaulted interior ceiling, by Belgian priest Father Velghe.
Father Velghe was also a self-taught artist with a lot of talent. The church has beautiful painted murals that Father Velghe painted, and the intricacy is amazing. Father Velghe painted sections of the church with trompe l’oeil, which in French means”deceive the eye.” It is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create an optical illusion of three dimensions. The nave behind the altar of the Painted Church is trompe l’oeil.
The story is that the murals were painted to educate the illiterate Hawaiian people, but there is some debate about this theory, as it is known that Bibles were translated into the Hawaiian language at the time the murals were painted. I am more inclined to believe that it was a way to provide some extra beauty to this little church.
There is a little cemetery outside with some old graves and pretty statuary. Photos are permitted except during services; it is still an active Roman Catholic parish. There were some vendors outside selling fruit, nuts and crafts, so bring some cash!
After the Painted Church, I was getting really hungry, so I found Da Poke Shack nearby. They sell poke, both to eat there and to take to go, but they also have a little BBQ joint on site. I had the pulled pork sandwich with sides. YUM!
After lunch, I checked out a couple of little antique shops, before it was time to pick up Brent and Rich from the job where they were working.
We picked up Brandon from the airport and headed to Costco for supplies. We had a huge salad for dinner topped with Ahi Poke (a choice of spicy or regular) and loads of veggies. We also made Mai Tais and went swimming and hot tubbing that night. What a fun day!
Costs and Fees: The Painted Church is free to visit – although donations are much appreciated.
Day 2, Thursday, May 11, 2017
Brent and Rich were going to work on my first full day in Hawaii, so I was on my own for the day. I dropped them off and then headed out driving the 1994 Isuzu Rodeo they keep there, with its bouncy shocks and squeaking. This truck was prime high-riding style at 23 years old!
My first destination was the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, previously known as the City of Refuge. It was established in 1955, and was renamed with the correct Hawaiian name and spelling in 2000. An estimated 421,000 people visited in 2016. Even now, the name City of Refuge is still used unofficially, even though it was never technically accurate; it was never really a city. People didn’t live there – there were no permanent residents there.
I watched a ranger talk, presented by a native Hawaiian Ranger; he gave the history of the site. For hundreds of years until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a kapu (one of the ancient laws that was part of a whole series of laws and regulations) received absolution from a priest if they could make it to the place of refuge, or puʻuhonua. The thing is, you had to swim there, because the puʻuhonua couldn’t be reached by land without crossing the royal grounds, and that was off limits. But if you could get there by water, you were pardoned, and could stay there to rest and recover before journeying home.
The park also contains a reconstruction of the Hale o Keawe heiau, the Hawaiian version of a mausoleum, which was originally built by a Kona chief named Kanuha in honor of his father King Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku (massive bonus points if you can pronounce that!). After the death of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku, his bones were buried in the heiau, and more of the nobility of Kona were buried inside until the end of the kapu system in Hawaii. A son of Kamehameha I, the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, was the last person buried here in 1818. Eventually this heiau was destroyed – the one existing on the site today is a reconstruction.
The ranger talk ended with him playing a nose flute – he did a great job too! It was really cool to watch. After the presentation, I explored the site. It has several reconstructed traditional Hawaiian dwellings and structures for visitors to see. You can watch people making tools and traditional items using historic methods. There is also a konane board, which is a strategy game similar to checkers.
The City of Refuge is right on the water and I was able to walk across the lava rocks to see the fish and shellfish in the water. Sadly, I didn’t see any turtles though… There were several other people there, but it was certainly not crowded. I enjoyed strolling around at my leisure and checking everything out. It was so worth the visit!
Costs and Fees: $15 per vehicle at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (free with a National Parks Pass).
The weather around here has been pretty poor lately. The usual Northwest fall/winter blend of heavy rain and high winds. But when the weather does clear, it makes for some beautiful sunrises, like this one from my bedroom window on November 6.
I hope you all survived Thanksgiving and are having a smooth week…