Hāmākua Hawai`i, Uncategorized

Na Manu o Hamakua


It wasn’t unusual for hiking clients to be interested in whether we would see birds on our adventures, and it was always a bit sad to tell them the fate of many of our native birds.  Douglas Pratt, in his informative book, “Enjoying Birds in Hawaii,” comments that the 45 species of native forest birds known to have existed in Hawai`i are thought to have evolved from only eight or nine ancestral species.  Of those recorded 45 species, at least 15 are extinct, and over half of the remainder are endangered or threatened.  Mosquito-borne diseases (avian malaria and avian pox) and habitat loss are important factors leading to the loss of our native birds.  Charles Stone, in a volume entitled, “Conservation Biology in Hawai`i,” also specifies predation by introduced rats, cats and mongoose as important contributors to the disappearance of many numbers and kinds of native birds.  Native forest birds are seldom found at elevations less than 4,000 feet, mainly because that’s about the cut-off point, above which mosquitoes do not reproduce.  Thus, in the accessible remaining forests of Hamakua, the only native birds we have much chance of seeing are the larger birds, the raptors – pueo, the owl,  and `io, the hawk — that are apparently immune to the pox and malaria so deadly to Hawaiian forest birds.  Stone lists three known species of native hawks and four of native owls, but only one of each are now to be found; the ‘io is officially classified as an endangered bird.  Its range, notably, is limited to our Island: nowhere else on planet Earth can our wild native hawk be found.


The inspiration for an article about birds of Hamakua came one summer when at dusk my wife and I were enjoying the orchard we’ve planted down below our house, on the edge of Ka`apahu Gulch.  As we sat on the grass and talked, a shape approaching in the sky above the pasture makai of our place caught my eye.  I silently pointed to the pueo – our native owl — flying toward us.  As it drew near, I whistled sharply.  Though the steady stroking of its wings didn’t seem to change, the pueo veered sharply to its right and passed directly over our heads.  It was so obviously visible that our Labrador retriever, Kela, leaped up as if to intercept it, though even his powerful jump was about 15 feet too low.  I continued repeatedly to whistle, and the bird banked to cross above us again, then a third time.  We could see it turning its head on each pass to examine us.  Our last glimpse of it ended as it blurred into the darkening trees around our house up the slope: we thought it might have landed on a branch, but we never saw it again.


As always is the case, we felt privileged to have been visited by this native raptor, and especially honored by the repeated attention.  We reminisced about other such contacts, recalling a number of experiences with both pueo and the introduced barn owl, and some notable encounters with our native hawk, the `io, as well.  I wrote in an earlier article about kukui an account of a pueo seeming to bless my mission of collecting kukui leaves to make a graduation lei for one of our youngsters.  There was also the unforgettable time when one of my sons and I were working our way through a lava tube from one collapse to the next opening and a beautiful, mostly white barn owl flew down the length of the tube toward us, passing by about six feet away, in amazing silence.  My wife, Kaulana, had frequent sightings of owls as she returned from hula classes over the years.  Several times birds sat alongside the road and allowed her to stroke them, without seeming alarmed by her approach or contact.



My long-time friend Dr. P. Q.Tomich has recounted his review of naturalists’ reports and some of his interesting personal and professional observations of the `io.  His photograph of one of these hawks in quest of a rat in a brush pile reminded me of a time last year when my wife and I saw an `io while driving through Kalopa Gulch.  We had just made the sharp turn off the bridge and begun to climb up out of the gulch when an `io streaked directly over our car and seemed to crash into the brush above us.  We drove on up to a place where we could leave our car off the road and walked back to see what the bird’s fate might be.  It was on the ground, in the grass and shrubs above the road, looking both occupied and fierce.  This demeanor was explained when it suddenly took flight with a sumo-weight rat hanging limply in its talons, flying up the gulch toward the sound of a hungry juvenile somewhere above.  Its sharp eyes had evidently spotted a “roof rat” on a limb, and the strike had dislodged the heavy rodent so that both `io and prey fell to the ground.  During the time we were parking and returning to the scene of the battle, the death of the rat was accomplished.  The `io must make a noticeable dent in the rodent population, for another time, we stood in silent wonder with a group of hikers from the cruise ship Statendam while a large `io dispatched a rat it had carried to a tree limb in clear view of our trail in a forest on Hualalai.  It worked steadily but without haste to devour its meal, wiped both sides of its beak on the bark of the limb, then launched itself down the slope and glided away.


The royal palace on O`ahu, ‘Iolani, symbolizes the singular view with which the traditional culture of Hawai`i sees the hawk, for the name of the building translates as “heavenly ‘io.”  Just as the ali`i, the monarchs of Hawai`i mediated between the realms of humans and gods, so does the ‘io soar to the heavens and rest upon the earth.  The pueo is held in special regard, too, particularly by members of families who regard this bird as an `aumakua, or family god.  A Hawaiian friend on the Island of Moloka`i whose family has this kind of relationship to pueo drove us to the airport for an early morning flight: the birds seemed to be everywhere on and alongside the road, an extraordinary set of circumstances that seemed a matter of course to her.


Hamakua is not a unique area so far as its birds are concerned: the same adverse impacts have impoverished the native populations here as they have elsewhere on this Island and the rest of Hawai`i.  We are, nonetheless, fortunate to have visible populations of the two remaining raptors here.  As is the case with much else in Hawai`i’s natural environments, encounters with these creatures often carry an unusual impact, imparting a feeling of portent and significance that transcends the mere facts of the experience.


Hāmākua Hawai`i, Uncategorized

Notes on the Geology of Waipi`o Valley


Elsewhere we have briefly discussed the role of water in shaping Waipi`o Valley, mentioning the five major drainages that contribute to the Valley’s form and stream flow.  Hi`ilawe, the most famous, is also the closest to the mouth of Waipi`o.  Waima goes nearly straight back from the Valley’s coastline toward Waimea, taking water from the slopes of the old cinder cones called Pu`u Lala (or Alala, on some maps) and Pu`u Ka`ala in a northeasterly direction to the sea.  On the Waimea side of the slopes of  Pu`u Ka`ala are subdivisions, including the one called Pu`u Nani.

The Waima axis of the Valley may have been formed as water flowed down the overlapping lava fields of Kohala and Mauna Kea, but toward the back of Waima the three other drainages — Koiawe, Alakahi, and Kawainui —  have followed a fault zone running on a southwest-northeast axis.  The cracks and zone of weakness from Kohala’s summit provided a path for streams to form that now flow almost at a right angle into the channel carved by Waima.  Before the gulches got too deep (about 1,200 feet above sea level, to judge from topographic maps), Kawainui stream was the headwater of Waimanu.  The faults in the underlying rock, eroding more rapidly, in part because of the erosion of the Alakahi stream, captured Waimanu’s original water, leaving a “wind gap,” a v-shaped notch through which Kawainui used to flow, abandoned now to the breezes.   Waimanu, robbed of the water that used to flush through in powerful quantities, is slowly filling with debris in its rearward regions, since the slides and slumps from its walls are not washed down and out of the Valley.

In times long before humans saw it, Waipi`o (and the other flat-bottomed valleys of the windward coast) was both narrower and deeper.  As water cuts its way into mountain slopes, the stream beds tend to be only as wide as floods will cut them.  Waipi`o Valley is obviously many times wider than its river, but the reason is not at all obvious.  The most recent ice age ended some 10,000 years ago.  As the great glaciers and polar ice caps began to melt at the beginning of the warming trend which we humans are still enjoying (temporary though it is), the ocean began to rise.  The valleys of Hawai`i that had carved the lava down to sea level started to have sea water flooding into their mouths.  The rocks, gravel, sand and dirt carried by stream erosion began to be halted before getting to the former shoreline, filling in the old stream bed and raising it so that the erosion-produced debris began to back up behind it.  Eventually, the wide floor of Waipi`o was filled with this material (what geologists call “alluvium”) to a depth, at the mouth of the Valley, of as much as 300 feet.

Most of the major valleys on the windward side have submarine canyons that extend on into the deep.  Waipi`o does not.  Some suggest that it did at one time have such a feature, created by stream-flow when the shoreline was lower, but that it was filled with alluvium.

In some traditional Hawaiian stories,  it was Kamapua`a, the demigod related to Lono, who, in his form as a giant pig, ripped the valleys out of the mountain slopes in his passionate search for food.  Either way, the story behind the scenery of Waipi`o and its companion valleys on the windward slopes of Hamakua and Kohala is amazing.


Copyright 2003  by Hugh R. Montgomery

aging well, Uncategorized

Aging Well – With ATTITUDE!


Previous articles in this series have touched on several aspects of aging well with a balance emphasizing the benefits of physical activity. This one focuses on some basics of the mental-emotional-spiritual side of the issues involved with aging well as long as possible.

“Attitude” has a variety of meanings and the one we’re using here is as follows: “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” You might think of it as an internal condition — a readiness or tendency to respond in a generally consistent (default) way to events. Thus we have experience of “good” and “bad” attitudes as we notice that some individuals consistently make us feel comfortable and others do not, while some of our own response tendencies work for us and others lead to complications.

People who are “out there” in the way they present themselves to the world, assertively, confidently, or as “characters” are said to have Attitude. That can be said either with a sense of admiration or negative dismissal. There are many aspects to the attributes of “attitude,” and a good number of them have to do with aging well.

Some attitudes are associated with a sense of equanimity – a sense of balance between the extremes of emotions or opinions. These attitudes tend not to produce the often-observed lurching between antipathy and infatuation, between angry dismissal and uncritical acceptance. Those who hold such tendencies toward a moderated response to the vagaries of life have less stressful experiences than those of us who swing from one extreme to another, and therefore have less wear on their internal organs and their emotional and mental capacities. President Obama showed admirable insight into this when he commented that, ( I’m paraphrasing here) when things look terrible, they often turn out not to be so bad as they first appear, and when things look great, they tend not to be so good as the initial impression.

My years as a psychotherapist and a human being observing my own life have brought me to the conviction that one of the worst ways we can spend our time is to deny, ignore, or distort the reality of what is.  We so often want things to be other than the way they are that we agonize and bemoan and rage about the difference between our preferences and the facts of the situation. It seems an obviously faulty perspective when it’s put into a coherent statement, but we may so strongly want not to accept the reality of our circumstances that we don’t want to give credence to what in fact is, because it shouldn’t be so! In my observation, though, the most sound way to move things to the way they “should” be, the way we want them to be, is to start with an acceptance of the way they, in fact, are. A simple example that most of us can relate to is being on the road: it’s pretty rare to go any distance in a car without observing something that should not be happening (as comedian George Carlin observed, “Everybody who drives slower than you is a moron and everybody who drives faster than you is a maniac”). Whether it’s a construction delay, a slow driver blocking our preferred speed, someone riding on our rear bumper, a too-fast driver taking risks that endanger them and others, or, worst of all and increasingly common, coming upon a collision that involves some combination of these and adds a fearful sense of how dangerous the roads can be. Frustrations, irritation, disillusion, fear and other emotions can get distilled into attitudes that turn our travels into dramas that change the way our bodies are functioning and our emotions are experienced. With repetition we develop response habits that affect the way we perceive events and react to them. Creeping along in traffic when we need to be somewhere and are running late can strongly and adversely impact our sense of well-being and our ability to stay rational about the situation as we compare what is with what we want, though it’s very likely there’s nothing that can magically resolve it.

The most productive thing we can do is to recognize the reality of the events in which we’re participating: those over which we have no control (the traffic and the time, for example), and those we can actually affect (such as our muscle tension, our internal commentary, our rate and depth of breathing, and driving in such a way as to move along safely). This good advice takes practice to actually do under pressure and, as with any skill, is most effectively put into place with practice in less stressful conditions.

Our brain is, in proportion to its volume, demands more energy and oxygen to function well than any other organ in our body. When we get tense, we breathe more rapidly and shallowly; tight muscles pull more energy to themselves and the brain’s share diminishes. This is a situation that goes so strongly against our well-being that it sets off all sorts of internal alarms and increases our sense of distress so that feelings of anxiety and even panic begin to build. Such a negative cycle can very quickly disrupt our ability to cope. Fortunately, the resolution is close at hand: if we let our shoulders drop, relax our jaw muscles, balance our heads between our shoulders and take several good, deep breaths, the alarms begin to turn off, our brain shifts to more effective functioning and our stress diminishes. The more we practice this sort of self-monitoring and control, the more we form attitudes that give our bodies and minds a sense of flowing with our lives, extending our ability to live well as long as possible. Practicing in our cars is a great way to start observing our reactions and adjusting them to suit our goals.


©Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD  2015



Living Well: Life Span and Health Span

As has happened with many other things that have caught my attention, the more I explore the information about aging well, the more unexpected and expansive the dimensions of the subject become. An article in The Atlantic magazine, What Happens When We All Live to 100[i], brought to the fore a whole new reason for living well as long as possible. Where I had thought of it primarily in terms of our individual well-being, with some thought given as well to minimizing the inconvenience for our families, writer Gregg Easterbrook makes the case for taking care of ourselves to be an important social responsibility.  As he points out, “Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year.” That’s a pretty amazing statistic. It’s not hard to see that, if that trend continues, it may well be that before long, people will commonly live to be a hundred years old. Easterbrook points out that if an increasing age span “…simply leads to more years in which pensioners are disabled and demand expensive services, health-care costs may balloon as never before, while other social needs go unmet.” The happier prospect that he considers, however, is that with medical advances and wiser personal choices to increase not only the span of life but also the span of health, most of us will be “…living longer in good vigor, and also working longer, keeping pension and health-care subsidies under control.”

This line of thought brought to mind an aspect of my training as a firefighter with Volunteer Company 8A in Pa`auilo, Hawai`i. A number of Hawai`i Fire Department trainers have reviewed for our Company the fundamental priorities in the task of fighting fires. Number one: the preservation of life. And every trainer has emphasized that this applies, first and foremost, to the firefighter’s responsibility to keep him or herself alive and safe. This is not simply a matter of self-preservation: it is an essential component of maximizing the effective deployment of the resources assigned to an emergency. A firefighter who gets into trouble is not only unable to contribute to the stabilization of the incident (the second priority), but diverts personnel and focus away from the original emergency by adding another complication to it.

Similarly, as we enter into dependent circumstances in the course of aging, we have the effect of altering the activities of family, friends and agencies who serve as caretakers. Their efforts to provide the support and care of aging dependents occupies some portion of their time and energy, complicating the resolution of their other, also important, concerns. Though increasingly depending on others is nearly inevitable as the end of life approaches, it seems like a great idea to delay its occurrence and minimize its duration. Given that many aspects of  “normal” aging are affected by our choices – for better or worse – we need to think carefully about what we can do to live well as long as possible – such as our activity levels, our nutritional choices, our engagement with others, and how to infuse our lives with meaning and purpose.

I’ve been talking with the staff at the North Hawaii Education and Research Center about the value of getting out the word about aging well; their non-credit course coordinator, Ramona Herlihy, spoke of her interest in the subject and mentioned a book relevant to it, The Conversation.[ii]  After reading it I also found it valuable and worth a strong recommendation. The “conversation” referred to in the title is, ideally, a series of considerations and discussions about what one prefers to do and have in place as the end of life approaches. Dr. Volandes uses examples from his clinical experience to illustrate the importance of having thought seriously about and communicating to those who will be with us at the time, our preferences for end-of-life treatment among what he terms Life Prolonging Care (“…a full code, full-court press, where the main goal of medical care was to prolong life with any medical intervention available regardless of whether the success rate was slim or the intervention caused great suffering.”), Limited Medical Care (which does not “…include overly invasive treatments (no CPR and breathing machines) nor was it entirely focused on comfort-oriented measures. The goal was maintaining basic functions like walking, talking, eating, seeing, hearing and thinking”) and Comfort Care (“…making sure a patient was not in pain and the priority was to remain outside of the hospital, ideally at home, with appropriate hospice care”).

Dr. Volandes has put great effort into presenting these options on videos with all possible unbiased clarity so that individuals considering them can understand them and choose the approach they prefer without being nudged one way or the other. This kind of preparation is of great help to all as they seek to be responsible, helpful and supportive at the end of a life in which they play a part. There’s a lot more to the book and I encourage you to find out – among other things – which choice, statistically, tends most to extend life.

My conversations with the North Hawaii Education and Research Center have led to a collaboration to present a series of four 90 minute Saturday morning classes beginning on October 17.

If you have comments, or questions for me to address, use the comment section of this blog.

Copyright Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD, 2015




[i] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/10/what-happens-when-we-all-live-to-100/379338/

[ii] Angelo E. Volandes, M.D. The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care. Bloomsbury, 2015.


To Live Until You Die

I’ve had unusual difficulty in preparing this article. I managed to put together a number of pieces for the our local newspaper, the Hamakua Times, some years ago, focusing on the natural and cultural history of our part of the Island of Hawai`i, and the research and formation of the essays generally flowed rather easily. This time the subject matter is much more personal and subjective: getting older and making choices that help determine the quality of the time we have between now and our death. Sickness, disability, dying: not the most attractive of subjects; not the easiest to write about.

Though we usually won’t argue that we’re not going to pass out of this life, we are even so inclined to push the reality of our coming death out of our consciousness. But as get older and our grandparents pass, and our parents, aunts and uncles, then our acquaintances, friends and our siblings, it becomes harder to ignore the reality of aging, disabilities and death.

Dr. Atul Gawande’s best-selling book, Being Mortal,[1] is a masterful conveyance of the obvious but seldom-confronted fact that our mortality means at some point each of us, as we conceive of ourselves, will cease to be. Every reader of the book with whom I’ve talked to has spoken about an initial feeling of discomfort with it because of its effectiveness in forcing us to confront the reality of our eventual demise. How cheery, for example, can one be when contemplating Dr. Gawande’s assertion that, “…sooner or later, independence will become impossible. Serious illness or infirmity will strike. It is as inevitable as sunset.”  Such disabilities are what many of us fear most, and the reason for this writing is to call attention to the welcome news that a majority of the problems that may beset us as we get older can be advanced or delayed by the choices we make. To a significant degree, aging is a matter of choice.

There is a vibrant and growing body of information about aging, fueled in large part by the huge population bump that occurred with the generation born after World War II. So many people are turning 65 these days that the impact of getting old is riveting the attention of the 26% of the U.S. who are part of the “Baby Boom.” In 2011 this group started reaching the age we have commonly thought of as the time to retire, and will continue, at the rate of 10,000 each day, to do so until 2030. It’s not just the Boomers, of course. We’re all getting older and aging affects not only us individually but our family, friends, co-workers, employers, healthcare providers, creditors, as well as  _____________  (fill in the blank). The sense we have of the passage of time changes as we age, and while younger people may wish for the advantages that come with “growing up,” those who are already “grown up” tend to be less eager for what more years will bring. Dr. Gawande makes the point that “…how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.” Greater awareness of our time’s limits helps us refine what we attend to and how we use the time available and I can think of few things better to think about and act on than, as Sherry Anderson puts it, how to “ripen[2] well.”

The positive effect of knowing that our choices can contribute significantly to the quality of our life as we age is augmented by the fact that most of the helpful choices are easy to grasp and not difficult to do.

I will expand on this theme in articles to come and must, before ending this, identify one of the very best choices we can make to help ourselves: keep moving. One of the very best bits of wisdom I’ve heard came from an elderly couple camping in the Pacific northwest, who said, “If you want to do something when you’re old, never stop doing it.” So if you are conscientiously exercising, good for you! Keep it up. If not, become more active. Walk, garden, stretch, dance, climb a tree, get out in the yard with the grandkids….  Look for opportunities to get out of your chair, out of your car and move your body. Even a little natural movement is good and will lead to a little more as the benefits build. Having a companion or two to share your activity will make it even more enjoyable and thus more likely to become a part of what you regularly do. Soon, when your friends ask how you got to where you were going, you can say, as Hawaiians may,

Maluna mai nei au o ka wa`a kaulua, he `umi ihu. (I came on a double canoe with ten prows.)

Meaning, “I walked. The ‘double canoes’ are one’s two feet and the ‘ten prows’ are his toes.”[3]

© 2015. Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD


[1] Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Atul Gawande, Metropolitan Books

[2] (‘Brought by aging to full flavor or the best state, mellow’). See sherryruthanderson.com

[3] `Olelo No`eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Mary Kawena Pukui, Bishop Museum Press