Hāmākua Hawai`i

Streams of Hamakua



                     Most of the water that finds its way to the bottom of Waipi`o comes from the Kohala side, down the drainages of Koiawe, Alakahi and Kawainui, beyond the boundary of Hamakua.  Along the Hilo-side pali of Waipi`o, the Hi`ilawe and Waima sections of the Valley, there are springs that send water down to the Valley floor, but not many streams spilling over the rim, especially during times of little rain.  The kahawai (gulches) Waikoekoe and Waiulili run through the village of Kukuihaele, and Kaluahine goes along the edge of the pali, crossing under the road into the Valley just below the lookout, where the road makes a sharp turn at the bridge over the gulch.  Waikoekoe, near the Last Chance Store, seems to run only in heavy rainfalls.  Waiulili runs with water released from Lalakea Reservoir, which is supplied from Lalakea Stream, a mile to the west or the reservoir.  Kaluahine usually only has water when Ditch flow is diverted into it, such as when repairs down the ditch from there must be made.

Waipi`o’s side valley of Hi`ilawe has three main drainages that contribute water to the floor of Waipi`o.  Ipu`u is the first stream (coming from east to west) that actually drops water over the edge into the Valley, since the others mentioned above put their water right into the ocean.  Ipu`u has been dry most of the time for the past several years, though springs on the pali down below put water into its streambed.

Hakaloa, Hi`ilawe Falls’ “twin,” is the next in line.  These days, it ordinarily has such a small trickle that it is not visible from a distance and looks as if it isn’t running at all. Hakalaoa was for years channeled up above into Lalakea.  This latter re-routing occurred late in the sugar plantation time, after flooding  and associated landslides in 1989 damaged the Lower Hamakua Ditch tunnel behind Hakalaoa Falls in the head of Hi`ilawe side-valley.  For years water poured out of the opening part-way up the pali.  Repair of the system involved elimination of the falls dropping into the newly exposed tunnel.  Plantation bulldozers cut through a narrow strip of land up top that separated the two streams, so that the water of Hakalaoa pours into Lalakea.  It took three years and about three million dollars to repair the tunnel behind the falls, compared with 14 months and $150,000 to complete the whole nine-mile system in 1910.

Lalakea, the stream that flows over the pali to become Hi`ilawe, is to the west of Hakalaoa.  Hi`ilawe itself has, more often than not over the past few years, been so low that it hasn’t flowed out of the plunge pool some 200 feet down, going instead down the inside of the pali through cracks in the bottom of that first pool.  A major portion of Lalakea, as mentioned above, is diverted upstream into a tunnel system that takes it a mile away to Lalakea reservoir, from which it is sent into fish ponds and to a rancher.  The left-over water taken from Lalakea, rather than becoming Hi`ilawe Falls, dumps into Waiulili stream, as described earlier.

The only other water flowing over the rim of Waipi`o on this side is Kakeha.  It drains a rather small area of land owned by Parker Ranch and it was, a few weeks ago, barely moist.  Kakeha’s water goes into the Waima branch of Waipi`o, the part of the Valley that goes almost straight back from the beach toward Waimea.

When rainfall is heavy, of course, the streambeds fill and rush with runoff.  They often are discolored with soil washing away and we notice the stain in the ocean.  Shortly after the rain ceases, the streams begin to drop, and if the weather stays dry, most of them will stop flowing again.  In the times when the upland forests were intact, changes in stream flow were apparently not so extreme.  The forests caught and held the rain and cloud mist, slowly releasing it over time.  With the destruction of the forests, the sponge-like qualities of the foliage and ground were lost and the effects of heavy rain became noticeably more destructive.  In her book, Sugar Water, Carol Wilcox describes the long-standing concern that the watersheds of Kohala and Hamakua were changing adversely and quotes from a government report prepared in response to a drought in 1902: “Today the land is dry and unable to support life by reason of the lack of water.  Old inhabitants of Kohala and Hamakua … corroborate one another in stating that not many years ago there was a very large native population in those sections, and that the streams which are now dry were once considered unfailing.”  Ms. Wilcox also quotes J. Waldron, a manager for the Hawaiian Irrigation Company, as worrying in 1924 that the forests of upper Hamakua were vanishing rapidly.  He observed that the `ohi`a trees were dying, the ferns were unhealthy, and that the trees below and around Pu`u Alala (the now-forested hill sitting amid cow pastures, toward the Valley from Lakeland) were gone.

Instead of continually flowing streams, we now have streambeds that are mostly dry, but in stormy times become channels for muddy rushing water that carry soil to the sea, adversely impacting life there.  These conditions also obviously challenge the survival of the creatures, such as o`opu, that live in the streams.  The basic human need for water is not just for drinking, but for the support of all life.  Reduplication of wai, the Hawaiian word for fresh water, waiwai, means “wealth.”  We all know it when we think about it, but the subsistence culture of ka po`e kahiko, the people of old, had continuously in mind, Ola i ka wai: Life comes from water.


Copyright 2003 Hugh Montgomery, PhD

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

Hāmākua Hawai`i

Hamakua i ke ala ulili.  “Hamakua of the steep trails.”

(Title from `Olelo No`eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings, by Mary Kawena Pukui.)

One of the most interesting ways to learn about the view people in times past had of the land is to hear the stories that have been passed down.  In many ways, the proverbs and sayings of ka po’e kahiko — the people of old – are a distillation of such stories.  Rather like a poem, such expressions compress the ideas about places, the images people used to have about areas that they may have visited or just heard about from others who traveled more extensively.  The crowning achievement of Mary Kawena Pukui’s long and productive career as an interpreter of her Hawaiian culture was the compilation of her collection of proverbs and sayings in the book referenced above.  Of particular value is the series of indexes in the book: not only is there a general index, but one for personal names, for plants and animals, and for places.  If one wants to know the reputation an area had for people in times far past, looking up the sayings about that area gives a good idea.

When it comes to sayings about Hamakua and Waipi`o, it is the rugged grandeur of the landscape that is emphasized. Na pali alo lua o Waipi`o speaks of the Valley’s cliffs facing each other.  Hamakua i ka wakawaka tells of the gulches and valleys characteristic of the land in our district – “irregular and rough Hamakua.”  The saying that heads this article describes the steep trails of Hamakua, and in doing so, points to the geological events that create the conditions necessitating trails going sharply up and down.

Most of the eastern side of Hamakua is on Mauna Kea, but a portion around Kukuihaele is on lava from Kohala.  The district also extends along the windward cliff-and-valley coast of Kohala volcano past Waimanu and Honopue Valleys.  Kohala, Hawai`i Island’s only extinct volcano, has had no eruptive activity for an estimated 60,000 years.  Mauna Kea, our Island’s only dormant volcano, has been eruptively quiet for about 3,300 years. The last acts of Hawaiian volcanoes sees a shift from effusive eruptions of molten rock to explosive eruptions of pulverized material that falls to the ground as cinders and/or ash.  For a very long time, then, the main geological activity impacting these slopes has been erosion.

It is only when the lava is covered by ash, in fact, that flowing streams begin to develop and significant fresh water erosion begins to occur.  It takes some explanation to convey to visitors why they cannot see flowing rock and flowing water in the same area!  We are all familiar with the lack of standing or flowing water on the flanks of Kilauea and Mauna Loa – even their windward slopes.  If the ground surface were not almost entirely porous rock, water would accumulate and Kilauea would have geysers, thermal pools and other features similar to those seen at Yellowstone, the other U.S.  National Park located over a geological “hot spot.”

Once the ground is covered with ash, at any rate, rainfall, instead of percolating into the surface, begins to flow over the surface.  Drops become trickles, trickles turn into rivulets and thence to streams.  As the volume of the flowing water increases, particles of soil begin to be displaced and channels start to form  (most residents here know about Ka ua wa`awa`ahia o Waipi`o – “The furrow-cutting rain of Waipi`o”).  As erosion progresses, the streams continue to cut down through ash layers and become powerful and debris-bearing enough to begin to erode the underlying lava.  Since lava flows differ in their density, they erode at different rates and waterfalls begin to appear at the edge of harder rock.  As experience of this Island reveals, some of its beautiful features occur only on the rainy sides of the oldest volcanoes.

One consequence of the water undoing the creations of Pele is that as we traverse the windward flanks of Mauna Kea and Kohala we frequently encounter steep-sided kahawai, or gulches.  Thus, the ala ulili, down one side and up the other.  Those traveling on foot count themselves fortunate if they are on a trail, steep though it may be, that takes them across the kahawai.  Lacking a trail developed by humans, in fact, travelers are well advised to stay up on the side until they find a pig trail, since these creatures are quite familiar with the best ways to cross such obstacles.

Isabella Bird, describing her visit here in 1873, wrote of her astonishment when, on a ride from Hilo toward Waipi`o, her mounted guide suddenly disappeared in front of her!  She quickly understood when she came to the side of the precipice to see him sliding on his horse down the pali and had to overcome her own considerable hesitation in following.  It was a measure of her progress when, some months later, as she ended a day of riding solo from Waimea she did not hesitate to urge her mount over the edge to take evening shelter with the residents of Laupahoehoe.

These days, of course, highway bridges take us right across the kahawai, going between Waipi`o and Hilo, only into the three with sweeping curves at Ka`awali`i, Laupahoehoe and Maulua.  The old trails have often disappeared under brush, landslides or construction projects.  Finding and walking on the remaining ala is like traveling to an earlier time.  And whether or not you get to walk on an old trail, take a look at the gulches as you drive the awesome Hamakua Coast.  Think about what it would be like to cross them on foot.  Honor the skill and determination of the people of times past by whispering softly, “Hamakua i ke ala ulili.”

Hāmākua Hawai`i

Hi`ilawe, Waipi`o, Hamakua

The most outstanding feature of the windward coast of the Island of Hawai`i is the valley of Waipi`o.  For most visitors and many residents, the magnificent view from the lookout at the end of Hwy. 240 is their image of the Valley.  Some pursue their interest further, getting down to the floor of the Valley.  The beautiful and powerful shoreline leaves a lasting impression, and the vistas toward the back of the Valley make one wonder what happened to create such a dramatic landscape. Waipi`o is geologically complex.  Many forces have come together to produce it, water being foremost.  Five different major stream systems contribute to the water in it, each carving a deep canyon that carries water to the main river, known either as Waipi`o or Wailoa River.

Particularly noticeable from much of the front of the Valley is the famous waterfall, Hi`ilawe. Lalakea Stream winds from the pu`u on the flat Hamakua-side of Waimea to spill over the edge of the Valley as Hi`ilawe Falls.  For much of Lalakea’s course, it follows the boundary of Kohala and Mauna Kea volcanoes.  Other smaller streams have helped Hi`ilawe cut back the rim of the Valley to form the Hi`ilawe side-valley, including Hi`ilawe’s “twin”, Hakalaoa, as well as Ipu`u, further to the east.

Place Names of Hawai`i translates “Hi`ilawe” as, “lift [and] carry.”  The authors comment that this “…highest free-fall waterfall in Hawai`i and one of the highest in the world…is now usually dry, as the stream is diverted for irrigation.”  Lalakea-becoming-Hi`ilawe drops about 200 feet into a plunge pool.  Cracks in the pool drain the falls down the inside of the pali if the volume of the flow is not fairly large.  When the amount of water pouring over is great enough, the stream fills the pool and spills out another 1,000 vertical feet.

As is true of all the significant streams that feed into Waipi`o,  Hakalaoa and Lalakea/Hi`ilawe have water taken from them.  Lalakea Stream is partially diverted through a mile-long tunnel system into Lalakea Reservoir while Hakalaoa is, curiously, channeled into Lalakea.  This latter re-routing occurred late in the sugar plantation time, after flooding  and associated landslides in 1989 damaged the Lower Hamakua Ditch tunnel behind Hakalaoa Falls in the head of Hi`ilawe side-valley.  Even today water pours out of the opening part-way up the pali.  Repair of the system involved elimination of the falls dropping into the newly exposed tunnel.  Plantation bulldozers cut through the narrowest strip of land up top that separated the two streams, channeling Hakalaoa into Lalakea.  Last year the State Water Commission ordered the restoration of Hakalaoa to its natural course, but that work has not yet begun.

Mythological and historical figures, including Lono and Umi-a-Liloa, are associated with Hi`ilawe.  In modern times, such artists as Gabby Pahinui and Herb Kawainui Kane have celebrated the beauty and fame of Hi`ilawe.  Its hold is strong on the hearts of many.


Copyright 2003 by Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD


aging well

Aging Well: Facing Facts

(One) not busy being born is busy dying… Bob Dylan

I’ve written before about the futility of lamenting, ignoring or distorting the facts of our real situations as we walk our paths through life. The failure to accept what is – while not losing sight of the likelihood that it can be improved – is a very common source of distress, frustration and wasted time. I speak from personal experience with this observation. After years of study of human psychology and thousands of hours working with others to resolve life’s inevitable difficulties, I am pleased each time I am able to overcome my impatience with things not matching my expectations and preferences, exercising instead a closer examination of the facts of the matter. When we really think about it, it’s clear that a firm grounding in reality is the best place to start effectively dealing with whatever challenges we face.

Maybe you’ve noticed, or maybe not, but this is the first column in the series for some months. When I was leading the sessions in January and February at the North Hawai`i Education and Research Center on the subject of “living well as long as possible” I didn’t have time to work on writing about it. After the course was complete, I had lost traction with the process and didn’t get back to it until now. I need your help in deciding whether or not the time and effort involved in producing this material serves a useful purpose for our community.

As I attempt to engage with the task of writing this I have been forced to recognize that my enthusiasm for engaging with the facts of aging and the ultimate outcome of getting older is not widely shared. It’s been said that there is nothing certain but death and taxes, and it seems that few of us really want to deal with either.  It’s easy to relate to that dislike and yet there are many reasons to overcome our hesitation and to discover what we can do to reduce the undesirable parts of what absolutely must be (I’m really talking about the approaching end of life, since the matter of taxation has many more possible outcomes).

The story of the Buddha is based on the transformation of a privileged and protected young prince who belatedly observes the reality of old age, sickness and death. He is shocked into a fully committed quest for the fundamental truth of life to deal with these facts. Modern research into human well-being supports the importance of contemplative practices and many other choices that improve our condition and our ability to deal with the transitions associated with aging. We all will die and unless somethings more suddenly cuts us off from living, we have to go through the process of aging. There are lots of ways to do that, and the choices we make in this regard can make major differences in how it goes for us and those around us. I’m interested in everyone doing the best we can with these choices and think it’s useful for us to share what we can learn about them.

© 2016 Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD



aging well

Aging Well in Good Company

The company we keep, it turns out, makes a major difference in the quality of our lives. Not only that, it affects both our time span and our health span. Research in this matter finds that emotional states are contagious: when our companions are cheerful, so are we likely to be; when we associate with those who are discouraged, we tend to share that sort of feeling. Habits follow the same patterns: health-oriented friends make it more likely we will share the kinds of choices that lead to health, while associates who are indifferent to this issue will make it less probable that we will give it much consideration. Our emotional states as well as our behavioral choices – such as what and how much we eat and how active we are – strongly affect the quality and duration of our life.

Several months ago this column considered the Blue Zones project now underway in north and east Hawai`i. This program aims to make it easier to engage with lifestyle choices in our communities conducive to extended health span (“live better longer” is their way of summarizing it) and it emphasizes several social elements. Their studies suggest that belonging to a faith-based group does a lot to increase aging well. It does make sense that there are significant advantages in terms of managing stress and finding meaning in our lives to be part of a group that shares a central set of beliefs and provides direct, personal encouragement and support for dealing with life’s challenges. According to Blue Zones data, people who belong to and regularly attend a faith-based organization can live 4 – 14 years longer than those who do not.

A good family life is obviously conducive to a sense of comfort and support. The Hawaiian tradition of `ohana clearly reflects the recognition of that fact and the associated cultural habit of extending acceptance and generosity to a circle wider than blood relations makes for a happier and more secure community. Not all of us grew up in the kind families we would have chosen and it requires considerable effort when that’s the case to understand and to practice the kindness that improves the situations we create as we bond to others, taking on the responsibility of enhancing life circumstances for offspring and partners. One of the rewards of making gains in this respect is a longer and better life for all involved.

“Wine @ 5:00” is another way Blue Zones suggests to live better longer. They include the caution that this guidance only applies to those for whom alcohol is not problematic and the inclusion of a specific time of day conveys the need for boundaries on the amount and duration of drinking. The main thrust of this notion is that a bit of indulgence in a safe situation with congenial companionship is in most long-life cultures a tradition that contributes to living well as long as possible.

In general, having friendly, supportive people in our lives is obviously helpful, especially when it comes to handling the more challenging times. Blue Zones advocates connections similar to the Okinawan morai, a group of five (or so) that meets together regularly to share the burdens and the joys of their experiences. At his Waimea presentation last month Dan Buettner, the instigator of the Blue Zones concept, had images of a group of women from Okinawa who had been a morai for 95 years! Imagine the sense of continuity and shared knowledge they must have! Life companions are a major contribution to aging well, especially if they take care of themselves wisely and have kind intentions in their relationship to others and their surroundings.

All these positive ways of connecting are so logical when they’re spelled out. If asked the right questions probably any of us would have come up with these concepts on our own. But there are several aspects to the concept of good company that might escape our considerations: One is the importance of respecting and appreciating ourselves. The way we think about and the value we place on ourselves is the foundation of our relationships. It is often the case that we are more judgmental and harsh with ourselves than we are with anyone else. It promotes our well-being to extend compassion to ourselves and to appreciate our ability to have survived all the scary, discouraging and confusing situations we have had to deal with over the span of our lives. We humans take in and retain negative experiences much more readily than positive ones. We tend to highlight the mistakes we’ve made and set aside the memories of times we have performed well. We have consciously to counteract that innate tendency with acknowledgement of our competencies and the fact that we’ve done well enough to have made it this far. Think of being a good friend to yourself, giving to you the acceptance, kindness and tolerance that you offer the people you care most about.

The second less evident aspect of good company is well beyond our everyday awareness: it’s our microbiome. Like it or not, one of the ways we can think of ourselves is as a habitat for other life forms — a host for large numbers of other beings. Trillions of microbes live in or on us. That population is known as our microbiome. All together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds and the roles they play in our well-being appears to be extensive; just what they do and how they do it is the subject of a large and growing body of research efforts. Some two million unique bacterial genes are found it each of our microbiomes (compared with 23,000 in our cells). The ones in our intestines secrete many different chemicals, some doing the predictable work of processing what we take in, some appearing to be involved in complications such as irritable bowel syndrome, and some of which are the same as those used by our neurons (brain cells) to communicate and regulate mood. The possibility exists, though the scientists doing this work are cautious in the extreme to avoid promising too much, that they are able to alter the barriers to passage of chemicals out of the gut and into the brain; the intriguing potential that mental conditions might be caused by and altered with changes in our microbiomes is now being considered.[i]

Another recent report found that isolation of subjects in a perfectly clean environment shed biological particles from their microbiomes—bacteria, viruses, spores and more—at the rate of a million each hour into the air. Individuals seem to emit their own distinct personal microbial cloud, which of course, mingles with the clouds of those around them.[ii] We share and exchange with others much more than we might have thought: another reason to take good care of ourselves and to keep good company!

© Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD




[i] Peter Andrey Smith in The New York Times Magazine, June 23, 2015

[ii] Jeffrey Kluger in Time.com, Sept. 23, 2015

aging well

Aging Well – With Challenges

The words we use to express ourselves reflect the way we think. Thought patterns can take many forms and the characteristics of those forms lead to recognizable types of thought patterns such as “optimistic” or “pessimistic,” “fearful” or “confident,”  “friendly” or “aggressive,” and many other categories. Life presents many experiences of events that are not the way we prefer them to be and the way we describe those conditions not only reveals our thought patterns, but predicts our way of dealing with them.

If such events are thought of as a “problem,” we are likely to be upset by them: disappointment, frustration, anger, or other kinds of pain will probably follow. If they are instead regarded as “challenges,” we may think of them as opportunities to look more closely at the elements of the situation as a first step in reconsidering the mismatch between what we want and what we have, in order to rearrange our desires, our resources and our approach to minimize the mismatch.

I confess that for much of my life I tended to take as a personal problem such things as non-starting cars, unresponsive computers, inconvenient mistakes on my part or that of others, and any number of other situations. Feelings of potential catastrophe, personal inadequacy, frustration and anger – among others – would ensue. Many things have helped me move away from such reactions, and none of them have had a stronger effect than observing my kids dealing with such events as if they were challenges, tending to take an analytical approach to the mishap, often actually physically taking a closer look at the item in question, seeking a more complete understanding of what actually was going on. When I saw their calm instead of the upset I would have experienced and observed their ability often to go on to remedy the issue, meeting the challenge, I began to emulate their approach and to develop a greater sense of possibly meeting such challenges myself. It seems that the adult should be modeling such skills for the youngsters but I have the great privilege of having kids who in many ways are wiser than I am. Other individuals, too, such as the professional firefighters our volunteer company works with, have modeled this kind of unemotional, interested, systematic and focused response to things “going wrong,” giving me the opportunity to learn to emulate their style.

As we age, we have the choice to reduce the range of our behaviors. We can become less social, less involved with things we used to do, to cut back on our physical and mental activities and let go of interests we used to have. Problems? Who needs them? Challenges? That’s for someone younger, we might think. The fact is, that slippery slope of avoiding challenges is a very dangerous one. Problems, yes; we should do all we can to minimize life’s inevitable upsets, and that’s best done by thinking about them differently. A good way to do that is to convert our thinking about them, making them be challenges: those we need to extend our health span!

One of the lessons most important to me when I began learning about yoga many years ago was the fact that the practice is as helpful to the stiff and awkward beginner as it is to the flexible and strong practitioner. Moving and positioning the body attentively, gently challenging present limits brings rewards, whatever the level of one’s skill. That’s a good model for the kinds of challenges we can all benefit from: choosing freely challenges to match our interests and intentions, taking care not to overextend or injure ourselves, not comparing ourselves with others whose accomplishments exceed our own, functioning with all the awareness of our on-going experiences we can muster, and observing – without getting hooked by judgements about them – the thoughts and feelings that arise as a result of our engagement with these challenges.

So many opportunities for rewarding challenges surround us. A friend suggested that a helpful element for this series of articles would be addressing the positive consequences of keeping mentally engaged. It’s an important part of aging well and there are many ways to do this. Volunteer to help with some community activity you value and you’re sure to find both social interaction (a big potential plus) and the chance to exercise your skills in figuring out the best way to accomplish a task and to remedy situations that present challenges. Take a class at NHERC (such as the one I’m offering,  “Living Well As Long As Possible”); go to an informative presentation, such as those offered at Tutu’s House. Look on-line or in books or magazines for brain-training games and programs that provide practice in memorization, attentional focus, and figuring out puzzles. Opening ourselves to new information, to different ways of thinking about the ever-present questions of life, and the always challenging and engrossing possibility of re-evaluating our own life story: all low-cost, stimulating and entertaining ways to help ourselves to live well as long as possible.

If you’ve read earlier columns in this series, you know I’m a believer in the value of moving through the natural world on foot. That will be a key element in the course I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph. About 11 months ago I incorporated into my life a device called a “fitness tracker.” A number of different kinds are available; guided by relatives who had been using them and reviews of the various makes, I chose the Fitbit Charge HR. The “HR” denotes the capability to monitor heart rate and that was a key element in the advice I gleaned from a book I referenced in an earlier article, “Younger Next Year.” This device gives me on-the-wrist real-time information about my heart rate, the number of steps I have taken, the miles I’ve walked, the number of “floors” I’ve climbed (that is, the number of elevation gains in units of 10 feet), and an estimate of calories burned, all since the midnight that started the day I’m in. When I synch the device with my computer, much more data is available, including the activity level for the day, broken into time segments, my sleep patterns and way more than you’re probably interested in knowing about. The key thing here is that the device itself presents a challenge to me. Its presence reminds me to move throughout the day every day and on a three-day backpack trip I took last week, it reinforced my efforts to deal with challenge as it recorded 47,393 steps, 24.15 miles and 391 floors (that is, 3,910 feet of vertical elevation gain) – challenges only exceeded in intensity by the data from a day of fighting fire on the rim of Waipi`o Valley earlier this year.

So think about it: what can you enjoy doing today that would be a bit of a stretch for you? What physical, mental, social or spiritual activity would draw you to do a little more than you’re accustomed to doing? Maybe, as you finish reading this, you will gently align your body, focus on releasing any physical tension not needed to keep you comfortably positioned, take a good number complete breaths and let the direction come to you. Have a good time with whatever it is!

© Hugh R. Montgomery, PhD, 2015