"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maui - A Whale of a Mom!

The Maui Nui basin which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, Malokai, and Kahoolawe is a shallow area of water. The depth and the warmth of the water makes it a prime area for the birthing of the humpback whales. The female, or cow, has been here a year ago and allowed herself to become pregnant by choosing a male, a bull, with which to mate. The gestation has lasted almost a year and now she is back to give birth to her little one, the calf.

If you think in terms of size, the adult whale is the size of a school bus. The calf is roughly the size of an SUV. Some delivery! Which could explain why the female chooses to mate only every 2 to 4 years. The other explanation--probably more accurate, is that it takes a while to raise junior.

When the calf is first born, mom needs to gently bump it to the surface to get it to breath. Junior also needs to stay really close to mom for protection as well as feeding. He needs to understand surface intervals and begin to learn patterns of behavior for his survival. They will be making a long trip north to Alaska together and the path is laced with dangerous Orcas.

On several whale watching trips, we witnessed a cow with her calf but on one particular day, we found a pair where junior was really showing off. He and mom seemed to be playing together. He would rest on her "nose" and then playfully smack the water. Perhaps he realized he had an audience because he began showing off his latest learned skill--breaching.

When things slowed a bit and mom's tale turned to one side, we surmised he might be nursing. Nursing for a whale calf is a little different than for other mammals. He nudges mom's mammary gland and she secretes a thick cottage cheese-like milk that the little one gobbles up. He consumes about 100-150 pounds of the stuff a day.

It wasn't long and mom's tale was again in the water and junior was back on top of her. I wondered if she was tickling him from below to get him to breach again. Whatever was going on exactly, it was still quite a wonderful experience to be able to witness the beautiful interaction of mom and baby--even if baby has a face only a mother could love.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Maui - Whale Tales

In Hawaii, it is high season in February for whales. Between December and the end of March, thousands of humpback whales make their way back to the place of their birth in the warm waters of the Hawaiian islands. It is not a mass migration but rather a coming and going not unlike a high tourist season when the area might welcome many tourists but not all at one time.

The humpbacks are coming from their home in Alaska. As one naturalist put it, Alaska is the kitchen and Hawaii is the bedroom/delivery room. The whales have spent the greater part of their year feeding in the nutrient rich waters of Alaska where they feed on krill, anchovies, sardines, and a variety of other schooling fish. Then they make the long trek south. Some will stop off in southern California at their breeding grounds. The rest will continue the trek to Hawaii.

Hopefully they have eaten well during their stay in Alaska because they will need all that energy for birthing and breeding neither of which is for the faint-hearted whale. But more of that for another day.

Much research has been done on this species that was almost extinct not long ago. Whaling took a toll on the humpback population. Now that they are no longer hunted and regulations have been put in place to protect their breeding grounds the population has increased 7% in about forty years. At any one time there could be about 3,000 cruising the waters of Hawaii and overall they estimate the Northern Pacific population to be near 20,000. But how do they know they aren't counting the same whale multiple times?

Observers noticed that the tails of whales are distinctive. They each have a pattern sort of like a fingerprint. Naturalists have been taking pictures and studying pictures to determine which whales are returning each year and how many there are. They have even tracked several through the recognition of their tails, or flukes as they are called, as they traveled between Alaska and Hawaii and noted the speed with which they made the trip. The fastest, we were told, was 30 days. Usually it is about six weeks.

The flukes will also tell the story of how much danger the whale has had to deal with. Some have rake marks on them from the teeth of orcas, their natural predator.
They might also have some marks from some of the battles the males have been in with each other over the attentions of a female. Sound familiar? We aren't so different, are we?

While the first sign of a whale is the blow or spout of water shot out when it surfaces, the last you will see of it for a while is the tail. While on the surface it may dive shallowly but when you see the fluke, you know that the whale is headed down for a deeper dive that can last anywhere from five minutes to up to an hour. But the whales are mammals and therefore air breathers. Their lungs are the size of a Volkswagon Beetle. Fill them up and that adult whale, the size of a school bus, is good to go deep.

A whale of a tale, isn't it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Worship Thoughts - Would I Recognize Him?

He was a bit disheveled. He looked very tired and worn as did the clothes he wore--wrinkled, a bit torn, maybe even dusty. His hair was long and in need of styling maybe even washing. He sat among the other Sunday morning worshippers and while they were mostly in vacation or leisure wear (this was a resort area after all), his dress made me think he had either just come from work or just woken up on the street and entered in.

I was surprised when the pastor called people forward to gather around a couple and pray for them and he rose up and joined other members of the congregation without hesitation. When he returned to his seat a few rows in front of us, I noticed as well the dark circles under his eyes and the scraggly growth on his face that needed a razor.

The writer in me wondered what his story was. Homeless? Or just getting off work on a dirty job? Needing something from the church? Food? Money?

About mid-way through the sermon, I glanced at him again--just about the time he raised a hand to push his hair behind his ear. That's when I saw it. The scar on his hand. That's when the words of the sermon faded and the words of Jesus said, "Remember. I was on that cross for you."

He left before the service had quite finished. Where did he go, I wondered? And then I wondered, Who was he really?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Maui - The Cost of "Paradise"

Nothing in Hawaii is cheap. At least nothing we've found. Right now the cost of gas is $4.44/gallon, the most expensive in the U.S., I hear. While shopping in the grocery store (Safeway was recommended as the least expensive) I noticed the cost of Dunkin' Donuts coffee was $11.95/package and of course we all know that no brand of coffee comes by the pound anymore. The 100% pure Kona coffee was out of sight. We saw a blend for $15/"pound".

The idea of staying in a condo was that we could save some money by cooking most of our meals but unfortunately, by the time you buy the necessary ingredients, you have spent more than it would cost for a meal in a reasonably priced restaurant because you have to buy a whole can of spice or pound of butter or other ingredients that you will not use up in the time you have left for your stay. But we managed to work our way around the problem and still eat well and hopefully healthy.

Cereal, toast, peanut butter, jelly, and fresh fruit from the farmers' market up the street from us have given us relatively inexpensive breakfasts. We opted for a cheaper brand of coffee--we'll survive.

For lunch, we've found that sandwiches with lunchmeat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato along with chips and carrots are satisfactory. We did eat out at MacDonald's one day and paid about a dollar more per meal for each of us than we would back home. But one cannot survive on McD's alone--not unless you want to qualify for the Biggest Loser Show.

Dinners were a challenge until we decided that we could order out at most restaurants, split the meal between us and supplement it with fresh veggies from the farmers' market. We also add a little more lettuce to the side salads and bought a bottle of extra dressing. It's worked well! Last night we ordered a large sirloin steak from Outback (online, no less). It came with a huge baked potato, salad, and a small loaf of wheat bread. We didn't have to buy a whole container of sour cream and/or a pound of butter for the potato. The steak came done to perfection and more than enough for the two of us. I added a few green beans to the mix and we feasted on our lanai with a sunset view. Better than the best most expensive restaurant with a view.

Do you have any great tips for saving on meals when the area you're vacationing in is expensive? Please share.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Maui - Lahaina

The area we like to stay on Maui is just north of Lahaina on the northwest coast of the island. Lahaina was once the whaling capital of the mid-Pacific. As the story goes, the whalers would put into the Lahaina harbor, enjoy the native girls, and then put out to sea again. And then the missionaries arrived. They worked against all odds to clothe the natives and teach them their morals. Needless to say it did not make the whalers happy and it is said that one cannonballed the missionary’s home on occasion.

The town’s name means “cruel sun.” There is not as much rain on this side of the mountains although during our trip you couldn’t tell that. But the rain falls in spurts much like it does in southern Florida. As a matter of fact, usually the sun is shining as it rains creating some spectacular rainbows. No wonder the license plates here have a rainbow on them.

There are fertile fields on the mountain sides watered by abundant freshwater springs. Kamehameha the Great liked this area so much, he established the capital here after his conquest of the island. Hawaii’s first constitution was drafted in Lahaina in 1840.

There are lots of historic buildings and places in the old town tucked in between all the shops and restaurants. There is often a colony of artists and crafts people set up under the huge banyan tree that sits behind the old Lahaina courthouse. The town is a great place to explore on a warm afternoon and swells with people when the Ocean Princess anchors just off the harbor.

The harbor is also the place to find all sorts of water activities like snorkeling, diving, fishing, dinner and sunset cruises and the popular whale watching tours.

If you happen to be here in Lahaina, our recommendation for the sweet tooth is Longhi’s Restaurant just across from Bubba Gumps. Their specialty is a huge cinnamon roll—at least 6 inches across and some of the best coffee you’d ever want. Oh, and their waffles aren’t bad either. Haven’t tried lunch or dinner there but if breakfast sets the mark, the rest must be good too. Ah, so many places to eat—so little time. . .

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Maui - Winter in Hawaii

Winter in Hawaii. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? The most exciting part of winter here for me is the return of the humpback whales. Alaska and Hawaii share in the natural cycle of the whales. They spend half their time in the nutrient rich waters of Alaska getting their fill of krill and other goodies in the waters there and then they make their trip south around December and begin their stay in Hawaii where they mate and give birth to the babies that were conceived almost a year earlier. Quite a trek to the delivery room I’d say.

Our Maui condo at Kaleialoha Resort between Kaanapali and Kahana sits on the shoreline and faces Molokai and Lanai and the triangulation of the three islands forms a natural preserve the whales seek each year. From our lanai (a Hawaiian balcony), we can look out and see all sorts of puffs of water or spouts as whales surface. With a pair of good binoculars, we can watch as they perform their mating rituals—tail thwacking, pectoral fin smacking, and the ever popular breaching, all of which create quite a splash. Literally!

This trip, the trade winds have been quite strong so we will wait a few days to go out on the whale boats that cruise the preserve and bring you closer to the magnificent creatures we’ve come to see. For now, we’ll enjoy our coffee on the lanai and watch from a distance. Take a walk to the farmer’s market and check out the local produce and, as the Hawaiians say, hang loose.

The pictures I’ve included are from some of our walks. And of course, a beautiful sunset.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Maui - Haleakala

Our first day in Maui did not go exactly as planned. After the drive the night before from the airport to our condo near Kaanapali, we decided we didn't like the rental car we had. It was more like a boat than a car and the passenger seat was very uncomfortable. So we opted to drive all the way back and exchange the car for something smaller and while on that side of the island make an exploratory trip up to the summit of Haleakala.

Haleakala is the large dormant volcano on Maui. We have been to the top several times so we were smart enough to take along jackets. The last time we had visited in February, there had been a light snowfall. The temperatures at the summit are about twenty degrees cooler than near sea level.

Years ago, we had purchased a cassette tape that gives a running commentary as you drive up the Haleakala highway to the park and the summit. It's a little dated and we now have it on a CD since most rental cars only play CDs now but it still helps to keep you informed of the major points of interest along the way without having to read a map and miss seeing them. (Craig Henderson now makes CDs for Haleakala and Hana.)
A stop at Sunrise Market, a little snack shack part way up and the last chance to grab something to eat for lunch, netted us a turkey sandwich and some chips and water. Sustenance enough. We continued on, ears popping along the way. The road began to get a little hairy--that's probably why they call the sharp bends "hairpin curves."

Big white clouds partially obscured the view of the isthmus below us. Maui has Haleakala on one end and a mountainous region on the other with a narrow strip of fertile green land connecting the two. A lot of the green is from sugar cane which is still being grown there.

There is always a point where you go through at least one cloud and get misted or rained on. This time it was hanging over the first visitor's center where we stopped just inside the park. By the way, the fee for a passenger car is ten dollars and is good for three days. The center has books and information about the park and a model of the NeNe, the official Hawaiian bird. We have only seen it once and then briefly as it darted across the road.

Further up, we stopped a moment for a picture of the misty cloud we had passed through. The sun was making it glow like a rainbow.

Near the summit is another visitor center where you can see into the crater or caldera or erosional depression as they now call it. The colors are spectacular from all the different minerals in the rocks. The wind, however, was strong enough to make you sway. Luckily there is a nice view from inside the center where you are sheltered from the wind.

We continued up a short way to the actual summit--elevation, 10,023 feet. From there you could see the tops of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii as well as a great view of Maui which came and went as the clouds moved through. The skies become like works of art here at times, changing patterns and colors constantly.

Our drive down--in low gear to save the brakes, was just as exciting. Thankfully they don't allow groups of bikers to scream down the road from the top like they used to. There are individuals who do so you still have to be careful.

We stopped at several lookouts on the way down, took pictures of the unusual Silversword plants and pulled off into the Hosmer Grove to have our lunch. It's a small campground with picnic tables. There are a couple of trails that take you through the forested areas that were planted by Ralph Hosmer near the beginning of the 20th century as a means of discovering if there was a viable timber industry for Maui. Lots of pines and eucalyptus create a beautiful wooded area. The trails also lead through more natural areas of native growth and are home to some very colorful Hawaiian birds.

Our lunch and hike done, we finished the rest of the trip down. All the while, I could only imagine what it was going to be like going back up--in the dark--at 5 in the morning.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Books For The Road - Discovering Your Spiritual Center

We take journeys to different places for different reasons. Sometimes to sightsee. Sometimes to soak in history and culture of other peoples. Or perhaps just to kick back and relax. And then there are some journeys that are journeys of the soul. Discovering Your Spiritual Center, the power of Psalm 119, is a book for that--a journey of the soul.

Written by David Teems, Discovering Your Spiritual Center explores the possibility of drawing nearer to God through devotional time. Teems builds his case for a daily walk in the scriptures and then invites you to journey with him through Psalm 119 for 22 days in a unique challenge that Teems hopes will jumpstart or revive your devotional time.

Teems draws you in with his explanation for what personally drew him to the Psalm. Then he explains his 22 day plan for reading--aloud--8 stanzas of Psalm 119 each day. Reading aloud centers you more on the scripture. The added effort tends to shut out distractions and hearing the words makes them even more meaningful.

As he takes you through the Psalm, he also explains the meaning behind the Hebrew letters that head each section of verses. I found that to be especially interesting. The Hebrew language is very symbolic and adds depth to the meaning of the devotional commentary that accompanies each day's reading.

This book came at the perfect time for me. It was sent for review by the publisher, Leafwood Publishers, and arrived at the time I was preparing to speak for a ladies retreat. The topic. . .Intimacy With God. God always has perfect timing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Through My Lens - A Taste of Spring

Here are some shots from The Great Big Home and Garden Show last week.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Great Big Home and Garden Show

What do you do on a cold day in February in Northern Ohio? You look for the chance to find the promise of spring. The Great Big Home and Garden Show is running through this weekend. It's always a pleasant break to go and visit the gardens that local lancscapers put together in the big International Expo Center near Hopkins Airport.

Many years back, we had what was known as The Cleveland Flower Show and then it evolved into the Home and Flower Show and then there were two shows. . . I'm not sure what happened to change it all but in the original Flower Show was an opportunity for local florists to show off their skills and artistry. That was a big part of my decision to become a florist--but that was a previous life, so to speak.

The GBH&G Show's theme for the gardens this year is Classic Television Show Favorites. I loved the choice. And the landscapers must have liked it as well for the gardens were all very creative. One of my favorites was the Beverly Hillbillies. On one side of the garden was shown the old cabin they came from. Then, as you rounded the area and passed the old truck with Granny sitting on top, you came to the backyard of the mansion they moved to.

The garden dedicated to the Flinstones had stone furniture and, in the front of it, a sculptor working on a statue of Dino with a mallet that looked like it came from the stone ages.

Remember Archie Bunker? His living room was prominent in one setting with a TV playing reruns of the show.

Grizzly Adams had a cabin in the woods and then there was this pond featuring, who else? Flipper!

Strolling through the vendors area is always a hoot with all the demonstrations of the latest greatest ideas for kitchens. As we passed one hawker he called out to me, "How do you cut your vegetables?"

"Very carefully," I replied. We passed by before he could respond.
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