Hummingbirds and oranges for the holidays

The holiday season just ending presented a curious feel to it this time around.  There were Christmas lights draped on a large balcony in the building behind ours, while below them stood glowing orange globes on a sturdy little tree — fruit, actually.  Oranges, uh huh.

A friend sent a gift of many delicious lemons from one of her trees last week.

Although lots of trees have dropped their leaves and it is pretty cool day and night hummingbirds have been buzzing around our balcony feeder non stop since summer. The species present are mainly Anna’s right now, though the odd Blackchin can’t be ruled out.  There’s been a night or two just below freezing, when the tiny birds showed up extra early, sticking around longer than normal.  Little energy wasted on chasing one another.

The oleander trees have flower buds, while a tall sycamore flaunts dark yellow feathery flowers three stories above us.

Meanwhile, across the region marches a series of storms, drenching the northern part of the state, piling snow many, many feet high in the Sierra Nevadas to the east.  Yosemite is being buried as I write.  While I’m used to the West and the effects mountains have on weather I have to admit that the variety of Northern California climates occasionally makes my head spin.

A sign of my growing bond with the state, a new Sprouts bag!  I like bears, and listen interestedly to plans about reintroducing Grizzlies in remote spots in the California mountains.  Big brown bears such as Grizzles help people keep a perspective that is healthy, I think.

Here we are bundling up as for New Mexico winter to take the dogs for a midday walk, during which we spot …. hummingbirds! …. dashing from one oleander to another.  Since there are no actively flowering bushes in our surroundings at present it is good to know that the small creatures also eat tiny bugs, which I hope crawl out from beneath bark in the sunshine.  Condo neighbors seem to have mostly removed hummer feeders for the winter.

The most up-close-and-personal change has to do with the transformation of our pleasant condo into a wedding warehouse and assembly line.  With Jericha and Paco’s marriage a week away we have 75 pounds of table linens stacked in boxes.  That is seventy five pounds of table stuff!!  Would the Waldorf Astoria need that much for three hours one day?

There are sheer curtains which my daughter and a small army of friends have transformed with crepe paper strips (on the back side) to offer gentle colors when hanging in the many large windows (with indifferent views) at the wedding venue.  More sheer curtains have had LED light strings attached, to hang behind the raised stage at the head of the room, glowing during the ceremony.  We have been gluing lovely quotations, printed on vellum, inside three of the six sides of small jars she found to serve as wedding favors.  Into the jars go small strings of LEDs, with switches craftily held above view in pretty netting just under the lids, tied tight outside with ribbons.

Earlier today Jericha baked an experimental batch of the cupcakes she wants to have stacked up into a wedding cake shape.  We’ve happily been fattening ourselves on the things — which, full of butter and honey, along with fine cornmeal and almond flour — are making their way towards “you can’t have just one” fare.

This evening the kitchen workshop is open for creating huge paper flowers out of gigantic coffee filters.

Also this evening we are having rain.  So good for this region with a six-year drought, so slowing for getting one’s wedding errands done.

Besides living in my daughter’s dreams of a beautiful wedding in which she imagines and then creates most of the decorations with help from a special wedding planner friend, and many good hands, I’ve continued to get grounded with my new state, and enjoyed reconnecting with several good friends I hadn’t seen or spoken with in a long while.

Amidst this cheerful disarray came along my birthday on the 6th. Not seventy yet, but working on it…  That idea brings to my grasshopper mind yet another view of the ways in which my life has changed since last June.  Jericha and Shirley, our roommate in the condo, took me for a birthday lunch at a Himalayan restaurant next to the preschool where they both work.

It was Friday, a day when great numbers of tech industry employees love to grab a longish lunch.  We had a bit of a wait to get in…  In line with Asian men of different ages.  After we finally took our places at a small table there was time to look around.  Cheerful paper lanterns hung from ceiling beams, bearing the message of a Happy New Year.

While munching my way through excellent Indian food that calm feeling came over me  that can settle when I’m in a new, good mind space.  Looking around I realized that there were over a hundred people sitting at long tables, mostly in large groups.  That we three women were a) one of perhaps five women in the entire restaurant, and b) besides one distant man we three were the only pale faces that I could see.  To which it isn’t too much speculation to say that we were also in a wee minority of diners not employed by Google.

These things made me smile, all the more when, as we were leaving, Shirley wished me a happy birthday and right afterwards a friendly hand touched my shoulder, a young man leaned towards me and murmured, “Happy Bird-day!”

That one little gesture lighted me up in the midst of what was already a specially good day.

This was all the more relished since the many changes in life of late may bring happiness to the heart one day, yet sadness will invade the next.  Sadness for what (and who) is now gone forever.  Making this an appropriate moment, perhaps, to suggest that we not hesitate to offer a smile, a small compliment or bit of help to some complete stranger, randomly.  It makes a difference, it really does.

Jericha planning table designs, taking photos for her wedding planner friend

My father’s war memories, laid to rest

birthday flowers from Jericha
Birthday greetings from my daughter!

Today, which happens to be my birthday, might have dawned all white and poofy outdoors, but instead Mother Nature provided a pleasant surprise:  Rare and gentle rain washing away leftover snow piles from ten days ago.

A fine day to sit by the kitchen window with a hot cup of fragrant oolong tea, episodes from life floating through.  Tropical memories were particularly vivid this bleak New Mexico day.

A synergistic conflation of Hawaiian family adventures popped into my mind like a big, beautiful hot air balloon brightening a dull sky.

I grew up in Massachusetts with my dad’s collection of Hawaiian music playing often on the living room stereo system.  Slack key guitar, pahu, ukelele, I loved them all, especially during those horrid winter hurricanes known as Nor’easters.

My father had been sent to the island of Oahu after a long, grueling post as an Army medic in the Philippines during World War II.  Raised with Quaker values, he put off his enlistment as long as he could.  Right up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  From his description (and a bunch of old letters he wrote while there) it is clear that the Hawaiian time was the best in his life, up till then.

I had a tourist pamphlet that purported to teach potential visitors a bit of the Hawaiian language.  Most particularly how to pronounce it.  I fell in love with the name of a tiny fish:  humuhumunukunuapa’a.  AKA Reef Triggerfish. So greatly did I esteem this name that I bestowed it on a plastic pinto saddle horse standing on my bedroom mantelpiece.  I loved that horse, with a narrow gold-leaf sticker affixed to his rump, reading Moosehead Lake, Maine.

An all around lover of great places, wherever they may be, that’s me.  My bucket list of places to visit features Tuva alongside Botwswana.

But on with Hawaii.

A few decades after Daddy’s Hawaiian vinyl records spun mental magic I was delighted to land on a genuine Hawaiian beach — Haunama Bay — which features not only palm trees rising from soft sand, but also a glorious reef close to shore, where turtles swim alongside bright fish.  I had been transported there from New Mexico in order to take part in my daughter’s wedding, and on this day I could watch her swimming to the reef with several friends, cool beneath a friendly coconut palm.

Haunama Bay, fisheye lens view, from a tourist  website

(Tourist website)

Enthusiastic as she had been about me clambering into one of the plastic, fat-tired wheelchairs available for differently-abled visitors, one look at a chair made me clutch the armrests of my power renta-a-wheelchair ever more firmly.

“I could get into that thing,” I pronounced, “but it would take six beach boys in speedos to haul my butt out.”

And so I was allowed to people watch near the tourist tent, shaded by my big cowgirl hat and a palm tree.

Serene it was, till my roving eyes fell on a commotion at the far end of the beach and the reef.  A bunch of those colorful young fellows were running that way — my first suggestion that these weren’t just any old beach boys.  Soon a hefty pickup rumbled right by me, four more good looking dudes in Hawaiian print shorts in the back.  Twenty minutes after that it returned in solemnity, the crew laboring over something in the bed.  As they got closer I realized it was CPR they were doing.  The main guy stopped pumping on a bulging chest just before the truck pulled up alongside me.

“You have to keep going,” said another, in the flat voice of one who knows there is no hope.  And for a short while revival efforts continued, till abruptly the medical crew abandoned the pickup, heading towards a distant ambulance for a gurney.  Which left me free to examine the dead man.  No stranger to the sight of dead bodies, me.  He was a middle aged Japanese person in swimming trunks fully as bright as any others around, but he had obviously been in the water a while before his body was brought to shore.  Large red welts covered his cheeks and neck, perhaps from jelly fish bites.

“Welcome to Hawaii, Miz Em’li”, said my stern inner companion.  “You knew that tropical paradise has its dark moments, too.”

My spiritual self began saying Baha’i prayers for departed souls; I wondered how he came to his end here, with no family or friends apparent.  The beach was covered with small groups of people, lounging, running, swimming, laughing together.  Everywhere.  Why this man alone, with no one at all to follow him?

I never found out, as the Honolulu newspaper did not carry a word about the man who drowned at the bay one March day that was lovely in the patented Hawaiian manner.

But this mysterious Japanese man lying so alone in the back of a pickup truck, he had me there to care about him, to pray for his progress from this life, whoever he had been in life.

This morning I remember Haunama Bay, my joy at being in Hawaii at last, at being with my beloved daughter, the sense of adventure so strong.  And what became, to me, the honor of being present for a solitary Japanese man shortly after he left this world. Someone was there to pray for his good journey into unknown worlds.

My father was never able to talk about his Pacific experiences as an Army Medic, much, until I turned 30.  Then over dinner one evening his inner floodgates opened to pour enough information upon me to assure a long stream of sleepless nights.  His life-threatening bouts with malaria were the least of it.

Later on I realized that the prayers that came to me while sitting beneath the Haunama Bay palm were also to lay to rest what my father had finally told me about from the war, his war.  The graphic explanation for his long standing hatred of so much about Japan.

Pearl Harbor was another spot I visited in honor of my dad and the soldiers and sailors who died there and in other places around the Pacific Ocean, their families left without them…  But beautiful Haunama Bay, teeming with life and rich colors, was the place where I said goodbye to my father’s war stories.   Time to move into another, positive, more creative view of Earth’s many nations and tribes of people.

My ohana (Hawaiian word for family, big family) now is united in love for all mankind.  Including my father’s spirit in its place that is nowhere and everywhere that my heart is.  Peace and love to you, Horace West Lee, cranky old Yankee man that you were at the end.



A Baha’i prayer for the departed:

my God!  O Thou forgiver of sins, bestower of gifts, dispeller of afflictions! 

Verily, I beseech thee to forgive the sins of such as have abandoned the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world. 

O my Lord!  Purify them from trespasses, dispel their sorrows, and change their darkness into light.  Cause them to enter the garden of happiness, cleanse them with the most pure water, and grant them to behold Thy splendors on the loftiest mount.


Below lies the USS Arizona as seen from the memorial constructed above it.  This is only a portion of the roll of honor, listing the names of those who died on it during the Pearl Harbor attack.  While sitting by the hole in the floor that allows clear views of the rusting vessel I was joined by a couple dozen people, from many nations.