Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review - Unfamiliar Fishes

Blog post #26

A Book Review – Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell - Riverhead Books 2011 

 It is not easy to explain to people why Hawai’ians are blocking the road to the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The protesters have slowed the construction of one of the biggest land based astronomical observatories ever. If you are of Hawai’ian ancestry, you are often asked why. And why the big protest over the geothermal energy trials at Kilauea Volcano a few years ago. If you read Sarah Vowell’s book you will begin to understand. 

Vowell takes her readers from the early Puritan based religious fervor in New England through the missionary zeal that sent the Brig Thaddeus to Hawai’i, and beyond into the history of the Hawai’ian people and their conquerors. She chronicles the unfortunate coincidence of the isolated population’s lack of resistance to common diseases and how it coincided with the missionary’s zeal to convert a successful culture into a subservient population which, in today’s political world, has little power beyond that of protest. She writes with a wry humor that I find appealing even though it describes one of the saddest parts of our history. 

The descendants of the missionaries who locked Queen Liliuokalani in the palace are characterized by her in quotes and comments from this letter from Lorrin Thurston to Sanford Dole, (italics added) "'I hope those who are drafting the constitution will not allow fine theories of free government to predominate over the necessities of the present situation.' He counsels against free speech because that would only encourage the native opposition: 'To treat them with forbearance and courtesy is like trying to disinfect leprosy with rose water,' He casually dismisses the need to guarantee a trial by jury, which had only been a bedrock principle in the English-speaking world for only, oh say seven hundred years."

 Vowell goes on to talk of Thurston’s plan to disenfranchise Hawai’ians and Asian workers, to require loyalty oaths (which Hawai’ians refused to sign) as a requirement for having their vote count, and literacy tests borrowed from Mississippi’s post Reconstruction laws which disenfranchised Blacks. He also wanted to suppress a free press and deport opponents. More than twenty six thousand people signed petitions against annexation to the U.S. but Vowell describes how three prominent descendants of the missionaries went to Washington and convinced the Congress and newly elected President Mc Kinley to annex Hawai’i. Sarah Vowell doesn’t excuse the Hawai’ian royalty from part of the blame but you get the impression she believes that Liliuokalani would have straightened out the constitutional monarchy and made it work for Hawai’ians and others had she been given the chance. 

If you read between the lines you will find the descriptions of the takeover similar to the arguments made by Hitler prior to the invasion of Poland and the Russians prior to their most recent “non-invasion” of the Crimean Peninsula.

 So, today with Hawai’ians (bunched together with other Polynesians in the census) less than ten percent of the population in their own land, and with the trusts set up to guarantee them an education and health care, under challenge why not protest. There are plenty of cultural reasons to keep industrial sized projects away from areas considered sacred by Hawai’ians just as has been done by other Native Americans. Reading this book won’t change what happens in the islands but it will make you better understand the events.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dorothy is Missing

Blog Post #25

"Dorothy is Missing."

During the summer of 1923 the six year old child in the left side of the photograph and her twelve year old neighbor, Loretta Short, were lost for three days and two nights in the forests of Santa Cruz County in California. The child was Dorothy Hutchinson, my mother.

Each summer the Hutchinson clan would pile huge amounts of camping gear in their vehicles and drive down the narrow dirt road to Big Basin State Park for a month of camping. The men would stay for two weeks vacation and then drive back to work, leaving the families camped and returning on weekends.

The lost girls generated an enormous search with park rangers and volunteers combing the forest, searching through the night with gas lanterns and dragging the swimming area in a search for possible drowning victims. Here are excerpts from my mothers own recollections:

"We walked for what seemed like endless hours. I recall stooping over a little creek to get a drink and seeing a small yellow snake come gliding out from under the bank, at another point in our wanderings my shoe came off and went down a rather steep hill. Loretta was afraid to go down to get it because, she said, she was afraid she might not be able to climb up again.
We slept under the trees for two nights and Loretta covered me with an old sweater she was wearing. At one time during our wanderings Loretta found two slightly green blackberries and I can't remember having anything else to eat on our long journey...
When I grew up and had children of my own I finally had some inkling of what Mama and Papa must have gone through. Mama said that the thing that scared her most was the thought of the mountain lions which were populous in the mountains at that time...
I guess we finally found ourselves, because while we were following a creek we heard the sound of an automobile horn. It was being sounded by a woman who had become tired of waiting for her fisherman husband to return to the car. We rushed out into the clearing and were overjoyed to see grownups. They were very kind and had heard about the "lost children". They took us home and bathed us and fed us and put us to bed. It was wonderful when Mama and Papa showed up to take us home to camp."
The two girls had followed Waddell Creek to the Theodore Hoover ranch at the coast. It is possible that they were found by Theodore's brother and President-to-be Herbert, an avid fisherman who frequented the coastal streams around the ranch. They had walked somewhere between eight and twelve miles. Today there are maintained trails all along the route, but in 1923 the girls were true pathfinders.

I was the Director of California's State Park System in the 1970s and celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the park system with a big picnic at Big Basin. My mother, who had taken us camping in the family tradition, sat at the picnic table with former Governor Pat Brown and told her story. A few years later she asked that her ashes be scattered in the redwoods and our family obliged.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Blog Post #24

How much is a park worth?

Washington is home to Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, R.E.I. and huge crops of apples, wheat, trees and oysters. To say we are lucky would be an understatement. At the smaller end of the economic spectrum is Sage, making some of the best fly rods and Werner making the best kayak paddles. What's the point?

Last year Governor Jay Inslee included me on a panel charged with looking at the value of recreation to the people of Washington. State Parks has one hundred forty employees fewer than ten years ago. What's the deal? Are there fewer people? Are there fewer people with their R.V.s, bikes, tents, climbing gear skis and all the other stuff needed to enjoy the outdoors? Go out and take a look.

It turns out the economic value of outdoor recreation in Washington is huge. Somewhere around 25 billion dollars per year. That's sales of recreation stuff, the cost of going fishing or camping or to your softball game or whatever you're are up to. Buying a boat? It's in there too.

It's Really Big! Bigger than aircraft manufacturing and software and coffee. It's guys flying radio controlled airplanes and girls riding jumping horses at the Washington State Horse Park. Really, I found out that the sales tax collections from just the trips taken to state parks exceeds the meager budget approved by the legislature. We are already paying 70% of the costs of running the parks through the sales of the Discover Pass. That's better than any other state. If this were Boeing, everyone would jump to the tune and straighten this out. We'd give another tax break.

Call Someone! Get on the phone or the Internet and let your legislator know you want the parks kept open, the toilets cleaned and the criminals kept out. These are some of the few things we all get to enjoy from the spending of our taxes. Don't let the penny-pinching-spoil-sports scrimp you out of your parks and do the economy and the unemployed a favor by recognizing the real value of these parks.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bill Cahill Meets Jim Crow

Blog # 23

Bill Cahill meets Jim Crow

1936 or 37

The reports of police and security guard brutality and shootings of black people have brought to mind a story from my family. My Grandfather, who related this story to me was chief engineer on a freighter in 1936 or 7. My father, pictured above, was a wiper-the lowest guy in the engine room of the same vessel. 

When the ship docked in Savannah, Georgia my father went ashore to buy some snacks and walk around a bit. He entered a grocery store run by Greek immigrants and was immediately challenged by the store owner and told to go outside and come around to the "negro entrance". Dad refused and the police were called. According to both my dad and grandfather dad was arrested and told to go to the station with the officer.

Dad said that the Savannah police officer told him, "We know how to deal with you northern niggers. You're going to Farmer Brown's pea farm," Evidently this was a euphemism for the "chain gang". Things got nasty then and my dad punched the officer, took his gun and threw it in the canal and ran back to the ship. 

When the police showed up at the ship, they were met by the Captain who told them that under maritime law, they needed to have a U.S. Marshall to board the ship. According to my dad, Grandpa was stationed above with a rifle and was prepared to start a shooting war if they forced their way onto the gangway.

The cops came back with a U.S.Marshall but found my father had disappeared. The Captain had sent him out a seaward hatch and a launch carried him to an outbound ship where he became a part of a crew headed for the Panama Canal and home. Had my father not been a good fighter and a fast runner, It's not likely that I, and the rest of my siblings, would be here. He would not have survived captivity.

Afternote: A few years ago my wife Narda and I were in Savannah. I went to the waterfront to try to recreate the scene I had pictured from the stories. There, at 5 E River Street, where the store had been described, was a Greek Restaurant called the Olympia with a sign indicating it had been there since the mid 1930s. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Two Hawai'ian Cultures

Blog #22

The Two Hawai’ian Cultures

I wanted to write a book about Ancient Hawai’i. I had climbed and walked the mountains of Maui and some of the windward side of Molokai. And there I heard the echoes of the ghosts of a huge ancient population that was unlucky enough to have lived isolated from common germs and American nineteenth century commercial culture for a long enough time to find themselves ripe for destruction. It wasn’t a perfect life. There were wars. There was an elite that sometimes oppressed the common folk. People had to work hard to supply communities with food, and shortages were not uncommon. But they were a bold bunch. Experts at things like celestial navigation and irrigated agriculture. They used nature to produce fish in ways unequalled to this day.

That ended when sailors supplied guns to Kamehameha and he was finally able to defeat the people of Maui, Molokai and Oahu and form a kingdom. It also ended when the idols were burned and the Christian Missionaries organized the survivors of the diseases and taught them to be servants just as they did American Indians and Australian Aborigines. Then the white advisors divvied up the land into sugar plantations and later, pineapple and imported foreign labor because they believed the Hawaiians, some of the most hard working people on earth, to be lazy.

Today the population of Maui is about ten percent Hawai’ian. The culture is divided. People of the original race that occupied everything from South America to Australia and from Hawai’i to the South tip of New Zealand try hard to retain some pride in their cultures. The voyaging canoes that began with Hokule’a are now eight or nine in number spreading through the Pacific. The old vaudeville type songs I grew up thinking were Hawai’ian music have been replaced by slack key innovations and a renaissance in Hawai’ian composition. Hula, as a mystical communication and a way to transfer the ancient culture has returned after being banned by the up-tight missionary advisors to the royals.

The majority cultures that make up the ninety percent have their own version of Hawai’ian Culture. There is a web site the person designing the cover for my novel referred me to. It’s called Shutterstock and it has thousands of images used by graphics designers for everything from t-shirts to greeting cards. Shutterstock fulfills a legitimate need. It provides people with a simple way of avoiding litigation over image copyright and it is easy to use. But it is also a weather vane for culture change. While foraging through about a hundred pages of images I found one of Haleakala Crater and more than a hundred of Hawai’ian pizza. There are dozens of ugly tiki images with alcohol jokes and not one Hawai’ian outrigger canoe. There is a woman wearing coconut shells for a bra identified as a Hawai’ian Hula dancer. And most of the people portrayed by far are white.

I recognize this for what it is, a rant. It will not, nor should it stop anyone from going to Hawai’i and enjoying what passes for Hawai’ian culture in the tourist trade. But please, when you get a chance, stop and talk to the guys rubbing down the canoe at Honaunau on the Big Island. Get a Hawaiian guide to take you to Waipio and listen to the song of the waterfalls. Take the drive to Hana on Maui and jump into the pools at Kipahulu. Tourist guides called them sacred. Sacred for individual sites is really a foreign concept to Hawaiians who believe the earth is sacred. All of it. Oh, and read my novel Kolea when it comes out.  Thanks for reading this and Aloha.