Curtain Call

Jewel tourmaline colors refract upon the sea,

contrasting charcoal-black lava rock;

daylight sinking into oceanic horizons,

melting liquid tangerine.


Scattered clouds overhead bending

into prismatic curves, layer upon thin layer

as if, like celestial bodies in the heavens,

they didn’t exist at all,

save what immediately attends the eye.


Persimmon shifts and parts into brilliant nuanced

peach and pink, salmon and saffron;

indigo and aquamarine aura glowing fringes,

as night begins to descend upon the land.


Few stars are visible, yet sunset keeps cranking

as long as there is light;

streaks of gray pastel mixed with faded primrose

alongside distant shades of rose petal pink,

fragile as life.




Whitecapped waters toss barges about

in the dark of the Alenuihaha

as if they are toys.

Listing on massive sides,

chained to tugs; no intrinsic

momentum of their own.


Each night I watch as they roll –

dumb weighted things

pitching along to another destination.

Scarred containers stacked perilously,

one atop the other; strange multilayered

wedding cakes on water.


This is how it is,

here on Hawaii Island; all these islands.

Quietly we garden, grow our food,

live our lives.

Still, we shop in stores – searching

for bargains essential to shelter, mobility,



What would happen, then, if just

one receptacle, replete with precious cargo,

skidded free; bobbed clumsily before sinking

deep into the drink?

(I’m sure it’s happened before.)


Mainlanders don’t know, they on their

bigger island do not consider.

And why would they?

Lost to the world outside their door,

not hugging the sea.

As are we.


~ bj



Observations On the Train – Part One

Swaying with the rhythm of the rails, today’s trains glide rather than clack along the tracks. In 1925, Southern Pacific was contracted to build a railroad spanning from Roseville, California to Springfield Junction, Oregon near the town of Eugene. This feat of engineering surpasses the imagination: men with picks and hammers, the ringing of iron, and the leaching of sweat and blood from their pores. Memory frames such as these are rarely conjured by most passengers. Instead they stagger from car to car on unsteady sea legs to feast on provender or panorama, occasionally guzzling far too much booze. One woman in particular on this train has become loud and inebriated. Attired from head to toe in white, her small frame weighed down by too much gold jewelry, she brags about her PhD in English Literature. In slurred parlance unusual for the decorum of the average elderly university professor, I silently question the veracity of her assertion. Others gaze at the magnificent scenery, while passing under tunnel after cool tunnel, carved through mountain upon mountain. Old telegraph wires bisect the beauty of vast lakes and rivers pooled at the foot of the Cascades. Apparently the cost of taking them down trumps any improvement in the majesty of the view.

The Conductor strikes up a conversation with a few of us in the Parlour Car. His retirement is imminent, and he is anxious to get into his wood shop and create things of beauty doubtlessly inspired by twenty years on this particular run. Pointing out grazing grounds for deer and elk, he pauses to indicate a hillside that collapsed onto the train a year ago, taking out tall fir and pines along with their giant root systems. Tumbling downhill onto the moving train, miraculously no one was hurt. They had to detach some cars and move the debris, then move the cars again. In an offhand manner, he pulls out his wallet and shows me a black and white photograph of his Los Angeles policeman father, killed in the line of duty when his boy was seven years old. Buddies of his dad on the force stepped in to replace the irreplaceable, and he recalls with fondness: I lost a dad, but gained over a hundred of them.



Pigs in Paradise

Strange ritual, this gorging on holidays. Course after course – for we have paid dearly for them – slides down the hatch in habitual response to colors, textures, tastes. The floor is flagstone; the chairs in this grand old hotel are plastic, of all things; service is efficiently and politely provided by those I’m sure would rather be home celebrating with loved ones.

I’m a victim of my own awareness. These feasts always leave me uneasy and confused about motives and directions. While I am grateful for good companionship and superb views, I cannot will blinders. This is not a routine I was born to in this life, nor is it one I necessarily embrace. Classes, divisions, exclusions. Employees who are not allowed to pack unserved leftovers home to their families. People paid to smile and offer mandated authenticity, though I couldn’t blame the bulk of them for resenting what they, themselves may never experience, save vicariously.

Brunch ends at 2:30 sharp. Having spent years in the restaurant business, I note nuances in exchanged looks between the help; urgency in dark eyes. Carts are wheeled high with equipment designed to please finicky guests; plates are stacked and filed; food is discretely portaged away to be dispensed of in whatever manner the establishment sees fit. An elder friend among us relates that it is donated as pig slop, but I wonder about guilt, selective hearing and the wasteful truth.

We live amidst bounty juxtaposed against the backdrop of phenomenal waste; mountains of refuse alongside pristine beaches and bikini-clad tourists intent upon iPhones, flocking not to the spectacular vistas of rainbows and whales breaching in the background, but to the warmth of sun and impeccable service.


The Speed of Light



I’ve never held a hummingbird in my hand. And it’s not like I haven’t wanted to. My heart swells to overflowing while imagining the feeling of a tiny bird body thrumming at a hundred miles an hour against fingers and palm. It would be rather like capturing a giant feathered bumblebee.

I’ve always adored hummingbirds – and fed them wherever I have lived. They were especially abundant in the high desert of New Mexico, though the Rufous was by far the most aggressive and prolific, and would chase away any Ruby Throated or frankly any gossamer winged creature that dared compete with their man-made nectar. The sound of their wings was distinctive, and amplified like a nest of mad hornets racing around trying to rebuild a damaged hive.

In our house overlooking the Sangre de Cristo mountains was a greenhouse just outside the kitchen. Occasionally a hummingbird would somehow become trapped inside, and once my husband had to capture and release her back to the out-of-doors. It wouldn’t have been kind of me to traumatize the little creature further, so when he beckoned me to observe a sleek iridescent head peeking out from his gentle fist, it was as close as I’ll likely come to sensing the speed of light within my own grasp.



No hummers exist in Hawaii, and at first it pained me to realize this. But, as in life, time accustoms one to what is. Here the closest thing we have to the hummingbird is the honeycreeper, though the bird is quite rare and mainly discovered in the island rainforests of Kauai.



Also present is a hummingbird moth, though I’ve never seen one.



On the north shore of Big Island, all birds have it rough – the winds are intense, and little bright saffron and brilliant red things – doves and mynah birds too – are buffeted along their respective trajectories. Even the cattle egrets who fly in clutches over our house each evening just before sunset – navigating long white bodies with trailing feet toward hills and trees to rest for the night – waffle off-course in the stiffest gales. With mongoose and too many feral cats, it’s a miracle these winged creatures survive at all.


Home is Where the Heart Is

Different, these seasonal shifts here in Hawaii. It has been the coldest winter that we have experienced in nearly a decade of living on the islands. Yet unbelievably to most mainlanders, spring is here. Birds are mating, horses are shedding and the wind’s currents here on the north shore shift in every direction, pulling windmills into unfamiliar patterns. Rains continue, still without complaint from us as we are situated in a dry area prone to drought these past few years.

spring skies - North Kohala, Big Island

The landscape seems charged with magic. Shrubs and trees planted only a few years ago that started a foot high have grown up to fifteen feet. Farmers markets explode in lettuce, kale, bok choy, chard – beets maturing from seed reach a foot tall inside a couple of weeks. Citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit and baskets and bowls of them sit around the kitchen like unmoving guests awaiting a banquet. Bananas hang in bunches in the garage, ripening in stages.

Planted when a foot tall, native white hibiscus and blue clerodendrum now shade west-facing kitchen windows from the blaze of afternoon sun.
Yet somehow I find myself reminiscing about the northeast, awakening in its own profound sense in its own time, still a couple of months distant. After thirty-two years on that coast, I miss not the cold and hardship that winter brings, but the unmistakable transition of the seasons, the land emerging from its blanket of white and grey into greens, reds, yellows, periwinkles, violets and pinks in any palette you might imagine. The lime green of sedges; the brilliant orange of copse fungi. Growing things that seem to sense they have only a brief time in which to deck themselves splendiferously out.
image of evening grosbeaks:
Birds gather and descend onto land, seeking the abundant feast that awaits. Flocks of purple-sheened grackles crack and caw, settling sleek black bodies onto half-rotten fenceposts. Evening grosbeaks stun with brilliant colors dreamed only in the tropics. Loons lilt overhead, heavy-boned bodies laboring to alight onto stretches of open water. Foxes, marten, bear and raccoon; moose, deer, skunk and mink resume mating rituals. The woods vibrate with life; underground springs gurgle as last year’s leaves mulch into thickly carpeted trails.
springtime and our garden awaits - Goose Pond, ME
Yes, our island spring is glorious to behold. Northern New Englanders have to yearn a month or two yet, before snowmelt and mud give way to popping buds and solid pathways. Patience is ever rewarded, however, with vistas altered by the passing of the seasons. Nothing, and everything, changes – revealing itself afresh to wondrous eyes fixed on changing horizons.
Goose Pond - image: Steve Shelton