Sunday, March 29, 2015

Blog # 13

Baseball and Book Season

Russ and Narda True to the Blue

Good news! Opening day will soon be here and Narda got tickets. And I got an e-mail from Booktrope saying that they want to publish my novel, Kolea. I was hiking with my daughter and granddaughter in a no-cell phone zone for a couple of days and when my cell phone found a signal, there was Narda's text message saying they had accepted my novel for publication and a contract was waiting on-line for me.

Now I have to get into the process of getting on a team of editor, cover designer and all the other people who will help me get this show on the road. After final proofing, the book can be out in about four weeks. This is all new to me and pretty exciting. I'm into a second book already and have sent a short story off to an anthology. This blog is a thank you to all of you out there who have helped me get to this point.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One Good Reason to Travel

Blog # 12

Why Travel?

There are lots of good reasons not to travel. There’s the expense, the time stuck in those cramped middle seats on airplanes and the long lines waiting for TSA people to search through your underwear for explosives. Then there’s the annoyance when you can’t get a wireless connection so you can look at silly pictures and blog posts. Oh no! Not the blog posts! But today I’m going to give you the best reason to travel: Chocolate.

In Koln (Cologne), Germany is an enormous chocolate museum. It is right on the river, and easy to find. You can learn the history of chocolate’s origin in Meso-America and you get to sample the stuff right where it’s made. The Lindt people have set up a factory inside the museum and they pass out samples. Narda claims I pushed my way into a line of children to get my sample but it’s not true. Go there and smell the heavenly odor of the stuff and you’ll discover why it’s worth standing in the airport lines. The Belgians make awfully good chocolate as well. The Bear in this picture was captured in Brugge (Bruges) in Belgium.
Bear Awaits Execution

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blog# 11

The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing about my eight years as a National Park Ranger. It is part of a chapter about Glacier Bay National Monument in 1969. Glacier Bay is now a National Park.

Life at a remote station

Our groceries came every eight weeks on the MV Nunatak. The boat was a seventy two foot vessel built for the U.S. Biological Survey in the 1920s and had been used in the Bering Sea. She would do ten knots no matter if you had her at half or full throttle and was an excellent boat for a base of field operations. The Captain, Jim Sanders was a former Coastguard NCO and knew his vessel and the waters very well. There was a cook-deckhand named Bill Meyers who was a backup at the helm, kept the boat reasonably well tidied up, and cooked our meals for us. Bill drank whiskey and read philosophy books in the evening and could be counted on for fascinating and hilarious discussions about politics and world events.

The down side to the old boat was that it was infested with cockroaches. When Susie and the children and I toted our groceries from the boat to our houses, we would unload the boxes outside and after inspecting every package, take them inside. We burned the boxes because the roaches would lay eggs in the corrugations of the cardboard and stow away into our pantries.

On a trip to Muir Inlet on the Nunatak, our regional director was aboard and Bill Meyers had purchased steaks for all of us. As he served the hot platters with steaks and potatoes, a roach dropped off the overhead and landed on the regional director’s steak. He jumped up and yelled at Superintendent Bob Howe, “Howe, why don’t you get rid of these God Damned cockroaches!” Bob grabbed his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of old requests for funding for the exact purpose and told him, “I've been asking for this for three years and you keep turning me down.” With a lot of cursing, the Regional Director said he wasn't hungry and retired to his bunk. Ranger Greg Streveler and I cut out a little piece of the steak the roach had landed on and split the rest between us. But the cook had the last word. He looked at us and said, “I saw that bugger walking across the overhead and just as he got to the right place I willed him. Under my breath I said, ‘drop you sonofabitch,’ and he did.” That winter The MV Nunatak was taken to Seattle for a haul-out and was fumigated. We had Bill and his trained roach to thank.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mary and the Bear
Blog # 10

Last time I visited Mary Hervin we talked about the time the black bear tried to bust its way into her cabin. Mary’s place is back in the woods a couple of miles down the road from my Alaska cabin. I think Mary is somewhere north of 90 years old and still as full of life as ever. In the photo she and the late Sally Lesh were offering their services at a 4th of July Gustavus Auction.

Mary lived alone except on Friday nights when everyone came over for whiskey and snacks and filled the little cabin to overflowing. One day, when Mary was a young woman of 90, a bear busted into a window in her porch, stuck its head into the hole and started looking around for something to eat. Mary grabbed her camera and shot a picture of its head, and then picked her broom out of the corner and jabbed the broom straw into the bears face. That didn't do the trick, so she started whaling away on the bear with the broom. The bear got discouraged, figured it could find easier pickings and left for parts unknown.

This incident is not atypical of the Mary I know. She moved to Gustavus, Alaska late in life, started the first taxi with a little station wagon and worked as a deck hand on a tour boat. Back in the summer of 1941, she and another 18 year old girl won a cash prize at a drawing at the Juneau movie theater. They bought a skiff and motored up to Skagway, traded it for a canoe and rode the White Pass and Yukon train up to Whitehorse. Then they put the canoe in the Yukon River and went the way the miners had done in the 1890s gold rush and paddled down the Yukon camping along the way.

Back in the early 1990s, Mary and her friend got together, took a Klepper kayak and repeated the trip to celebrate being 70 years old. She wrote a little book called Yukon Rerun which tells the tale. If you can find a copy, read it and find out what 70 year olds do besides watch television. Mary can’t get around like she used to but when I saw her in Redding, California she was still full of the old stuff and told me a racy joke that was going around. Thanks for reading my blog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Blog #9

A Story from World War Two

In 1958 I met a butcher named Miller in San Jose. When he learned my name he asked if Bill Cahill was my Dad. When I said yes, he told me that my Dad had saved his life during the sinking of the S.S. Alice Palmer in the Indian Ocean in 1943. I told him the Bill Cahill he referred to was my Grandfather not my Dad.

Mr. Miller told me that Grandpa was the Chief Engineer and was in charge of his lifeboat. Under motor and jury-rigged sail they navigated to the Island of Madagascar. Most of the crew were dehydrated and badly sunburned. Mr. Miller said that Grandpa’s skills and discipline saved their lives.

A few years ago I was footloose in Washington D.C. and visited the Sailors memorial at 7 A.M. one morning. There is a small museum across from the plaza where the memorial is and a man wearing a blazer and tie was inside the window gesturing. I walked over and the fellow unlocked the door and asked if I wanted coffee. I went into this small museum and was asked if I was in the Navy. I said no, but talked about my dad, both grandfathers and uncles who had been in the Navy or Merchant Marine.

When we’d had coffee, two midshipmen from the Academy in Annapolis came in and offered to look up the ships in their archives. In the basement. In a big bound volume we found this passage:

The Alice F. Palmer was a merchant vessel owned by American President Lines and operated by the War Shipping Administration It was a new ship built in 1943. The ship displaced 7,176 tons, had a 15’6” draft and was steam powered. The ship was commanded by George Pederson and was armed with one 3 inch gun and nine 20mm.
At 1500 hours on July 10, 1943, the ship was at Position 26° 30 S / 44°°E
On July 2, the Liberty Ship Alice F. Palmer sailed from Columbo, Ceylon enroute Durban w/o escort. The U-177 (Gysae) fired a torpedo which struck the port side of the #5 hold. The explosion destroyed the stern, blew off the prop and rudder, flooded the engine room and #5 hold, put the aft gun out of commission and broke the ship’s back.
Eight officers, thirty five men and twenty five armed guards abandoned ship in two life boats. Twenty minutes later the remainder abandoned. U 177 surfaced, signaled lifeboats to come alongside them and fired twenty shells which left the ship burning. After U177 left the Palmer sank at 1700 hours. The four lifeboats were separated, sailing to Madagascar. A British PBY (Catalina Flying Boat) rescued the survivors in the #3 boat 60 miles SE of Madagascar. The three remaining boats Landed in Mozambique.
#1 in 15 days,  #2 with 22 men in 16 days, # 4 in 20 days.

The captain of U177, Kptlt. Gysae may have been the most successful U boat captain. He sank more than a dozen allied ships. My Grandfather told me that after Captain Gysae had the lifeboats alongside the submarine he pointed west and said, “Madacascar.”

NOTE: My blogs will start coming out three times a week. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blog #8

Lituya Bay

                                                       Photo by Don J Miller USGS

On July 9, 1958, the largest known tsunami blew out of Lituya Bay in Coastal Alaska. A 7.8 level        earthquake along the Fairweather Fault shook down 30 million tons of rock into the north arm of Lituya Bay. The rocks displaced water which drove the glacier, which was terminating in that end of the bay, to rise up about 600 feet and when it came down it shot a wave down into the bay. The light colored areas along the shore in the photo were mature forests, stripped of their trees at one location to a height of 1,720 feet. It was the highest known wave ever witnessed.

You read that correctly. There were witnesses. Three commercial fishing boats were anchored in the bay. Although it has one of the most dangerous entrance channels on the west.It is the only shelter for those fishing the Fairweather Grounds for many miles in either direction. Some fishermen were lost when their fishing boats went down. Two others washed over the sand spit shown in the foreground of the photograph, got off their sinking boat and rowed an 8 foot pram around out in the open ocean until rescuers found them. The fishing vessel Yakobi survived the wave and the captain and his son lived to tell the story. You can read their account in a government publication, Giant Waves in Lituya Bay Alaska by Don J. Miller.

Miller had actually predicted the wave. Ten years after the earthquake, I was at Lituya in my duties as a National Park Ranger. I took aerial Photos of the wave damage, and hiked the areas surrounding the bay checking on mining claims and bear poaching. I was nearly washed off the foredeck of the 72 foot MV Nunatak when we went out through the entrance channel. It is the most dangerous bay entrance I know and has claimed the lives of many sailors. 

I chose this as the place the characters in my novel make landfall on their trip from Hawai'i. If I get it published you can get a feel for the place through the eyes of Hawai'ians.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blog #7

Social Media for Geezers?

 Writing has started to become a lot easier with practice. When I experienced writer's block, my friend Suzanne Shaw advised me to write three hundred words every day. "Write anything," she said. It worked. The neural passage from brain to fingers needs exercise in order to function. When I finished Kolea I sent letters and E-mails to publishers in Hawai'i but have never received even a blip of an acknowledgement. Pretty rude with all the auto-reply stuff on-line.

One weekend I spotted a notice on the wall of my favorite fish restaurant in Aberdeen, WA. The following weekend there was to be a writer's workshop at the old Tokeland Hotel. I wrote down the phone number, called for a reservation and next Friday showed up for my first writer's workshop with all the nice folks from South Beach Writers.

Jen Gilbert of Booktrope, a three year old publishing house in Seattle, was there and she scheduled fifteen minute interviews where we got to pitch our books. She liked my pitch and advised me to get a social media presence, get several readers to read the book and comment, and then to submit it to their web-site. Look up Booktrope, They are a new practitioner of "Hybrid" publishing.

Getting the readers was easy. Six people gave me great criticism and I wrote a new chapter and cleaned up some poor passages. The social media part dropped me into another dimension peopled by my grand children's cohorts. Being born three years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the language and processes of social media blew me away. I'd only taken one "selfie" and it was terrible. How could I fit in?

This blog was the first effort and it took me two days to figure out Blogger. It was supposed to be the easy one. Then Suzanne showed me how to go on Twitter. Suddenly people are trying to sell me aromatic soap and wedding photography specializing in Asian Weddings. Holy Crap! My seventy and eighty year old friends are laughing at me but if I get the book published they'll buy it anyway. We may be tech-ignoramuses but we're loyal as hell.

Maybe someone can develop a "Geezer social media site". You know, "Put your hand in this wired up glove and if you're not too shaky your lap-top will photograph you, smooth out the wrinkles and figure out all fifty five of the answers to website questionnaires." One can only hope. Thanks for reading my blog and get ready for Pi day 3/14/15.   

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Blog #6


Here are todays questions. Where did all these Hawai'ians, Tahitians, Samoans, Maoris and myriad other populations that live an area as big as the Pacific Ocean come from? And when? What made them leave the beautiful places they came from to travel thousands of miles in open canoes?

More evidence of where they came from is being discovered each year. DNA and archaeology point back 6,000 years to a migration from Taiwan, or Eastern China, or farther East in the Indo- Archipelago. Lapita Culture people went from island to island on rafts and, later, canoes looking for food and places to live. Pottery found in Samoa, New Guinea and the Torres Straits is traced to those early explorers.

Islands probably became over-populated in a hurry which caused people to move on just like the folks in the science fiction books and movies do. When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778 he estimated the population of the Islands at 400,000. Other estimates vary from 150,000 up to 750,000. Regardless, Cook observed that there was a lot of tribal warfare and a highly regulated kapu system; both indicators of a lot of people on limited space. Maori people were involved in a lot of tribal conflict as well.

These are the musings of someone only qualified to speculate. But my speculation caused me to take the Hawai'ians farther North and put them in contact with natives of the Pacific Coast of North America. It could be that my fictional proposition is the earliest way Polynesian DNA got to North America. Later this week I'll introduce you to a unique part of Alaska; Lituya Bay. Thanks for reading my blog.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blog #5

My father would not eat shark. If it was served to someone nearby at a restaurant he would sit so he was unable to see the diner eating. His father, a seaman for fifty two years, once told me that big sharks would lead voyagers through difficult channels in Pacific Island areas. 

When you see a Polynesian person with lines of triangular tattoos running down the outsides of their legs you are seeing sharks teeth; an indication that the person has a shark as his or her Aumakua. At my Hawaiian family's reunion a few years ago T-shirts with shark logos were given to all.

Pukui and Elbert's Hawaiian Dictionary defines the word as: Family or Personal Gods, deified ancestors who might assume the shape of sharks, owls ...etc. 

Hawaiian people did not eat their Aumakua. They would feed it if they could. My father told me his uncle John was a strong swimmer who was hired to swim out into Hilo Harbor with a small rope to attach onto a hawser line used to winch the barges in to their landing. Each time he did so, he would bring spoiled meat from the slaughter house and feed a large shark that hung around the pier. According to my dad, the shark would swim with his uncle out to the barge and back and no other sharks would come near.

I have two Aumakuas. Because I'm only part Hawaiian I can't count on the shark to recognize the Hawaiian part. One might come in for a meal of the white meat part when I'm swimming in the ocean. I acquired a second Aumakua while hiking up the Halemau'u trail in Haleakala some years ago. On that day a Pueo, a Short Eared Owl, was day hunting on the slope of the mountain. The big owl swooped back and forth as I stopped to watch and then it flew right over me, paused momentarily and flew off down the mountain.When the owl paused, a remarkable thing happened. I could see into the depth of the gold flecked eyes and they seemed to communicate something to me. 

The owl is Asio flammeus. It wanders to every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and is the only owl native to Hawaii. When I was building my cabin in Gustavus, Alaska in 1974, my late wife Susie and I had a disagreement about where the cabin should be sited. One night when I left the tent we were living in to urinate, I walked to the site I favored and, as I was preparing to do my business, a Pueo flew out of a tree and screamed at me while it flew right over my head. We built the cabin where Susie wanted it.

In my novel, the Pueo plays a major role. Thanks for reading my blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blog #4


Molokai is considered the most Hawaiian of the islands. In 1946 my Grandmother took me to Hawaii along with my cousin Georgette. When we flew to Molokai in a DC 3, the pilot buzzed the red dirt airfield in order to chase the baseball game off the runway so he could land. This was waaay before Homeland Security. We travelled in a Model-A coupe to Pukoo where my Great Grandfather Isaac Iaea lived. He was a preacher, and was well on in years. His church was made of huge coral blocks plastered with stucco and the preaching was in Hawaiian. You have not experienced fire and brimstone preaching until you’ve heard it in spoken Hawaiian. And the singing was enough to raise anyone’s spirit.

Molokai is an old island eroded by wind and rain and with many hidden valleys and tall waterfalls. The second third of my novel is set in and around Halawa, a valley on the windward side of Molokai’s east end. Halawa was a thriving community from the earliest time of Hawaiian exploration. Recent archeological work shows that it was continuously occupied longer than any other community in Hawaii. There are hundreds of abandoned stone terraces where Taro was grown. There are remains of a sophisticated irrigation system which began at the waterfalls at the head of the valley. Today only a few people live in the valley.

Molokai has other fascinating sites. There are the remains of enormous fish rearing ponds along the leeward shore and a historic battlefield in Kawela where thousands of warriors fought each other in the seventeen hundreds.

Perhaps the most fascinating place is the Leper Colony at Kalaupapa. The peninsula on which it sits is nearly inaccessible from the land. Two of my Grandmother’s sisters died of Leprosy at the colony when they were teens. My sister Robin spent two six month tours there as an archeologist. The church of Father Damien is intact and still in use by the few residents who remain. During the nineteen seventies Richard Marks, a resident invited me to come to Kalaupapa to work on his plan for the preservation of the natural and historic values of the place. The peninsula is now a National Historic Park. To get an idea of the wildness of Molokai I recommend the video tour on-line done by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters at Their video shows all of the places I have written about. Go to their site and click on the map of Molokai or choose Maui for a look at that beautiful place..

Monday, March 9, 2015

Blog # 3 Maui

Blog # 3 


Did you know that the state of Hawaii stretches a distance of 1500 or so miles across the central Pacific Ocean? The Northwestern islands, the oldest in the chain, are now small atolls a thousand miles closer to Tokyo than San Francisco. Those little islands were once volcanoes which over the millennia have eroded to near sea level and someday the main islands will do the same as another island comes from the seam opening in the sea off the Southeastern side of the big island of Hawaii.

Maui, Molokai and Lanai were once a connected mass of separate volcanoes; one big island. The island of Maui is actually two separate volcanic islands connected by the eroded soils from each. Haleakala, the mountain on the large Eastern part, is more than 10,000 feet above sea-level.
Maui is named for the eldest of Hawai’i Loa’s children. Over the centuries he became known as a Polynesian demi-god who dragged up New Zealand and Hawai’i from the bottom of the sea and slowed the sun down so his mother could dry the tapa cloth she made.

The population of Maui has grown more than three-fold since I served as Superintendent of Haleakala National Park in the first half of the 1970s. Condos, suburban housing and hotels have created a boom in the population while entertainers and other wealthy people have built palatial homes and estates.

There are remnants of old Hawaii in the deep valleys of West Maui and on the coast of East Maui from Keanae around to Hana, Kipahulu and Kaupo. People of Native Hawai’ian ancestry are only about 10 percent of Maui’s current population. But the memory of the tens of thousands of people who lived there prior to European contact may be seen in the faces of Hawai’ian elders and children in Hana, a cultural oasis isolated by a difficult road trip from the big hotels at Wailea and Kaanapali. One of the reasons for my novel is to honor the memories of a great civilization and people who settled these islands a millennium and a half ago.

The first third of my novel, Kolea, takes place on Maui and the descriptions of places are as real as I can make them. I have hiked, climbed and ridden horseback over all of the places I describe. But this is a fictional story and I have taken the liberty to shuffle the geography a bit from time to time. I’m a storyteller not a geographer. If you come back tomorrow I’ll give you a tour of Molokai.

Please feel free to share this blog with anyone.  Thanks   Russ Cahill

Friday, March 6, 2015

Blog #2 Introducing Kolea

Thanks for returning. Here is an introduction to Kolea.

Long before the magical fingers of Jake Shimabukuro danced across the strings of an ukulele, and  before the pure notes of  Israel Kamakawiwo’ole enchanted listeners, and before the Matson ships docked at the Aloha Tower carrying the vanguard of what would become an army of millions of tourists seeking respite in Hawai’i’s climate, and long before the American merchants locked Queen Liliuokalani in Hulihee Palace and, with the threat of United States Marines, took over her government, and before the coming of every known religion bent on saving the souls of the rapidly dwindling population and before common colds, measles and influenza laid waste to a huge percentage of the remainder of the native population, these islands, farther from a major land mass than any on earth, were discovered by a fisherman.

On a voyage two or three thousand miles from his home in the Marquesan Islands, Hawai'i Loa was just north of the equator when the counter-clockwise southern gyre dropped him into the clock-wise gyre of the northern hemisphere, He came upon these islands that had sprung from a crack in the sea bottom. Hawai'i Loa returned home, gathered his family and some crew members and sailed back to settle some new land. The Big Island is named for him. The others are named either for his children or for those of his crew.

At a time when many European sailors were wary of getting too far from land for fear that they would sail off the edge of the earth, many voyages were being made in great double-hulled canoes between  Hawai’i and The Marquesas, Tahiti, and other places. At the same time, the Maori were travelling south to settle Aotearoa; today's New Zealand.

John Weber's Drawing from The Cook Expedition

My book is about the people who traveled north. Could they have gone even farther north? That is my speculation. Kolea is the story of the people of my tenth great-grandmother. The places in this story are real. The people have been prisoners in my imagination for the past 45 years and I have decided to allow them to escape.

The hero of the book, a king in the making, is named after the Pacific Golden Plover. The Kolea flies to Hawai'i each winter and goes north to breed in Western Alaska and Siberia. My family and I flew to Alaska in 1974 and the idea of the book began. It's only been 41 years in the making but so what!

Come back Monday and we'll visit Maui.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blog Post number one


Aloha and welcome to the digital wilderness that is in my mind. I have written a novel about ancient Hawai’i which includes a voyage to Alaska in a double hulled voyaging canoe. If you come back to this blog later this week you may read a chapter of it. Your comments will help me break down the walls of some publishing house and allow the people of the book to escape into reader-land.

Some of you already know me. For those who don’t, let me introduce myself. I am Russ Cahill. I am descended from Hawaiians on my dad’s side, (well, there was that Irishman who left his genes and his name), and Pilgrims on my mom’s. I live in a forest adjacent to a salmon stream just north of Olympia, Washington with my wife, Narda Pierce. My children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are scattered from here to Alaska.

Who am I?

I was a backup linebacker and center during the nineteen fifties at Michigan State, interrupted my college to do military service, and worked as a Deputy Sheriff in San Jose while I raised a family and got my Biology degree from San Jose State. In 1966 I joined the National Park Service,  Later, I was appointed Director of Alaska State Parks and then Director the California State Parks during Governor Jerry Brown's first term. I have worked in natural resources fields for about fifty years.

Today I am a gardener, cook and writer. I enjoy travel, fishing and riding a motorcycle. I spend some of each summer in a cabin my family and I built in 1974 in rural Alaska. I intend to post these blogs on each day; Monday through Friday. 

Getting around in Gustavus, Alaska