Feathers of the Rainbow

[Appeared in the June 22, 2011 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]

By Catherine Cluett

There’s no place like home – especially if you’re a pigeon. Molokai Rainbows, Clay Adachi’s business of releasing multi-colored pigeons for events around Molokai, brings smiles to awed onlookers as the birds swirl in unison overhead before heading straight home to their roomy pens in Adachi’s backyard.

Photo by Catherine Buchanan

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, they all come home,” he said.

Referred to as homing pigeons, racing pigeons (a sport practiced around the world) and carrier pigeons, the species have been used for thousands of years to carry messages hundreds of miles before mail service or the Internet. While the navigation methods pigeons use are highly debated, many scientists believe the birds use the earth’s magnetic field to find their way. Adachi’s birds can fly home all the way from Maui, where he occasionally releases them for training.

Raising birds has been a lifelong passion for Adachi. He developed a special fondness for white pigeons after he was given a pair when he was young. Now, he owns about 150 birds, something he got back into, he said, more than 15 years ago. After that, “I figured I’d rent them out to pay for their own feed,” Adachi explained. Continue reading

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Kalaupapa Access on the Edge

[Appeared in the Aug. 20, 2010 issue of the Hawaii Catholic Herald]

By Catherine Cluett

A poignant history is contained on a tiny peninsula off Molokai, guarded by the world’s highest sea cliffs – a history of pain and exile, saintliness and triumph. Access to Kalaupapa, the remote home of Saint Damien, has always been difficult. Since April, however, it has been nearly impossible.

A weathered sign for Molokai Mule Ride stands in front of the now-empty stables on topside Molokai.

The settlement’s lifeline, the pali trail, was closed after a landslide washed away one of the trail’s bridges. The closure has left some local businesses on the brink of survival, and many tourists and pilgrims without access to the famed peninsula.

Gloria Marks, Kalaupapa resident, patient and owner of Damien Tours, said there has been a significant decrease in visitors since the trail closure. She said her business, which offers guided bus tours of the peninsula, usually has 500 to 600 customers per month. Last month, there were only about 200. Access to Kalaupapa is now available only by plane. Continue reading

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Native Calls

 Keeping track of Molokai’s rainforest birds.

[Appeared in the June 2, 2010 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]

By Catherine Cluett

Billowing mist drifts through moss-hung branches, and the air – cold and fresh – slips past your face like ghost fingers. It’s 7 a.m. and the rainforest oozes with life – from the imperceptible movement of a myriad bugs to the morning chatter of birds echoing through the forest canopy. It’s those birds that have brought experts from around the state to the Molokai Forest Preserve for a study that could determine future management tactics for Hawaii’s forests that are home to native species.

Sam Aruch listens for bird calls in Kamakou Preserve.

Sam Aruch cocks his head, listening to each bird call. His trained ears decipher and identify every whistle in the cacophony of chatter as he scribbles in a mist-moistened field notebook. He records what species he hears, as well as location and weather conditions.

Around the state, bird experts team up with local volunteers to study bird populations in conservation areas. Aruch works in resource management and was contracted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to organize this year’s bird surveys.

The surveys, conducted in rotation around the state every fives years, serve as an assessment of current management of native bird habitats. They are also an important tool to help guide future management decisions, according to David Leonard, a wildlife biologist for DOFAW in charge of endangered forest bird programs. Continue reading

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Late Night Loafing

[Appeared in the Feb./March issue of Hana Hou! Magazine]

By Catherine Cluett

Walk through the streets of Kaunakakai at 10 p.m., and you’ll find them quiet and empty, except for maybe a cat or two padding through the shadows. Then cars begin pulling up beside a dimly lit alley. People emerge. They head down the alley and turn left into an even murkier passageway. At its end they approach a set of double red doors and pound on them.

A basement club? A den of iniquity? The comforting aroma of freshly baked bread suggests something altogether different. Approach the red doors yourself and someone stands ready to take your order for Molokai hot bread. You have a choice of toppings: jams, butter, cream cheese or cinnamon. Give the word, and the doors slam shut.

In a few minutes, they open again. Hand over $5.75—cash only—and in exchange, you are given a soft, warm, round loaf of bread oozing with toppings—a Moloka‘i tradition that’s been around since the days of statehood. True to Moloka‘i style, there are no flashing signs advertising this bread; the nightly clue to its existence is the steady procession of devotees making the pilgrimage for their fix. Aunty Blossom Poepoe, general manager of the Kanemitsu Bakery, makers of the hot bread, says the bakery sells an average of 100 loaves a night. On the weekends, that number occasionally tops 300.

“People tell me they come for the experience,” says Aunty Blossom. But she’s being humble about the famous delicacy itself. You’re guaranteed to rip a good dent in your loaf before you even reach the end of the passageway. Not to worry, though: A loaf of Kanemitsu’s hot bread is big enough for a midnight meal and then some.

How did the tradition get started? “There was no place for people to eat after the bars closed,” explains Aunty Blossom. Late-night revelers, felled by hunger pangs in a town with no restaurants open past 9, would knock on the bakery doors looking for food. The Kanemitsus, who were known for their hospitality, would often lend a helping loaf.  “And so,” explains Aunty Blossom simply, “Mrs. Kanemitsu decided to sell bread.”

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Face of the Forest

Wood carver Robin Baker forced to close shop.

[Appeared in the August 6, 2009 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]

By Catherine Cluett

For years, the face of an old man carved into a huge eucalyptus tree along the Molokai Forest Preserve road stood like a quiet guard over the woods. Now, all that’s left is a chain-sawed hole in the shaggy trunk where the contemplative face used to gaze out over the surrounding forest. The face of the bearded man isn’t the only thing that’s leaving the property. Robin Baker, the wood carver and creator of the tree face has lived in a clearing in the forest for 25 years. Because the land he lives on is changing hands, Baker has to bid farewell to his home and workshop.

Baker’s departure marks the end of an era.

Thick-rimmed glasses perched on his forehead, a scruffy white beard, and an unlit cigar between his lips, Baker shakes his head. Failing eyesight and health have already hindered his ability to carve, he explains.

“It’s time to quit,” says Baker.

His carvings and sculptures have sold all over the world, but Baker is humble about it.

“It’s not because I’m good,” he explains. “It’s all in the location.”

About 50 percent of his business came from the public, and tourists passing by on their way to the forest and valley overlooks. One woman from Germany stopped by his workshop, and as many others had, didn’t leave empty-handed. She bought carvings to sell in her shop, and ordered more pieces whenever they sold.

Bakers said the other 50 percent of his work sold in galleries and shops he marketed to in Hawaii.

“It didn’t get me rich but kept me busy,” he says. Continue reading

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Mel Chung, Gunsmith

Chung’s shop opens its doors for its first public show.

[Appeared in the Oct. 23, 2008 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]

By Catherine Cluett

Walking in the door of Mel Chung’s gunsmith shop presents every man’s dream: a selection of guns neatly displayed on the wall, along with gun accessories, tools and hunting supplies. It’s a Saturday morning, and the shop is attracting a good showing of Molokai men for Chung’s first gun show, featuring hunting shot guns. “I like to hang out at gun shops – who doesn’t?” asks one show go-er.

I laugh. It’s the first time I’ve stepped foot in one.

The right half of the room is Mrs. Chung’s beauty salon, with swiveling chairs draped in pink towels. Some might say it’s a contrast of the sexes at its best, but I soon learn the gun shop might be the dream of many women, too. “It’s not just men who come into the shop,” she explains with a smile. “Many women on Molokai have better aim than the men.”

I get sucked right in as Chung runs his fingers over the smooth walnut wood and intricately engraved metal of a Browning Auto-5. John Browning, the gun’s designer, was a Mormon from Utah around the turn of the 19th century who was a prolific gun designer, Chung says. The gun in my hands was made in the 1950’s, and the model was discontinued about ten years ago, he adds. Continue reading

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