Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mouse Wars

I have never been to a real war.  That is by choice primarily, and also by luck. My homeland has never been invaded, although I now live in Hawaii, which was infamously attached.  War…what is it good for?  I believe there should be alternatives…
But recently I have been called into battle to defend my home, my yurt, from an onslaught of mice.  They started it.  Although the truth be known, I have built my round home in their native territory, and so they been called to defend it and even take advantage of it in their mouse-like way; they assault the walls and enter through the weak points, near the doors.  And they scamper and gnaw, especially at night.  I believe I am suffering Hype-Mouse-Awareness Syndrome.  They disturb the peace by chewing the insulation into tiny bits, leaving small drifts of silver shreds on the floor.  I guess they are building nests…bringing in re-enforcements, establishing a beachhead?   And in their mouse-chauvinistic way they mark their victories by pooping -seed like feces- everywhere.
So reluctantly, I go to war.  These mice are not repugnant rats that I could learn to hate; no they are cute little lava gray fur balls.   In another part of the world at a different time I may have been buying them for pets or for science projects.  But now they have crossed a line, one that they do not see, for it is a line of mine; they have crossed my border of sensibility.  They are disturbing my peace and they must die.  They are the dirty evil hordes.
There is no reasoning with them.  They know not of truce or compromise.  So I must summon my strongest weapon, hate. Why, I remember one bit me once, DIE!  And all those times they pooped in the silverware drawer, DIE.  And the chewing and gnawing my beloved yurt walls, all night long, my place of certain serene sanctity: DIE-DIE-DIE!
So I have been warring, mainly using traps (you know, the “build a better mousetrap “type.)  They are quick and “merciful” in dispatching these rodent invaders.  I have dispatched, neutralized, mitigated, etc., aka killed more than a dozen.  Little lives mashed and crushed.  They are rather clever enemies not easy to kill.  I have actually witnessed one standing on the trap, gorging itself in a feast of the peanut butter bait.  Flaunting its skills or tempting its fate?  Oh yes, and to assure victory, a box of green poison pills, for our allies at Decon.  Better living through chemistry. Heaven (Hell) knows how that chemical warfare works, but it mercifully distances me from the mayhem. 
No Johnny Appleseed am I.  But I do believe in peace.  But the model of live and let live, of acceptance and patience, how does that apply?  If this so called enemy crosses that “line” how does that act played so innocently push me beyond my tolerance?  They are just trying to live as best they know how…is this not always possible?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Very loosely translated Wabi-Sabi means design in a clean, functional, natural way, with emphasis on reusable materials.  It is the way I am approaching the use of my yurt.  I want to live simply and make as little negative impact upon the rest of the natural world.  Good idea, eh?  A modern yurt, manufactured with a history of simple, natural design fits this directive, sort of.  The wood is beautiful and sustainable.  The walls and roof material are of man made fibers, essentially plastic.  Plastic...plastic!!!  But it is durable, so it will likely last a lifetime, with care.  And in Hawaii natural things tend to decompose (which is of course a natural process) quickly.  So there is need to compromise in the Wabi-Sabi philosophy.  Low impact needs, not no impact needs.
Rubbermaid storage unit (plastic!)  for water sensitive PV components.

Then there are conveniences, like hot water for a shower, and electricity. These are projects underway. Solar is the way to go for H2O.  And photovoltaics are the answer for electric.  But that is also a bit dirty, at least in the manufacturing process.  Perhaps it is a bit of a wash re my carbon footprint?   

Brick floor under lanai for outdoor bathroom

The question continues, do I need these?  Can I do better, can I do without?

Next time, the Lovable Loo, aka humanure.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Morning

Every day starts out about the same here.  No alarm clock ringing, at least for me; instead it is a distant dog bark or the inevitable rooster crow that stirs me. Like many wake-up devices, the first dozen crows can be ignored, unless of course you do want to get up at 4:30 AM! Eventually the sun peaks over the horizon, mine being through a window looking out over the Pacific. Windows and doors are wide open now. There seems to be little rain or blowing storms. Instead there is heat and vog, which is a natural version of smog, created by combining the sulfuric gases of the volcano with sunlight, water vapor and a dash of manmade pollutants. Not what one pictures when you think of a tropical "paradise." Rain will come and the winds will shift, blowing this throat scratching soup in some other direction.

Eventually I rise. The first order of the day is to pee and brush my teeth, both of which happen over the edge of the lanai. It's just me here so I can be a little crude in my habits; the pee gets washed off in the next rain storm and becomes a bit of nitrogen cycled back into the earth. Tooth-brushing is camp style, using a splash of water from a water bottle to wet and rinse. So I pull my barn boots on and walk the 800 feet or so up to the house. In the process I pass through two gates which close the five sheep into their current pasture. They sometimes bleat a bit, hoping I might have some grain. We exchange pleasantries and I am usually gifted with a small deposit of poop on the trail. I don't take this as an editorial, just sheep being sheep.

Usually by the time I reach the house Paul H. and Scot have sat for a few minutes at the table in the open air kitchen and started the first cups of coffee. I sit and join them. The brew is strong, made in a French press. I drink it black. Sometimes there is a discussion on the weather; how much rain was in the gauge this morning (Scot and Paul keep records), or the rising sun. Next is the farm report, of sorts, talk about roosters, pigs, etc., perhaps even a foray into current events in the news, but inevitably the discussion focuses around the dogs and cats who are sniffing around, doing what they do, in a their friendly/adversarial manner. Sadie, the dog, always comes by for her fair share of attention. Bandit, the black and white cat, might hop up in a lap. This cat cuddle is appreciated on cooler mornings. I find it secretly amusing that three men watch a dog watch a cat. It's the best show available and no cover charge. A bit later after the morning kibble, Sadie the elder dog comes out to sniff about. She is ancient dog and dear to us. Most of her time is now spent snoozing in her crate. Perhaps if she were a human (a "two-legs") she might be writing her memoirs...

After a second cup, we tend to wander off to our various tasks, perhaps musing for a moment on a small point of an earlier discussion, perhaps regarding the chickens, or a tomato in the greenhouse. The pace is often slow.

Right now I am charging my batteries in the bright morning sun.  The day has begun.

Paul A

Starry Night

Starry, Starry
There are nights here on the mountainside in Ninole that make me feel attuned with Vincent.  Once every week or so, the night sky opens up with a dazing display, allowing a momentary peek away from myself and out into the universe.  It’s a show that can be seen partially because the few folks that are here generate their own electricity; outdoor lighting and the nighttime haze it creates that light-wash the heavens is kept to a minimum.  It is dark, and save for the light from distant stars, or sunlight reflected off the moon and nearby planets, a cloudless night will reveal the heavens in unparalleled fashion.
Given the time of the month, the moon can blaze brightly in the night sky, so the darkest nights are ones that are moonless or nearly.  When the moon is full and my eyes have adjusted to the outdoors, it is quite possible to traipse the open fields with the illumination it provides alone.  Hanging full over the ocean to the east the reflection is sometimes almost like daylight, and the beauty is mind boggling.  I have been told that given the right circumstances of moonlight and rain showers a “moon-bow” can occur, arcing across the opposing sky in all those crayon colors we are accustomed to seeing here in the daytime.  I have placed this phenomena on my must see list!
Bumbling along the five minute walk down the path at night is an introduction to a world of animals in there nocturnal splendor.  Spiders, as daring and intrepid as any human engineer, sling their webs across the path, spanning perhaps ten feet or more.  I try to duck under or around them when possible.  Neither spider nor man is happy walking into that snare in the dark.  Did you know that their eyes shine yellow in the reflection of a head lamp?  Other eyes also glare through the dark.  A sheep’s eyes glow a bright yellow, and a prowling farm cat, waiting in ambush of a mouse or a rat will shine greenish from under the ferns.
But stop for a minute in this darkness, and if gifted with a clear sky, the broad sweep of The Milky Way will fill your eyes and your heart.  Starry, starry night indeed!  Countless millions of them cross overhead in a band that runs generally north to south.  They form a virtual cloud of stars dividing the nearer stars twinkling to the east and west. At these moments I have felt a certain kinship with my yurt dwelling predecessors, who may very well have stepped outside to check the animals before returning to the safety and protection of their round felt homes.  Surely they too looked up and wondered, marveled, and stood reverently in silent awe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Walking Man

To date, I have walked approximately 91 miles back and forth, between my yurt and Scot’s house.  Each trip is about 800 feet, each way.  Going is slightly uphill; while back “home” is downhill. 

Smiling back
It is a different trip each time. The sky is continually entertaining.  On wet days, its barn boots and umbrella, while on sunny days you might find me in flip-flops and shorts.  I have worn a path in the grass from mountain to sea.  Part of the time I walked amongst the sheep, carefully opening and closing gates, gathering tufts of wool caught on fencing or shed in the pasture, and enjoying their Zen-like smiles. Other times, flowers, insects, and ferns kept me company.  At night the darkness is often broken with a smiling moon and glimpses of the universe.
Full moon

Tiny treasures
The house for the moment provides food, showers, and friendship.  Some of that will change as I continue to upgrade my electrical and plumbing systems.  But being a social creature, sometimes, I will continue to gather with my brother, and other friends and visitors.  Coffee is served in the morning, dinner most evenings, and a beer or two on Friday evenings.

These are some of the simple things that I hoped for while building and living in this yurt.
An eye on the sun

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Work!? (With props to Maynard G. Krebs, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) 

Yes there is work to be done in and around the yurt.  Since it rains a lot there is always mowing and weed eating (yum) as well as encouraging things to grow that I want to grow.  Tomatoes, zinnias, a volunteer sunflower, some green beans are all in the works.  I did see five feral pigs in the yard this morning.  I’m going to  lose that battle…

Mildew grows on any damp surface, such as the north facing portion of the roof.  I recently bought an extension handle brush.  I am scrubbing a little and waiting for the rain to rinse.

Charging my computer with PV solar needs daily attention.   I will upgrade into a more dependable system soon.

A cup or two to wash, floors to sweep, etc. 
The beauty of living in a 24 foot circle is there isn’t a whole lot to do.
So I write.  Poems, stories that I hope will get published, and maintain three blogs, the newest combining writing friends in Hawaii and Connecticut.

And I hang out and relax. Drink some coffee.  A beer later.  Chat with friends.  Funny how you can fill the same exact 24 hours with a little or a lot.
OK, got to go, I have to go look at the sheep.  Did you know their eyes glow in the beam of a flashlight?

Busy, busy, busy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I guess I’m entitled to my fair share of this planet.  The question is just how much is my share and is it fair? 
There are a number of devises that can help compute how much of the Earth’s resources we use, our “eco-footprints, ” based  on a series of lifestyle questions, dealing with our use of food, housing, transportation, heating and cooling, water, etc. 
Here’s one if you’d like to see where you rank.
One reason for living in a yurt in Hawaii is to consciously attempt to lower my footprint.  So:

·         My heating and cooling impact is near zero.  Other than a warm blanket on a cool night, my impact is minimal.  Climate clearly comes into play.  The temperature ranges between 60-80 degrees.
·         Cooling food is another issue requiring sizable amounts of energy.  No one likes warm beer. We generate 99% of it through photovoltaic systems.  It runs the ‘fridge, lights, pumps, computers, etc.  Surprisingly much of Hawaii gets its electricity via standard generation using expensive, dirty, imported oil.
·         Currently propane is used for cooking and hot water.  This needs to change. Solar is the obvious solution.
·         Water is plentiful, large catchment tanks are common to supply household needs, using gravity to move it to where it is needed.  Since is rains often, refills are free!
·         We grow some food here, and could do better.  Right now there are bananas, strawberries, chard, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, and eggs.  Taro, pineapple, artichokes, beans, and others are coming in soon.  A greenhouse helps.  Plenty of sun, water and compost are added as needed.

·         Transportation is via gasoline powered car, big part of the footprint.  A hybrid would be nice.  Someday.  Meanwhile we ride share and use the public bus system, which is free!  And of course there was a long airplane ride here.  I have done a carbon purchase to help offset the fuel used.  Somewhere in the world, someone is planting trees for me.

I think I have reduced my impact to a reasonable share.  
But we all could do better, right? 
So what will you do?
Next time:  Work!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Feral Pigs and Tomatoes

There are ecosystems when they are right - plants, with animals, water, sun and soil -  mostly interacting in a “positive” manner, following slowly a predetermined but ever changing scheme.  And then there are ecosystems when they are wrong - with plants and animals that are not native, and a climate that is becoming atypical. 
It seems from what I hear and see, Hawaii is the latter.  Most of what you see, green and blooming, flying and crawling is new here, relatively, within the past century or so.  They are thriving, but destructively to the flora and fauna that was introduced over the past millennia, and therefore more native.  Much of this, created by the hand of humans, is way out of hand.  People brought things that they thought would be useful and things that were familiar.  I guess I am doing that as well, very carefully.  I hope at least in my case the lesson is learned.

So I have planted some tomatoes, zinnias, and sunflowers.  They sell the seeds here so I assume they are not prohibited.  I am growing them in pots, so I can keep a watchful eye on them.  Gardening can be productive but it is not easy.  When it does rain, plants can be swamped.  When the wind blows, they can take a pounding.  I will try to nurture them.

There are fruits that grow wild and weedy, like the guava.  It is invasive, I believe, and is the main food for the feral pigs.  They do a good job of spreading the seeds.  I’ve eaten a few myself.  Am I a feral "pig?"

And there are orchids, lovely, growing solitary and in small clusters.  A clump of them grow right outside my front door.  They are a marvel.

Next time, assessing my environmental impact.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Perfect Circle

My Great Uncle Newman once tried to engineer a machine that would scribe a perfect circle.  He of course knew that no such thing could be invented.  None the less, he tried to get close.
Perhaps there is a bit of him in me.  I appreciate the circular circumstances that I find myself in.  Living in a yurt is sometimes referred to as living in the round.  It is an enjoyable situation, pleasing in a slightly magical way, no corners, no angular issues.  And adhering to the philosophy of Wabi-sabi, I am keeping it simple.  So far.  There is beauty in the open space, the glow of golden yellow wood, and white latticed walls.
But ultimately, it also needs to be a space that I can live in with a certain amount of functionality.  So the task at hand is how do I keep the aesthetic and still find a way to deal with the everyday needs of living?  Where do I put the dirty laundry, the wires to the computer, etc.?  I'm getting a bit tired of piles and storage boxes...
I have been trying to do this slowly, which I think is good self-advice.  Household furnishings, sometimes found in antique/junk stores are somewhat rare.  Cost and quality come into play. Textures and color seem important.   And what there is available, is built for the traditional house with 90 degree angles.  I am attempting to fill a round hole with square pegs!
Most pleasing so far is my hammock, bought in Mexico, which now forms a geometric Chord from one circle side to another.  It's gentle bend is a complement to the walls.
So for the time being, I will continue to go slowly, looking, thinking, and learning to be patient with space and place.
Next time:  What grows here?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I have returned.
I am in Ninole, Hawaii and enjoying my yurt after a 9 month hiatus.  I am a fortunate man. I have made a big decision by closing my home in Salem.  I walked out for the last time January 16th only knowing that I now live in Hawaii and will go back to vacation in Connecticut.  Or that seems to be how things are unfolding and, as always subject to change.

I landed in Kona on the Big Island, probably being the only person in Hawaii wearing long underwear.  I shed it as quickly as possible.  The weather has been gorgeous, warm and sunny.  Apparently it rained all of December, so again, I am lucky.
We stopped at 69 Beach, a favorite haunt on the way back to Ninole.  Sitting toes in sand, we saw Humpback Whales breaching perhaps 1000 yards of shore.  So joyful, so magnificent.

The yurt is in good shape, thanks to care from my brother and others.  The inside is spotless while the outside had a patina of weathering and a little dirt.  It is not new anymore but it is standing tall and strong.

I can generate enough electricity with my small PV system, charging batteries and running a few lights.  But what comes next?  I will need to make this a more permanent home.
But how?

Next time, a square peg in a round house.