Big Island, Hawaii, Week One.


Garden at Honolulu airport

It’s been nearly a week since my arrival and I’ve done a great deal of things already. I’ve had time to settle in, discover my research site, get my new car in Waimea: up North of Hilo and do a few fun activities. My landlords, (more like my host family) are incredibly nice. They cooked me a wonderful chicken pumpkin dish on the first night after picking me up from the airport, and pasta on the second.


The Lowe family and myself on a hike down Pololu Valley

The Lowes, family of five, moved from Alaska 7 years ago. Adam, the father used to be a science teacher and is now a stay-at-home dad, and Emily his wife is a councillor at University of Hawaii. They have 3 kids; a 10-year-old girl, and two boys: 12 and 15 year old.

During my first day in Hilo we had a Tropical downpour, but  Adam and the kids took me out on an excursion after work nevertheless we enjoyed a hike to the ‘Rainbow Falls’ nearby.

A drive to Waimea


‘Ruby Suby’ going down the Kohala Mountain

Adam drove me up to Waimea so that I could pick up my new car: a red 1998 manual Subaru that we named “Ruby Suby”! On the long drive up the coast, we had some interesting conversations about Christianism and Buddhism. Frankly, from a broad perspective they are very similar: The bible tells you to “do to others what you would like to be done to you” and Buddhism tells you to “consider yourself as others”. Both are based on disdain for material things, charity, trust and humility.
meditation maze During my previous visit to Hawaii back in December, I had noticed that Buddhism and Yoga are very popular as I saw elephant headed gods being sold on merchandise at every farmers market. With a meditation labyrinth painted on the patio floor, the local church where we go to Zumba on Tuesday seems to embrace buddhist practices like meditation.

From our conversation, I could tell that the Lowe family would become great friends of mine, keeping me company alongside my research and serving as mentors with fascinating life experiences.


The first week I visited my research site during group weeding efforts. Getting there involves hopping into a  4×4 and passing through the Department of Defence gates. Once on site, we parked the car on a grassy lane and walked through a thick rainforest for a few minutes. (Unfortunately, the thick vegetation is mostly composed of invasive species, which is precisely why restoration is taking place)

The research site itself is an open canopy (that was intensively weeded out), composed of 4 ‘plots’ and a control site: filled with native species, a few rare plants, and edible tree crops.


a’a lava, because when you walk on it bare foot you say Aaaaa Aaaaa!!

After about ten minutes of weeding, I realised how difficult this site is to work in and why it is a perfect training ground for the Department of Defence (that is funding the research). Indeed, the forest emerged from 1000 year old “a’a ” lava flow which means it is incredibly difficult to get around. Large leaves cover ‘lava tube’ holes up to 3 feet deep! Along with the hot and sticky climate comes mosquitos – probably my worst enemy at the moment! I have learnt to wear a long-sleeved shirt with pants on fieldwork days, which solves the mosquito problem but not the heat!

My desk is located at the USDA Forest service in a nice air-conditioned building and my lab is at University of Hawaii.

Week 1 highlights

I’ve already made a few friends Saya- who gave me a surfboard he wasn’t using and half a dozen avocados from his farm: what a treat!


       Pololu Valley

Adam and Emily invited me to their friend’s house in Hawi, a little town at the very north of the Island. We all camped out in their gigantic wooden house under construction with an amazing view of the sea. The house’s very tall ceilings are designed to create passive ventilation so that air conditioning is not required.   The next morning we all hiked to down Pololu valley.

Friday afternoon I was the hottest I’d ever been while surveying my research plots for plant phenology traits (trees that are flowering and trees that are fruiting). I decided to drive to my new favourite spot: Carlismith beach. This time I had my snorkel and I observed the world of creatures living under water. I told myself that I would bring my GoPro next time!


A typical Hawaiian canoe made at the farmer’s market

Over the week-end I enjoyed a sunrise kayak outing in Hilo Bay, a visit to the farmer’s market, and a visit to my friend Ann’s house. Ann fully embraces the word sustainability and even makes her own soap from the lard she collects from the invasive wild boar she kills on her property!   As I was looking for a few bits and bobs to finish equipping my new studio, I found a pretty cotton dress at the dump; mine now!


       market basket


Unidentifiable epiphyte (a plant that grows harmlessly upon another plant) growing on a breadfruit tree at the farmer’s market! It looks like Moose horns don’t you think?!


Pololu valley