Tuesday, December 28, 2010


      On Molokai it's best not to wear clothes that you imagine people will wear in Hawaii. Leave your floral prints at home. Wear your old worn out clothes, like painting or hunting clothes, and definitely not new camo. Wash your clothes five hundred times, then you will marginally begin to blend when you go to town on Molokai. As much as people who are called haoles can anyway.
     HOW LEE, can be said matter of fact like the race distinction it is or alternately like you are the dog shit from someone’s shoe that just fouled the new carpet. Fuckin’ haole is self explanatory, but the dog shit inflection may be missed if you are lucky. I am a haole. A person without breath (the literal translation), although tonight I heard it explained that it also means without life. I didn’t take it personally because the mental image of zombies in loud floral clothing was temporarily amusing. 
    Molokai is beautiful, take the human element away and just about every square inch of the planet is stunning. I've painted the charming buildings in town and the gorgeous landscape, but I'd like to talk about Kaunakakai, without a pure cane sugar coating or culpability for leaving out the magic of rainbows just this once.
      I hear exhalations of rapturous love from haoles who have dug in and call Molokai home. "Don't you just l-u-u-ve Molokai?" I've been asked many times. Be warned though, any answer less than full agreement may incite anger. But come on, no place is perfect. Molokai includes the good, the bad and the boring. Still there is notably more declared love for this place than you will find in your average home town.  
      I’m a tourist, but I still wear my old clothes because I get slightly better service if I look like a loser. Not many places can claim that. A friend says you can always tell the new arrivals in town because they still tuck their shirts in. Toss your iron, unkempt is normal, Kaunakakai is a town with its pants down. Buildings are run down and gasping for paint. There are leaning buildings right in town and genuine boarded up storefronts. But the best are the fully functioning stores that look no different than the long abandoned buildings. Faded, old disintegrating items displayed in store windows are available for sale. Personally, I like it, it's more fun to draw old places with character, but sometimes it surprises tourists.
     Grocery stores carry products well beyond their expiration dates. The bakery is full of flies. The grease from the breakfast grill is so deep in the grain of the place only arson could clean it up. They sell fresh hot bread in the alley late at night, which has become a tourist experience not to be missed. I swear it is the town bragging. It swaggers a little when people with shirts neatly tucked in tiptoe down the alley for a third world experience right here in America. Haoles move here from all over the world. They get weirdly teary eyed about calling Molokai home, while the original residents not so affectionately call us the breathless walking dead. Possibly because they also love Molokai and don't want it to change. The town of Kaunakakai can say to itself “If people love me this much with my pants down I’ll never have to pull them up.”
     For the people who now want to tar me in the town square. I know you are still in romantic love with Molokai, but my relationship is more like two really old people who have seen each other’s worst faults and made quiet peace regardless. One day I hope you’ll understand.
This is all true;
I don’t mind being called a fuckin’ haole, Hawaiians earned the right to be angry, read the history of how Hawaii became a state.
I paint the beauty of Molokai because so much of it is truly beautiful.
I'm not a resident, but I visit often and sadly own a floral dress.
And I eat stuff from the bakery whenever I have the chance.

Friday, December 24, 2010

No problem

     I don’t have problems. Issues, quirks and phobias, but no problems. Procrastination was a problem, but giving up deadlines resolved that. Tonight I went to a birthday party held at a large rambling house high on a hillside with a view of the channel between Molokai and Lanai. Not knowing the hosts I tagged along with friends of friends. Whales spouted as the sky warbled through a quartet of vermillion hues. Our host raced around filling glasses as if he was in a hurry to get out of there. The house, a vault of travel treasures, took awhile to tour. As in any museum there was no way to take it all in. Collectible artifacts were randomly interspersed with quirky personal items. A globe covered with pins showed their travels, a table sized rock shaped like Molokai stood on a dresser with photos pasted where they had been taken, hand painted gourd penguins in hula skirts hid in the corners, a half scale coconut tree of carved wood towered over the couch and an enormous fully loaded Christmas tree reached to the rafters.
     I rarely see the homes of those wealthy enough to decorate with animal skins and large bronze mermaids. A huge rare drum had become a coffee table. I did my best to interact. Being socially phobic used to be a problem, until I changed the designation to highly sensitive. The first is taken as hateful, the second is merely pitiable. Not a problem.
     Dinner was very good. The host inhaled his. I was sitting next to him and didn’t see him get up, but the next thing everyone saw was his truck racing down the driveway. So he HAD been in a hurry to get out of there. People stared at his wife for an explanation. She said, without a hint of angst or apology, that he had gone to town to the hardware store’s annual Christmas raffle because he had a feeling he was going to win the flat screen TV they were giving away. Hours later he hadn’t returned. His birthday gifts sat in a pile unopened as people got up to leave. I admire this kind of behavior. This fuck it I want a TV and will walk out of my own birthday party to chance getting one kind of attitude. That guy is not willing to live life in a box. His wife, still completely unfazed, took me in the bathroom and showed me her collection of penis and vulva shaped rocks, some found, some carved, a few life size. All in all, my kind of party.    

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Simply mobile or malcontent?

      It’s all too easy to find fault and I seem to make it a habit. Although my friend Nynke would probably say it’s not an either or question. She finds interesting things where ever she goes and then is perfectly happy to move on. She’s simply mobile and rarely malcontent. But Nynke is a rare person.  She called from Australia sometime last year and casually mentioned she had a little trouble on a scuba dive. The cave she was exploring, deep in the ocean, became too narrow to turn around. She had to remove her tank to do a claustrophobic summersault so she could backtrack out of the cave. Right there, I would not be doing well. No wait, I wouldn’t swim into any narrow, dark tunnel in the first place. And please, the person who swam into the cave ahead of her had already mentioned the caves were the favorite haunts of Wobbegong sharks so I know I’d have something different to do that day. 
      The sharks grow up to nine feet long and when they bite will not let go. Which definitely adds insult to injury, a shark that bites viciously is terrifying, but Wobbegongs clamp on and then what, go to sleep? One article says they “are harmless unless trapped in a cave and cannot get out.” Nynke knew all that before she lay pressed to the floor of a cave so narrow she could not turn around in it. And she was still working out what to do with her scuba tank as a fully grown Wobbegong shark wriggled over the top of her to get out of the cave. At the first glimpse of the shark's strange bearded face, I’d have hyperventilated the rest of my air out of the tank, but of course I would never be there.
      The point of Nynke’s story was about how narrow the passage was, not the fact that she had the guts to go in there knowing about the sharks and had managed to stay calm enough to let a great big one squeeze over her after they met face to face. She relayed the challenge of simply turning around to me, because it was complicated by having to remove her tank. For Nynke there was never any cause to fear the impossibility of completing the maneuver with a stubborn shark locked onto a limb because her imagination doesn’t run wild when she meets monsters in dark underwater caves. She really isn’t like the rest of us. I thought about her shark adventures, the tango with the Wobbegong being only one of them, because it rained all day and the only thing I bothered to do was husk a coconut and think about going somewhere else.    


Friday, December 17, 2010

Volvo Joy Ride

      Isn’t any car that starts a pretty good car? Drive like you are in a school zone followed by a patrol car and they will last forever. My driving makes people snarf with distain. I’m the person you tailgate. Currently I’m roommates with a pilot who drives cars as if they are about to takeoff. Paddy hasn’t told me half the things he’s done. Some of his work is still classified and no one will ever weasel the facts out of him. Stunt pilot, spook, dogfighter, blue water sailor, crop duster, commercial pilot, test pilot and crazy off road Volvo driver are titles he could claim. He drives as if he’s attempting to set a record and his sponsors neglected to pay in advance.
    Yesterday I suggested we buy vegetables from a local farm, instead of the overpriced, moldy compost in the stores. We found the farm, then on the way back Paddy veered onto a nameless rutted red dirt road.  He’d purchased his plain beige Volvo because it was cheap, but he hated it for being “A car your Grandmother would drive.” Once the innocuous Volvo was no longer on pavement and invisible to the law it need not endure the insipid rules of highway driving. Apparently, deep inside Grandma’s Volvo lurked a Panzer tank.
     We had a quest. The dirt road traversed intermittent mangrove swamps in fetid washes between swales of thorny mesquite. Ambush sized rock piles barely hid long horned hungry cattle in the tall dead grass. Desert, swamp, cows, desert, swamp. Paddy announced our quest shortly after swerving off the highway.
     “Hey I’ll show you where there’s a locked gate at the end of a road you might not have seen before.” Most days on Molokai there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. I was genuinely enthused about a locked gate at the end of a long dirt road. The deep ruts didn’t give the Volvo quite enough clearance, but clearly that problem is best resolved (by test pilots) with additional speed. Turning back was never an option, scraping the oil pan didn’t seem to be a problem. I leaned back in my seat, feigning relaxation. The dog half hung out the window yipping with glee and Paddy gripped her tail so she wouldn’t fly out as he powered through turns. I could still walk out of there I told myself. Paddy is nearly 90 years old and he still flies airplanes for fun. He’s hankering to build an ultra light, but until then his old cars will have to do. He forgets things once in awhile, but not often. I asked him something that didn’t immediately come to mind and he sincerely asked in return, “How soon do you need to know?” His eyesight is fine, but he shouted “What?” a few times when the Volvo’s undercarriage collided with chunks of volcanic rock, the disturbing racket effectively smothering my vapid words of caution. 
       “Look at that, the gate’s unlocked! I’ve never seen that before,” Paddy noted as he slowed. I figured any tall fence and big gate still signaled private property, but to Paddy, the open gate was an invitation on a silver platter. He hit the gas and swept through in a cloud of red dust.  We drove through someone’s front yard and on into the facility. The gate was meant to keep people out of a huge shrimp farm, but since we were inside Paddy gave me a tour of the operation. He’d seen it from the air several times over the years. The ponds disappeared out of sight in every direction. So that’s where shrimp came from.
     We never saw anyone. Paddy stopped in front of the house, then backed up for a better look at a lemon tree and I muttered that maybe we should go. Trespassing didn’t faze Paddy like it did me, but then I’ve never stolen military planes from the enemy during a coup and he has.  As if revealing a secret agent’s best kept secret he said with confidence, “If you see someone, just smile and wave.” Then he nudged the Volvo back to light speed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back to Molokai

         Over the last six years I've set up and torn down painting studios from Florida to the South Pacific. Unforeseeable reasons why some places don't work show fairly quickly. In the swamp in Georgia guys showed up to fish in boats outside my window with hand guns. In Pullman, frozen air and electric heat made the paint dry so fast it was unworkable. And I've lost count how many times I've gone broke painting in Hawaii. 
     I left the snowy north country a few weeks ago for Molokai. A generous friend offered me his currently unused wood shop as a painting studio, which will be great after shoveling through an eclectic assortment of sawdust covered stuff. Itchy and filthy from clouds of dirt sticking to rivers of sweat I filled the shop vac with sawdust and mouse shit, but still hollered over a disrupted cane spider. As if bugs were a surprise, hello it's the tropics, but uncovering several old dried scorpions had me spooked. You don't find dead ones without live ones breeding somewhere.
     Still, these are bonsai bugs compared to the creepy monsters I found in the walls while remodeling old houses in American Samoa. Going rigid while suppressing the urge to hurl worked, scream and they might actually turn on you. The bugs here courteously run and hide, even faster with some light screaming. Samoan bugs held their ground. They made disturbing noises too, popping, scratching, crackling sounds like insect creatures in bad sci-fi or accidental metal in a microwave. 
     I found a lair yesterday, long abandoned, where something drug it's pray in, ripped it to pieces and shoved the inedible bits deeper into a pile of old carpet, including a lot of feathers. Luckily whatever could do that had moved on. It's the price of warm, steamy weather. Skin doesn't dry up and crack and acrylic paint is workable in the lovely humid air, but you never know what is going to scuttle across your path. The second big advantage to flip-flops (slippahs in Hawaii) are that bugs can't hide in them. The first is that it's warm enough to wear them everyday. I hope insurmountable obstacles stay at bay. Always the optimist (there's no way to know what will work until you try it) I'm sure it's going to be fine. Vacuuming rodent turds and dead bugs isn't every one's dream Hawaiian vacation, but having a place to paint when it's done will be paradise.
     Tim Cahill said it best in his book 'Road Fever', "Budget travel is the mother of adventure."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Home away from ?

      "Where do you live?"
      That should be easy to answer, but it's really not. Although the worst was when my brother  asked, "What DO you do?" Oh how I wished I had a job title and a real address to give him instead of the awkward silence that followed. Does anyone ever want to hear a relative proclaim "I'm still an artist."? And now that musicians and actors have adopted the word it's become even more ambiguous. If you're not a rich, successful artist you might as well say, "Hello, I'm poor and deluded."
     When I lived in American Samoa the first questions asked were always the same;
"Where do you stay?"
"Where is your husband?' and,
"How many kids do you have?"
     The assumptions in those questions answered what women do. How could it be any other way? Answering, nowhere permanently, who cares and I forgot to have any actually made people angry. I tried, "My husband left me because I couldn't have children so now I am alone," which is true (with some unnecessary drama thrown in), except it made Samoan women with lots of kids want to give me some of theirs.
     I can't really explain what I do or where I live in twenty five words or less. Homeless is too loaded, besides I always have somewhere to stay, even if occasionally it is Motel 6. Nomad? Do I qualify if I rent a storage locker? Itinerant artist? That's so Depression Era. Traveler? Too vague. Couch surfer? Too young and I can usually find a real bed, except at my sister's who is also an artist. 
     If I told you, "I'm a homeless divorced childless menopausal artist", honestly, would you keep the conversation going?
     I'm having a postcard printed with my paintings on the front arranged by where I did them. The back says paintings, photography, art prints and travel stories. I'm going to use them like deaf and dumb cards when I'm asked questions. A picture is worth 1,000 lame attempts to explain what I do, before another sincere person backs away from me sorry they asked.
     My travel photography and paintings are on the site sadieshotels.com. More paintings are on my site, catherinebuchanan.com and for travel stories, please check in here. I'm often in the tropics, but will brave the snow if there's a good reason (I want to build a room at the Ice Hotel) and I crew on sailboats going to remote places. Somehow it adds up to a pretty fun living.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Through the Columbia River Gorge

     It takes fortitude to survive boredom. It's too easy to fall asleep on long straight roads. I pulled into a rest stop and fell asleep with my face on the window and froze my cheek, out of sheer boredom.  
     Then I got to the Columbia River Gorge which is not at all boring. It was just stupid good luck. Since Google planned the trip I was unaware what treasures lay along the road. After the snowplows, blizzards and freezing rain on the road from Pullman, the weather had improved from wind whipped ice crystals to painfully cold rain. Tourists had vacated the gorge leaving the normally jammed trails and parking lots blissfully empty. Dripping trees, gloomy skies and soggy trails led to waterfalls that could flatten a car. Raging rivers had shoved fallen redwood trees over the cliffs creating log jams in the rivers below like nature's version of a traffic accident.   
     Ponytail Falls flowed over a cliff with a trail winding behind the falls into a gloomy cave. Multnomah Falls had a picturesque footbridge facing a torrent of falling water. Leaning over the rail stimulated intense vertigo as the river rolled over another cliff below the bridge. People skipped off that bridge red from the cold and radiant with joy. I called my sister and shouted above the din in a misguided attempt to share the experience. It probably sounded like I crawled under the hood of a Mack truck climbing a mountain. At the bottom of the trail no one milled around the concession for a free taste of fudge. Apparently people who hike in freezing rain storms are not fudge eaters.
      When I visited the Grand Canyon a teenage girl standing next to me at the railing telephoned her friend and exclaimed “Gawd, it’s just like a postcard”. I’d waited for half an hour for parking at each of the designated viewpoints. I eavesdropped on a woman pleading with her son through their car window. The boy kept his head down over a Gameboy, but she persisted anyway, “You have to come see, it’s just like the Imax movie!” Pitching the kid's Gameboy into the canyon was the only way he was ever going to look. I shuffled in line to the safety rail on the edge and crawled along in my car to the next wondrous peek at scenery. Then I went to the Imax movie and vowed I’d never tell anyone. We can’t all hike or boat through the canyon.
    Hunkered inside a roaring cave temporarily out of the freezing rain or standing alone on the thunderous bridge did need redemption with a movie. Although on a sunny summer day in the gorge when parking is scarce, children are whining for fudge while jostling through crowds for a glimpse of nature, all bets are off. I’m going to travel in shitty weather more often.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leaving Pullman, Washington

    Driving in snow requires finesse, clarity of mind, a firm grip on the wheel and hyper-vigilant attention. All qualities I usually attribute to others. I set off to retrieve my friend Joel from the Spokane airport as nightfall rapidly approached and discovered that guys who drive snow plows have fun verging on sadism. Those leering guys sprayed wet muddy snow in an arc like a Vegas fountain. I kept thinking they would slow down but they did not and it was like the whole van was suddenly immersed in a Coke Slurpee. The brown airborne muck from the road froze to the windshield causing the wipers to stall. Then they busted loose instantly forming an opaque ice sheet. Careening down the highway in a white out blizzard unaware if the road, the field or the oncoming cars on the two lane road would soon mesh uncomfortably with my world I started singing. And I don’t sing. It was probably an attempt to make screaming sound cool until I could slow to a stop. I got out shaking and used the top of my motion mug to scrape the window.
      After Joel bought me a gallon of anti-freezing stuff oncoming plows lost their power to make me sing. In the face of an advancing plow, before the wall of churlish frozen paste hit the window, I’d turn the wipers on high spraying miraculous blue liquid. Haaaaallll-lay-luYA, the outside world blurred for mere seconds before the window cleared and vision was crystal clear again. At that moment I wanted to call people and really talk about it, like how women talk about meeting a new guy. “Then Joel bought me some bright blue anti-freeze and like showed me how to drive in the snow, he’s so amazing, I’ve never met anyone like him. Oh God, I hope he calls.”
     Joel if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, the moment passed and I never made those calls. You are a really good friend. Thank you! I liked Pullman, but am not sorry to leave driving in the snow to others. I never did drive up the steep hill by your house. The memory of watching you do it without spinning the wheels or sliding into a snow bank will stay in my mind as if you had lifted the Empire State building off a bus of Mensa children saving every one of them. Oh, and thanks for the real ice scraper too.