Monday, August 13, 2018

THE PLACE OF REFUGE on the Big Island of Hawaii

When I am on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of my favorite places to visit is Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or the Place of Refuge, a 45 minute drive south of Kona. At the edge of the ocean, it is the perfect place for a picnic lunch, exploring tide pools, and learning about ancient Hawaiian culture. Once a sacred spot, it is now a National Historical Park.
Coconut palms line the shore in the Place of Refuge
On our recent visit to Hawaii we spent an afternoon there. After listening to an introductory talk from a park ranger, we explored the grounds on our own following the numbered posts that were explained in our brochure.
Carved figures guard the heiau (temple) where the bones of 23 chiefs are contained.
We learned that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii about a thousand years ago. People settled the islands and lived in family groups governed by chiefs or alii. Complex rules or kapu  governed every aspect of life. If kapu was broken the punishment was death. BUT if the person could make to a designated place of refuge or Pu’uhonua, a priest could cleanse the sins and the person could return to village life. During times of war the Pu’uhonua was also a sanctuary for children, elders and noncombatants. Defeated warriors could also seek safety in the refuge. When the battle was over, they returned home.
This 12 foot high stone wall, built without mortar, divides the royal grounds from the Place of Refuge
There are two main parts to the park–the royal grounds, which is where the priests lived, and the Pu’uhonua or Place of Refuge.
Fish pond in the royal grounds
In the royal grounds there are several shallow ponds that were used to keep fish for the royal menu.  As we looked into the water we could see dozens of circular depressions in the bottom of the pond, each occupied by a pair of fish. These were their nests.
Each circular nest is guarded fiercely by its occupants
Before metal was introduced to Hawaii by Europeans, tools and building materials were made of stone, wood, shells and other natural materials.
Two shelters in the royal ground display examples of canoe making and other craft skills.
Small holes carved in the surface of this rock were used for playing a strategy game called konane. It is played with black and white pebbles.
Complex rules governed ancient Hawaiian society.  In the time of kapu, examples of infractions included a man eating with a woman, a fisherman catching a fish out of season, or a commoner casting his shadow on a chief. In 1819 the tradition of kapu ended and the places of refuge were no longer necessary. Elsewhere on the Hawaiian islands were other Places of Refuge. This is the only one that has been preserved.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A DAY IN KAUAI, Hawaii's Garden Isle

Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
At the end of our trip to Hawaii last April we flew from Kona on the Big Island to Kauai, for a short, but relaxing vacation before returning to Los Angeles. We spent two nights at the Plantation Cottages in Waimea--historic cottages from the sugar cane era.
Lawn in front of our cottage at the Waimea Plantation Cottages resort
Ours was built in 1910. It was modest but had a million dollar view as we sat on our front porch just a few yards from the beach. For supper we ate at the barbecue restaurant in the main lodge as we looked out onto the coconut grove.

Waimea Plantation Cottages
Kauai is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. On the rugged north coast the cliffs are almost vertical. The week before we visited torrential rains (up to 50 inches falling in one hour!) poured down the cliffs, causing mudslides that closed major roads. Luckily our plans had been for the south side of the island so we weren’t affected.
By the time we arrived the weather was perfect--sunny and warm--a change from the rain and overcast we had experienced most of the time we were in Kona. Part of The Descendants was filmed in Kauai, and it looks just like the movie.
Looking into Waimea Canyon
Our main activity was a drive to overlooks of Waimea Canyon--Hawaii's version of the Grand Canyon--and the Na Pali coast. The road began in Waimea, gradually climbing along the edge of the canyon. We stopped several times at both official and unofficial overlooks. We noticed the bright red of the soil–an indication that when erupting lava created Kauai, it contained a lot of iron.

One of the many waterfalls in Waimea Canyon
Art tried, with only moderate success, to photograph the white-tailed tropic birds that we saw soaring on the updrafts in the canyons. They were far away and moved fast, but he managed to capture a few with his long lens.
White-tailed tropic birds nest on the steep canyon walls
On the other hand, chickens were everywhere and close-up. Chickens, or jungle fowl, were brought by the early Polynesians to the islands and have gone wild. Most birds that you see in Hawaii have been introduced.
Chickens and doves
About half way along the Waimea Canyon road is Kokee State Park, where we stopped to eat our  picnic lunch. We ate in the shade of a tree while watching a group of hula dancers practice on the grassy field near the visitor center. A small museum in the park tells about native vegetation and bird life in Kauai (with stuffed birds on display.) Outside the museum there is a guide to local hikes. There is also a restaurant in the park–the only place to eat on the canyon drive. Apparently one can also rent cabins in the park.
Na Pali coast viewed from the end of the Waimea Canyon road--at 5148 feet above sea level
The end of the road is a spectacular view of the Na Pali coast–sheer cliffs above lush greenery and a small beach with sparkling waves beyond.
The beach at Waimea in front of the Plantation Cottages
We retraced our steps to return to the Plantation Cottages for a swim in the resort pool and walk along the beach.
Wrangler's Steakhouse is in one of Waimea's historic buildings; in 1909 it was Ako Store supplying local rice and sugar plantations
Then after dinner at Wrangler's Steakhouse, a restaurant in town located in a building that had once been the general store, we sat on our front porch to watch the stars come out. Orion rose over the ocean in front of us and the Big Dipper and North Star were low in the sky behind us. It was a perfect end to our short stay on the Garden Isle.
At 5148 feet above the Na Pali coast, Wai'ale'ale is one of the wettest spots on earth.

Monday, July 30, 2018

BIRDS, BEES and WILDFLOWERS: Hike in Briones Regional Park, Orinda, CA

Bee collecting nectar from a thistle flower in Briones Regional Park
In the hills of the San Francisco's East Bay, there are countless parks and natural areas where one can walk, bike, picnic and enjoy the out-of-doors. In early summer, when Art and I were in Oakland for the weekend, we took a family hike in Briones Regional Park, a short drive away, near the community of Orinda.(Briones Regional Park is a 6,117-acre regional park in the East Bay Regional Park District system, located in the Briones Hills of central Contra Costa County in California.)
Wild mustard blooming at Briones Regional Park
Our walk began  through sunny open areas among an abundance of brilliant yellow mustard plants in bloom, and patches of thistle, where bees were hard at work collecting nectar.
The mustard plants, awash in their bright yellow flowers, grew in thick clumps with stems as tall as we were.
It was a beautiful day, and although there were other people enjoying the park, it didn't seem crowded. We headed away from the main picnic area along one of the many trails.
Typical view along the path
Although the sign warned us about snakes and mountain lions, the only wild animals we spotted on the ground were a few lizards scampering up the bank at the edge of the path.
Lizard, almost perfectly camouflaged against the earth tones of the ground
As we followed the path we alternately passed through through shaded groves of California oaks and open hillsides where we could see signs (footprints) that cattle had been grazing. (Open grazing is allowed in the park.)
California live oak
We stopped for lunch at the Maud Whalen picnic area. As we sat at our table we watched swallows flitting in and out of the nearby covered picnic shelter. Inside the shelter we found more swallows and their nests plastered against the roof beams.
Outside, high overhead, we watched a red-tail hawk circling on rising air currents.
Entry to Maud Whalen picnic area
After lunch, we retraced our steps and returned to the parking area, a total hike of about two miles. If we had wanted a longer hike, we could have circled back via another trail. Like most of our hikes, our goal was not to cover distance, but to enjoy nature and take advantage of photo opportunities. We succeeded on both counts!
Red-tail Hawk

Monday, July 23, 2018

IMAGINARY WORLDS at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Peacock living sculpture inside the orchid house at the Atlanta Botanical Garden
A fearsome dragon, a caravan of camels, a spectacular peacock and a giant Earth goddess, all created from living plants, are just a few of the many delights of the Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time exhibit in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The exhibit is mounted in partnership with the International Mosaiculture of Montreal.

Chiluly glass sculpture, fountain at the Levy Parterre
In May, on a brief trip to Atlanta, I had the morning free and decided to visit the Botanical Garden, located in Piedmont Park, about a twenty-minute walk from my hotel in Mid-town. It was a beautiful sunny day and I joined other visitors and numerous school groups touring the garden.
Detail of Dragon sculpture; plants are plugged into a metal framework stuffed with planting mixture
The pieces in the exhibit are positioned throughout the garden along with the permanent plantings. They are created with a process known as mosaiculture. Mosaiculture first became popular in Europe in the 16th century as wealthy landowners commissioned elaborate three-dimensional gardens, or “embroidery beds,” for enjoying up close or at a distance. (By the late 1860's, the term “mosaiculture” was used for the first time in France, referring to the mosaic-like appearance of the surfaces of planted sculptures.)
Once Upon a Time "Storybook"
After purchasing my ticket and entering the garden I was greeted by the Storybooks sculpture. There I opted to go left toward the rose garden, great lawn and greenhouses. At the edge of the great lawn a huge dragon, who appeared ready to take flight, dominated the scene.
Dragon, mounted in the rock garden
From there I made my way toward the orchid center. On much of my tour I ended up following a school group taking a docent guided tour. At the Bogs and Poison Plant garden the kids were squatting on the ground trying to get a close-up looks at the Venus fly-traps and poking them with sticks to try to get them to snap shut.
The orchid house is truly spectacular, with orchids of every size, shape and color. In the center was a giant peacock, part of the Imaginary World exhibit.
Earth Goddess at the Cascades Garden
I then circled back to the entrance passing through the peaceful Japanese garden and taking the bridge to the Kendeda canopy walk where I got a view of the Earth Goddess presiding over the refreshing Cascades Garden. She has become a permanent feature of the Botanical Garden. The rest of the sculptures except for the Shaggy Dog are temporary.
On my way back to the entrance I almost missed the mammoth with its giant tusks, peeking through the greenery. For a moment, I thought it was real!

Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time will be on view May-October 2018.
For more information go to

Monday, July 16, 2018

THE LITTLE WHITE HOUSE: Roosevelt’s Retreat in Warm Springs, GA

Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Little White House," Warm Springs, GA
Franklin D. Roosevelt first came to Warm Springs Georgia in 1924 in hopes that the warm waters of the natural springs there would help him recover from polio. Over the next twenty one years he came there many times, staying in the small white cottage he built on land he purchased nearby, which, during the years he was President (1932-1945) became known as the “Little White House.” It was there that he died on April 12, 1945, when he suffered a massive heart attack while sitting for a portrait by painter Elizabeth A. Shoumatoff.
Elizabeth A. Shoumatoff's unfinished portrait is on exhibit in the visitor center
Today Roosevelt’s house and a museum with mementos of his life in Warm Springs are open to the public. It is operated by the Georgia State Parks as a State Historic Site. The treatment pools where he swam can also be seen, along with exhibits about the kinds of therapy that was offered to victims of polio like Roosevelt.
Bullock House Restaurant
I visited Warm Springs when Art and I were in Georgia visiting relatives near Atlanta last May. We took a day trip, arriving in time for lunch at Bullock House Restaurant on the town’s historic main street, choosing from a buffet of classic Southern foods including catfish, hush puppies, collard greens, fried chicken.
FDR was an avid stamp collector
After lunch our first stop was the Little White House Visitor Center, where we purchased our tickets and watched a short film before touring the museum. The museum is filled with items from Roosevelt’s personal life such as the 1938 Ford Convertible with hand controls, his stamp collection, his cane collection, and a 1930s kitchen with his “Fireside Chats” playing on the radio.
In a speech given January 6, 1941 Roosevelt insisted that people in all nations of the world shared Americans' entitlement to four freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
On one wall is a display of the Four Freedoms posters made from paintings by Norman Rockwell. They were used to promote the selling of war bonds during World War II. On another wall is a series of displays honoring Franklin’s wife Eleanor.
Eleanor Roosevelt
From the Visitor Center we went outside for the short walk to Roosevelt’s house, stopping at the guest house and servant’s quarters. Inside Roosevelt’s cottage, a very knowledgeable park ranger answered questions and helped us imagine what it was like when Roosevelt lived there.
Wheelchair fashioned by mounting a kitchen chair on wheels
The rooms inside the cottage are small and cozy and largely unchanged since Roosevelt’s time. A special wheelchair, small enough to fit through the narrow doorways sits in the corner; next to it is a statue of Fala, Roosevelt’s faithful dog.
Photographs of FDR at the Warm Springs Pools
A mile from the museum are the pools where Roosevelt went for therapy. No longer used, they have been drained but photos from the past show them full of people.  A small museum at the pools tell about the springs and the town’s history, including Roosevelt’s founding of the adjacent Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute.
The pools once used by FDR were replaced by an indoor pool closer to the treatment center.
A visit to Warm Springs is a trip back in time. It is one thing to read about FDR in the history books. It is another to walk in his footsteps. As the cover of the park brochure proclaims, a visit to Roosevelt’s Little White House is to experience the inspirational retreat of a man who changed America.
The Little White House is located 70 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia. For more information go to .

Monday, July 9, 2018

THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION, Tanzania, Africa, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Migrating wildebeest crossing the Mara River, Tanzania, Africa
Our friend Owen Floody, who recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, has had the good fortune of being able to travel frequently. His trips have been divided between treks and safaris, reflecting his interests in seeing (and photographing) interesting landscapes and wildlife. Here is his report on his most recent safari, to Tanzania in late July and early August of 2017.  
Grey-crowned crane
Though I have visited Africa many times, I never had focused on, or adequately seen, the Great Migration of more than a million wildebeest, zebra and other animals that is concentrated in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Wildebeest launching themselves into the Mara River to begin their crossing
In one sense the Great Migration is difficult to miss: Rather than being confined to a fraction of the year, its clockwise circulation of animals continues nearly year-round.  Still, there are parts of the migration that are more dramatic than others and one of the most dramatic of all seems to be that at which the animals are forced to cross the Mara River, near Serengeti’s northern border.  It is at this point that the wildebeest probably are at greatest risk of death due to drowning or predation by crocodiles.  It is estimated that about 6,500 wildebeest drown in the Mara each year, injecting tons of nutrients into the river ecosystem in the process (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114, 7647, 2017).
Wildebeest entering the Mara River
My desire to see a river crossing led me to work with Warrior Trails, my favorite Tanzanian tour operator, to plan a trip to the northern Serengeti in late July and early August, when crossing seemed likely.  Our plan committed us to five nights at a tented camp within striking distance of the Mara. It seemed most prudent to give ourselves several opportunities to catch crossings, assuming that we had guessed right on the time of year.
Wildebeest emerging from the river at the end of the crossing
So, did we see our crossing?  Yes, we did, and on the second day of our time in the north.  As crossings go, this seemed extremely benign: The river was low and slow, and the crocodiles must still have been digesting their meals from prior days as none of them made an appearance.  Nevertheless, the crossing was one of the most exciting spectacles I have seen.  And I did not feel cheated in the least by the uniform success of the animals we saw crossing: There was adequate evidence of past (and likely future) failures, and I did not really need to directly observe these.
This focus made for a relatively simple itinerary.  We flew into Kilimanjaro Airport, near Arusha, and essentially made a beeline for the northern Serengeti, a transfer that involved many hours of often dusty driving.  Upon the completion of our time there, we returned to Arusha almost as directly.  What terrible hardships we endured!  Lest you feel too sorry for us, bear in mind that we made several stops en route, at Lake Manyara National Park and in the central Serengeti on the way north, in central Serengeti again and at the Ngorongoro Crater on the return.  Also, bear in mind that Serengeti is varied and wonderful, possibly my favorite place in earth.  What a privilege to be “forced” to spend a couple of weeks there.
Female Leopard
Our early success freed us for a succession of game drives exploring different nearby parts of the Serengeti.  It exposed us to some of the variety of habitats that the park incorporates and helped to put the Great Migration in context by contrasting areas that the migrating animals were vacating versus occupying.  In addition, it provided us with the time we needed to find, view and enjoy some of the other wildlife (and scenery) for which the Serengeti is so famous.  
Grey-headed Kingfisher
In preparing for an African safari, I think it generally best to not become too invested in particular sightings: The chance element is too strong and there are too many wonderful things to be seen, any subset of which is likely to be thrilling. Altogether, our trip could not have been much more successful or pleasant.
Note: A wildebeest is a large dark antelope with a long head, a beard and mane, and a sloping backand also called a gnu.