HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – After Borders . . . Books, Nooks & Crannies

By Kelly Moran

After Borders . . . Books, Nooks & Crannies

One of the saddest days of this past summer was closing day at Borders. The powers-that-be in the huge nationwide chain evidently counted the beans and decided that their Hilo store was not selling enough books (or audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, knickknacks, or coffee drinks) to meet its quota.

The store’s local management and staff were let go – the decision to close was not theirs to make. And those of us on Borders’ email news list got an unpleasant surprise when someone in the chain’s marketing team sent emails urging us to simply take our business to the “nearest” Borders. That, of course, is in Kailua-Kona, over 100 miles away.

Borders was the only full-service new-book bookstore in Hilo: meaning, that’s where you had to go for the latest Harry Potter or Steig Larsen books. The magazine rack there was very comprehensive, if somewhat confusing (they shelved High Times under “entertainment”). The café served snacks and coffee drinks on a par with Starbucks, and likewise provided free wi-fi service.

The Hilo store was, for many local families, an important gathering place where parents and children alike could browse through books and magazines. Okay, maybe they didn’t buy everything they read or handled there; but as a friend with a 10-year-old explained, it was a wholesome place to take kids, that could actually inspire youngsters to appreciate the printed word.

Fortunately, the reading public of East Hawaii will be served. The oldest established bookstore in Hilo is Basically Books, on Kam Avenue, downtown, which specializes in Hawaiiana. (It’s also home to Petroglyph Press, the best-known publishing house on the island for books of local interest.) There is still also The Book Gallery on Keawe St. And used-book stores remain active – one in a downtown storefront on Kilauea Ave. at Mamo St; two in the “industrial” area: one on Leilani St. just off Kanoelehua St., and the other on Maka’ala St. at Kawili St. And there’s a remarkably well stocked used-book store on the main street in Pahoa.

But the big news for local bibliophiles is that a new new-book store has just opened. It’s called Books, Nooks, & Crannies, and it’s in the first block of Waianuenue Ave., just mauka of Kam Ave.

Books, Nooks & Crannies
Books, Nooks, & Crannies, located in the first block of Waianuenue Ave., just mauka of Kam Ave.

Independent bookstores, nationwide, are suffering under the twin assaults of chain stores (like Borders) and online retailers (most famously, Amazon). So, opening one these days is clearly a labor of love – in this case, by local attorney Robert Marks, who is pleased to note that, besides carrying new books and best-sellers, his store also has a small café. And FYI, Marks purchased the shelves and display stands for Books, Nooks & Crannies from … you guessed it: the defunct Hilo Borders.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – On Stage, “The Sound of Music” Is More Than Just Music

By Kelly Moran

On Stage, “The Sound of Music” Is More Than Just Music

“The Sound of Music” could be the most popular movie-musical ever made. It would be hard to find anyone who hasn’t seen it. Far fewer people have seen the stage version; but to see it on stage is to realize that there is much more to this famous musical than some memorable songs.

Sound of Music DVD Cover

Fortunately, the opportunity to see it on stage is coming right up: it’s this year’s Fall Musical at Hilo’s Palace Theater: playing at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights October 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoons October 17 and 24. For more information and tickets, phone The Palace box office at 934-7010.

I asked my friend Hal Glatzer, a local playwright and musician who’s in the cast, to explain what makes the stage musical so different from the movie. Here’s what he told me:

I think most people know that the underlying story is true,” he said. “In Austria, in 1938, a young woman named Maria forsakes becoming a nun to be the governess to a widower’s seven children. Musically gifted, she encourages them to form a family singing group with their father, Georg von Trapp. He’s a Navy captain, an Austrian patriot who hates what is happening in Germany under Hitler; so, just as World War II begins, he and his family escape over the Alps into Switzerland.

For all its merits,” said Hal, “the movie glosses over the danger that these people faced in Europe in 1938, and the hard choices that they had to make. Watch, especially, two characters who were not prominent in the movie but are key elements of the drama on stage. Elsa Schraeder is a rich widow who everyone expects will marry Captain von Trapp. And Max Detweiller [whom Hal portrays] is the producer of an annual Austrian music festival. Both characters confront the Captain with the fundamental dilemma of the late 1930s: do you work with the Nazis, so your family can live in comfort? or do you defy the Nazis, risking prison and death?”

Thus,” Hal explained, “the stage version is literally more dramatic than the movie.”  

But that said, what most people will come away with is the great pleasure of hearing Oscar Hammerstein’s poignant lyrics sung to Richard Rodgers’ beautiful music. The hills (and now the Palace Theater, too) are alive with “The Sound of Music.”

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Along the Puna Coast

By Kelly Moran

Along the Puna Coast

          Last time, I told you about a particularly scenic drive north from Hilo.  Now I’d like to take you on another – and longer – scenic drive, along the coast of the Puna district.

          If you take Hwy 130 from Kea’au, and keep going straight, past Pahoa, you’ll end up at Kalapana, where the current eruption of Kilauea is extruding lava into the Pacific.  By day, all you see is white clouds of steam and smoke, but after dark, you realize that the hot lava, exploding as it hits cold seawater, is actually vividly colored with yellows, oranges and reds.

          Most people just drive there directly, especially if they are showing visitors around.  But I suggest you give yourself a couple of hours longer, and make the trip in a roundabout way, to enjoy the Puna coastline as well.

          So, instead of going straight on Hwy 130 after Pahoa, turn left onto Hwy 132, heading east toward Kapoho, and check out Lava Tree State Park.  There, an 18th-century flow wrapped itself around tree-trunks and incinerated them, leaving an intriguing, otherworldly landscape of tall, hollow cones where the trees used to be.

Immense "lava trees" like this one are all that's left of the first-growth trees that used to stand here.
Immense "lava trees" like this one are all that's left of the first-growth trees that used to stand here.

          Across from the park – though not open to the public – is the Big Island’s geothermal power station.  It taps an underground hot-spot: part of Kilauea’s enormous subterranean network of lava tubes and magma chambers.  The steam that arises, under pressure, drives a turbine, and thereby supplies about one-tenth of the island’s electricity.  The project was controversial from its inception; and even now, depending on whom you talk to, drilling into the earth is either the best way to generate “clean” energy, locally, or it’s a gross insult to the volcano goddess Pele, whose current home is Kilauea.  (And Kilauea is, essentially, all of Puna.)

          Continue on to Kapoho.  Pele made herself conspicuous there, one day in 1960, when lava burst out of a sugar cane field.  Within a few days, her slow-moving, pasty a’a had obliterated the little farming town, and left several enormous cinder-cones in its place – one of which has a crater with a permanent rain-water-fed pond inside, known as “Green Lake.”

          That eruption also threatened to overwhelm the lighthouse at Cape Kumukahi, on the easternmost tip of the island.  But at the last moment, the flow diverged and went around the lighthouse.  This may have been by pure chance, but many people here aver that Pele has always respected sailors, and that is why she spared their all-important navigational beacon.  The lighthouse  is easily identified at night by its eleven-second period – i.e., the rotating lamp appears to “flash” every eleven seconds. 

After the 1960 Kapoho eruption, the original 1927 lighthouse.
After the 1960 Kapoho eruption, the original 1927 lighthouse.

          At the lighthouse, turn right onto Hwy 137, which will put the
ocean on your left.  All along this coast there are pockets of brackish
water, heated by the volcano’s plumbing, and collectively known as “warm ponds.”  Though they are within the high-water mark, and hence officially open to the public, one of them – the so-called “Champagne Pond” – is the subject of local controversy.  It’s inside a subdivision, and there are no restrooms or port-a-potties, or other facilities; so adjacent property owners want to restrict access, whereas other Puna residents (and visitors) generally want to be able to drive in.

          Some day that pond may be designated as a park; but for now, if you want to immerse yourself in a warm pond, it’s best to go just a bit further down the road, to one that is open to the public, at Pualaa Beach Park.  You’ll see its driveway just before you come to a stop sign at the intersection of the Pohoiki Road.  Just past the parking-lot, a lava-stone stairway with a railing will lead you safely into the water.

          If the world is too much with you, there’s a place to get away
from it all on Hwy 137, between the 17- and 18-mile markers.  Kalani
Oceanside Retreat Village ( is a 120-acre center for yoga,
dance and spiritual workshops.

          I’ll take you the rest of the way along fascinating Hwy 137 – the so-called “Red Road” – next time.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part VI – Winter Wood-Working

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid?  Part VI – Winter Wood-Working

          Nighttime winter temperatures along the coasts, here, can get down to 60° F.  Add the cooling effect of clouds and rain, and on the eastern side, at least, you can expect nights in the 50s. As you get above sea level, anywhere, ambient temperature falls 3° F for every 1,000 feet up, so many places here are downright chilly in the winter: Volcano, at 4,000 feet, gets frost!

          But homes in Hawaii don’t have furnaces, and few if any are insulated against cold (or hot) weather.  Other than wrapping yourself in heavy clothes, if you want to stay warm indoors, you’ll have to generate heat, and the easiest way is to burn wood.

          You could soak all day in a wood-fired hot tub, but more likely you’d want to sit around the house near a modern wood stove or fireplace that’s engineered to send a lot of heat into the room, instead of up the chimney.  They’re are sold in specialty stores in Hilo and Kona, and can be ordered through home-improvement stores, too.  You must get a commercial model, and not build one yourself, because it has to meet strict local construction codes, and the building-inspectors here are very finicky about anything that could be a fire-hazard.

          What isn’t widely available, however, is wood.  You won’t see cords of firewood stacked outside supermarkets and garden supply stores, as you do on the mainland.  (A true cord, by the way, is four feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long.)  Sometimes, a classified ad in one of the local papers will offer firewood.  Just make sure that the pieces are cut small enough to fit in your firebox.

          You could, of course, go out and cut your own firewood.  Unless you have an especially dense stand of trees on your land, that you really don’t want to keep, you probably will have to go elsewhere.  Obviously, you can not go logging in Hawaii’s forest reserves or parks; and until you’ve lived here a while, you probably will not know or hear about neighborhood trees that have to be cut due to land-clearing, hazard-removal, and so on.

          You should certainly consider cutting weed-trees, though.  Many property owners – maybe you, too? – have thickets of rose-apple or waiawi that they’d like to get rid of.  Waiawi (“vy-vee”) is strawberry guava, an especially hard wood that burns hot; but the trunks are not especially thick, and hence not easily split by hand.

          A client of mine purchased a house whose long driveway was lined with tall cedars and pines.  These exotics were probably intended to be harvested as Christmas trees, but had not been cut in time, so they stood over 50 feet tall, deeply shading the driveway, and blocking half the view from the house.  He had them professionally cut down.  The branches and leaves were ground up into mulch, which was piled up near his garden; and the logs were cut to fit in his fireplace.  Citing the old adage that you get warm first from the exercise and then again from burning the wood, he now spends an hour or two each autumn and winter month with an axe, maul and wedge, happily splitting those logs.

Getting a pro to cut your fire-logs frees you up to split and burn them.
Getting a pro to cut your fire-logs frees you up to split and burn them.

          He doesn’t use a chain-saw, however.  In the popular imagination, you aren’t really living off-the-grid if you don’t have a chain-saw.  But you probably won’t need one; and unless you are already experienced in operating one, or have someone who can teach you to use it carefully, you probably should not get one.  The ease with which a chain-saw cuts through wood makes it a very compelling tool, especially for inexperienced users who are all too likely to take on a challenge they can’t meet, or in some other way get into an accident.  Moreover, it’s a tool that requires a lot of
care: ensuring that the cutting-edges are sharp, keeping both the engine and the chain properly lubricated, etc.  Like installing electrical circuits or plumbing, cutting wood with a chain-saw is a task best left to experts.

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HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part IV

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part IV

AC vs. DC

Every electric motor and light bulb in an ordinary house runs on alternating current (AC). And though your cell phone or laptop computer runs on direct current (DC), you keep them charged up with a little transformer you plug into an AC outlet, that “transforms” AC into DC.

No matter how you (or the utilities) generate power, whether from fuel, wind, hydro, or the sun, it starts out as DC and must be changed – or, more accurately, “inverted” – to AC. That’s done through (what else?) an “inverter” that sits between your batteries and the breaker-box for the house’s electrical outlets. The inverter also keeps the electricity from fluctuating, so your power is as consistently smooth as it would be from the grid.

You could skip the inverter, and have an all-DC house. There are DC versions of most appliances, including TVs and refrigerators; and when people here started living off the grid, in the 1960s and ’70s, home-sized inverters were not commonplace; so going entirely DC was the only way they could have modern conveniences. But DC appliances are not cheap, and you won’t find them in local stores. Making an all-DC house also forces you to site all the components of your system, including the outlets, very close together, because (unlike alternating current) direct current loses strength if it has to run through more than about 50 feet of wire. So, to live off the grid, you need batteries and an inverter, too. The fact is: we live in an AC world.

You need batteries. Here, the first five (of sixteen) 24-volt batteries are being installed in a household system. An inverter (not shown) turns the batteries' DC power into AC.
You need batteries. Here, the first five (of sixteen) 24-volt batteries are being installed in a household system. An inverter (not shown) turns the batteries' DC power into AC.

Go Gas

As for cooking, you will have to forget about an electric stove – you can not possibly generate enough power for that. Get a gas stove, and make sure the installer sets up all the burners for propane (instead of natural gas, which is not sold in Hawaii).

Propane is easily obtained. Tanks range in capacity from backyard-grill-size, to four-foot-tall cylinders, to horizontal giants. You can take the smaller ones into town to be refilled, or pay an additional but small monthly fee (less than $10) to have a gas company driver deliver fresh tanks and/or refill them at your home.

There are, by the way, refrigerators that run on propane. They are more expensive and slightly less efficient than electric refrigerators, but if your generating capacity is limited, and you’re getting propane anyway, for cooking or heating water (which I’ll cover next time), you may want to at least check and see if a propane refrigerator will suit your needs. It is, in any case, one more way to stay off-the-grid.

View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series