20 Years on from Hurricane Iniki

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the day Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and caused massive destruction across the island.

We knew of Iniki before we moved here, and we viewed several clips on YouTube showing the power of the hurricane, both during and after, but we learned much more this week from a local TV station, KGMB, which replayed a news broadcast from that day in 1992 that brings home the trauma that the islanders suffered, especially due to the lack of warning, something that has evidently been improved upon in recent years with advances in technology.

I was fascinated to see the path that Iniki took (and why), since it at first appeared to be skirting the Hawaiian islands relatively harmlessly to the south, as it grew in intensity from a tropical storm, but then took a disastrous turn north.

Another KGMB news segment this week recalled the aftermath of that day, but focused on the tremendous community spirit at the time, and how well the island has recovered since.

We were aware of the risk of hurricanes when we bought our home here. The hurricane season typically runs from June to November (though these days there doesn’t seem to be anything typical about the weather anywhere in the world), and the community is frequently encouraged to be prepared – know of evacuation routes, maintain food and water reserves, etc. – but it’s not something that overshadows our day-to-day lives. It’s not much different from living in an earthquake zone, as we did in California where we were perched almost on top of the San Andreas faultline. We’ve simply traded one of Mother Nature’s risks for another.

However, it’s comforting to know that our current home was locally dubbed ‘The Shelter’ when it was built, immediately after Iniki swept through. [Incidentally, while there are several evacuation centers, such as school halls, provided for visitors, there simply isn’t enough room for everyone, so, in the event of a hurricane, residents are requested to shelter-in-place! Bummer, that!]

The previous property on this lot was completely destroyed, its roof sheared off and structure so badly damaged and buckled that it was an insurance write-off, so the lot was cleared.

Not surprisingly, the owners had no wish to suffer a repeat performance, and employed an experienced architect and builder, in an attempt to ensure that their replacement home could withstand a similar onslaught.

The house is a single-storey dwelling built into a sloping lot, so that its roofline is way below that of the surrounding houses, with the back supported on 16″ square solid concrete pillars. The roof is tied down with metal hurricane clips at every rafter (as opposed to every 3 or 4 in many houses). In brief, just about everything in this house is over-spec’d as far as hurricane-proofing is concerned.

It’s also wired for a generator. Just a flick of a switch can divert us from the grid to a generator tucked in the over-large crawl space under the back of the house; a crawl space, incidentally, that’s deep enough and tall enough to provide shelter for us, and probably several neighbors too, with plenty of room to store food and water reserves. [The photo shows merely a third of it!]

While I’m not freaked out by the possibility of a hurricane, it’s very reassuring to know that if ever the island-wide alert is issued to shelter-in-place, we have as a good a chance as any, and better than many, of still having a roof over our heads when the storm subsides.

On the lookout for mongooses and other invasive species on Kauai

I previously mentioned that I’m now volunteering at the KPNWR (Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge).

I thoroughly enjoy working being there. I’m learning so much from the rangers, and have such fun conveying all that I learn to the visitors.

One of the privileges of being a volunteer is that we get to attend the monthly meeting…a couple of hours on a Friday morning.

The first half of the agenda is an established sequence of updates, to keep us all up-to-date with what’s going on at the refuge, including a biological report…whatever’s happening depending on the time of year (currently, the wedge-tailed shearwaters have hatched a few weeks ago and are growing, and the Newell Shearwaters are approaching their fledging season); followed by, among others, an update from the KPNHA (Kilauea Point Natural History Association) which runs the Visitor’s Center.

After those various reports, for the second half of the meeting we’re treated to a “Featured Nature Nugget” speaker. Today, three members of KISC (Kauai Invasive Species Committee) joined us, to discuss the invasive species on Kauai and how to recognize them. Tiffani Keanini fascinated us with her talk and samples.

MongooseOur main interest was the mongoose (a truly vicious looking b*stard), since we’ve been hearing of several sightings and a couple of captures in recent months, and they would be a particular threat to our ground nesting birds and hatchlings if they were to establish a colony on this island.

However, we also learned of several plants that threaten the environment in a number of ways.

Ivy Gourd

The Ivy Gourd is the vine standing on the far right behind the speaker. Its flower and seed pod are shown in the slide.

For example, Pampas Grass (well known to my California friends) is a big no-no here. Apparently, some well-meaning but naïve homeowners have tried to plant them in their yards. However, I’m now on the case … looking for any further PG occurrences.

Other examples were the Ivy Gourd (“regarded as very invasive and on the Hawaii State Noxious Weed List”), plus another vicious, but teeny critter, the Little Fire Ant, which was inadvertently transported from South America and made its way to the North Shore of Kauai via a landscaping company working on an individual homeowner’s yard in the area.

A good reminder for me was how seeds can be spread inadvertently by hikers. KISC pleaded with us to brush off our boots whenever we’ve been for a hike, to avoid spreading the seeds of one species (particularly an invasive species) from one part of the island to another (which reminded me of a trip to the Galapagos Islands with a good friend back in 2002, when we diligently washed off our boots, snorkel equipment, etc., whenever we left one island to go to another).

Gotta love the KISC guys who provided us all with free boot brushes, as well as key rings and fridge magnets, to try to spread the word.

Heads up, any keen hikers who comes to visit us! From now on you will definitely be subjected to the boot brush!

No Rain – No Rainbows! *

I set off with Freya for our usual stroll this morning…opened the door to a gentle passing shower. Not enough to stop us; in fact, rather refreshing!

Turned the corner from Keoniana to Kaweonui and was treated to this!…
Double rainbow

Out at the point, the rainbow was starting to fade, but the moon was still up…

I do love where we live!

* Researching the origin of this popular saying led me to Kimo’s Hawaiian Rules (below). Turns out, according to Lonely Planet, that it’s Kauai’s own Nite Owl T-Shirts that takes credit for bringing together this collection of rules.

Kimo’s Hawaiian Rules

Never judge a day by the weather.
The best things in life aren’t things.
Tell the truth – there’s less to remember.
Speak softly and wear a loud shirt.
Goals are deceptive – the unaimed arrow never misses.
He who dies with the most toys – still dies.
Age is relative – when you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.
There are 2 ways to be rich – make more or desire less.
Beauty is internal – looks mean nothing.
No Rain – No Rainbows

However, we also have G.K. Chesterton to thank for that last one:  And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

Enjoy many more of his best quotes here.

The metamorphosis from house to home

Well, that was a mighty busy couple of weeks!

Matson containerOur containerized home arrived from California a week ago last Thursday, and we’ve been unpacking, sorting, and rearranging ever since (with admittedly some beach, tennis, and golf time in between our surges of homemaking).

Final furniture collectionThe previous few days had been spent removing the existing furniture, to make room for the incoming items. I found a non-profit housing project in Koloa whose manager was so delighted to have the donations that she was happy to collect the bulky furniture. It took them a few days to organize a couple of trips, but to our relief the last load disappeared the day before the container showed up.

Since we had bought the house last year (June 2011) with the initial intention of using it for our own and for friends’ vacations for, oh, perhaps a couple of years or more, until we were ready to make the ‘big move’, it had been very convenient that the purchase came with furniture included.

Master bedroom 2011The seller left pretty much all the basics: beds, linens, sofas, chairs, chests-of-drawers, lamps, silverware, as well as a large number of paintings and nick-nacks (even a couple of old TVs and VCRs), while our generous and thoughtful realtor gifted some important missing items: coffee table, saucepans, towels.

Living room 2011So, we really didn’t need to add much for our occasional one- or two-week vacations. [The only item of ours in the photo (right) is the painting, a spontaneous purchase from a local gallery in April 2011 when we first saw the house.]

While our taste in furnishings is very different, I was grateful for everything in the house, and even found the heavy accent on Hawaiiana amusing, perhaps because it was so very different from our CA decor. I assumed that we’d retain many of the smaller items once we moved in full-time.

Master bedroom August 2012All that changed, however, once we started unpacking our own possessions. Very quickly the previous furnishings, ornaments, and paintings looked out of place and just ‘not us’!

At the risk of sounding ungracious, I couldn’t wait to box up and remove all (well, almost all) the remaining vestiges of the previous owner.

Living room August 2012

Still, I don’t feel so bad knowing that there are others out there who are grateful for the donations…as were we, last year.Living room August 2012

Office August 2012

What a mess! Looks like we’ve lived here for years! Still need more drawer space in the office.

We’re not done yet, but this house is very quickly becoming our home. The final push now is to unpack more of our artwork, ornaments, and glass…once we figure out where on earth to put them. 

Dining area August 2012

At last, my keyboard’s out of storage, having been packed away in May during the pre-open house declutter.

KPNWR’s newest recruit at Kilauea Point

Tuesday marked my first day on the ‘job’, as a volunteer at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR).

I had a brief orientation with Jennifer Waipa who’s the park ranger responsible for the volunteers. Then, for the afternoon shift from 1 to 4pm, I shadowed a long-time, very experienced and equally entertaining volunteer named Bruce Parsil.

Bruce Parsil, knowledgeable and entertaining mentorI felt like a new kid on the first day at school, and the afternoon was a great experience: perfect weather, with sufficient wind for the birds to be constantly playing and drifting all around us, and a ton of fascinating information to absorb from Bruce.

The main residents at this time of year are the frigate birds, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, and tropic birds (both white-tailed and red-tailed). The Laysan albatross have already bred, the youngsters have fledged, and all have returned to sea.

Btw, if you caught my previous post about the late-bloomer albie in our neighboring street, I’m delighted to report it fledged Monday morning, sometime between 7:30am when the owner went to work and noticed the youngster was still hanging out, and 8:15 when I walked Freya and it was gone…oh and, Nan, I admit my biased gender assumption was wrong, apparently it was a ‘she’! 😉

Here are just a few of the many facts I learned from Bruce and Jennifer (these notes are as much for a memory for myself as for any reader’s edification): 

  • ‘Our’ frigates are female only. No breeding occurs here; they just seem to hang out and chill. Either they are non-breeding females, or they are stopping off on their way to or from their breeding grounds. So, sadly, not much chance of the glorious sight of a male frigate with his huge engorged red throat.
  • There are two species of shearwater on the island, the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the smaller Newell’s Shearwater. The ‘wedgies’ are not endangered, and breed in burrows around the bluff including close to pathways (so close that sometimes the chicks fall out and roll down the path). The Newell shearwaters, on the other hand, are endangered, and usually breed further inland…high in the mountains. However, a recent program seems to have been successful in establishing a number of Newells on refuge land.
  • The shearwaters are now hatching. The first wedgie on the refuge hatched three weeks ago and, surprisingly, is situated in one of the most public, exposed areas, immediately outside the interpretation center beside the lighthouse. The parents return year after year to nest in that spot, so evidently the human activity doesn’t bother them too much. The chick is currently a cute pale gray/white fluffball which attracted a great deal of visitor interest and gave me several opportunities to regurgitate Bruce’s words of wisdom.
  • There is a hybrid tropic bird. The traditional white-tails have a pale beak, and the red-tails have a red beak…then there’s the hybrid that has a white tail and a red beak! I know, I’ve seen them!

I’ve omitted any details about the red-footed boobies…they will probably have a dedicated post in the future.

There were some other entertaining sights as well as the birds. We spotted a large number of spinner dolphins, who often hang out in the bay to the west of the Point until mid-afternoon, and we had just one sighting of a green turtle. No monk seals that afternoon, but I’ve seen one near the Point in the past.

Moku’ae’ae islet off Kilauea Point

Anyone need a didgeridoo?

In a neighboring yard is a plant with a flower stem that resembles an enormous asparagus stalk. This is an agave.

20120810-063451.jpg

A neighbor tells me he’s lived here over 10 years and this is the first time he’s seen it flower. Agave stalks are used to make didgeridoos…perhaps that’s why one rarely sees anyone wandering down the street with a didgeridoo tucked under their arm!

Apparently, once an agave has flowered, the entire plant will die. However, its seedlings form the next generation…I wonder if I’ll still be here to see its offspring flower too.

Even an albatross can have a bad hair day

The albatross return each year to breed on Kauai. Since they are exceedingly ungainly on land (hence their nickname of gooney birds) and require an extensive runway for landings and take-offs, a few roads in our area close to the bluff are prime nesting sites.

The adults return in November. Courtships, egg-laying, hatching, and chick-rearing follow. Eventually the parents leave the almost full grown chicks, and by mid-to-late July all the youngsters have fledged. All, it seems, except one this year.

Albatross bad hair dayThis one chick is evidently a late-bloomer, or just plain lazy, but I am delighted he hung around long enough for our arrival this week. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him grow during my previous visits in February and again in April, so it’s a treat to witness the final stage in this year’s cycle.

As the chicks lose their baby fluff and gain their sleek adult plumage, each has its own highly amusing pattern of ‘hair’ loss!

Freya’s first swim at Anini Beach

One of Steve’s fondest wishes for the past year has been to swim with Freya in the warm Hawaiian waters. We’ve often taken her to beaches on the Pacific coast of California…Fort Funston (aka Fort Fundog) just south of San Francisco; Half Moon Bay; Carmel…where Freya has romped in the surf but rarely swum, and never with Steve.

This afternoon he had his wish! They swam together at Anini Beach, a 2-3 mile stretch of beach on the north shore, a 10 minute drive from the house, where it’s easy to find a peaceful patch away from more crowded beach parks.

We almost had the place to ourselves, except for a very pleasant local chap who came for a swim with his 14-month-old Aussie Shepherd, Kobe. Kobe seemed more keen to play with Freya than to swim with his boss!

Freya earned her rest this afternoon! After her lengthy swim, she dug a hole and flopped down to survey her new surroundings!

Hello world!

I’m a transplanted ex-Brit (naturalized US citizen in April 2012), who lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years, and who has now settled, with my husband Steve, on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Kauai…

Like so many before us, we fell in love with this island when we first visited in 2008, but at that time it never occurred to us that we could contemplate a permanent move here.

Late in 2010 we started investigating where we wanted to be when we retired from our Silicon Valley careers. Plan A was to relocate to the Central Coast, midway between San Francisco and LA, which would be roughly a four-hour road trip for our Bay Area friends. Kauai, we figured, isn’t much further…you just have to fly rather than drive…and so, Plan B was born.

We bought a home in Princeville mid-2011, intending to use it for vacations for a couple of years (here’s a site I created for others who might visit in the interim), but the pull of the island was greater than expected, so we sped up the timeline, and made the move, with our white shepherd Freya, in August 2012.

This blog is primarily a way of staying in touch with the many friends we’ve made around the world, and of sharing photos and experiences.