Kauai Blog Post #5 9-20-13 – New Beginnings

It’s been a long time since I wrote my last blog entry, so my apologies for the length of this post. When I last wrote, I was living at Hedda’s 3 acre community living space up-mountain from Kapaa, with my apprentice Sam. I had made plans to return to the mainland to visit my wife and family, attempt to take care of some of my Bainbridge homestead responsibilities, and attend a mini-family reunion in Colorado.

I made sure all of my planted gardens, food forest and nursery was set up for Sam  to manage in my absence.  In the 2 ½ months that Hedda had been gone to the Mainland, I had been dealing with the long-term rental and general site  manager Roger whom Hedda trusted implicitly to take responsibility for her place in her absence. But things changed for Roger, and he left on short notice to move to the Big Island, which took everyone by surprise. He had told me previously that he planned on staying another six months, which I felt would give me time to build my trust with Hedda so that I might be given responsibility for managing her place when she was gone for extended stays on the Mainland.

Now that I was dealing directly with Hedda, rather than Roger, I sent her my expenses from the past six weeks on various farm expenditures that I had purchased with the understanding that I would be reimbursed as I had done with Roger over the past four months. I have to say that I had been warned by my friend Paul who was gone for six months now, not to get into complicated money situations with Hedda.

Basically Hedda didn’t really know all the work I had been doing in her absence, but only saw that I was costing her money. She has been taken advantage of by many people in her life, and made that assumption about me. The replacement friend who came to take Roger’s place made an attempt to mediate long-distance between me and Hedda, but the end result was an invitation to pack my things and vacate my room when I left for the Mainland.

Four months of hard physical labor putting in gardens and fruit trees for Hedda and laying groundwork for my permaculture school dream – was finished. I had to a couple of days before I left to figure out another situation before my return in three weeks.

Hedda garden

My last garden installation at Hedda’s in its maturity

I was upset for about fifteen minutes.  Then I began to consider my other options.

I had been developing my relationship with the owners of a 500-acre plantation in Kilauea. I was exploring the possibility of creating a permaculture learning center and nursery over the past two months, and the Porters (founder of E*Trade) seemed to be very interested in my ideas when I had met with them.  It was progressing slowly but steadily, so I shifted to see my departure from Hedda’s as an opportunity to commit to something that might offer a great deal more promise than Hedda’s. In my remaining two days before I left, I visited a master gardener acquaintance who is ten years older than me and lives on a small start-up community and market garden on the plantation.

My elder friend was open to the possibility of me returning to camp at his market garden and small community. He agreed that I could also bring my apprentice Sam. In many ways I felt more drawn to the wetter climate of Northshore’s Kilauea, than the dry one of Kapaa on the Eastshore of Kauai.

I also had a young friend who lived at the Kilauea farm.  He had developed an amazing half acre food forest on the part of the land where he was living.

My friend's newly food forest in the making

My young friend’s food forest in the making

However, when I arrived at the Kilauea farm three weeks later, things were in turmoil. The “community” there consisted of the older farmer and his partner, and my young friend. The farm had only started a year earlier, and my young friend had come a few months afterwards. A friend of theirs who lived in the isolated Kalalal Valley most of the time had been given permission to set up a tent to come occasionally when coming into town from living in the Kalalal. Apparently there were some issues about their ageement and it appeared things would have to be settled before they would want another person living on the land.

I slept in my truck at nearby Anini Beach and went to local coffee shops before dawn to have an espresso and work on my proposal for the school. I would make daily visits to the farm to hang out and help my young friend on his food forest and listen to the farmer  “talk story”. By the fifth day I had decided that it wasn’t going to work out like I had expected. I could see that the focus was on the land and growing food. It was about “kama’aina” – the land as teacher (literally – “child of the land”), as the farmer said to me. He did not seem to be open to other ways, and my idea of bringing apprentices there to work with me on permaculture projects around the island or on other parts of the plantation did not really seem to fit with the vision there. It seemed that I was considered to be the apprentice.

So I came and told the farmer that I realized we were just not a fit.  But I also asked him if I might stay for a couple weeks until I could find a permanent place elsewhere. I had other options that would take some time to work out. He agreed with my assessment of us not being a fit. I got into my truck to leave, but then my young friend invited me to pick some edible hibiscus to take with me to eat. So I got out and chatted with him while I harvested the large, somewhat slimy but tasty, leaves. While I was doing so, the farmer came back and said he and his partner had discussed it, and decided they were open to me staying for two weeks.

I gratefully thanked him and went down the hill on the path cut through the eight foot Guinea grass that led to my young friend’s food forest.

I found a flat area in the three foot high honu honu grass off the path adjacent to the developed half acre. It was hidden among tall Guinea grass clumps so I wouldn’t infringe on my friend’s privacy.  He approved of my location choice,  and I set up my small backpacking tent and began what has turned out to be a new chapter in my life.

My new home

My new home

I had been living on bread, cheese, dried humus mix, and yeast and olive oil while camping in my truck – augmented by greens such as edible hibiscus and foraged greens from friends’ gardens. I had known my friend’s diet to be primarily frutarian and raw vegetables from his past visits to Hedda’s for the frequent potlucks that I hosted.

My young friend with his coconut harvesting saw strapped to his side

My young friend with his coconut harvesting saw strapped to his side

Since I was living under his auspices, I initially supplemented my previous diet with his fruit that he had foraged, traded or purchased from friends at the Kapaa Farmer’s Market. I had a shelf in his screened fruit storage cupboard, and I could see that I would have to take care of my own food needs after the initial offer to share his fruit for a few days. So I began by purchasing a large jakfruit from the Kapaa Farmer’s Market when I was there selling my biochar.

Returning from market with jakfruit strapped in for safekeeping

Returning from market with jakfruit strapped in for safekeeping

We ate our meals together on the grass in front of his shelter. I saved my bread and cheese component of my diet to munch on elsewhere, and began eating his delicious fruit. By the next day it was clear that I had access to anything that I chose, since I was also contributing money for fruit from the Kapaa Farmer’s Market for my friend to get great deals on fruit from his farmer friends. I also used my truck to go on foraging runs for wild fruit or to farms that my friend had arrangements with. I helped my friend while he used a coconut tree climbing platform to harvest racks of delicious coconuts for us.

My young friend 30' up harvesting coco racks while on his tree climbing platform

My young friend 30′ up harvesting coco racks from his tree climbing platform

We had racks of bananas hanging in his shelter, and racks of coconuts in the corner of the floor. The screened fruit cabinet contained mostly mangoes and papayas at this time of year, supplemented by the huge (20 lb) jakfruit, limes, avocados and more exotic fruit from time to time from the market.

Foraged fruit, market purchased fruit and the evening's veggies

Foraged fruit, market purchased fruit and the evening’s veggies

There was delicious kale, okra, cabbage, Asian veggies, lettuce, corn,  perennial tropical greens (katuk with its high protein content, Malibar spinach, edible hibiscus, etc.) from the market garden on the farm that we were entitled to for our help.

The amazingly productive market garden at my new farm

The amazingly productive market garden at my new farm

It immediately interested me to learn more about his fruit and veggie diet, so after I finished the last of my bread and cheese, I shifted to only the food that he ate.

We talked a lot about nutrition, and my friend maintained that he was getting all his nutritional needs from his diet, including protein. He certainly is in excellent physical shape.

In the beginning the diet felt cleansing and great. (and I do mean cleansing!) All that fruit fiber stimulates rapid transit through the gut, particularly one that isn’t accustomed to it. After several days of feeling great and energized,  I would start crashing during the day, and had difficulty sleeping. I’d eat and feel great, and then do some work and feel extreme fatigue over my body and my brain would go numb and dumb.

I realized that I just couldn’t eat enough to maintain consistent glucose levels in my blood. I had depleted my glycogen (our “starch-like” form of sugar storage in liver and muscles) stores, and just couldn’t eat enough calories to replenish those batteries that the body uses to buffer its blood glucose levels. My friend explained how he would hallucinate about eating honey while eating fruit, when he first started his diet 5 years earlier. When he no longer cared about eating honey, he knew he had eaten enough fruit. I have fasted before, and would go through a low energy period after a few days, with the brain numbness.  That would be the body switching from sugar-based metabolism to fat-based. Fat is burned differently than sugar: it’s long chain carbons are broken into small two-carbon molecules called “ketone bodies” that take the brain a while to adjust to.  In my situation, I was bouncing back and forth between sugar-based and fat-based metabolism, and my brain and body couldn’t adjust fast enough.

I monitored my blood pressure, and I drank plenty of purified water to keep hydrated. I considered my dietary experiment as a two-week cleansing fast, and planned what my next step would be to augment for my energy needs. I wanted to only add what my body was telling me I needed, and I knew that would be cooked starch – a source of concentrated calories made more digestible by cooking. Plants store up their energy for future use in their roots or “tubers” or in their seeds as “starch”. In order for humans to digest plant starch, we need heat to break up the bonds – or sprouting seeds to make more digestible foodstuffs. I didn’t want to go back to bread, because I wanted to be living on a diet that could be entirely grown on the local land. Our market garden vegetables produced needed income – currently $20,000 annually, which should double or triple as they bring more of their handworked soil into fertility and production over time) . Their subsistence  crops for their own staple diet included taro, sweet potatoes, casava (or manioc), temperate climate root crops (beets, carrots, etc.), and one of their favorites – a fast-cooking relative of taro called dasheen. When the food forest was mature we’d be adding another excellent starch food –  breadfruit to our diet.

I needed to find a way to cook these starch-rich foods that were piled up in the shade next to their house for me to take anytime I wanted. I had been learning about rocket mass stoves, so I asked the farmer’s permission to construct one myself and use it near my tent.  He had made it clear that he doesn’t like smoke because he’s so sensitive to it – including pacalolo use by anyone in his community. But he not only gave me permission to cook on wood, but loaned me an old rocket mass stove that a friend had given him made from tin cans, until I could make my own.

Borrowed rocket mass stove made from tin cans

Borrowed rocket stove made from tin cans

I made mine out of cinder blocks shortly afterwards, by chiseling out 2/3 of the divider in a double block. I simply stacked them up to create the chimney for driving out the hot burning gases that sucked in the cold air to feed the ends of the pieces of wood in the opening. Even though it was just a temporary stove, which will be modified over time, it burned a lot cleaner and hotter.

Temporary cinder block rocket stove

Temporary cinder block rocket stove

After my first boiled sweet potato and beet meal, I was in heaven.

Sweet potatoes and beets on the cinder block rocket stove

Sweet potatoes and beets on the cinder block rocket stove

It worked exactly as my biochemical understanding had predicted, and now I felt high energy all day long, and didn’t have to eat so much fruit to stay alive (which meant less trips to my latrine).  I still didn’t believe I was getting sufficient protein, so eventually I added my dried humus mix and yeast. I know those aren’t locally produced, but I already had them, and I intend to substitute other protein sources such as beans that I grow myself.  Fresh corn from the garden was another starch that I now cooked to make the starch more available, and it also has protein.

I had asked the master farmer how I could be of help, and was told to help my young friend with his “to do” list.  I also helped him with his own work on his forest garden, weeding, planting new trees, etc. I helped him build his new guava wood hut, which also gave me ideas for designing my own future shelter.  Mine would also use guava posts driven set in the ground for the supporting foundation structure.  But after working with the guava in my friend’s roof, I decided to make my roof of bamboo.

Celebrating initial phase of construction - not a single cord was used!

Celebrating initial phase of construction – not a single cord was used!

I discovered his immense wealth of knowledge about growing tropical fruits, and talked with him extensively to learn more from him. The first item on his farm to do list was to  weed the next patch of land where the market garden was being expanded. It had been previously tilled and limed and the honu honu and guinea grass allowed to grow back. It took us a week of working daily for a couple hours together to complete the task.  It would be planted with a cover “and smother” (preventing weeds from returning) crop next –  to further enhance fertility and soil tilth. Our work together was a zen practice for being mindful.  Everything about the farm and living there is about being present. We were together much of the time, talking about life and philosophies of living.  Several times when I’d be talking about something, I would realize that he was not interested in it, and would mention something about peanut butter. It took me several times of this mention of peanut butter for me to realize that when I was merely talking for talking’s sake, about some details in my life which bore no relevance to him, he would start talking about peanut butter because it was about as relevant.  When I realized that, I began to ask myself why I fill the airspace with my own rambling thoughts, and am unaware of being present. In those two weeks I learned more than I had ever realized about myself and mindfulness.

I knew my two-week short-term invitation was coming to an end, but I also felt in my heart that I would be invited to stay longer. The master farmer began interjecting pertinent stories into his continual “talking story” with me that I would listen to patiently, as if I was listening to a Zen master speak in parables (which he does). He’s not direct, and it requires patient listening before I can ask him a question like “can I make a rocket mass stove”.  He talked about a would-be monk that had to come back regularly for a year before the master would admit him to the practice.  But the key for me was when he mentioned that it would be useful if my truck had a lumber rack so I could carry bamboo (which I had been talking about using for a structure), and he’d be willing to help me build one. As Monday arrived, the two-week anniversary of my arrival, I realized that I didn’t really need to ask for confirmation from him.  His stories continued in that vein, so I knew that he approved of me staying.  I had developed a nice rapport with his partner over my stay there, and knew that her style is different – more direct and verbally communicative.  So I went to her the next day to ask her how she felt about my continued presence on the farm. She made me cry with what she said, because of how she let me know how much she appreciated me and my gifts. She also invited me to join the three of them in a meeting the next weekend, to have a kind of community update meeting.

By the meeting time I had commenced locating and beginning construction on my new shelter design. It will be a guava-pole, bamboo shed-roof, simple structure with a Costco tarp roof and sides.

Sketch of my planned shelter - guava poles and bamboo roof covered with tarps

Sketch of my planned shelter – guava poles and bamboo roof covered with tarps

I cut the guava poles, but didn’t begin setting them until after the meeting, at my friend’s suggestion, even though I had been given the go-ahead to stay for the next undetermined duration. He wanted me to be totally grounded and in resonance with the land and the three of them before I went into that meeting.  It was good advice, because going back to helping out with simple tasks for the farm gave me more time to contemplate why I was there and why I wanted to stay.

I realized that I had been drawn into the possibility that here was a possible living community that I have dreamed about for years. I was spending a few dollars weekly at the market to buy fruit for us while I sold my biochar. I still have a few large biochar orders trickling in, and could live completely on my own resources here. I felt healthier and more grounded than I had ever felt before. I love the land here – lush and wet, unlike the dry Kapaa farm. It’s on interesting land, with the largest tropical community food forest five minutes walk from my community. There were miles of trails that I had been going on for runs and bike rides every morning with my friend before eating so as to enhance my metabolism and my physicality. After my sunrise yoga routine. There is a waterfall and beautiful swimming pond in the river a short run away on the other corner of Wai Koa plantation.

Nearby swimming pond in the river

Nearby swimming pond in the river

I was the first new member of the community here, since two’s company, three’s a crowd, and four is a community (apparently). We talked about my experience of visiting for two weeks and living temporarily for an undetermined period as establishing a process for new entering members of the community. My new shelter was located on the next chunk of land next to my friend’s food forest that made sense to be developed, within hose reach of his water bib.

First two guava posts are up at my new shelter site - in front of my backpack tent

First two guava posts are up at my new shelter site – in front of my backpack tent

I was ultimately more interested in the adjacent piece of land next to mine, with more southern and eastern exposure. But this temporary shelter could become a guest space for visitors if I were to construct a more permanent shelter in the future.

On the other hand, I had my proposal for a permaculture school that I was initially working on with a couple friends who were partnering and knew the Plantation owners well. I had been offered a work-trade place on the land adjacent to the other side of the plantation, in a yurt on a beautiful farm with yurt space for a dozen potential apprentices. The restaurant and farm is for sale, and the plantation owners are reportedly considering purchasing it. But for me to pursue my permaculture dream now, would interfere with my commitment to developing my living and gardening space as part of this start-up community. Not to say that the permaculture school dream couldn’t be fulfilled as well in the future, but I realized that attempting too much at once has been one of my challenges, and I need to have a highest priority focus in order to be grounded and healthy.

So I went into the meeting clear in my commitment to this new community. I was given ample time to speak in the meeting.  The land master listened to each of speak. I shared my story, speaking out my hopes and dreams and intentions. I left the meeting feeling this was the first time that I had spent time listening to my body for three weeks, getting to know who I am, what I want, and how do I get there.

Years ago I asked an elder teacher mentor of mine what was most important to teach.  He answered that he always had his high school students ask themselves three questions that are helpful to keep asking throughout our lives. Who am I?  What do I want? How do I get there?

Showing a photographer friend my machete, at my new home

Showing a photographer friend my machete, at my new home

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