Friday, February 27, 2015

The land of Kahunas and Menehunes

Life comes in chapters.  Sometimes you don't see what’s coming and something different comes along. And sometimes things just drop in your lap.

When I was a young pup - only teaching three years, - I was looking at the study opportunities posted  with the National Science Foundation  – and I thought “What the heck” – so -  I applied for an academic year study at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.  It was a small group, and much to my surprise, I was selected to be part of the program.  The grant paid all expenses including a living stipend. It  wasn't a lot but adequate. 
University of Hawaii - Manoa campus

My science wing looked like thing
 When I arrived I went to the university housing office to inquire about available accommodations – my living stipend was barely enough to live on – but that was OK.   After viewing several cramped single rooms for rent, I went out to check an old servents quarters behind a fine big house up in the Nuʻuanu highlands of Honolulu – it had a tiny kitchen, narrow bedroom, and bathroom… I loved it and immediately rented it.  

My fine little Dwelling

There were holes in the screens that let Gecko lizards in at night – but they are gentle and no problems – If I went into the kitchen at night there was a great scuttling of giant cockroaches running for cover –

Common house Geckos
The setting was magnificent – out behind the “apartment” flowed the Nuannu creek, the owner had an orchid garden adjacent to the rooms, and there was a giant Avocado tree overhead. It was tranquil.

This dog 'Moki" came with the place - each night when we went for walks - Moki came with us carrying a coconut in his mouth

My classes were high quality – My favorite was Plant Physiology with really challenging lab activities.  Summary of Plant Physiology here:
I also had a class in Invertebrate Paleontology that I loved – but the labs involved ‘field quality’ samples that we had to work give us something like real world experience.  
Invertebrate Paleontology:
I had professors from New Zealand, Hawaii, and the “Mainland US”.  Those of us in the program carried a full load of classes and with lab work it was a busy time of learning.  These were the best classes I have had in my education – probably because I came from 3 years of teaching experience.   I travelled from my home on the HRT – (Honolulu Rapid Transit) … which were decrepit old busses – definitely not very rapid.
Judy at the Iao needle

The only problem was that not long before accepting the position I had met this really interesting woman named Judy – but you know how it is – I didn't feel like I was ready to make any serious commitment at that point… so here I was in my making long “expensive” phone calls to my sweetie in California…  We decided that it would be a good thing for her to come visit over Christmas vacation – and seeing her I was sure – I flew home semester break and we were married and she flew back to start our married life in “our little grass shack” on Nuʻuanu …she didn't even mind the geckos chirping in the night or the giant cockroaches. 
One of our favorite places to snorkel - magnicent fish!

I was still full time busy – so Judy did some substitute teaching in the Honolulu schools – and with the extra money we could afford to see and explore much more of Hawaii… we had such fun in the different parts of Oahu and different regions of Honolulu… She came home each day from her teacher and taught me the latest pidgin English that she had learned that day.  
Street sign written in Pidgin English

We loved the beaches but also the trails leading deep into the mountains.  It's the only place I have hiked where I could pick guavas, papayas, and mangos along the way… 
One of our camp sites with a rented cat

Note the plastic rain jacket - just in case
I successfully completed the academic year with good grades, and then we stayed on into the summer to more seriously explore.  We bought an army surplus tent and put together basic camping gear.  Also we had had Judy’s small Renault shipped over to us – so we were set to explore.  
People think of "ocean" when they think Hawaii - but there are vast interior mountains  with marvelous sights and hiking trails

We camped in the vast system of county parks in Hawaii – the local Kanakas, the surfers, and us… We loved snorkeling in the warm gentle waters of the Pacific – I will never forget the great array of small brightly colored fish and the beautiful corals.  

One day we stumbled onto this Luau put on by a Buddhist church - those are pigs in the background - of course they invited us to join them

And when we returned to our campsite we frequently found a Hawaiian party going on next to us and it was the custom of the local people to bring up two plates filled with food and two open bottles of Primo beer… we couldn't refuse… Good people – I will never forget their kindness.  We visited Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and the ‘big Island’ of Hawaii … each one is unique and we loved the different sights, sounds, and smells of each.  
We fell in love with the ancient petrogliphs and searched high and low for them

This is me making a rubbing of a group of petrogliphs

We were still on a rock bottom budget so we ate a lot of Japanese/Hawaiian rice plates with a big scoop of white rice, Kālua pork, marinated vegetables… so “Ono” (delicious).  We ate the local sushi, the malasadas, and the fruits in the markets.

Another time we stumbled onto a 'hukilau" where a bunch of people put out a net and then pull it in together and cook the fish in a big picnic - of course we were invited and we joined in

We loved Hawaii dearly – but we have never gone back –we hear reports that it has become much more commercial … and there are so many other great places to visit… We loved the lay back easy going generous Hawaiians that we remember – so sometimes it good to close a chapter. However the chapter with Judy and me together is still filled with a lot of love, good times and good adventures together.  

Black sand beach of S. ":Big Island" - sand is made of basalt

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Like snow upon the desert's dusty face..."

Tis the season of frogs and mockingbirds – we have music by day and music by night! To get the full effect, imagine adding in a chorus  of finches, jays, crows, mourning doves,  and humming birds.  On a sunny morning they are awesome!

Fukien Province,  China
As a child in Kansas, on gray snowy days, when it was too cold to go out and play, I would at times pull out the box of family photos.  This is where I learned the near and distant history of my family.  My long ago distant relatives when they still  lived in Bohemia, the youth of my parents, my Mothers years living in China, the people of the Delia Kansas community – extended family and friends – near and far - they were all here.  

Crew out picking corn
As we lived our lives, additional photos were added to remind me of major events in our lives .  There were also old post cards and letters, some written in Czech in a fine careful style, others written in the rough hand of my uncles when they were away working, also letters from distant relatives who wrote only at Christmas time…… they were all saved in bundles with ribbons around each  stack.  Here I learned about who I was and where my ancestry came from.

My mothers photo from Fukien province China
My concern is that today I take good digital photos stored in my computer – I have an extensive communication with family and friends around the world – also stored as ephemeral records “out in the cloud” or in my computer.  Of course I have my computer backed up – but it all is stored only as electronic ‘images’.  And it's not just me – the records of our entire historical era are recorded in a similar manner.  Will this all still be there for  future historians? Both for historians and for for later generations in our families to go back and connect with us through our records…?   We could well lose a lot of our history.  How many of you have had a computer crash?  Even with back up it’s hard to restore everything.

Great grandparents
Part of the problem is changing technology – not long ago we stored information on ‘floppy discs’.  Who still  has a computer that reads floppy discs? Ever the 4” x 4” discs have largely disappeared.  Now wee use CD discs or thumb drives… but for how long… I store many things in the mysterious “cloud” – whatever that is – and who knows what its life span will be.  Companies close up every day – “whoops there goes that cloud!!!”  These very words you are reading here come to you electronically and are so very temporary.

First family house after emigrating to America
Letter writing is a lost art – It has been months or years since I last wrote a pen-on-paper letter that I sealed in an envelope and sent with a stamp – (which we scurrilously call “snail mail”.)   I write and receive wonderful meaningful messages and ideas in emails, Facebook messages, even twitter… but it all reminds me of the line in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face, Lighting a little hour or two — is gone.”
Sometimes I have trouble finding a message that was written even last month.

Czech family children
Most parents want to keep a careful record of the development of their family. Photos of the major events in the lives of the kids  are precious….but in most families these too are stored digitally.  Fragile as snowflakes!

So what are our options –?

Be warned:  Even under ideal circumstances (e.g., away from extreme heat, cold, or moisture), CDs are only reliable for about 5 years or so.  Not recommended!

This is the best advice I can find for right now... 

1.  Keep photos and files on your hard drive and back them up. Hard drives have their flaws but they are more durable than CDs.   Sites like will back up your hard drive files into their cloud.

2.  Buy an external hard drive is a device onto which you can store a large quantity of files. It also is way more dependable than CD storage.  Just look on line or go to your neighborhood “Fry’s”

3.  Sites like FLICKR, SHUTTERFLY, or IPHOTO let you upload your pictures to a secure server… you can access them from any computer in the world with good Internet connection. You can control who can view your files, or you can make them totally private.  As long as the company is there you are probabily secure.
Early car in Delia
4.  Of course you can make hard copies of your most precious papers and photos - but even modern color prints are not as durable as only Silver Nitrate black and white photos... 

All of these have some uncertainty – will they be there in 20 years? 100 years?  Who knows?

In the words of the great Tony Soprano, "What ya goin to do?"   Good luck!

Advice from the Library of Congress

Friday, February 13, 2015

"I'ts not easy being green..."

Wherever have they been during all the hot dry days of summer and the cold of winter?!!  But here they are; back again, singing in the night. Night falls and first tentatively, then in earnest the frog chorus begins.  These are tiny Pacific Tree frogs – but they produce the sound of a brass band!  We do have other species in our locale – in deep cold ponds we have bullfrogs, and in ponds and streams there are spotted frogs and red legged frogs.  
Pacific Tree Frog
Most of us have a positive good feeling about frogs– whether we learned of them from Kermit on Sesame Street or what we remember from high school biology.  Maybe you were lucky enough to grow up with frogs living nearby in a pond. I associate frogs with the warm days of spring and summer – I think of them as fascinating but secretive little fellows.

Kermit the frog!  Hear his sing:

First lets get a couple of things straight:

1.  Frogs and Toads are entirely different species.  Frogs are adapted to spend their life in and close to water. Toads are adapted to live on land…but they need moist settings.  They both must lay eggs in a similar manner in water.

Pacific Toad

2.  Handling frogs or toads will not give you warts.  When you pick one up they are not coated with mucous like a fish; their skin is leathery and wet…They feel cold because they are ectothermic– meaning that they take on the temperature of their surroundings– heat is not generated within their body by metaboolism.  Being an endotherm like us takes a lot of work to eat enough more to generate all the heat that we need to stay warm.

3.  Kissing a frog does not produce a prince – (or princess) – interesting thought though.
"Yes he did turn into a prince - but there were complications"

When I taught Biology, it was traditional every year to receive big sealed buckets of dead frogs stored in formaldehyde, The smell was so strong that it burned the nostrils!  I stored my frogs in fresh water for a day to remove some of the smell.  The organ systems of the frog are similar to those in the human and after studying human biology; it was fascinating for students to dissect the frog and see the same organs arranged in a complete organism.
Frog organs

There are significant differences –mostly in scale and size.  The frog heart has only 3 chambers – not four like ours, which results in a less efficient transfer of oxygen throughout the body. (In addition the frog  gains most of his or her oxygen directly from the water through their skin). They have a big long stomach, 3 lobes to their liver, 2 lungs, underneath the small intestines a small long ribbon-like pancreas, gall balder, urinary bladder, and reproductive organs.  The unlucky students who received a female find them loaded with eggs (unlucky because it was a lot of work to remove them).

Frog eggs - after they are released in water -

  The mouth of the frog had an opening to the glottis that leads to the lungs; there are also openings to the vocal sacs, which permit air to vibrate the vocal apparatus to produce the famous “ ribbit” sound… Since frogs have no diaphragm to breath they have to inflate the mouth sac (bottom of jaw) and force air into the lungs through the glottis.  Its even possible to study  the regions of the brain if you are a good surgeon and can cut  carefully through the bone… (I know some of you are my ex-students – does this bring back memories?)

Spotted Frog
So now when I hear my little Pacific tree frog friends I can visualize all of these systems doing just what they are supposed to do to lead to a happy healthy frog singing through the night

Frogs are also the “Canary in the coal mine” so to speak – Large numbers of highly abnormal frogs are being recently found – especially in polluted water – particularly in water polluted with vast amounts of plastic pollution.  A scientist in his laboratory was studying the effects of sex hormones on organisms… He had the apparatus set up and returned to do the experiment. 

Mutant frog
He checked his pure solutions one more time before the test and discovered that one was polluted with a female sex hormone – Impossible he said – this was pure when I set it us… through tests he established that water in contact with his plastic tubing had gained a chemical that mimics the hormone effect.  Think of a swamp with plastic bags and bottles contaminating the water. Other chemicals also have mutagen (mutation causing) effects. These effects are most noted in frogs that live in the water with constant exposure – but what about us exposed to plastics and other contaminants – there is more research to be done.
Bull frog
It is also somewhat a mystery why whole population of frogs are dying due to a bacterial or fungal disease – worldwide. Is this due to a ‘new’ transplanted disease organism?  Is it due to something weakening the frogs and making them more susceptible?  Can we learn from populations that remain healthy?  Troubling mystery!
Spring P{eeper

Last summer I spoke to a frog researcher in Tuolumne meadows from UC Berkeley.  She had studies several species living in high mountain lakes that are frozen solid for several months each year.  Those high mountain frogs, she said, appeared healthy.  Possibly due to their isolation and to their long breeding cycle that could require more than one year.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Hitchhiking - Part 2

I feel like the Hobbit who returned from his adventures to sit in his comfortable Hobbit-home and recall the adventures of his younger days… For me, my early travels provided me with perspective and an ability to deal with "whatever came up".…And this was served me my life long.

The Hobbit
I am like the Australians I met; who said that many of their young people go out on an extended once in a life time  “walk about” early in life and them settle down at home for the rest of their lives. Now I am quite content with smaller travels every year or two, just to add a bit of  ‘spice’ to our lives...but I can never be content with the 'usual tours'... Fortunately I married a woman who also enjoys the challenge of occasional good travel experiences.

---  Back to my hitchhiking days... Part 2

The Amphitheater in Delphi - site of presentations of classic Greek dramas
Greece was magnificent! The ancient and the modern blended quite harmoniously.   The land itself is beautiful – the mountains in the north, the broad green planes, and the warm Mediterranean Sea  (it is so blue that it looks like dye).  Athens is a large but navigable city. The hostel there was jovial and alive. In the hostel I met two Canadian women with whom I travelled for some time, making forays to surrounding sites and villagers…visiting such sites as  Olympus, Delphi, and Crete.

This is where the famous oracle of Delpi was housed
Southern Greece, the Peloponnesus, was beautiful but more rural.  I stayed one night in a small village hotel, and woke in the cool fall morning air, hefted my pack onto my back, started walking south, hoping to find a place to sell me breakfast. There was no traffic so I walked…

Before long I passed a small farm with a simple stone hut near the road.  The family was cooking breakfast over an outdoor fire. When they saw on – one of the teen-age boys came over to me and gently took my arm and pulled me off the road toward the family – where they invited me to eat with them.  
Not the exact house - but very similar style
We sat at a rough pine table in the hut and had a memorable breakfast of fried eggs, thick slabs of fresh Greek bread, olives, white goat cheese, and glasses of the pine rosin flavored wine (Retsina)  produced locally.  We couldn't share a word in common but we laughed and both spoke our own language.  On the wall was a magazine picture of a Massey Ferguson Tractor (that they wished for) – and I went to the wall and read them the words in English to their amusement and delight… they sent me on down the road with bread and cheese and olives.  Those people have no idea how their act of generosity has stayed with me my whole life.  All I can do is repay the kindness to another person in the great pool of humanity to which we all belong.
Typical Greek country traffic (they gave me a lift)
After visiting the family of my brother in law (in the region lived in by the
Ancient Spartans) I started on the road back to Athens – again no traffic.  Shortly along came a military convoy – a jeep and a troop carrier.  They stopped and the soldiers motioned for me to climb in – One of the Greek soldiers gave me a jacket and cap to put on so that I wouldn't stand out… we stopped in the next village and they bought fresh hot raisin bread and a bottle of retsina wine… and so we went on down the road having a jolly time.  

Not my truck - but very similar - except everyone was in  uniform ( even me)
After a bit they had to turn off and they let me off… They were on official business to buy wine for the military base and had to go directly to the winery to do their business.   I continued on my way.

Back in Athens I hooked up with a couple of young Germans who along with me planned to go over into Turkey as we continued out travels.  This however turned out to be expensive.  It wasn't hard to take a ferry to Rhodes – but how to get into Turkey?… So in Rhodes we discovered a local merchant who had a good small rough wooden boat with canvas sails – And so as sailors have done for thousands of years we crossed this portion of the Mediterranean sea by sail power.  
Not my boat - but exactly similar size and style
We landed in Marmaris Turkey – and I knew at once that I had entered a different world – We arrived as the muezzin was calling the people to prayer ( "Allah is Allah and Mohammed is his prophet").   I was in an Asian world with everything different!  As luck would have it – we stayed in a small hotel for a night and the next day found a Turkish tramp steamer … the SS Tari – an ancient local steam ship that plied the southern coast stopping at every small town to take on the peanut crop.  It was warm and so we arranged to be transported by deck passage – For 6 nights  we went to sleep in one location, covering ourselves with pieces of ships canvas, travelled at night, and woke the next day in a charming new location.  In those days these villages were isolated since there was not yet a coastal road to connect them with the "outside world".
Not my ship - but similar to the "SS Tari" - it had booms like this to lift cargo from small boats... We had the top deck under the stars every night for a week. and the kitchen crew brought us left-over food, each night,  from the kitchen... delicious!
We hired local fishermen to take us ashore in each village, to explore and see the local life.  This was an anthropologists heaven... the people, the crafts, the animals, the smells and sounds ... I so remember the delicious village restaurant food – vegetable stews with lamb or chicken…and such good bread…

 We entered Syria at Iskenderun – From where it was a short ride into magnificent Aleppo.  First impressions – Arabic writing, men in long white robes and white head scarves, few women visible, Arabic music, Loaded camels and donkeys… navigating was a bit more of a challenge – but I had a map...and I mastered the art of communication by drawing quick pictures.   We travelled by bus or walked...

One of a gazillion shops in "Souk el Zarb" - the covered market
Emperor Saladin's "citadel" - Allepo - 13th century fort
Magnificent historic sites – huge extensive markets inside a labyrinth of dimly lit enclosed stone passageways… There were incredible craftspeople, weaving, melting, carving, butchering, bargaining … all right there… I felt like I had entered  into the Arabian Nights…

More "Souk el Zarb"
the next morning in the hostel we woke to find that there had been a ‘bloodless coup” in the night and that we had to stay put until things calmed down – for the next few days tanks were evident in the streets – but all was calm.  (The current destruction of so much of Syria is so very sad to me - The cities and towns were so beautiful, so historic, and the people were good to us traveling youth.)

Palmira ruins... absolutely open - no one to sell us a ticket - no guards 
When I entered Hama (Hamah) late in the evening I discovered that there was a religious event and no hotel rooms were available – but as I asked around a man said that he was the director or the cities youth program and, if I didn't mind, I could sleep in the simple youth house (one room) – but he would have to lock me in for the night.  First he took me to a restaurant – where he bought me my first hummus and bread … then locked me in for the night…

The water wheels of Hama
The only time in my life I have been “locked up”… Early the next morning he unlocked the door and took me down the street for fresh hot pida bread, goat cheese,  and strong sweet red tea.  This is also the city with the famous creaking wooden water wheels , going back to the 15th century.

Bedouin tent
I boarded a decrepit windowless bus to travel into the desert to visit the ancient ruined city of Tadmore.  To get there the route east wanders through nearly barren desert.   Along the way, we passed several Bedouin encampments with their camels, horses, and goats. Tadmore was a large oasis with many Palm trees watered from the central well, and the extensive ruins of an Alexandrian era trade route city – the modern houses by contrast were made of mud bricks with earthen mortar.  It was a magnificent location to explore…The city of ruins is 'Palmira'.
Bedouin goat herd

Yikes! – I’m not even half way through my travels – so many more stories to tell – on through Syria, Jordan, Israel… then home through Turkey, Italy, Spain, and a bit of North Africa…  and I made it home in time for the spring semester...  
One final note - when evening came on and I was in a smaller place without a youth hostel I would stay in one of the Syrian or Turkish Inns ... I often  used my Hostel muslin sleeping  sack inside of those beds... just because I wasn't sure how often the sheets were changed... 
In my travels, I met so many wonderful people.  Staying in hostels with an international group of young people all traveling in the same manner as me - we would become immediate good friends and both had an opportunity to share and to learn from others.   Thank God I was never bothered in any way or robbed, never got lost ( well, badly anyway)… never sick.  My guardian angel must have been sorely tested at times but I come home thankful and appreciative for my experiences.

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