Free Sneak Peek! Chapter 1 of “Fire in the Ocean”

Sierra glanced up from her inflight magazine and stared at her companion with concern. Chaco’s face, normally a warm, glowing brown, was a sickly gray with green undertones. Sierra scrabbled hastily in her seat pocket for the barf bag and handed it to him.

“If you feel like you’re going to be sick, use this,” she said. “I didn’t know you get motion sickness.” They had just taken off from San Jose International Airport—how could he be sick already?

Chaco waved away the bag with a weary gesture. “I don’t have motion sickness.”

“What’s the matter, then?” she asked. She hoped he would recover soon—and that he wasn’t contagious. But then she remembered; Chaco couldn’t get sick. He was an Avatar. He was thousands of years old, and had literally never been sick a day in his long life. If Chaco was sick, something was seriously awry.

“I dunno,” Chaco replied, closing his eyes. “Do you … do you suppose you could just leave me alone for a while?”

Sierra returned to her magazine, glancing at his tense, gray face every so often. When the stewards came by with trays of lunch, Chaco shook his head without opening his eyes.

When the screaming began, Sierra nearly jumped out of her skin, and she wasn’t the only one. A female flight attendant was shrieking incoherently in the rear of the plane, where the galley and restrooms were located for economy class passengers. Other attendants crowded around her, and her shrieks stopped abruptly. But not before Sierra heard, “Green! Monster! I saw it…!”

“Oh, no,” Sierra moaned. “Oh, no, no, that’s just what we needed…!”

People were still craning in their seats, trying to see what was going on. The curtain had been drawn across the galley space, so there was nothing to be seen. Chaco had been roused from his lethargy by the commotion.

“What was that all that about?”

“It’s Fred,” Sierra whispered grimly. “It has to be Fred. The flight attendant was screaming about a green monster. Sound familiar?”

Chaco closed his eyes again. “Figures.” Sierra waited for more, but he remained silent.

“What are we going to do? Fred will be a disaster on this trip, which is why I told him—firmly!—that he couldn’t come with us.”

“I don’t know.”

“We have to do something.”

Chaco shifted his long body slightly to face her and opened his eyes. “Look, Sierra. I have no more idea than you do. In fact, I think I’m in real trouble here.”

Sierra looked at his pale face and anguished eyes. “Are you sick?”

“It’s worse than that,” he responded miserably. “I’m mortal.”

“Mortal? Mortally ill, you mean?”

“No. Mortal. As in not magic. As in, I’m just like you, now. I’m not an Avatar anymore. I can get sick. I can die.”

All thoughts of Fred forgotten, Sierra said, “How do you know? How is that even possible?”

Chaco shook his head. “Wouldn’t you know if all your blood left your body? I mean, just for an instant before you died? I’ve been severed from the numinous, the sphere in which we Avatars exist. The power source has been unplugged, if that makes more sense.”

Sierra absorbed this in silence. Finally, she said, “But you’re still alive. So cutting you off from the, um, numinous doesn’t kill you?”

Chaco rolled his eyes. “Apparently not. This is all new to me, too, you understand.”

“Okay. Why don’t you try to turn into a coyote? If you can do that, it proves you’re okay.” In addition to being an outwardly young and indisputably handsome young man, Chaco was Coyotl the Trickster, demi-god and culture hero of many Native American traditions. Sierra was so rattled that she didn’t consider what her fellow passengers’ response might be to a coyote lounging in a nearby window seat.

Chaco looked at her, his golden-amber eyes now dulled to hazel. Dark circles beneath his eyes made them appear sunken. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do for the past hour?”

“Oh.” Sierra sat quietly for a long time, thinking. Eventually, she asked, “How did you get separated from the, um, numinous, anyway? How could something like that happen?”

Chaco roused himself from his lethargy. “I don’t know. It’s never happened before. I could make an educated guess, though. I think it’s because I’m no longer connected to my land, the land that created me. I think my land is the source of my power. I’ve never been on an airplane before, so I didn’t know this would happen.”

“We’re thousands of feet in the air. When we get to Hawai‘i, we’ll be on land again—maybe you’ll get it back. Hawai‘i is part of the United States, after all.”

Chaco brightened a little at this, but his enthusiasm flickered and died. “I don’t know as much as I should about things like history and geography, but wasn’t Hawai‘i built by volcanoes in the middle of the ocean?”

Sierra nodded.

“And when did Hawai‘i become part of the United States?”

Sierra’s dark brows knit together as she tried to remember. She gave up. “I’m not sure, but it was probably about 60 years ago.”

Chaco groaned, almost inaudibly. “So Hawai‘i isn’t part of my land at all. It’s something different, not connected to my land. The people there are probably not even Native Americans.”

This Sierra did know. “They’re Polynesians. They came from Tahiti, I think. But we won’t even know until we land. Once you get your feet on the ground, maybe you’ll feel better.”

“Maybe,” was all that he said, directing a morose gaze out of the little window at the clouds. It was the last thing he said until they landed in Honolulu.

* * * *

It had started as a fun vacation with her fiancée, Clancy. At least, Sierra thought it would be fun, but as Clancy pointed out, his idea of an island vacation had more to do with drinking fruity tropical drinks on the beach than with counting albatross chicks. Nonetheless, he had gone along with her plans for a one-month stint on Midway Island. It was an eco-tourism gig that allowed some 20 volunteers at a time onto Midway to help biologists monitor the bird life. The island was a national wildlife refuge that provided breeding grounds for millions of sea birds, including several endangered species. The volunteers lived on Midway for a month, counting chicks and cleaning up plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch so that adult birds wouldn’t mistake the colorful bits of plastic for food and feed it to their nestlings—thereby killing them.

But Clancy’s boss had asked (demanded) that he cancel this scheduled vacation. Sierra was upset by this, but she understood. Clancy was head of security at a high tech Silicon Valley firm. The President of the United States scheduled a visit to the plant to highlight her support of American technology—and Clancy’s vacation was sacrificed amid promises of more vacation time in the future.

“I’m going anyway,” she had told Clancy. At his look of surprise, she added, “Remember? My employer is paying for it. I have to go so I can report on the wildlife conservation work on Midway.” Sierra worked for Clear Days Foundation as a communications executive.

“Oh. Well, sure. I just thought …”

“I’d like to ask Chaco to go with me,” Sierra said. “That okay with you?”

There was a long silence. Clancy finally spoke. “Chaco? Isn’t he with Kaylee? Wouldn’t that be kind of awkward?”

“I thought you knew. Kaylee is dating someone named Guy now. She’s moved on. Kaylee always moves on.”

“Oh. Well, what about taking Kaylee with you? Or Rose? Or Mama Labadie?” Clancy listed off Sierra’s three closest female friends.

“All three of them are going to some animal spirit guide workshop in Sedona, so they’re not available. Look, please don’t worry about this. Chaco and I are just friends. We’ve never been anything else. And I’m going to be on a remote island in the middle of nowhere for a month with a bunch of people I don’t know. I’d like to have a friend with me.”

“I’m not worried. Well, maybe I am, a little. Just tell me you’re sorry that it won’t be me.”

“I’m really, really sorry that it won’t be you!”

He would have to be content with that.

* * * *

Discovering that Fred had decided to stow away on the airplane was unwelcome news. There could be no other explanation for the commotion among the flight attendants and that telling shriek of “Green! Monster!”

Fred was a mannegishi. When he was visible, Fred looked like a green melon with pipe-cleaner arms and legs, six flexible digits on each paw, and swiveling orange eyes that resembled traffic reflectors. He had the ability to disappear at will, which had been handy in Sierra’s earlier adventures, but he was a mischievous creature with little or no impulse control and an enormous appetite. In short, Fred was not Sierra’s first choice of companion for a visit to a delicate ecosystem populated by endangered birds.

Now she had to deal with an errant mannegishi as well as a mortal and extremely miserable Chaco. As they walked through the loading tunnel to the gate, Sierra whispered, “How are we going to find Fred?”

Chaco shrugged. “My guess is that Fred will find us. Don’t worry about him—he’s been around the block a few times in the past few thousand years.” He was still drawn and tired-looking, with none of his usual sexy saunter. Sierra guessed that returning to the earth had not restored his supernatural powers or immortality.

They made their way to baggage pickup. When Chaco hefted his suitcase, he nearly dropped it, then frowned.

“I think Fred found us,” he reported.

Sierra looked at him, puzzled.

“My suitcase.” He hefted it again. “It’s a lot heavier than it was when I dropped it off in San Jose. It’s either Fred or someone stuffed a bowling ball in here.”

Sierra was horrified. “Well, let him out! He must be smothered in there.”

“Not likely,” scoffed Chaco. He gave the suitcase a good shake. “Serves him right.”

“What if he’s lost his powers like you have?” she hissed, not wanting to be overheard.

“I don’t think so. He disappeared on the plane fast enough when the flight attendant started screaming. Otherwise, there would have been a lot more commotion.”

Acknowledging that Chaco was probably right, Sierra turned her attention to finding transportation to their hotel. It was located right on Waikiki Beach and wasn’t far from the airport.

On the bus ride to the hotel, Sierra took in the tropical plants, caught glimpses of turquoise ocean, and, cracking the window a trifle, breathed in the scent of many flowers—and the usual smells of any big city. The people walking on the streets all looked like tourists to her. Many were wearing shorts, flip-flops, and Hawai‘ian print shirts. Surely not everyone in the city could be a tourist, she thought. At one point, Chaco’s suitcase began to squirm, but he kicked it sharply and unobtrusively, and the suitcase subsided.

Their hotel was an enormous complex of tall buildings, and they had a room on the 17th floor overlooking the ocean. Sliding glass doors on a balcony opened to let in breezes, and the afternoon air smelled soft and sweet with an underlying sharper tang of salt. They dumped their suitcases on the floor—in Chaco’s case, none too gently. Chaco unzipped the bag and Fred rolled out onto the carpet.

“Ow ow ow ow,” he complained, rubbing his fat bottom and staring at them reproachfully.

“It’s your own fault,” Chaco said coldly. “I’m going to bed.” He commandeered one of the two queen-size beds and pulled the covers over his head.

“What’s his problem?” the little mannegishi asked. “He didn’t spend hours balled up in a suitcase.”

“He’s lost his powers,” Sierra explained. “He’s a mortal now, and it disagrees with him. Anyway, why’d you do it, Fred? I asked you not to come. Now I don’t know what to do.”

She felt as weary as Chaco. The trip had started with Clancy dropping out. Now Chaco had lost his powers and become mortal—and who knew what that would mean? She supposed it would be like a human losing the ability to see, or walk. And she had to deal with Fred, too. As fond as she was of him, Fred was a nuisance at the best of times.

“Lost his powers? How does that happen?” asked Fred, looking worried. He disappeared briefly then reappeared. He looked relieved but puzzled. “I haven’t lost my abilities. Why did Chaco lose his?”

“He thinks it’s because he’s no longer in contact with his birth land. He says he’s cut off from the numinous, whatever that is.”

“I dunno from numinous, but I’m still okay.”

“How nice for you!” came an irritated growl from under the humped covers on Chaco’s bed.

“Look, Fred, I could really use a drink right now. Disappear yourself and we can talk somewhere. There’s got to be a bar in this hotel somewhere.”

As it turned out, the hotel had many, many bars. Sierra picked one with an outdoor seating area on the beach and ordered something unfamiliar with rum in it. The drink arrived, bedecked with chunks of fresh fruit, small umbrellas, and plastic hula girls and accompanied by a bowl of peanuts. She cleared away the ornamentation, ate the fruit and began working slowly on the remaining fluid. It was cold, tart, and sweet. She still felt grubby from the trip, but at least she was near a beach—she could see surfers from where she was sitting—with a fruity tropical drink. And an invisible mannegishi. She could see the imprint of Fred’s bottom on the chair cushion next to hers, and the peanuts were disappearing at a rapid pace. She picked up her phone and pretended to tap in a number, then said, “Hi, Fred. We can talk now.” Anyone observing would see a trim woman with tanned skin and long, dark hair, sitting alone and talking on the phone.

“So what happened to Chaco?” Fred asked.

“As soon as the plane took off, he started to look kind of green around the gills. Then he slumped down and acted like he was sick. He says he’s mortal now. He can die.”

“That’s not good,” Fred observed.

“Tell me about it,” said Sierra. “I’ve been mortal my whole life.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”

“It’s all right. I’m used to it. Chaco isn’t. Do you know if he can ever regain his connection to the numinous? Whatever that is?”

“Dunno.”

“And why didn’t you lose your powers?” Sierra demanded. The mannegishi was quiet for a few minutes.

“Chaco and I aren’t exactly the same sort of thing, you know,” he said finally.

“How do you mean?”

“Chaco is—was—an Avatar. Much more powerful than a mannegishi. I’m just a, ah, kind of an … well, I don’t know exactly. I have certain powers, but what I can do is born inside me. Like bees can make honey? I can do what I do. That’s all I know.” Sierra could tell by the sounds next to her that the mannegishi was sucking his digits—a nervous habit.

“Stop that!” The sucking sounds ceased and the peanuts began to disappear again. Sierra flagged a passing waiter and asked for more peanuts and another round of whatever she was drinking.

She couldn’t do anything about the situation today. Right now, she was sitting in the Hawai‘ian sun on a Hawai‘ian beach, drinking a Hawai‘ian drink, and watching the Hawai‘ian waves. Almost against her will, she began to relax. The waiter brought her a fresh drink and another bowl of peanuts. She thanked him, took a long swallow, and closed her eyes. She began to think about Clancy and Chaco and Fred. Not relaxing. She opened them again, only to find the rest of her drink gone as well as all the fruit.

“Fred!!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fire in the Ocean” Goes on Sale Today!

“Fire in the Ocean” went on sale today from Diversion Books. Although it is a sequel to “The Obsidian Mirror,” it stands on its own as a great adventure. It’s set in Moloka’i and the Big Island of Hawai’i, and draws on ancient Hawai’ian mythology and folktales. In honor of the debut of “Fire in the Ocean,” here is the first chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1 of “Fire in the Ocean”

Sierra glanced up from her in-flight magazine and stared at her companion with concern. Chaco’s face, normally a warm, glowing brown, was a sickly gray with green undertones. She scrabbled hastily in her seat pocket for the barf bag and handed it to him.

“If you feel like you’re going to be sick, use this,” she said. “I didn’t know you get motion sickness.” They had just taken off from San Jose International Airport—how could he be sick already?

Chaco waved away the bag with a weary gesture. “I don’t have motion sickness.”

“What’s the matter, then?” she asked. She hoped he would recover soon—and that he wasn’t contagious. But then she remembered:

Chaco was an Avatar. He was thousands of years old, and had literally never been sick a day in his long life. If he was sick, something was seriously awry.

“I dunno,” Chaco replied, closing his eyes. “Do you…do you suppose you could just leave me alone for a while?”

Sierra returned to her magazine, glancing at his tense, gray face every so often. When the stewards came by with trays of lunch, Chaco shook his head without opening his eyes.

When the screaming began, Sierra nearly jumped out of her skin, and she wasn’t the only one. A female flight attendant was shrieking incoherently in the rear of the plane, where the galley and restrooms were located for economy class passengers. Other attendants crowded around her, and her shrieks stopped abruptly. But not before Sierra heard, “Green! Monster! I saw it…!”

“Oh no,” Sierra moaned. “Oh no, no, that’s just what we need!”

People were still craning in their seats, trying to see what was going on. The curtain had been drawn across the galley space, concealing whatever was happening.

Roused by the commotion, Chaco asked, “What was that all that about?”

“It’s Fred,” Sierra whispered grimly. “It has to be Fred. The flight attendant was screaming about a green monster. Sound familiar?”

Chaco closed his eyes again. “Figures.” Sierra waited for more, but he remained silent.

“What are we going to do? Fred will be a disaster on this trip, which is why I told him—firmly!—that he couldn’t come with us,” Sierra asked.

“I don’t know.”

“We have to do something.”

Chaco shifted his long body slightly to face her and opened his eyes. “Look, Sierra. I have no more idea than you do. In fact, I think I’m in real trouble here.”

Sierra looked at his pale face and anguished eyes. “Are you sick?”

“It’s worse than that,” he responded miserably. “I’m mortal.”

“Mortal? Mortally ill, you mean?”

“No. Mortal. As in, I’m just like you, now. I’m not an Avatar anymore. I can get sick. I can die.”

All thoughts of Fred forgotten, Sierra said, “How do you know? How is that even possible?”

Chaco shook his head. “Wouldn’t you know if all your blood left your body? I mean, just for an instant before you died? I’ve been severed from the numinous, the sphere in which we Avatars exist. The power source has been unplugged, if that makes more sense.”

Sierra absorbed this in silence. Finally, she said, “But you’re still alive. So cutting you off from the, um, numinous doesn’t kill you?”

Chaco rolled his eyes. “Apparently not.”

“Okay. Why don’t you try to turn into a coyote? If you can do that, it proves you’re okay.” In addition to being an outwardly young and indisputably handsome young man, Chaco was Coyotl the Trickster, demigod and culture hero of many Native American traditions. Sierra was so rattled that she didn’t consider what her fellow passengers’ response might be to a coyote lounging in a nearby window seat.

Chaco looked at her, his golden-amber eyes now dulled to hazel. Dark circles beneath his eyes made them appear sunken.

“What do you think I’ve been trying to do for the past hour?”

“Oh.” Sierra sat quietly for a long time, thinking. Eventually, she asked, “How did you get separated from the, um, numinous, anyway? How could something like that happen?”

Chaco roused himself from his lethargy. “I don’t know. It’s never happened before. I could make an educated guess, though. I think it’s because I’m no longer connected to my land, the land that created me. I think my land is the source of my power. I’ve never been on an airplane before, so I didn’t know this would happen.”

“We’re thousands of feet in the air. When we get to Hawai‘i, we’ll be on land again—maybe you’ll get it back. Hawai‘i is part of the United States, after all,” Sierra said, trying to comfort her friend.

Chaco brightened a little at this, but his enthusiasm flickered and died. “I don’t know as much as I should about things like history and geography, but wasn’t Hawai‘i built by volcanoes in the middle of the ocean?”

Sierra nodded.

“And when did Hawai‘i become part of the United States?”

Sierra’s dark brows knit together as she tried to remember. She gave up. “I’m not sure, but it was probably about 60 years ago.”

Chaco groaned, almost inaudibly. “So Hawai‘i isn’t part of my land at all. It’s something different. The people there are probably not even Native Americans.”

This Sierra did know. “They’re Polynesians. They came from Tahiti, I think. Once you get your feet on the ground, maybe you’ll feel better.”

“Maybe,” he said, directing a morose gaze out of the little window at the clouds.

#

The trip was originally supposed to be a fun vacation with Sierra’s fiancé, Clancy. At least, Sierra thought it would be fun, but as Clancy pointed out, his idea of an island vacation had more to do with drinking fruity tropical drinks on the beach than with counting albatross chicks. Nonetheless, he had gone along with her plans for a one-month stint on Midway Island. It was an ecotourism gig that allowed some twenty volunteers at a time onto Midway to help biologists monitor the bird life. The island was a national wildlife refuge that provided breeding grounds for millions of sea birds, including several endangered species. The volunteers lived on Midway for a month, counting chicks and cleaning up plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch so that adult birds wouldn’t mistake the colorful bits of plastic for food and feed it to their nestlings—thereby killing them.

But Clancy’s boss had asked (demanded) that he cancel his scheduled vacation. Sierra was upset by this, but she understood. Clancy was head of security at a high-tech Silicon Valley firm. The president of the United States had scheduled a visit to the plant to highlight her support of American technology—and Clancy’s vacation was sacrificed amid promises of more vacation time later.

“I’m going anyway,” she had told Clancy. At his look of surprise, she added, “Remember? My job is paying for it. I have to go so I can report on the wildlife conservation work on Midway.” Sierra worked for Clear Days Foundation as a communications executive.

“Oh. Well, sure. I just thought…”

“I’d like to ask Chaco to go with me,” Sierra had said. “That okay with you?”

There was a long silence. “Chaco? Isn’t he with Kaylee? Wouldn’t that be kind of awkward?”

“I thought you knew. Kaylee is dating someone named Guy now. She moved on. Kaylee always moves on.”

“Oh. Well, what about taking Kaylee with you? Or Rose? Or Mama Labadie?” Clancy listed off Sierra’s closest female friends.

“All three of them are going to some animal spirit guide workshop in Sedona, so they’re not available. Look, please don’t worry about this. Chaco and I are just friends. We’ve never been anything else. And I’m going to be on a remote island in the middle of nowhere for a month with a bunch of people I don’t know. I’d like to have a friend with me.”

“I’m not worried. Well, maybe I am, a little. Just tell me you’re sorry that it won’t be me.”

“I’m really, really sorry that it won’t be you!”

He would have to be content with that.

#

Discovering that Fred had decided to stow away on the airplane was unwelcome news to Sierra. But there could be no other explanation for the ruckus among the flight attendants and that telling shriek of “Green! Monster!”

Fred was a mannegishi. When visible, Fred looked like a green melon with pipe-cleaner arms and legs, six flexible digits on each paw, and swiveling orange eyes that resembled traffic reflectors. He had the ability to disappear at will, which had been handy in Sierra’s earlier adventures, but he was a mischievous creature with little or no impulse control and an enormous appetite. Fred was not Sierra’s first choice of companion for a visit to a delicate ecosystem populated by endangered birds.

Now she had to deal with an errant mannegishi as well as a mortal and extremely miserable Chaco. As they walked through the loading tunnel to the gate, Sierra whispered, “How are we going to find Fred?”

Chaco shrugged. “My guess is that Fred will find us. Don’t worry about him—he’s been around the block a few times in the past few thousand years.” He was still drawn and tired-looking, with none of his usual sexy saunter. Sierra guessed that returning to the earth had not restored his supernatural powers or immortality.

They made their way to baggage pickup. When Chaco hefted his suitcase, he nearly dropped it, then frowned.

“I think Fred found us,” he reported.

Sierra looked at him, puzzled.

“My suitcase.” He hefted it again. “It’s a lot heavier than it was when I dropped it off in San Jose. It’s either Fred or someone stuffed a bowling ball in here.”

Sierra was horrified. “Well, let him out! He must be smothered in there.”

“Not likely,” scoffed Chaco. He gave the suitcase a good shake. “Serves him right.”

“What if he’s lost his powers like you have?” she hissed, not wanting to be overheard.

“I don’t think so. He disappeared on the plane fast enough when the flight attendant started screaming. Otherwise, there would have been a lot more commotion.”

Acknowledging that Chaco was probably right, Sierra turned her attention to finding transportation to their hotel. It was located right on Waikiki Beach and wasn’t far from the airport. On the bus ride to the hotel, Sierra took in the tropical plants, caught glimpses of turquoise ocean, and, cracking the window a trifle, breathed in the scent of many flowers—and the usual smells of any big city. The people walking on the streets all looked like tourists to her. Many were wearing shorts, flip-flops, and Hawai‘ian print shirts. Surely not everyone in the city is a tourist, she thought. At one point, Chaco’s suitcase began to squirm, but he kicked it sharply, and the suitcase subsided.

Their hotel was an enormous complex of tall buildings, and they had a room on the seventeenth floor, overlooking the ocean. Sliding glass doors on a balcony opened to let in breezes, and the afternoon air smelled soft and sweet with an underlying sharper tang of salt. They dumped their suitcases on the floor—in Chaco’s case, none too gently. Chaco unzipped the bag and Fred rolled out onto the carpet.

“Ow ow ow ow,” he complained, rubbing his fat bottom and glaring at them reproachfully.

“It’s your own fault,” Chaco said coldly. “I’m going to bed.” He commandeered one of the two queen-size beds and pulled the covers over his head.

“What’s his problem?” the little mannegishi asked. “He didn’t spend hours balled up in a suitcase.”

“He’s lost his powers,” Sierra explained. “He’s a mortal now, and it disagrees with him. Anyway, why’d you do it, Fred? I asked you not to come. Now I don’t know what to do.”

She felt nearly as weary as Chaco. The trip had started with Clancy dropping out. Now Chaco had lost his powers and become mortal—and who knew what that would mean? She supposed it would be like a human losing the ability to see, or walk. And she had to deal with Fred, too. As fond as she was of him, Fred was a nuisance at the best of times.

“Lost his powers? How does that happen?” asked Fred, looking worried. He disappeared briefly then reappeared. He looked relieved but puzzled. “I haven’t lost my abilities. Why did Chaco lose his?”

“He thinks it’s because he’s no longer in contact with his birth land. He says he’s cut off from the numinous, whatever that is.”

“I dunno about numinous, but I’m still okay.”

“How nice for you!” came an irritated growl from under the humped covers on Chaco’s bed.

“Look, Fred, I could really use a drink right now. Disappear yourself, and we can talk. There’s got to be a bar in this hotel somewhere.”

As it turned out, the hotel had many bars. Sierra picked one with an outdoor seating area on the beach and ordered something unfamiliar with rum in it. The drink arrived, bedecked with chunks of fresh fruit, small umbrellas, and plastic hula girls and accompanied by a bowl of peanuts. She cleared away the ornamentation, ate the fruit, and began working slowly on the remaining fluid. It was cold, tart, and sweet. She still felt grubby from the trip, but at least she was near a beach—she could see surfers from where she was sitting—with a fruity tropical drink. And an invisible mannegishi. She could see the imprint of Fred’s bottom on the chair cushion next to hers, and the peanuts were disappearing at a rapid pace.

She picked up her phone and pretended to tap in a number, then said, “Hi, Fred. We can talk now.” Anyone observing would see a trim woman with tanned skin and long, dark hair, sitting alone and talking on the phone.

“So what happened to Chaco?” Fred asked.

“As soon as the plane took off, he started to look kind of green around the gills. Then he slumped down and acted like he was sick. He says he’s mortal now. He can die.”

“That’s not good,” Fred observed.

“Tell me about it,” said Sierra. “I’ve been mortal my whole life.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”

“It’s all right. I’m used to it. Chaco isn’t. Do you know if he can ever regain his connection to the numinous? Whatever that is?”

“Dunno.”

“And why didn’t you lose your powers?” Sierra demanded. The mannegishi was quiet for a few minutes.

“Chaco and I aren’t exactly the same sort of thing, you know.”

“How do you mean?”

“Chaco is—was—an Avatar. Much more powerful than a mannegishi. I’m just a, ah, kind of an…well, I don’t know exactly. I have certain powers, but what I can do is born inside me. Like bees can make honey? I can do what I do. That’s all I know.” Sierra could tell by the sounds next to her that the mannegishi was sucking his digits—a nervous habit.

“Stop that!” The sucking sounds ceased, and the peanuts began to disappear again. Sierra flagged a passing waiter and asked for more peanuts and another round of whatever she was drinking.

“What about your powers?” Fred asked abruptly. Sierra sat for a moment, considering. She had discovered during her earlier struggles against the Aztec god Necocyaotl that she possessed certain disturbing powers of her own. Rose had helped her to strengthen her control over these powers, but Sierra still didn’t understand how they worked. Given a choice, she preferred not thinking about them. But Fred’s question was a good one, so she closed her eyes and searched for the glowing ribbons she visualized when her powers were at work. After a moment, she opened her eyes again.

“I still have my powers, such as they are. No difference.” Why were she and Fred untouched, while Chaco had been drastically changed? The illogic of magic, as always, annoyed her, but she couldn’t do anything about the situation today. Right now, she was sitting in the Hawai‘ian sun on a Hawai‘ian beach, drinking a Hawai‘ian drink, and watching the Hawai‘ian waves. Almost against her will, she began to relax. The waiter brought her a fresh drink and another bowl of peanuts. She thanked him, took a long swallow, and closed her eyes. She began to think about Chaco and Fred and their attendant problems. Not relaxing. She opened her eyes again, only to find the rest of her drink gone, as well as all of the fruit.

“Fred!!!”

#

If you enjoyed Chapter 1, you can find “Fire in the Ocean” at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apple iBooks (requires app)

Audible.com

The Price of Freedom Isn’t Free

“The price of freedom isn’t free.” That’s a saying that ex-service people are fond of using, especially when they are in a more-righteous-than-thou mood. I’m grateful to those who have served, but more than a little put off by this, as in the former client who had an American flag the size of a tennis court in his office. I remarked on it, and he snapped at

 

me, “The price of freedom isn’t free, y’know!” As if I had claimed the opposite for some reason.

As it happens, he was right, but for reasons other than his pride in military service. Yes, the military does the government’s bidding here and abroad, but it isn’t the military that defends the rights and freedoms of American citizens.

It’s American citizens.

And we haven’t been doing a very good job of it over the past four decades. When the Reagan Administration struck down the FCC Fairness Doctrine, there wasn’t a great deal of pushback. The Fairness Doctrine required that if, for example, a broadcaster aired 15 minutes of liberal information or editorial content, they must balance it with 15 minutes of conservative content on the same subject.

Prior to the elimination of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, we didn’t have Fox News. Or ClearChannel. Or Breitbart. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or Alex Jones. Sure, those folks were out there, but they didn’t have a 24/7, 52-week media platform from which to propagate lies and disinformation. As a result, the country has become increasingly polarized as about one-third of the population has willingly walled themselves off from reality to marinate in the “information” they want to hear, as opposed to the truth.

The citizens should have taken to the streets when Citizens United was passed into law. But we didn’t. Citizens United, in brief, changed the status of corporations to people, allowing them to donate money to political campaigns and deeply influence the politics of the country.

The problem is, corporations aren’t people. They don’t act in the interests of the people, they act in the interests of corporations. So if our current laws and policies reflect little to negative concern for the wellbeing of actual human beings, that’s why. The laws weren’t passed for our benefit.

Voter suppression has always been a problem in this country, as certain groups strive to maintain power by excluding others from the political table. However, there are individuals and organizations that are deeply committed to preventing people of color, poor people, and liberals from voting. Here are just a few of the techniques deployed during the 2016 election:

  • Using a voting software program called CrossCheck, allegedly to prevent voter fraud, but in reality designed to throw qualified voters off the rolls when said voters tend to be in the undesired categories. Twenty-eight states used CrossCheck in 2016, throwing literally hundreds of thousands of registered voters off the rolls. Most of these voters were people of color, poor, young (likely to be liberal), or liberal.
  • Voter caging—requiring voters to verify their mailing addresses by sending them small postcards covered with tiny type that often are overlooked as junk mail. Failure to respond resulted in being eliminated from the rolls. These postcards, need I say, were mailed to communities whose residents are poor and/or minority.
  • Voter ID laws—requiring a state-issued ID to vote, which disadvantages poor people in particular as it requires them to travel to the DMV and pay for the ID.
  • Gerrymandering—this is an old (the term was first used in 1812) but successful technique that involves drawing up voting districts that concentrate conservative voters across as many districts as possible to create a conservative majority. (It could work both ways, but it’s mostly Republicans who do this.)
  • Mailing false voting information. Postcards with incorrect information on when and where to vote are mailed into districts with minority populations.
  • Poll closures. Polling places are strategically shut down or closed early in —you guessed it­—poor and minority neighborhoods.

As the Tea Party diligently worked to put whackadoodle candidates in positions of power all across the country, we liberals patiently waited for the checks and balances we’ve been told about to kick in.

Well, guess what? They didn’t.

Turns out you actually have to DO something for the checks and balances to work. As in protest, resist, rock the boat, take to the streets, speak out. As a result, the United States is no longer a beacon of freedom to the world. We are a third-rate developed country. We used to be number one in infant mortality survival, health care, human rights, education, income per capita, equitable distribution of wealth, etc., etc. None of that is true anymore. We’re just another corporate-owned, corrupt, greedy banana republic with an insane tinpot dictator at the helm, masses of increasingly poor citizens, viciously oppressed minorities, and an educational system that turns out ignorant, entitled mistakes like Donald J. Trump and company.

On the other hand, the United States has achieved primacy in many key areas. We are number one in percentage of our population in jail. We are also number one in how quickly we force new parents to return to work. The U.S. spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country (might have something to do with our abysmal healthcare statistics), despite the fact we get less than anybody else for the money. We also have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world and—surprise!—one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world.

Friends, we did not get here due to the enmity of foreign powers. No one attacked us to shove us down the scale of decency and freedom to occupy a position just under Slovakia. We did it to ourselves through irresponsible legislation, punitive laws, favoring corporate rights over human rights, pandering to religious interests (read Christian here), and failing to create an environment where education—the real kind, where you learn how to think—can flourish. And most of it came about because corrupt and greedy people want more money, and they’re not at all reluctant to take it out of your wallet.

The price of freedom isn’t free. We have to work constantly to deserve that freedom. When we see something like the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, or the passage of an insanely wrong law, we have to step up and work to overcome. I used to think that eternal vigilance was just a fancy patriotic way of describing our military. No, eternal vigilance is what we owe ourselves, our families, our communities and our country to prevent the enemies of freedom from invading the halls of power from within.

Let this be the last gasp of oligarchical power, corruption, and bigotry in this country. Let it be the last spasm of hatred for the poor, disadvantaged, minorities and women. Let it be the last of untrammeled corporate greed in this country. Stay awake, be vigilant, question everything. And let freedom ring again.

Cover Reveal: Fire in the Ocean

As I have mentioned before, my second novel, “Fire in the Ocean,” is coming out from Diversion Books in February 2018. Diversion’s art department came up with a spiffy new cover for “The Obsidian Mirror,” which will be re-issued along with the debut of “Fire in the Ocean”:

New cover for “The Obsidian Mirror”

“Fire in the Ocean” is the sequel to “The Obsidian Mirror,” and features the same cast of characters. New twist, though–the book is set in Hawai’i on the islands of Moloka’i and Hawai’i (the Big Island).

Why, you might ask, Hawai’i? When I wrote “The Obsidian Mirror,” I drew upon strictly New World mythologies, folk tales and traditions–Native American, MesoAmerican and Voudún, avoiding the supernatural traditions that essentially migrated to the Americas from Europe. I started it as a kind of experiment after reading one of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” novels. I just wanted to see if a fantasy could be crafted that entirely eschewed the standard fantasy tropes of caped adventurers, swords and sorcery–elves, vampires and trolls need not apply.  To my surprise, the experiment turned into a book.

Although I wanted to continue the adventures of Sierra and her friends, I didn’t want to repeat the setting, plot, or other key elements of “The Obsidian Mirror.” So I picked Hawai’i as the venue for the sequel because: 1) I love Hawai’i ; 2) Hawai’i is also “New World,” and therefore fit into the strictures I had placed on myself; 3) it was an excuse to go back to the islands to do research. (And an amazing and wonderful trip it was, as those of you who have followed my blog for a while know!)

Why Moloka’i? Well, it turns out that Moloka’i in ancient times was known as the island of sorcerers. The island has its own take on the mythology and its own unique legends. Moloka’i proved to be a rich source of information and experiences, most of which were incorporated into “Fire in the Ocean.” As for why I chose the Big Island for part of the story–you’ll have to read the book.

Diversion Books just sent me the cover design for “Fire in the Ocean.” What do you think?

Cover Design for “Fire in the Ocean”

The Vengeance of El Niño

It’s been a while since I have shared what I am working on. I blogged extensively about my research visit to Hawai‘i in January of 2015, but I’ve been on radio silence about work ever since.

Part of that is because if I say too much about the story, why would you want to read it when it is published? Another issue is providing detail about a story that might very well change so drastically in the writing process that it becomes unrecognizable.

I did mention that it has been much easier writing with a plot outline than without one. And that was certainly true until I wrote up to the intended climax of the story—and discovered that it wasn’t actually the climax after all and I needed to extend the story (for which no plot outline yet existed).

Part of the problem was that I hit the putative climax at about 65,000 words into the story. That means that I would have wrapped it up in about 75,000 words, which is a bit light for a novel like this. “The Obsidian Mirror” was about 100,000 words, and I am aiming for a similar length for this novel.

So I hit a rough patch as I floundered around trying to figure out what comes next in the story. I hesitate to call it “writer’s block” because I wasn’t blocked. I knew where the story was going, I was just missing a piece. Sort of like Indiana Jones crawling across a rope bridge across a steep chasm and there’s ten or fifteen planks missing in the middle. And crocodiles (my publishing contract and deadline) waiting below.

And then there was getting sick. Then the holidays. El Niño came for a visit last week and flooded the basement, soaking our family photos, my oil paintings, family historiana, and a lot of other stuff. I spent this past week gently prying apart photographs and arranging them on every available surface to dry, turning them over, grouping them, and tossing the ruined ones away. I did no writing at all.

Among the things I found was a packet of letters, all dated around 1879. They were written by someone named Carrie to her cousin, William Smith of Roxbury, NY. (Mr. Smith was one of my ancestors, which is how I came by the letters, but I haven’t looked him up to determine exactly what the relationship is.) They were written in a delicate copperplate hand, very legible, the India ink still clear and sharp despite their age and the complete saturation of the paper.

I reluctantly decided I would have to throw them out. There were so many of them, and my priority was rescuing my thousands of family photos before they stuck irretrievably together. I read a few of the letters and they were fairly mundane, though written with clear affection for the recipient. I felt guilty. They had been kept perfectly for 110 years, and I was the one who trashed them.

However, I found a poignant little poem in Carrie’s spidery copperplate. Here it is:

You I will remember

And in this heart of mine

A cherished spot remains for you

Untill (sic) the end of time.

 

Remember I

When this you spy

And think of me that is very shy.

 

Remember me

When this you see

And think of me that thinks of thee.

 

Remember Carrie

Where ‘ere you tarry.

And think of me

That will never marry.

 

The last stanza was enclosed in brackets. What do you think? I don’t mean Carrie’s gifts as a poet, which are slight, but the heart of it. I think Carrie was in love with William. I have at least saved her poem, which must have cost this shy woman a great deal to share with her adored cousin.

That much of Carrie I am keeping, safe for now.

IMG_1736

Carrie’s Poem

Getting back to my current book, I am firm on the title of “Fire in the Ocean.” It is set in Hawai‘i, which was built—and is still being built—by fire in the ocean: volcanoes. It also touches on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where billions of tons of particulate plastic are swirling around out there like peas and carrots in alphabet soup. Hawai‘i is smack dab in the middle of it. The slow dissolution of chemicals from the plastics is another form of “fire in the ocean,” poisoning sea life. And, of course, Pele, the goddess of volcanic fire, is a featured character in the book. Those of you who followed my blog from Hawai‘i know why I couldn’t leave Pele out of the story.

I am back on the job writing. El Niño is paying another visit, but we have pumps going and sandbags. All my rescued photos are safe and dry now and my oil paintings are drying out in the bathtub. Good time to write!

DSC_2647

“The Burden” This is one of my oil paintings, now residing in my bathtub. It won a first prize somewhere obscure.

Aloha from Spain!

Spanish wave

Sorry! That was jet lag speaking. I have been immersed for a few months in writing the sequel to “The Obsidian Mirror,” which is set in Hawai’i. I meant, of course, “Hola from Spain!”

I won’t be blogging in the same kind of detail that I blogged my trip to Hawai’i last January. This is a vacation, not a research trip. And, in the faint possibility you might be concerned that I won’t get the sequel done, I am taking nearly a week in one place, the Rioja region, to work on the next novel. Did I mention that the Rioja region is home to some of Spain’s finest red wines? Naturally, that had nothing to do with my choice of locations in which to work on the book. No, indeed.

So hasta la vista, mis amigos. (Practicing!) I’ll be back with odds and ends as Tom and I wend our way across Spain.

 

American Folk Lore: There’s No Such Thing

Joseph Noel Paton [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Noel Paton [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I just finished reading Terry Pratchett’s “Folklore of Discworld,” co-written with folklorist Jacqueline Simpson. (Do people actually get paid for knowing about folklore? What a great job!) Pratchett and Simpson discuss the relationship between the Discworld’s traditions and those of Earth (with the conceit that folklore, tropes and memes are particles of inspiration that drift across the multiverse, so that myths of Discworld wind up here, and vice versa).

While reading (actually listening to) this book, it struck me how deeply I am attracted to the folklore of the British Isles (although this is obviously not a particularly rare trait, as evidenced by libraries full of epic fantasies, tales of witches and warlocks, dragons and cloaked heroes and faeries). Nothing entranced me more as a child than tales of banshees, pookahs, faeries, disappearing gold pieces, leprechauns, elves and pixies. As an adult, I am still entranced by Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, G.R.R. Martin, and many less well known authors who write in that tradition—whether humorous or not. It’s one of the reasons I adore Pratchett, who once remarked that he regarded folklore much as a carpenter regards trees.

Why be so attracted to the folklore of another place? I could put it down to my Scots-Irish ancestry. But I think the real explanation is that the folklore of my own time and place is sparse and rather unimaginative. Perhaps if I had grown up in Louisiana or some place with more history than California, I would have a healthy backlog of swamp critters, ghosts, haunted mansions, and eerie sightings to freshen the imagination. As it is, I am hard put to say exactly what constitutes folklore here.

Sure, we told each other the stories about the guy and girl making out in the car who hear on the radio about the escaped madman with a hook for a hand. And step on a crack, break your mother’s back. (As this never happened, I didn’t believe it for long.) But these things lacked the enchantment I found in fairy stories and old tales from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. Witches, warlocks and wizards. Spirit horses. Water nymphs. Faery gold. Selkies. Leaving milk out for the Good Folk. Strange dancing lights on the moors at night. The Wild Hunt. King Arthur.

An incredibly high percentage of American “folklore” has disappointingly mundane origins. Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox, Babe, appears to have originated in the oral tradition of lumberjacks, but according to Wikipedia, was “later popularized by freelance writer William B. Laughead (1882–1958) in a 1916 promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company.” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally a promotional character created for Montgomery Ward. Pecos Bill was a character created by short story writer Edward S. O’Reilly in the early 20th Century. Johnny Appleseed was a real person, John Chapman, but all he did was plant apple trees, not conjure gold and silver apples or something interesting like that. Santa Claus comes closest to having true folkloric origins, but in America, even he was largely shaped by modern forces in the form of Clement Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823:

“His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself…”

Moore changed the majesty of Father Christmas, a tall, thin gentleman wreathed with holly and robed in green, into a “right jolly old elf,” later immortalized in his modern incarnation by the Coca-Cola Corporation. Moore also invented the eight tiny reindeer, which were not found in the stable of Father Christmas.

Where’s the magic in all this? Sadly lacking, in my opinion. Our modern American monsters are the psychopaths, serial killers, stalkers of children, terrorists real and imagined, and that guy with the hook, who may be folkloric, but he’s not very magical. Our urban legends may technically be folklore, but flashing your headlights getting you in trouble with gangs, or tapeworm eggs in bubble gum, or waking up in a bath of ice with your kidneys missing falls well short of enchantment.

I will admit that we Americans have our share of cryptozoids. Probably the leading examples of this are Sasquatch (Bigfoot) and El Chupacabra (the goatsucker). El Chupa is an import from Mexico, where apparently they are so folklore-rich that some of it is oozing across the border. None of these to my knowledge is actually magic; it’s just that no one has ever proved they exist, so of course, lots of people believe in them. Here’s a map of North American cryptozoology, if you’re interested in more.

And, of course, there’s a lot of flying saucer lore. But I don’t think any of the anal probees would say that there was magic involved.

As I mentioned before, it may depend on where you grew up. In Hawaii it is clear that many ethnic Hawaiians (and also many non-ethnic Hawaiians) believe in the old lore. I met people who believe in ghosts, in Pele and other ancient gods, in Menehune, and in spirits generally, both good and evil.

Magic offers the possibility of the good and brave and clever overcoming evil or at least magical trickery, whereas our monsters are sometimes overcome by the judicial system (and sometimes not). Magic also casts a glamor over folk tales; in fact the word “glamor” used to mean magic or enchantment. Our “folk” heroes are artificially created to make money—although they are still presented to schoolchildren as though they were genuine. I suppose Pratchett would say that when people start to believe in something, it transforms that thing into folklore. But no one really believes in Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. Thank heaven, some children still believe in Santa Claus, and around a campfire at night, you can believe anything. But I still think we are a culture that is sorely deprived of a true folkloric element.

Do you agree or disagree? Did you hear a truly magical (and American) story when you were a child? Did you have a haunted house on your street where lights and music could be heard at night? Were tales of helpful pixies or harmful sprites told in your neighborhood?

I would love to hear from you if you have such stories to tell!

The Last Day on Molokai and a Return to Halawa Valley

Tom really is a hero. He agreed to drive the steep, winding, one-lane road back to Halawa Valley so that we could visit the beach there and maybe hike to the waterfalls. He surprised me–and this is after 43 years of marriage.

The drive was spectacular, and we stopped to take photos of things we remembered, but hadn’t stopped for the first time because of unfamiliarity with the road. For instance, there’s this sign:

Nene crossing sign.

Nene crossing sign.

Nene (pronounced nay-nay) are the native Hawaiian geese, and they are endangered. Sadly, we didn’t see any geese, just the sign. We also saw this, which we think is a roadside memorial, but it’s a bit different than the usual. In addition to the sun made of white coral, there were offerings:

Roadside memorial.

Roadside memorial.

There was no one waiting at the bottom of the road this time. We parked and walked down the dirt road to the beach. There is a river flowing into the sea here, and it’s  picturesque:

River at Halawa Valley.

River at Halawa Valley.

 

Beach at Halawa Valley.

Beach at Halawa Valley.

 

We picked our way along the beach, and I saw what I expected; lots of small pieces of plastic in the sand, white and blue, black and gray, yellow and red–the detritus of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, collecting on this remote beach. I began picking up the larger pieces and putting them in my pocket. by the time we left, both pockets were bulging, and my arms were full of still larger chunks, bottles, and a small section of plastic fence. Tom gently makes fun of my plastic policing, but I regard it as the little that I can do to make it better. Worth nothing in the face of the magnitude of the problem, I agree. And many of the pieces were so small as to be impossible to retrieve, reminding me of “Rumplestiltskin,” where the poor girl has to count all the grains of sand or spin straw into gold.

Some of my plastic finds. Pockets are bulging with smaller bits.

Some of my plastic finds. Pockets are bulging with smaller bits.

A Hawaiian family was picnicking on the beach. A young woman named Noni (noh-nee, means “beautiful”) was sitting on the sand, while her sister, husband and nephew were on the rocky point under the cliffs, fishing. We chatted for a while, and then her husband came back with a net bag full of ‘opihi (oh-pee-hee, limpets). We asked what they were going to do with them, and he said they were best barbecued, but could be eaten right out of the shell. Did we want to try one?

Yes, we did. He had lost his knife while prying ‘opihi off the rocks, but he used one limpet shell to dislodge the resident of another shell, and offered us some. They were rubbery, and the primary taste was a mild saltiness, but I’m sure they are delicious barbecued. This inside of the shell had a lovely iridescence, tinged with green. I washed mine out and brought it home with me.

Snack time!

Snack time!

We asked about the hike to the falls. Noni said it was really difficult, and she hadn’t done it in 20 years, so we decided to give it a miss. (Later, I learned that it takes two hours just to get there. I probably made the right decision.) After dumping my collected plastic in the trash bins provided, we got into our car and drove slowly back, taking pictures as we went.

Rainforest stream.

Rainforest stream.

Once we were back in two-lane country again, we stopped to take a picture of this:

Chicken condos.

Chicken condos.

I called it “chicken condos,” as they appear to be individual shelters for chickens or roosters. As I was taking the picture, a pack of dogs ran up to the fence and barked their heads off. A very large Hawaiian came down the drive, looking rather menacing. I waved and said I was just taking a picture of his chickens. He didn’t smile, but waved more or less amicably and went back down the drive. My guess is that he’s raising fighting cocks, which is abhorrent, but I don’t know.

The only real proof we saw that there are deer on Moloka'i.

The only real proof we saw that there are deer on Moloka’i.

We also stopped at a grove of coconut palms, right outside of Kaunakakai. This used to be a much larger grove called “the Queen’s Grove,” because it was planted for the wife of King Kamehameha V. It’s right by the beach, and the trees must be 100 feet tall, each with a cluster of coconuts clinging to the top under its fronds. There are piles of coconuts on the ground, both fresh, green ones and old, hairy ones. The top of my head began to feel peculiarly vulnerable as I imagined what a coconut would do to it after a drop of 100 feet, so I left.

The Queen's Grove.

The Queen’s Grove.

Then back to the condo. I was very behind in my journaling, so spent most of the late afternoon writing, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks nearby, and enjoying the trade winds. When we went to bed, another three-inch centipede was occupying the hallway upstairs, and I gave him the same treatment I gave Jesse the Centipede a few nights ago–a beating with my flip-flop. Neither centipede put up a fight, making me think they were unwell to begin with.

And so the journey came to an end, as all journeys must do–which is the beginning of another journey for me; writing a new novel. The entire experience was amazing. People were so helpful and kind, so willing to bring me into their lives a little bit. It was extremely touching, and I will never forget the experiences I had here. As a parting wave, here are the signs that greet new arrivals to Moloka’i, and bid departing travellers farewell:

Aloha!

Aloha!

 

Snorkeling off Molokai, Followed by Not Much

Day 14: Molokai

This was our snorkeling day, so we set our alarm. We had to be at the Kaunakakai Wharf by 6:45. We ate a quick breakfast and set out in the dark. We could see the bright lights at the tiny Molokai airport as well as the wharf as we came down the rise from the west end of the island; Molokai is only 38 miles long from the west end to the east.

I thought Tom should leave his camera in the car. It is large (especially the lenses) and heavy, and I was afraid it might get damaged or get water in it. So no pictures, but I’ll post a few photos of the kinds of fish we saw, even if they aren’t the actual fish we met.

We drove straight out onto the wharf and parked near our boat, the Coral Queen. A young Hawaiian man told us nicely not to park there or we would get a ticket. This turned out to be Gabe, the boat’s one crewman. He would take the divers down while the captain kept an eye on the snorkelers.

This was a surprise. Diving implied deep water, so I asked about it. The captain (whose name I failed to remember) said they had more than 40 different places to take people, depending on whether they had a mixed group (snorkelers and divers), or just one or the other, and of course depending on tides, currents and weather.

There were about a dozen of us. They waited a while for some latecomers who never showed, then set out along the eastern shore in the dawn light. On our way out, they pointed out a handsome white yacht moored offshore and said it was Larry Ellison’s.

The Molokaiians are very hopeful about Mr. Ellison, the fifth wealthiest man in the world, and the founder and former CEO of Oracle Corporation. As you may know, he bought the entire island of Lanai a little while ago (98% of it, anyway). The people of Lanai have been very happy with the changes he has brought to that island, and the Molokaiians are hopeful that he will buy up the now-idle holdings of the Molokai Ranch. This would certainly make a huge difference; it remains to be seen if it’s a difference the people of Molokai will like. They have a slogan here: “Don’t change Molokai, let Molokai change you.”

It was calm, quite unlike the first few days we were here. It was interesting to try to locate landmarks on shore that we had earlier seen from the road, but we never got as far as Leimana’s fishpond.

Someone asked about sharks. Gabe said they tended to see black-tipped reef sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, hammerheads, scalloped hammerheads, and tiger sharks.

Tiger shark. I mean, come on. Is this something you want to go swimming with?

Tiger shark. I mean, come on. Is this something you want to go swimming with?

I said, “I don’t mind black tips, and I have swum with them, but the others…tell me that there won’t be any sharks out there today.”

Gabe struggled with his conscience for a moment, then looked straight at me and said, “There won’t be any sharks out here today.”

Bless the boy. I am sure I would have to change my bathing suit if I saw a hammerhead. Or any other shark, for that matter.

We saw humpback whales as we chugged along. They never came very close, but we did see them spouting and breaching a little ways off.

This is a picture of a humpback whale Tom took when we went whale watching in Monterey Bay.

This is a picture of a humpback whale Tom took when we went whale watching in Monterey Bay.

Eventually, we anchored (using a special anchor to avoid damaging the coral) and the captain pointed out the area the divers would explore, and further toward shore, the snorkelers’ area. As we were preparing to go in, a manta ray swam slowly next to the boat–the first I have ever seen.

As I flapped my way to the stern in my fins, a woman in a shortie wetsuit said with surprise, “No wetsuit?” I was surprised by the question. This was Hawaii, right? Who needs a wetsuit? They had them aboard the Coral Queen, but it hadn’t occurred to me to don one. I penguined onto the platform that had been lowered from the stern and fell backward into the water. It felt fine, neither warm nor especially cool. Tom joined me and we headed out.

Molokai is surrounded by a fringe reef that extends outward from the island a long way. You could walk out a mile in some places and still be in water up to your knees. We were probably a mile and a half from shore, in water that was about 12 feet deep. There were lots of fish to gawk at–schools of goatfish and convict tangs, triggerfish, butterflyfish of several varieties, bird  and rainbow wrasses, pink and silver juvenile parrotfish, mature rainbow parrotfish (a blaze of different colors), and one humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a’pu’a’a. I am never quite content snorkeling until I see this dapper little fish with his colorful suit and enormously long name.

School of convict tangs. This really looks like what we saw.

School of convict tangs. This really looks like what we saw.

Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu'a'a.

Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu’a’a.

Longnose butterflyfish.

Longnose butterflyfish.

To my surprise, my hands began to get numb and they turned white (whiter than they usually are, that is). That had never happened before while snorkeling. I didn’t think we had been out more than a half an hour, but I told Tom I wanted to go in. He agreed and we headed back to the boat–to find that we had been out an hour and fifteen minutes, and it was time to go anyway.

It appeared that we were going to go to another spot to explore. I felt quite chilled and decided not to get back in.

I struck up a conversation with Gabe. Tom had discovered that Gabe was a third cousin to Leimana, so I mentioned this and said we had enjoyed our time with Leimana at the fishpond.

“Yeah, he’s really something, isn’t he, with his thing…” Gabe indicated the swimsuit zone.

“Malo,” I said helpfully.

“…malo, and you can see his whole butt hanging out,” said Gabe.

“Well, to give credit where credit is due,” I said, “It’s a nice butt.”

Gabe looked profoundly shocked. I guess he thought pudgy old ladies were past appreciating these things, or perhaps he had never viewed his third cousin in that light.

I went forward to sit in the sun and get warm. This felt great, and my hands got warm again. However, after a bit, I felt my Irish skin had had as much solar exposure as was wise, and went back under cover. While I was sunning, though, I saw a huge turtle swim by under the deep turquoise water. He swam slowly, balletically, and I watched him until he disappeared into the depths.

While we were waiting for the others, we chatted with the captain. He had been a “bean-counter,” his words, in Minnesota. He used to come to Hawaii on vacation, and finally realized he didn’t have to live in Minnesota.

“Why Molokai?” we asked.

“It was the last island I visited,” he said.

He bought Molokai Fish and Dive, then bought the gas station next door. (Giving us the opportunity to buy gasoline at a filling station called Fish and Dive.) We commented on the high prices in the islands. Gas in our area is now close to $2 a gallon, but in Hawaii, it is more than $4. He told us that their prices were dependent on the last tanker, and they didn’t change until the next one arrived. I noticed that Fish & Dive gas prices were identical to the one other station on Molokai, a Chevron.

The divers and snorkelers came back raving about the wonders they had seen–turtles, mantas, even a sleeping white-tipped reef shark. Someone said that the water seemed warmer at this spot, and the captain said, “Yes, it is. There are freshwater springs back at the other place that make it colder.”

I said, “It would’ve been nice of you to have mentioned that an hour ago.”

But I think staying out of the water at the second location was the right decision. After we came back, Tom and I were exhausted. We had lunch at the Kualapu’u Cookhouse, and I could hardly keep my eyes open. I had fried saimin with vegetables, which proved to also have Spam and fake crab in it. Spam, in case you aren’t aware, is a favorite here in the islands. If you are eating in an establishment frequented by locals, you will find it on the menu.

I fell asleep on the ride home, and as soon as we rinsed ourselves and our equipment, we both fell into bed and slept the sleep of the truly depleted. We awoke in the early evening, forced ourselves to cook dinner (we had purchased grass-fed beef from the Molokai Meat Cooperative), ate it, and went gratefully to bed without doing the dishes.

Moloka’i Nuts, Coffee and Sorcerers

Day 11: Moloka’i

We were supposed to meet Auntie Opu’ulani today at 9 am, so we set our alarm. This turned out to be unnecessary, but as we were getting ready to go, We got a call on the condo phone from Auntie saying she had to babysit her grandchildren that day. (I still don’t know how she figured out the number–remember my iPhone was sacrificed to the sea gods.) She’s pretty jammed for the rest of the time she will be here because of the upcoming Makahiki Festival.

Makahiki is the ancient Hawaiian new year festival. It used to be four months long. It was a time when many of the repressive kapu were lifted, and there were athletic competitions, hula, games, feasts, and fun. Today it is a week long, and a celebration of Hawaiian culture. I am kicking myself that we are leaving just as Makahiki begins, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to do what I needed to do here because everyone would have been too busy.

So I offered to treat her to dinner, and we agreed to meet at Paddler’s Inn at 7 pm. That left the day wide open, so we decided to explore. First, we drove to Purdy’s Macadamia Farm, the only mac grower on Molokai. This consists of 50 trees that were planted 90 years ago on five acres. The entrance to the farm has this sign, homemade and similar to other signs you see on the island:

Asking the tourists to go with the flow on Moloka'i.

Asking the tourists to go with the flow on Moloka’i.

As we walked down the road, we were greeted by a small, skinny black cat. I miss my kitty, so I stopped to pet it. It turned out there were several other small cats, employed on the farm to kill rats, who eat the nuts.

 

We arrived in the middle of a tour. There was a wooden trough set up with whole mac nuts. There were holders made out out of old rubber tires and hammers to crack the nuts on pieces of stone in the trough. This is, of course, not how they are commercially processed. Mac nuts have a thick outer husk. The guy in charge of the tour bit into a husk and removed it to demonstrate. Then they have a very hard inner shell. If you whang them with a hammer, you can get at the nut meat inside. This was being directed by a short, fit Hawaiian with an attitude. He was the first Molokaiian we have met who was not pleasant, and the feeling we both got from him was open disdain.

Mac nut cracking station.

Mac nut cracking station.

After the nutcracking exercise, we tasted roasted and salted nuts (all natural, no other chemicals like the preservatives in canned or packaged nuts. Nothing added but sea salt, according to our surly host.), then got to taste raw coconut dipped in macadamia flower honey, which is not made on the farm. That was delicious and different. As this was going on, I noticed a dark, raffish-looking fellow with gold chains who was looking on, extracting raw coconut from a shell and throwing pieces for the cats to eat. The cats all scrambled for this coconut as though it were Li’l Friskies.

The grove of nut trees was immaculate. They don’t pick the nuts; when the nuts are ripe, they fall to the ground and they are harvested daily. The ground was absolutely bare between the trees except for a few piles of leaves that had been collected. Like coffee, mac trees have flowers and nuts in every stage of development at the same time.

After the mac nut farm, we drove to nearby Kualapu’u, which is where Coffees of Hawaii is. I wandered into the gift store intending to buy some coffees and spied the raffish cat-feeder. He was leaning casually against the counter, talking to the clerk.

“You look familiar,” I said. He looked surprised, then said, “You were at Purdy’s just now, weren’t you?”

I agreed this was so and commented that the host there was the only unfriendly person we had encountered here. He said he brought tours over from Maui on the ferry, and he always told them that the guy worked with nuts all his life, and so of course, he was a little nuts himself. Clearly a stock comment that he used all the time. He also said the man didn’t like it when you played with his cats, because they had jobs to do. I didn’t ask how our crabby host felt about feeding his cats coconut.

Tom went to the coffee bar and ordered two Mocha Mamas, the speciality of the house. This was sort of a coffee smoothie, with Molokai coffee, chocolate, ice cream, and whipped cream. Hardly any calories at all. It was delicious, but I couldn’t finish it.

On the way out of town (which takes about 60 seconds), I spied a gift store tucked into the Kualapu’u Business Park. Tom patiently parked the car and I went in. I had nosed around in several gift stores, but no joy. Either the stuff was complete junk, or it was truly original, handmade, beautiful, and hideously expensive.

To my surprise, this place had lovely things, reasonably priced. I saw this necklace, the octopus carved of mother-of-pearl, with jade beads on a beautifully knotted cord:

My new octopus.

My new octopus.

It was reasonably priced, so I bought it, along with some pretty mother-of-pearl earrings that, if anything, were underpriced. I very much wanted a large, carved turtle for my bathroom wall, but my suitcase is already perilously close to getting charged for being overweight, so the turtle remained where he was.

A side note: the octopus (he’e in Hawaiian, pronounced hay-ay) is associated with the sea god Kanaloa because the octopus is slippery, sly and sneaky (though sometimes it is the squid, not the octopus that is associated). Kanaloa is kind of like Satan. He created all the stinging, poisonous creatures that plague the people. He presents himself as beneficial sometimes, but will trick you. He rebelled against the chief god, Kane, and was forced to descend to the underworld, where he is known as Milu. (Sound familiar?)

Personally, I like octopi, and think they are fascinating. You wouldn’t expect a mollusk to have much of a brain, and most don’t, but octopi are smart. Look at this video:

Given how dependent the ancient Hawaiians were on the ocean for food, and how much time they spent in it surfing, swimming and sailing, you wouldn’t think the ocean god would be a Satan-equivalent. But the ocean, too, can be deceptive, changeable, dangerous and cruel, so I guess it makes sense.

After that, we returned to Paniolo Hale. I wrote the rest of the afternoon, and then  we drove into Kaunakakai to the Paddlers Inn. This is a hopping’ place at night, and we had trouble finding parking. I went into the restaurant and looked around. A band was playing Hawaiian music in the corner. The room was filled, and the waitress said because we didn’t have reservations, and there was a large group of tourists that had to be fed, we would have to wait. I asked her if she knew Auntie Opu’ulani, and she shook her head. I saw the waitress who had served us before, an older woman, and asked her. She said yes, she knew Auntie, and pointed to a woman sitting at a side table. I went to introduce myself.

Auntie Opu’ulani is a woman of about my age with dark, curly hair frosted with silver, and a wide, friendly face. She greeted me warmly, and then I set about trying to solve the seating problem. I had noticed when we came in that the bar was completely empty, and I asked our helpful waitress if we could get served in the bar. That suited me much better, anyway–it was quieter, so we could talk and actually hear each other. She said of course we could, so Tom and I and Auntie retired to the bar.

Auntie Opu'ulani.

Auntie Opu’ulani.

I asked Auntie Opu’ulani about mo’olelo. She asked how I intended to use them. I said my motivation in learning them was to better understand Hawaiian culture. I did not intend to retell them, but rather to have them inform my story. Tom chimed in with a description of “The Obsidian Mirror,” and explained how that related to what I was doing on Molokai.

She said she had learned the chants from her grandparents. She had been the 6th of 12 children, and her mother was ill when she was born, so her grandparents adopted her–very much in the old Hawaiian way. She said they had been born in the 1890’s. They were very strict, but loving. They believed that one’s possessions should be cared for, and that nothing was to be treated casually, as people do today. She loved them dearly, and they taught her the proper way to be Hawaiian, as well as the old chants. Auntie said the chants unique to Molokai had never been written down before, but that was her task now that she was retired.

Auntie Opu’ulani is a retired teacher. She teaches the Hawaiian language, although she was reluctant to do so at first. She said it all had to do with her name. I said I thought Opu’ulani meant “Heavenly House,” as Jeanine had told me, but she said no. It meant the tip of the incoming wave before it has broken–or the tip of the tooth of a sperm whale (highly valued). She used to be teased at school because the other children said pu’u meant she had a fat stomach (remember my lesson from Leimana at the fishpond?). She was unhappy, and asked her grandmother why she had been named that (traditionally, grandparents named the children, trying to give them a name that would signify their character). Her grandmother just looked at her and said, “Someday, you will understand the meaning of your name,” and that was that. Years later, she realized that her role was to help perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture. She has published two books in Hawaiian, with the assistance of Jeanine. (I must find out more about Jeanine!) Auntie said Hawaiian was taught at a very simple level to small children–and then at a very complex level to older kids. There was a gap, and she bridged it with a textbook and a novel aimed at middle-schoolers. So she has been the tip of the wave, bringing back the culture to other Molokaiians. My interpretation; as I have mentioned, Hawaiian is highly metaphorical.)

I asked about menehune, and she told me that her grandfather had seen one. He was walking in the high country and stopped to rest in the shade, but someone kept throwing nuts at him. He saw two small feet dangling from a branch, then a tiny man jumped down and ran into the brush. The menehune was warning her grandfather not to rest there. I asked if they were still around, and she said yes. There are plenty of places in the back country where they live. Menehune work closely with pohaku (poh-hah-koo, rocks), to build things like fishponds. By this, I think she means the rocks contribute as much a part of the work as the menehune.

She said there are many things in the chants that actually exist. Her son, who loved to hike, once found a spring in the high country that flowed out of the rock, then disappeared back into it again–something described in one of the chants. He filled bottles with this water and brought it home. When Opu’ulani drank it, she thought he had added something to it because it was so sweet, but her son said no, that was just the way it tasted.

Auntie believes the Ali’i, (ah-lee-ee, the upper class/nobility of ancient Hawaiian society) came originally from the Americas. (There is a generally accepted theory that they came from Tahiti. The mo’olelo refer to the original Ali’i coming from “Kahiki-nui,” or “great Tahiti.” However, DNA testing of any group of people is far from complete, and there have been some very surprising finds. for instance, DNA analysis of extremely ancient human remains found in Peru show direct a relationship with both the Ainu of Japan and with Australian Aborigines. So I wasn’t about to argue.) Her own ancestors came from Maui, she said, but when they got here, there were many uhane ino (oo-hahn-ay ee-no, bad spirits) who possessed peoples’ bodies, and the people had to get rid of them with prayer and fasting to live here.

I told her the story of the doomed lovers that Leimana had told me, and asked what it had to do with the big turtle rock in the channel. She told me, but that is part of her mo’olelo, so I can’t repeat it. I said the story of the two lovers sounded like it really happened, and she said that it did. She agreed with me that it sounded like something two teenagers might do. I also asked about the heiau on Molokai. I had read that Molokai was known for its powerful sorcerers, and they had built this enormous heiau on the Maui-facing side of the island to intimidate potential invaders from that island. It was a place of much human sacrifice, and there is the story of a kahuna (priest) who lost seven sons to this practice.

Auntie Opu’ulani confirmed the heiau as a place of sorcery. She used to take people from other islands on tours there (it is on private property and you have to get permission to visit). One day, she was guiding a group of kupuna (elders) from Maui. She and another lady sat down on some rocks to rest. Suddenly, the other lady jumped up and went directly back to the bus. Opu’ulani later found out that the lady felt that the rock was “trying to enter her.” She said the heiau was a bad place because of the human sacrifice, and if we visited, not to sit on the stones.

Auntie Opu’ulani was exactly the person I had wanted to meet. Educated, dedicated to her culture, and a believer. I decided to tell her my experience with the lei at Kilauea. When I described turning around to find the lei gone, she nodded quietly and said, “Pele accepted it.” I asked her to read the manuscript for the book I am working on (once I actually have a manuscript), and I offered to pay her for it. She said she would be glad to. As we prepared to leave, I asked if I might contribute to her work, remembering what Jeanine told me about offering money, but Auntie would not accept it. Of course, I offered to send her “The Obsidian Mirror” as a way of saying thank you, and this she accepted.

What a beautiful, gentle woman. I am so lucky to have met her!

But I don’t think we’ll be going to the heiau.