Skip to content

Back to Kauai Normal

March 5, 2012

From Saudi to San Francisco for a few days with the wife.  Lovely to be with her at home.  Lovely being home, except for the overcast and the cold.  A year in the tropics had convinced my metabolism that its requirements were permanently relaxed, and being so suddenly called to attention, it reacted with palpable resentment.  I shivered even with the heaters blasting.

Other things had changed while I was away.  The stylish furniture in our livingroom was entirely new to me as was the flat screen TV big as a billiard table.  The bookshelf on my side of the bed, the one filled exclusively with my books, was missing.  My bedside lamp had abandoned my side of the bed and now stood smugly beside the new couch, and Joanna’s things covered my small desk, her protests that she had “just tidied it” notwithstanding.

“Remember, we were broken into while you were away…” offered Joanna by way of explaining the new arrangement.

“…right, and the thieves took my old paperbacks and left you a new TV,” I said.

“Not exaclty.  But see, you still have the big red chair,” she said as she flopped into it.

“Where should I put my bag?”

“Not in your closet.  No more room.”

Admittedly, the apartment had never had much sympathy for my belongings, Joanna’s being so much nicer, but I began to feel that in the past year the two had conspired to move me out.

“Any mail for me?” I asked.

“Only a jury summons for October,” she said.

And then, “If you are coming home, we might need a bigger house.”


Joanna accompanied me back to Kauai where, for a long weekend, we fell into our usual routine.  Hike, swim, shave ice.  Lay on the beach, swim, shave ice.  Go for a run, sushi for lunch, shave ice.

The frangipani-scented trades blew softly out of a blue sky and held up cottony clouds as if nothing could be easier.  This must be what was imagined when the first people imagined heaven, I thought, even if the island’s wild boars do not lie peacefully with the endangered honey creepers, even if they still tend to eat things they shouldn’t.

“What do you want to do today?” asked Jo.

“Hold hands,” I replied.

“We did that yesterday.”

“Hike … and hold hands?”

Waimea Overlook

Waimea Overlook

A Ritual Stop

After Joanna returned home, my friend Jim arrived.  For ten days we were on the go in a way I had not experienced since my first few trips to Kauai.


-Hiked The Sleeping Giant and Kuilau Trail.

-Toured the Haraguchi Rice Mill and Taro Farm in Hanalei.

View of Taro Fields in Hanalei Valley

-Hiked the Okolehau Trail in search of views, which we found, and mud and wild boars, which were accepted as part of the experience.

-Walked the McBryde Gardens in Poipu and later took a guide for the Limahuli Garden’s collection of canoe plants.

-Found the Makauwahi Cave which is the focus of David A Burney’s book Back to the Future in the Caves of Kauai

Made Red Dirt Shirts in Nansy’s kitchen with her full knowledge and consent, tepid consent to be sure.  Not this recipe, but better than Mike Rowe’s.

First Dunking into the Cooking Mud

Success. Wait, is Nansy home yet?!

-Observed the Laysan’s Albatross, Great Frigate, Red Footed Boobie, White Tailed Tropic Bird at Kilauea Lighthouse wildlife preserve.  While Humpback whales breached in the distance.

Kilauea Point and Light

-Rented a cabin in the mountains of Kokee State Park and hiked the great Waimea Canyon to Waipo’o Falls; later we entered the Alakai Swamp in search of native birds (of which more here).

Waipo'o Falls

-Hiked the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast.

The Na Pali Coast of Cliffs

Each evening we returned to my in-laws home in Kapaa town to talk story over Jim’s fine wines.  It helps to have a friend who is a wine maker.

I slept on the lanai because I finally had an excuse to, Jim having taken my spot in the guest room.

Then the rains came.  They had begun that last day on the Kalalau Trail, a steady drizzle with thunder somewhere beyond the far mountains so muffled I mistook it for waves crashing on the cliffs below.  But after midnight the winds shut down and the lightning started in earnest.  Pop, pop, pop–the low cloud lit uniformly like a giant flash bulb.  From my bunk I tried to close my eyes against the bright but found they were already shut.  Then a few breaths before the rumble, soft at first like cannon fire out at sea; it rolled on and on getting louder and louder until it was like the exploding of the near mountain.  Any moment I expected the house to be crushed by falling boulders.  Sometimes the lightning was close and then there was no delay.  The flash and boom were apocalyptic. I flinched.

And the rain poured.  It gushed from the sky as if someone had upended the ocean.

I didn’t start counting till three in the morning.  Hours on end lightning had been flashing once every twenty seconds or so, I found.  By five I could count up to 45 seconds before the next strike.  I thought the cell, a mushroom cloud bigger than the island, must be receding back into the ocean that birthed it.  Then lightning would crack in machine-gun clusters like a fireworks finale.  And after a pause, it would begin again its regular rythm.  The charged sky was inexhaustible.

Just before dawn wind came off the mountains, and my place under the eve was no longer protected.  A sprinkle at first, and I reacted by curling under the blanket.  Then one gust and I was drenched–blanket, sheet, pillow, futon mattress, me–all soaked through.  On this day I was the first to rise and make coffee for the house.

Lightning, thunder and rain continued all day and into the evening.  Any waterfall that could fall fell.  Rivers ran the color of carob and carried great rafts of dead wood from the hills.  A real Kona Storm.

Composite Radar Image of Cell over Kauai (the square in the middle). Note Oahu off to the right, dry.

Mount Waialeale is Kauai’s highest peak and is reputed to be one of the world’s wettest spots.  There are no roads to the top.  Trails are almost immediately jungled over and always slick.  The ascent is treacherous, and you won’t find it in the guide books.  Thus the first USGS rain gauge placed at the summit in the early 1900s was meant to measure annual rainfall.  But the gauge held a mere 300 inches of rain and upon inspection was found to be full before its time.  The next gauge held 900 inches.  It found that rainfall atop Waialeale averages between 389 and 423 inches a year.

First Rain Gauge

On the day of this Kona Storm, Waialeale received over six inches of rain.  The town of Anahola over eight.  Lihue’s rainfall was an all time record.

Nawiliwili Harbor

I’ve moved back aboard the boat.  A few projects need doing before Murre and I launch another run through the islands.  But our Kona continues.  Two nights ago lightning lit up Nawiliwili and knocked out the harbor lights.  I gingerly trod the cabin in flip-flops, expecting any moment to hear the splitting of Murre’s mast.  And the next day it rained like Noah’s curse.  And now and still.

Kona Rains at Nawiliwili as seen from Murre's Cockpit

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: