Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Surreptitious Baldwin Beach

I stopped by Baldwin Beach outside Pa'ia on a late January afternoon and was intrigued by this young couple contemplating each other's faces. I felt a bit surreptitious taking a photo of them, but I loved their expression and body language.  
BTW, this blog post is linked to a "Water" Photo Challenge this week
The far left side of Baldwin Beach towards Kahului. Ironwood tree skeleton near the water. Baldwin is one of the best beaches on the North Shore with a classic sandy shoreline and waves.  To the far left is Baby Beach, a protected cove which got its name from young mothers who brought their infants to play in the calm waters. 

Sunset glow at Baldwin Beach. Handy dandy restrooms and showers.
(Not all beaches have this in Hawaii!)

Far right side of Baldwin Beach, another protected cove with hippies, young people, and swimmers who like the shallow waters.  If you keep walking to the right, it runs into Pa'ia Beach. Inland but still on the beach, there's an old derelict building that the county is going to tear down. Ironwood trees are in the background. 
Parking area toward the lifeguard stand. There must have been lots of rain, since it's all flooded. Warning: this place can be a bit funky after sunset, so please don't hang out at night. I know people who've camped on this beach and had their tent ransacked. Actually, camping here isn't even allowed.
All in all, though, this is a gem of a beach.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The "Weaving" Tree: Hala

Hala (Pandanus) is a tree found throughout Hawaii.  I've seen it used in landscaping at big hotels, private homes, and around parking lots. I think Costco may have a few hala trees along the perimeter of one of their lots. This particular tree is from the Hali'imaile Community Garden.

The hala leaves are carefully collected, cleaned, softened, de-thorned, and then stripped to be woven into lauhala mats, baskets, bracelets, bags, and many other useful and decorative items.  Lauhala is Hawaiian for "hala leaf."

I once took a lauhala weaving class in high school and experienced firsthand the effort of gathering and cleaning the lauhala, complete with sore fingers and scratched arms. 
It's a lot of work, made a mess of the bathtub, and that's even before the weaving starts! Not all hala leaves can be used either.  Leaves that are too old or too wet (mildewed) are no good for weaving. Good leaves are soaked, cleaned, stripped of thorns, and then carefully rolled into coils of yardage. One can sometimes find lauhala items and raw coils at the Maui Swap Meet. Another nice place to find beautifully made lauhala is at the Native Intelligence store in Wailuku. The leaves can also be stripped using a special adjustable metal stripper into slender long strips ranging from 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide. There is a guild of master lauhala weavers in Hawaii as well... and one master weaver told me her test of skill was to reproduce a complicated piece by sight. 

What's also interesting to me is that hala trees are not just found in Hawaii. An friend of mine visited Costa Rica and found the same hala trees there, and they are also used for weaving. Hala trees also have a very interesting pine cone shaped fruit, but I think this tree is too young to have any.  

Close up of Hala tree branches, full of curves and ridges. 

The aerial roots of the hala tree.
Hala is reputed to have aphorodisiac properties, with the pollen from the male flowers, but I don't know anyone who has ever used this!  I believe other parts of the tree are also medicinal, but would have to do more research to be sure. 

A close up of the ridged trunk. 

Note the spiny thorns on the long leaves. These have to be stripped off. 

More thorn action. 

The brown leaves in good condition are the ones
that are collected to be used in weaving.

Lauhala Christmas decorations at the Waldorf School Holiday Faire.

To see more items made of lauhala,
visit the post on the Hands on Maui Volunteer Fair
and scroll to the bottom.  

Here's another worthwhile post on lauhala by a Big Island resident. Another name for the hala tree is corkscrew pine, which I've never understood until reading that the "leaves are arranged in a corkscrew pattern along the branches." 
Read here about more history on the use of lauhala in Hawaiian culture

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cradle to Cradle Technology and Industrial Hemp

Cradle to Cradle Technology and Industrial Hemp
Two disparate topics, but somehow they are entwined in my brain. Just warning you, this is a stream of consciousness post.

Intact hemp seeds.
Original photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Cradle to Cradle Technology is the opposite of Cradle to Grave, which is the current state of consumer products in the world. Items are bought, used, then trashed, and rarely salvaged or reused. Aluminum is one exception according to leading sustainable architect William McDonough, who says 75% of aluminum in circulation has been recycled. 

McDonough wants to create technology in which products can be used and then recycled, based on natural processes, and did a recent podcast on New Dimensions radio. (Warning, he has a very soothing voice so it can be sleep inducing if you're tired... but he's also wonderfully optimistic.)

In nature, nothing is wasted. A leaf rots and then turns into dirt. One type of matter becomes useful for something else. Why not learn from nature and create products that can be reused when they reach the end of their life cycles?  Hence the term, cradle to cradle. Examples include: 

  • Certain components or materials like lead can be recaptured as “technical nutrients” so that they are not released into the environment. 
  • Plastic polymers can be developed so that they disintegrate in sunlight or in salt water, and become food for bacteria. 
  • McDonough is already talking about phosphate production that can be extracted from local sewage plants, as a natural byproduct, since phosphate crystals naturally form and clog up sewer pipes. 

Phosphate extraction is already happening in Canada and being put in place for cities like Portland and San Francisco.  Why phosphate? It’s a necessary ingredient in fertilizer, and a needed daily nutrient for human beings. If we can’t produce phosphate, then we’d need to obtain it from long distances and perhaps politically unstable countries. McDonough is working with chemists and industrial designers to create processes that mimic nature’s cycle of renewal. He’s currently working on a house that can be built without tools, even by small children.

For Hawaii, I’d love to see beach umbrellas that disintegrate on their own. It’s amazing how many beach umbrellas and beach chairs are trashed because one little piece has broken off. Or they are trashed when they are still perfectly usable. 

Beach mats are kind of compostable since they are made of grass, and I’ve thrown several in our compost pile, but the nylon or polyester threads do not break down in the compost.  How about beach umbrella cloth that also disintegrates in sunlight or sea water over time, and can become food for sea creatures? How about beach mats sewn with natural thread fibers or of polymer fibers that do break down?  Or Styrofoam coolers that break down in salt water? Body boards that also naturally disintegrate over time?

Busted up beach umbrella.
What if it could be recycled, or if the fibers and post decomposed naturally?

What about sunscreen that doesn’t clog the coral reefs? Many local hotels and resorts have to thoroughly clean their pools at least once a week, because of the thick oil slick from sunscreen. This same sunscreen blankets the beaches of Ka'anapali and also kills coral. Will Hawaii have coral reefs 30 years from now? Not if we keep using the same sunscreen in the vast quantities that we use now.

And what does cradle to cradle technology have to do with industrial hemp production?  Two nights ago, Colorado farmer Michael Bowman gave a talk at the Maui Farmers Union about industrial hemp production, meaning the farming of hemp. Hemp - not cannabis, not marijuana, not pot, not Maui Wowie, nothing to do with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Hemp as a plant fiber used in rope, fabric and other industrial uses. Bowman said that the US is the only nation which uses industrial hemp but is not allowed to grow industrial hemp. The US imports it from Canada and other countries because of federal drug laws designed to prevent marijuana use and growth.  Currently, industrial hemp farming is exceedingly difficult.

Per Bowman, to get an industrial hemp growing permit, the DEA - Drug Enforcement Agency requires:
  • A 10 foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire surrounding the hemp field
  • 24 hour security of the hemp field including 24 hour video cameras
  • A shed in the field that has internet access and can store the seeds, which need to be locked up at all times.
Bowman briefly went over the history of hemp production in the US, including the key industrial figures (Rockefeller, Hearst, etc…) who taxed hemp and helped make it illegal because it would compete with the newly emerging paper and oil industries.  

Colorado just passed a law that legalizes farming of industrial hemp and Bowman wants to be one of the pioneer farmers. He thinks legalizing farming of industrial hemp would bring many jobs back to the United States.  Hemp inherently seems like a cradle to cradle fit. As a material, it can be used to make biodiesel and can even be used as a concrete substitute. Per Bowman, hempcrete is three times stronger than cement or concrete, yet lighter, and homes are being built with it now.

Michael Bowman has also gone to Capitol Hill to lobby for the legalization of hemp cultivation and talked with President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack. He is now pushing a hemp farming petition on the White House website. The White House says that anytime they get 100,000 signatures on a petition, they will offer a policy response. What's gratifying to hear is that Bowman said that his group has been working to legalize hemp farming in Colorado for five years, meeting lawmakers from both parties, and anyone who was interested. So sometimes all those petitions and sustainability efforts make a difference.

What if hemp could be used in beach umbrella fabric or in beach chairs?  What if hemp could be processed to make foam coolers that disintegrate?  What if Maui’s sugar cane fields could be turned into hemp fields? What about Hawaii homes made from hempcrete, that are resistant to mold and mildew? Hmmm, is hempcrete termite-resistant? What are the possibilities for cradle to cradle technology using locally grown hemp? 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Year's Eve Gong / Bell Ringing in Pa'ia

This New Year’s was a peaceful and spiritual experience which isn’t something I can say about New Year’s in general. Last year, DH and I went to Casanova in Makawao for a more typical and raucous celebration, replete with dancing, cabaret entertainment, colored lights, scantily clad people, and flowing drinks. I really enjoyed this past New Year’s in Paia town. A friend mentioned that the Paia Mantokuji Mission was ringing a gong – actually a huge bell – 108 times before midnight. The bell ringing started at 11:20 pm.  (I think some Japanese may consider it a gong, and it sounds like a gong, but to me, looks more like a bell.)

First person to ring the bell (or gong) on New Year's Eve. 

We actually arrived on time, and only a few people were there. Closer to 11:30 pm, a monk stepped up to the tower, which was not that tall - more like a platform, and hit the bell three times, each time slowly and deliberately, waiting for the sound to die down before striking again. Ah, those smart Buddhists figured out that they need to tell Maui people to show up 10 minutes before the real start time. A jolly-faced man in Aloha shirt and shorts (like a Hawaiian Santa Claus) stood on top of the platform and recorded the number of rings in a notebook. The monk stepped down. Then the man in shorts called out to the small group of us below for the next person to show up. After a hesitation, another man stepped up to ring the bell. The record keeper asked his name, recorded it, and said the man could ring the bell three times. After watching the first few gong ringers, I stepped up and was worried that I wouldn’t hit the bell or would make only a wimpy sound. The record keeper asked if I had ever done this before, to which I vigorously shook my head.

Cemetery visible on the far side of the gong / bell platform.
Even though it's night time, it's not eerie at all.

A quick lesson in bell ringing. The bell does not have a rope. It’s not like a church bell in a steeple. There is a big wooden mast or shaft horizontal to the bell and that shaft is connected to a rope. The shaft’s forward motion is what rings the bell. Stand forward, close to the rail, close to the bell, then holding the rope, take a step back so the shaft moves back with you. Then move forward, easing up on the rope, and letting the forward motion carry the shaft so that it hits the bell.  Then hold the rope steady so that you don’t tap the bell again while it’s still resonating from the first strike. It was easier than I thought it would be.  Must be all the pushups I’ve been doing lately.

A short video clip of the bell or gong ringing:

The event was beautiful and very casual. No one dressed up, except for a couple of monks, one of whom was a tall Caucasian man dressed in different garb than the temple’s monks. The ringing was slow and ceremonious. Some people hit the bell very hard and others lightly. Around the back of the mission, surrounded by the inky blackness, we could hear the rolling of ocean waves and the bell tolling over the water, as if carried on bird’s wings. Ring out the old year, all the expectations and longings, hopes and disappointments, joys and grieves. Wring out the old year like a piece of wet laundry that needs to be hung up and aired out. Shake it out and let it go. Occasionally we could see fireworks shoot up from nearby houses.

Here's a sound clip of what the bell sounded like with the ocean in the background:

As time passed, more people showed up to ring the bell, and the record keeper took down names and recorded the count.  For the last three rings, a couple shared the task of striking the bell, so that the total number of rings would not exceed 108.

What the bell or gong platform looks like during the day,
at the Pa'ia Mantokuji Mission, a Buddhist temple on Hana Highway. 

Why 108? I'm not sure but  variations of 9 are important in Chinese numerology – like feng shui and the I Ching. It’s important for numbers to add up to 9. I think the I Ching is based on 108 trigrams. Granted, this is Japanese culture, not Chinese culture, but they are related. After doing some research, I found that 108 rings signifies the 108 human sins and rids one of 108 human desires, according to Buddhists. 

A shrine housed within a free standing structure on the grass. Items include bamboo and pine in the vase, a tangerine with the stem attached, and a special kind of mochi ball, made from pounded sweet rice. I don't know the significance of all these items, but the Wikipedia link of Japanese New Year's is very helpful.  

Afterwards, the Mantokuji Mission invited everyone to stay for the New Year’s Eve Buddhist service, which we did. One didn't have to be Buddhist or Japanese. We walked up the steps to the main room, past a donation box and the welcome table, where we were asked to record our names in clear handwriting.  The reverend did a series of intonations, chants, bowing, and plentiful waving of incense. At one point, he intoned everyone’s names in a ritual kind of way, as part of a New Year’s blessing. It was so subtle, I didn’t realize it until DH mentioned it several minutes later.  He must have gotten the names from the guest book. It was very hypnotic. The reverend gave a short talk questioning good and bad, using the analogy of flowers and weeds. Is a flower good or bad? What if a flower is a weed? Is a weed bad in and of itself? It’s bad in a garden, but is it bad if it’s somewhere in the wild and doesn’t affect you? 

Handmade ofuda
Towards the end, people walked toward the altar and offered a pinch of loose incense to the burner, then the reverend ceremoniously fanned and tapped heads and shoulders of each person with an accordion-like book, and the reverend’s wife gave each individual or head of the family a mysterious piece of paper folded in thirds, and written in Japanese calligraphy with a gold foil wrapper around the middle. 

This was called an ofuda, a house blessing or talisman that the reverend had made by hand. He said the handmade ones were better than the store bought ones. I had no idea what to do with it, but the reverend’s wife said to hang it inside the house near the front door, and leave it for a year to bless the home. A week after New Year’s Day, people bring the previous year’s ofuda back to the mission to be burned in a ceremony.  

Omamori for
good health
The reverend’s wife also pulled out several boxes of colorful mini cloth tapestry decorations called omamori, which are good luck amulets or blessings for health or safety while driving, prosperity, etc.  The cutest omamori, which I wish I had bought, was a little green cloth frog, which hangs from a car mirror. Refreshments were served – sushi and soba noodles and tea cookies and kanten, a jello like dessert – while a row of ground firecrackers burned and crackled outside on the sidewalk below. It was a good and refreshing way to start off the year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Theft and Dealing with Theft on Maui

A lot of people think of Maui as an idyllic paradise, with mai tais on the beach, cute surfers, and perfect weather, a place where nothing bad ever happens. But Maui is a real place on a real planet, and sh*t happens from time to time. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

TEDxMaui - To Go or Not Go?

This is not a post telling you to go to TEDxMaui. This is for you to decide. In fact, I’m probably the last person to tell anyone to go or not go, because I didn’t go last year. I spent the day (actually several days) diving into my mom’s boxes of paperwork, sorting out bills, receipts, and financial documents while she was in the hospital. But I listened to the TEDxMaui livestream because I still wanted to be part of the historic event, the first TEDx conference on the island.

Listening to a live stream is not the same as being there surrounded by all that energy. There’s something called morphic resonance, a concept coined by Rupert Sheldrake… and one of his ideas is that when there’s a large group of people, say at least 400, there’s a field of energy created by having all those people in the same space. If you’ve been to a live rock concert with hundreds of people, you may know what I’m talking about. It’s not the same as listening to a cd at home. Having a lot of people, 1200 or so, at a TEDxMaui event and being in this energy field of ideas to transform society, could be a way to transform society at a telepathic level. Aside from that, the speaker line up is very interesting.

But I won’t tell you to go. In fact, I will be missing it again this year because I have a schedule conflict on Sunday morning – would you believe, the community garden annual members meeting? And sure, I could skip it, but I think it’s important for me to go, because the garden is as much about building community as an event like TEDx.  So, I’ll miss out on whatever fascinating conversations or interactions there may be.  I’ll hopefully get a chance to watch the speakers on video later on and maybe listen to the live stream (if there is one) later that day. 

It’s about choices. We all have to make them, based on time, money and other values. If you have free time on Sunday and want to soak in the energy field of TEDxMaui, socialize, and get a brain work out, go for it. If you’re new to the island, this would be a great way to get to know some of the movers and shakers. In fact, I encouraged some newbies to Maui, who’ve only been here five months, to go. They are starting a new business and it could be a good networking opportunity. On the other hand, I cannot claim that going to TEDxMaui will change your life or make you a better person.  I think a lot depends on what you do with the information. I've gone to a lot of workshops  - and the trick is applying the knowledge in my daily life. 

If you think you might be overwhelmed by the possibility of 1200 other people in the same space, then it’s probably not for you. If you can’t spare time or money, because of whatever else is going on in your life, then it’s not for you.  January is a busy time for a lot of us here on Maui. It’s high tourist season which means a lot of us are working extra hours as well. But I also think that’s why the event organizers scheduled it at this time, because there's more people on island.  If you go, have fun!  If not, I would never give you a guilt trip. And I'll still try to go next year (knock on wood). 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year Mural at Ho'okipa

"Day of the Dead" style 2013 New Year's Mural at the
Ho'okipa bluff visible from Hana Highway.
A grinning skull. Hmm... the artist has a macabre sense of humor.

The  rainbow in the background. 

The previous mural design, photo taken on 12/5/12. I'm not sure, but this mural may have been repainted with another
birthday wish a couple of weeks later.

To see more pillbox mural pics from 2011 and 2012, just do a search
in the search box (upper left) for "pillbox mural" or mural or
click on the label in the right column for "public art."