Thursday, December 20, 2012

Night Visitors


Kahaluu, sunset
Snorkeling in the Dark, Kahaluu, Hawaii 2012
We had this great idea of snorkeling at night on our own, without a guide in a controlled environment.  All we needed was good water and a couple of underwater flashlights, and a couple more lights for the camera. 

We picked Kahaluu Beach for our after dark outing.  We are familiar with the layout, and the water is not deep, an average of four feet.  We knew the menehue barrier that helps keep the waves down, would also help keep us from accidently getting too far from shore.  There is a large pavillion at the small beach entrance.  Did I mention flashlights?  One of the necessary preparations is to provide batteries for the lights.  Four untested underwater lights and twenty-eight rechargable batteries!  I said, twenty-eight batteries.  Whoa, that's a lot of batteries.  With all that "battering," you would think we would get more than a hour of light.  There is a light at the shore entrance, so that if our batteries ran out we could swim towards the light. 

Our first venture out was not as expected.  The waves were a little high making it easy to get separated.  Night snorkeling is a little disorienting.  The black lava rock on the waters edge becomes nothing but a shadow without any recognizable shapes.  We were also concerned about how long the lights would last.  Best keep close to the shore. 

We did get separated and Engela headed bact to shore.  When my camera lights died, we called it a night, but we did get an idea of what we would see at night.

coral banded shrimp
Coral banded shrimp also called candy cane shrimp.


This next venture out was a lot of fun.  At first there was not a lot of sealife; a lizard fish burying himself in a sandy place, a large eel poking his head out of hole for a quick peek, and a collection of small solitary fish.  We felt a little guilty for waking them with our lights.  We then headed for the larger corals.  This is where the nightlife was happening.  Every crevice seemed to be crawling or occupied with a creature.  As we shined our lights toward these holes, little eyes lit up, tiny pairs of light bulbs.  They were shrimp - pretty little things - green ones, red ones, large and small ones.  Most were very shy and headed back into the inner levels of their condos.  They were about three to four inches long.  A couple were longer than six inches; I think these were prawns.  

We really like the candy cane shrimp.  They have a little more personality with thier red and white stripes and electric-blue bellies.

Here is our quick video with two eels, a flat fish, brittle star fish, a spiny sea cucumber, and a blenny.




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Four Fishes, A Little Murky Swim, Waialea Bay, HI

It was late in the day, and we wanted to try a different snorkel spot.  The baker at Up Country Bakery recommended Puako Bay.  We followed the localized directions and ended up one bay north at Waialea Bay.  Our target is the small island a few yards off shore.  The surf is a little choppy, but we head on into the water.  Sandy beaches are not good for visibility with choppy waters.

It was a pretty good swim.  Interesting terrain and a good collection fishes.  A cornet fish was particularly photogenic.


The crown of thorns sea star struck a dramatic pose as I filmed her.


Bill filming a crown of thorns sea star.
Bill filming a crown of thorns sea star.
 We will return to this spot when we can get here earlier in the day and when wind and wave conditions are better.  It seems like a great place for people who would like to swim, snorkel, and the sand it nice on the narrow beach, and there is plenty of shade.

To get to Waialea Bay take Highway 19 (Queens Hwy) north from Kona. Turn left towards the ocean onto Puako Road before mile marker 70.  Then turn right after you pass the trash dump.  The park access road will be on your left.   Park and walk past the bathrooms to the beach.  Walk south to the rock island.  When the ocean is calm, the sandy beach entrance is easy, and snorkeling is best around the island.

small island at Waialea Bay in Hawaii by Engela Edwards
Bill snorkeling to the island.
Some photos from this day.  Although there were lots of larger fish, because the water was cloudy the photos where we could get close to the fish came out the best.  Most of these are small fish.

Orange banded surgionfish by Engela Edwards
Very uniquely marked orange banded surgeonfish about 14 inches long.
 
Juvenile yellow-tail coris by Engela Edwards
Juvenile Yellow-tail Coris - Coris is one of Engela's favorite fish.  This one is about 4 inches long. 
 
Supermale Belted Wrasse  by Engela Edwards
Supermale Belted Wrasse about 6 inches long.  The first one Engela photographed.


Large fish.  Look at those pearly white teeth.


Tiny Spotted Boxfish with interesting markings over eyes.  Boxfish have lots of personality.

Arc-eye Hawkfish in a peach color standing in the coral.
 
Orange Crab in coral by Engela Edwards
We have to go back and see if we can tempt this tiny bright-orange crab out of the coral to get a better photo.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lava Hike Fail

We have been to the volcano, night and day, but we have yet to see any lava.  The hot oozing deadly destructive molten stuff.  The local news is reporting that the flow has reached the ocean.  This is something we have to go see, options include a helicopter, a boat, or by foot.  Our thoughts are to go by foot to allow us time to sit and admire the event.  How far of a hike can it be?  The flow is not in the Volcanoes National Park.  Getting to the flow by foot has two approaches, from the national park side and from the county park side.  The county has a lava viewing park which is on the east side of the flow.  With the flow being east of the national park and closer to the county park, the county park seems to be the easiest path.  With a little research, we determined it is a 4 to 5 hour hike from the national park, and a 2 hour hike from the county park.  Round trip or one way, hmmm, not sure.

Big Island Lava Trek
Attempt Number 1 - The County Lava Viewing Park
Attempt Number 2 - The Trail in Volcanoes National Park
Off to the county park we go.  We headed out a little late from Kailua.  It's about a 3 hour drive to the county park.  That is if you go directly there and don't take a couple of wrong turns.  This park has strange hours, open from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.


View from the county park side.
The Lava View (or rather gasses from the lava).

We get there at about 3:00 p.m.  The plan is still in good shape.  Hike to the flow in daylight, hike back in the dark.  We load up our cameras, flashlights, extra batteries, and water; then head down the directed path.  This path is an easy one-lane asphalt road laid on top of the lava.  The park attendants (code for private security guards) tell us it is a short 10-minute walk to the viewing area.  Hmmmm, that's okay, but we're headed beyond that and looking at the size of many people's backpacks so are they.  Signs of private property and Civil Defense Area are posted on the road and along the trail.  It is interesting to see the sporadic house precariously placed in the lava field.



One of the houses standing in defiance.  

...aaaand here we are at the end of the trail in the viewing area.  A security guard is there telling a little about the flow, but mostly telling people that this is the end of the trail, and any further, you would be on private property, which isn't allowed.  The only access beyond this point is by permit from the Civil Defense or with an approved guide.  We're told that these guides coordinate with the property owners in the area to allow specific access.  I'm sure with just a little revenue sharing.  The view from the viewing area is no different than the view from the parking lot.  Well this is a bust.


End of the line.
Not wanting to waste the 3 hour drive, we head on over to Kilauea in the national park.  There might be some action going on in the caldera.  It is cool to see the pit at night all aglow.  

View of the caldera from Jager Museum.
Night view of the caldera from Jaggar Museum.
A couple of pictures and now what?  We'll head down to coast in the park to see what there is to see at night.  We get to the turn around about 8:30 p.m.

We park.  Might as well take a little walk, maybe just go as far as the pavement goes.  Since it's a short walk, I dump half my water and only take the little camera.  As we head beyond the parking area, we meet a young man who is also starting out.  He says he is headed for the flow.  I'm a little impressed.  We walk with him for short time until his pace just out does ours.  He is gone into the darkness, and quickly we can't see the light from his flashlight.  It is amazing just how dark it is.  No moon tonight, and we're conserving our flashlight batteries.  We have three flashlights purchased for this adventure, and an extra set of batteries with us.  Dark asphalt, dark black lava rock, and dark night, nothing to see.  We stay on the road only because of the white markings on the side of the old road.  When the white markings disappear under the black lava, we turn on a flashlight.  We would have fallen over a waist-high pile of old lava flow if we hadn't had the flash lights.  Okay, let's go a little further.  We shine our lights forward and they hit a series of reflectors that have been placed along a path.  Now, this is not a path that's been prepped in any other way.  It's just a guided direction over the old flows.  The rocks are sharp and at times sound like your walking on broken glass.  Concentration on each step is required.  Aaaand here we are at the sign "end of trail".

Photo of trail at night!
Photo of trail at night!

We've been blocked by an "end of trail" again, or have we.  Up on the hill to the left, there is a flashing yellow light, like those used to control traffic in construction zones on the highway.  Then looking down the perceived path, you can see another flashing yellow light.  With a little effort, you can see three or four lights.  Well the walk wasn't so bad so far, maybe we can hike to the lava flow, and off we go.  The strange thing is the sound of the ocean; it is always forward and to right a little, but never directly to the right where it should be.  We are hiking along the coast, but if you head for the sound, I don't think you would ever get to it.  We made it to the first beacon.  Not too bad.  Occasionally a little disconcerting, as you go down into a gully or just not being on top of a hill, you lose sight of the beacons.  Standing here at the first beacon I can't see the original starting beacon.  Okay, another check to see if we want to continue, then off we go again.  Using our phone with GPS, we figure we might be about a fourth of the way.  An hour and a half in and we are on course.  We made it to beacon two.  Not as confident as before, we head off again for the flashing light in the distance.  I keep hoping that we're going to get to these flashing lights lined up along an area as a warning to keep off the hot lava.

Up ahead, a pair of lights are coming toward us, a couple of hikers coming back from our intended goal.  As we meet and greet, we try to get a little understanding of what we should expect for the rest of our trek.  They tell us the lava flow was great, it is hitting the water and the glow is amazing.  Just keep on the path, then as you pass the seventh beacon, it's only another 3 miles beyond the park boundary.  It's not marked but just head further east and towards the ocean.  They only had two problems, not enough water, and a hard time finding the flow beyond the last beacon.  It took them 5 hours to get there.

Now it's time for a reality check.  We headed off on this trip with minimal information.  We did not bring a lot of water.  It's 10:00 at night, at best, we might make it to the flow and back by 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning.  Each beacon we reached was an accomplishment, now there are five more beacons to accomplish.  Then there is a no-beacon land.  At night.  Do we have enough batteries?

It took us two hours to get back to the car.  We made it home around three o'clock.  We're exhausted. 

End of trail.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Manta Ray Night Snorkel

If you come to the Big Island, you have to visit the Manta Rays.  You just have to.  The best and most exciting way to do this is by swimming with them.  Other ways are to ride in a glass bottom boat or enjoy the restaurant lanai at the Sheraton in the evening.  We've done all three.

Even though we chose to visit the Big Island, because of the ability to snorkel with the mantas, we waited until our son and daughter-in-love could go with us in November.

Edwards family
Waiting on the boat for others to arrive.
Engela, Chrystina, Eric, Rachel & Me (Bill)

For our manta snorkel, we chose a Sea Paradise because their tour leaves from Keauhou Bay arriving at the Sheraton in a whopping 10 minutes or less.  I've been told that the airport typically has more mantas, but due to the threat of my wife getting sea sick, we preferred the shorter boat trip.  All one needs is a mask, snorkel, and a short wetsuit, and all are provided by the tour operator for no additional charge.  We checked in at their store front in Keauhou Shopping Center, signed all the waivers, and put on the wetsuits they loaned us.  We chose to use our own mask and snorkel and not use fins. 

Once everyone has arrived at the boat, it is a very short ride to the mantas.  When the boat is secured and the raft with lights was ready, we walk down the steps into the ocean.  It is a short five yard swim, we grabbed hold of the raft, laid out flat, hung on, and waited.  If you don't see mantas you're given a pass to return and try again.  We began to wonder if we'd have to come back another night.

We knew the mantas were in the area, because we could hear snorkelers squealing from a neighboring kayak tour.  Still, it was a long wait, about thirty minutes in the water.  It was an easy wait, with the wet suits and a provided swim noodle to keep our feet up, it was just a matter of floating and holding on to the raft to keep us from floating away.  The time seemed to move slowly, even though we were occupied by watching the twenty or thirty fish and the plankton drawn to our lights. 




blue trevally by Bill Edwards TravelGravy.com
The 12 inch blue trevally provide a little entertainment.
Then, out of the darkness, a huge manta gracefully curls underneath us.  About ten feet below us, a barrel roll is started, moving up to within inches of our faces.  Not 24 inches, not 12 inches, but 4 or 5 inches.  Pass after pass, in and out of the light.  Another Manta joins in, and then another.  This was exciting; not scary. 



reef manta by Bill Edwards TravelGravy.com
Snorkeler and Manta.  Yes, that close!
I had complete faith in these animals.  There was an occasional brush or slight bump by a wing tip.  All I could think about was wanting to touch them or make a quick dive following them down, but we'd been told not to do this.  Mantas can't swim backwards, and we might get in their way.  Touching them takes away the protective coating on their skin and makes them sick.

The snorkelers from another boat swam to our raft since we had the mantas.  Their divers swam beneath us with three mantas sandwiched between us.


Reef Manta approximately 12 feet wing tip to wing tip.
This continued for about 45 minutes.  The mantas seemed to get their fill of plankton, were tired of showing off, or were ready to check out the other tour boat for plankton, and so they swam away.  We exited the water, all of us in awe of what we had just witnessed.  As the boat prepared to leave, the Mantas returned to the lights as if to say good bye.

Watch the Manta Rays as they somersault closer and closer.

Notes from Engela: 

1.  Even though many ads say that you don't have to have experience, don't do this as your first snorkeling adventure.  You won't appreciate the mantas or snorkeling. 

2.  Check the wave and weather reports yourself, and wait until the surf was low and the winds were from the east.  I don't recommend trying this during a period of Kona Winds or when there is a surf advisory or small boat advisory.

3.  We chose a good evening, but I wasn't the only one who got sick in the water.  Make sure if your susceptible that you take a motion sickness pill an hour before your tour, and wait to eat diner until after the manta snorkel.

If I had it to do again.  I would wait until everyone arrived before boarding the boat so I wouldn't have been on the boat as long.  I would swim to the end of the raft furthest away from the boat, because the boats exhaust fumes added to the nausea. 



Also, see our first daytime swim with a reef manta in Hawaii.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Manta Rays at the Sheraton

The simplest way to view reef manta rays is to visit the Sheraton Resort Kona in Kailua-Kona at night. Off the back deck of the restaurant Rays on the Bay you will see the mantas glide through the waters right at the edge of the surf. It's not every night, but when they are there, it amazing to see the size of these animals. They skim the surface of the water feeding on the plankton attracted by the resort's bright lights. The area is where two ocean currents merge. It is common for a local volunteer to give a brief education on the life of the mantas.

Although it is not required to eat at the restaurant, I recommend it. It makes a nice evening of good food and entertainment. Every time we've been there the food, service, and live music have been excellent.

Rays on the Bay
Pictured the guacamame, vegetable egg rolls, and Veggie and Goat Cheese Pizza.
Rays' veggie pizza is my favorite on the island, and worth the trip.
Guacamame is a guacamole type dip made from edamame.  For more info on Rays on the Bay and see their menu you can visit their website at: http://www.raysonthebay.com/

We also did the manta glass bottom boat and the manta ray night snorkel.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Watching the Kona Ironman World Championship

I thought, “If one finds oneself on the Big Island during the Ironman World Championship, it would be silly not to experience a little of the excitement,” and I’m glad I did. 

Part of the Kona Ironman World Championship swimming course. 2012
Between the white water and the ships
is a line of volunteers and a line of swimmers.
For those who don’t know exactly what Ironman entails, it is a one day 2.4 mile ocean swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run.  Anyone would be proud to finish just one of these three events, but completing them all within the time limit in Kona makes one an Ironman (not gender specific).  

The morning of the race, while most people on the island were still sleeping, family, friends and fans of the athletes had lovingly written chalk encouragements on the street for their loved ones to read as they neared the finish line many hours later.  How many hours that would be depended on the individual.  


Part of the Kona Ironman World Championship swimming course. 2012
The beginning and ending location of the swim portion.
Spectators waiting for swimmers to come back to shore.
Ironman 2012:  Of the 1979 people who started the race, 95 percent finished it before the midnight time limit.  The fastest time was Australia's Pete Jacobs 8 hours and 18 minutes and 37 seconds.  While the last official finisher would come in more than 17 grueling hours after she began the race.  She swam for 2 hours and 10 minutes, taking less than 10 minutes to transition from swimming to biking; she than biked for 7 hour and 37 minutes, taking 12 minutes to transition to running; and then ran for 6 hour and 49 minutes, crossing the finish line seconds before the midnight deadline.  That person was Harriet Anderson who, although the last to finish within the time limit, won her age division (women 75-79).   

Part of the Kona Ironman World Championship 2012
The end of the course.
In fact everyone who started the race was already a winner.   It was already triumph to be standing at the starting line.  There was a palpable joy and exuberance associated with their having made it to the Ironman World Championship.   The energy of nearly 2000 participants, being buoyed by thousands of the friends and families, commingled with the support of thousands of volunteers

The event has such a positive spirit and energy to it.  The course is long, so there are plenty of places to get a good view.  If you enjoy a good story, watching an Iron Man World Championship is a great place to be, as the people around you are happy to tell you the story of “their athlete” as they wait.   

Kona Ironman World Championship 2012 supporters
Banners of support in many languages.  You do not
have to stand on a roof to get a good view.
The Official Results Guide forthe 2012 Kona Ironman World Championship makes some interesting reading.  More interesting is reading some tiny tidbits of few of the awe inspiring stories and other places around the web, and on the official IRONMAN website

What to wear to watch the race: Most likely you won’t be standing in the shade.  Wear a hat, sunscreen, and loose clothing.  Most importantly wear shoes that are comfortable for walking and for standing on hot concrete.  Yes, it is October, but I believe October is the hottest month for Kona.  It was sunny and muggy. 
Press at Kona Ironman World Championship 2012
Dress for heat and walking and bring a camera.

Wear sunscreen. Ironman 2012
Wear sunscreen.

Wear comfortable shoes. Ironman 2012
Wear comfortable shoes.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Manta Ray Glass Bottom Boat

One way to get a closer look at a reef manta rays on the Big Island is to take a ride in a glass bottom boat.

One leaves from the Kailua-Kona dock and goes to either behind the Sheraton or behind the airport, whichever place poses the best opportunity for the mantas to be present. Drinks and a simple snack are available, and the trip is a smooth opportunity to see the Kona coast at night.

For those not comfortable snorkeling with mantas at night, the glass bottom boat is a good way to see the mantas. One unexpected treat for us was when the crew turned off their underwater lights. We were amazed at the sight of all the glowing critters. As the boat scoots through the water, it agitates the little bio luminescent creatures causing them to show off their phosphorescent attributes. That was cool and the first time we'd seen anything like it.

reef manta photo by Engela Edwards (c) 2012
Reef manta under the glass bottom boat.
On our trip they stopped the boat in 12-feet deep water over a sandy bottom near the Sheraton. Not too long afterwards, a manta ray arrived swimming under the keel of the boat to feed on the concentration of plankton attracted by the ship's lights. It swam back and forth and did what is called barrel rolls, but what a pilot would call a backwards loop.  There may be one or many mantas. It is a beautiful sight.


reef manta by Engela Edwards (c) 2012
The underside of a female reef manta with an attached remora.
While the best way to see mantas requires getting wet (yep, that means night snorkeling), it was met with a little bit of timidity from some members of our group. Snorkeling is good, but at night? With big animals cruising around you in the dark? We built up to the night snorkel with mantas by visiting the Sheraton to see the mantas and taking this glass bottom boat first.  The glass bottom boat with its bright lights bouncing off the white sand only 12 feet from the surface made a manta night snorkel seem doable.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Chameleon

TG News Update

We were returning from Hookena and found a chameleon attempting to cross the two lane road.  In an effort to minimize casualties, we moved the wild beast off the path.  Hope it was the correct side.
Slowly it creeps up and over.

We were lucky to escape with our body parts intact.
There has never been a more docile lizard.  Slow and methodical with every step.  I think it would have spent the day crossing the pavement.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Step Turtles

What snorkeling adventure would be complete without eyeballing a turtle.  These are green sea turtles, honu in Hawaiian.  They will cruise through the blue waters to visit the various cleaning stations made available by the local reef fish.  Then ride the waves into the rocky shoreline looking for a decent patch of algae to munch on.  It's really interesting watching them navigate the waves and tidal surges to keep their beaks in position to make that strike at their salad.


A green sea turtle cruising above the coral in Hawaii.
Cruising above the coral on the lookout for a good salad.
It is fairly common to see a turtle along the Hawaiian coast.  They don't hesitate to occupy the same snorkeling spot with the tourist and locals alike.  Today this young turtle, in the video below, decided to follow us or we inadvertently picked the same snorkeling path.  We went from the Two Step entry point around to the north point of the bay and back.  The turtle would show up along our side periodically as if to check out if we had found anything good.  Most of the time one turtle looks like all the others, but our snorkel buddy had a small hole in the side of his shell.
A day of turtle watching.  He watched us as we watched him.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spotted a Spotted Eagle Ray, Kahalu'u


We started out the day by going to Keoneele Cove by the Place of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Because of the dangerously rough surf, we couldn't get in the water.  We've never seen it like that.  There were three people fishing at Two Step (the place where the divers and snorkelers enter the water).  The few people who were there were sitting on the lava, and no one was in the water.  Went to two other coves, and they were the same.

After 4 p.m. we went to Kahalu'u and, although not as clear as usual, we were able to snorkel.  We had a brief encounter with a spotted eagle ray.  He was about 4 feet in width and maybe 7 or 8 feet long, nose to tail.

Shallow water and close to the beach.

  • The water was murky at about 4:30 p.m., and the sky was hazy when we saw the ray.   We don't add any filters to the video, so you see it like we saw it.  You can upgrade the size and quality of the YouTube video by clicking the options on the bottom right when it is playing. 

The Florida Museum of Natural History has good info about spotted eagle rays.  http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/seray/seray.html

We know better than to go without checking first, but we'd always had such good luck snorkeling there.  

The National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office for Hawaii, keeps a listing of Active Watches and Warnings for the Islands (plus included phone numbers to call if you are away from the internet and want to check on weather conditions).  

There is also a Hawaiian Coastal Waters Forecast that I check.



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Water Child

Water Child by Engela Edwards (c) 2012
I wanted to share what I felt as the dolphins were swimming around me, disappearing into the blue depth then reappearing. 

I felt immense gratitude and peaceful joy.  It was the satisfaction of a journey completed. 

It seemed so little to say about an event so special, that I knew I had to share the journey to explain the feeling.


Mother and child swimming to me and then catching up with their pod.
July 1, 2012, Two Step, Honaunau, Big Island, Hawaii
Or to see the full 5-minute dolphin video click here.
I’ve been in love with water my whole life.  I often played in the tub until my skin was pruney and the water cold.  It was the early 60s in Texas, and most homes, schools, businesses, and churches weren’t air-conditioned; so for most of the year it took a long time for warm bath water to become cold bath water.  Mom or Dad would check-in on me, and if my fingers were too wrinkled or my teeth were chattering, I’d be forced to leave the tub.

Mom would hold my hand as I stepped out of the tub, and then she’d wrap me in a towel.  Dad’s method was different.  I would stand, and Dad would swoop me out of the water with one hand and have me magically wrapped in a towel before he’d even finished standing.  Leaving the bathroom, he’d pause, we’d look in the mirror, and he’d say, “There’s my pretty girl.” 

When I was around three years old, I was taking a bath and watched a spider slowly, very slowly, crawl out of the overflow drain; eight, black, spindly legs appearing in high contrast against the white porcelain tub.  I stayed motionless and soundless just staring at the spider; then screamed for help.  Was I too little to get out of the tub by myself, or had I never done it without help?  Was I following some family rule, or was I too frightened?  I don't know why I didn't jump out of the tub.  But then and there began my fear of spiders, and it was years before I would again enjoy a bath alone.

The summer I was six, we moved from the home my parents rented when they first married, to the first and last home they would ever buy.  The move took us across the street and four houses down, yet it was a whole new, exciting world; because there was a swimming pool!

I can’t remember a time when I couldn't swim.  We moved to our new house, and I could dog-paddle; but it was much easier to swim underwater than on top of it.  Mom’s rule was we could not swim without an adult present.  Ours was the only house on the block with a pool, and like I said, no one had air conditioning, so there were plenty of neighborhood moms willing to swim with their kids, and it wasn't long before I could swim just as well on top of the water as under it.  When there wasn't a mom available, the kids on the block would play in our front yards and street or in the two-block-long creek area that ran behind our houses.  This was long before sunscreen, and the trees that shaded the deep end of the pool, the front yard, and the creek kept my fair, freckled skin from being red all summer.

When I started school that September, my mother “closed the pool,” and it didn't reopen until the school year ended.  I counted the next twelve years by the summer-brakes.

One summer my grandparents ran the municipal pool in Eunice, New Mexico.  My aunt and uncle were lifeguards, and that is where I first jumped off a high dive.  I dared myself to do so after days of watching others jump.  The line was long, and as I waited behind other wet and dripping children, there was plenty of time to change my mind.  In a line you go forward.  At the bottom of a ladder you climb.  At the end of the diving board there seemed to be no other option but to jump, yet my mind raced to find one.  It was frightening just standing there at the end of the board.  I decided I could face the embarrassment of climbing back down the ladder, but being in the water seemed safer than being on the diving board, so I jumped.  I never found jumping off the high dive, nor heights, nor ladders fun. 

The diving board at home was a different story.  "How far," "how high," and "how big a splash" were all games I played by myself and with others.

My husband Bill loves the water, too.  He’d had a swimming pool when he lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and he swam in the bays and ocean when he lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  The summer before he was in second grade, his family moved into his grandparents’ home, and they added a pool.  Bill, who I wouldn't meet for another 10 years, played in the creek behind his house just two miles from me. 

Oak Cliff, Texas, where we lived, was riddled with creeks and springs until people tamed all but the largest of them by shunting them off into culverts and drains.  Progress had taken countryside, which reminded early settlers of the wine country in France, and choked it into a concrete-gridded landscape.

Unlike my parents, Bill’s parents kept their pool “open” year round.  If you could tolerate the cold, you were welcome to swim.  We started dating in November of our senior year of high school, and we were swimming together by March.  The only other time I’d been swimming in March, was in the Gulf of Mexico, in Galveston, Texas on my first trip to the ocean.

Bill impressed me by how far he could throw his nieces in the pool, what a strong swimmer he was, and how many laps underwater he could swim.  It was a surprisingly-effective courting method.  He soon figured out that I liked water as much as he did, and he took me swimming in Lake Grandbury and jumping off the cliffs at Lake Whitney.  Jumping was terrifying, but I did it because there was nothing I couldn't do, just things I hadn't tried.  He took me to Mountain View Lake where no one swam; they only fished and parked, and we didn't fish.  

For both of us, all the best parties were pool parties.  Our wedding invitations included a note telling our guests to bring a swimsuit. 

I told Bill that I would never live north of the Red River where it forms part of the border between Texas and Oklahoma.  I didn't like swimming in cold water, and to "not swim" was not an option.  Lake Texoma was about as far north as I could stand it. 

In the early years of our marriage, Bill and I lived in the Dallas Metroplex.  We live in a series of apartments and condos with pools, but the majority of those early years were spent in a duplex and a couple of houses all without pools.  We were so busy (school, work, a baby) that we swam at his parents’ only rarely, and never at my parents' because their pool was now permanently closed.

When our son Eric was five and we were 30, Bill’s mother, Carol, took the family to Kauai.  Carol's father had run the USO there, and it was there she met her husband when she was a senior in high school and he was a Marine. 

Carol in 1944 in Hula Skirt and Lei, Hawaii
Carol in 1944 in Hawaii
We snorkeled for the first time off the north shore of Kauai at Tunnels Beach, and we fell in love with snorkeling. 
Family photo Princeville, Kauai 1990
Edwards' family photo Princeville, Kauai 1990
Just a few months later, we were working on Bill’s resume, and planning to send it to every bank in Kauai, when a client company called and offered Bill a job in Austin, Texas.  We put away the resumes and two weeks later moved to Lakeway, Texas with our six-year-old son Eric.  We swam and snorkeled for the next 11 years in the deep, cool, clear water by the dam at Lake Travis.  Bill learned to scuba dive in that lake.  We started tubing and snorkeling throughout Texas on the weekends.  Our favorites were the Frio, San Marcos, and Comal rivers and parts of the Colorado River. 

I revised my mantra and told Bill, I saw no reason to ever live north of Lake Travis.  We watched the clarity of Lake Travis diminished as the silt and run off from the constant construction clouded the lake and the lawn fertilizers and effluence fed the algae in what I once thought was the prettiest lake in Texas. 

Our favorite vacations were snorkel trips.  When we bought land to build our home, it was on a crystal-clear, spring-fed creek with a natural pool deep enough to swim and snorkel with sunfish, bluegills, turtles, and an occasional water moccasin.  It was there on Lick Creek where I learned how friendly and soft catfish can be.  Eric and Bill played tic-tac-toe in the gravel at the bottom of the creek.  During those years when we were hand-building our home on the weekends and late summer nights, we would cool off in the natural pool, shaded by limestone cliffs and tall Cyprus trees.  Another baby came, and we never finished the house, so we sold it to someone who did.  We moved to Bastrop, Texas, while our neighbors on Lick Creek spent many years in courts fighting with upstream developers who were polluting the once-pristine creek. 

Eric skipping rocks on Lick Creek, Spicewood, Texas
Eric & Matthew skipping rocks on Lick Creek, Spicewood, Texas
We found Lake Bastrop too murky to snorkel and too hot to be refreshing.  The dirty water down stream from Austin and high profile drownings kept us from swimming or snorkeling the Colorado River in Bastrop.  The proximity to neighbors discouraged us from putting in a pool.  

So we found other places to swim.  We enjoyed two adventures to Grand Cayman island to swim with stingrays, and a trip to Kauai to swim with turtles.

Rachel and Engela with stingrays in Grand Cayman Island. (2006)
Rachel and Engela with stingrays in Grand Cayman Island. (2006)
We searched online for a long time for our next home.  When we saw it, we walked straight through the house, stood on the back porch, looked at the pool, the trees, and the dry-bed creek and knew we were home.  It was easy.  I expected to be in that home for the rest of our lives.  There were pool parties again, and our son was married there.  Our pool was “open” year round.  Even in the few cold Texas months, we’d spend evenings watching movies in the hot tub. 
Chrystina and Eric's Wedding in our backyard. April 2011
Chrystina and Eric's Wedding in our backyard. April 2011
We still loved to snorkel.  Our goal was to find good ocean snorkeling, with a beach access, without having to take a boat or a plane to get there.  In June 2011 we drove to La Jolla, California, because we were told it was the best place to snorkel in California.  When we got there we found that there were a lot of people swimming for distance, but none without a wetsuit, and no one snorkeling.  After two days of watching others swim, we purchased wetsuits.  I imagine that the water would have been clear had it not been for all the pieces of seaweed being churned by the waves.  I didn't get far from shore before telling Rachel and Bill I was heading back.  It was difficult to breathe.  I didn't know if that was because of the cold, or if the wet suit was too tight making it difficult to expand my lungs.  I unzipped my Neoprene vest.  It is much easier to snorkel than to swim, but I stopped snorkeling, because I still felt I couldn't get enough air.  I passed within an arm’s reach of a California sea lion in the water.  Our eyes met and I thought “Sorry, you’ll just have to swim around me.”  Any other time I would have been excited and a little scared to be that close, but I didn't have the energy to be either. 

Sea lions on the point.  It doesn't look as difficult to swim around as I found it. La Jolla, California, 2011. 
By the time I reached land, one of the lifeguards had come down from his watchtower and was standing on the shore where I was trying to haul myself out of the surf.  I’m sure he thought, why doesn't she just stand and walk out of the waves, I know this because he said something to that effect.  I couldn't quite hear what he said.  It didn't matter, because I just didn't have the strength to do it. 

When I was finally sitting on the sand, he asked if I was OK.  

I nodded “Yes,” still unable to breathe. 

He said, “Next time, stay far left of the point where it is easier to swim.” 

I thought, “You’re crazy if you think there is going to be a next time?” I still don’t know if it was the constricting wetsuit or the cold water that made it almost impossible to breathe; but I have never felt older or closer to dying, and yet I was surprisingly calm the whole time. 

We drove to San Diego, California where we took a Zodiac inflatable-boat tour to see whales.  We didn’t see any, but did see hundreds of dolphins, more than we’d ever seen.  The water was much clearer far away from the shore, and we would have loved to get of the boat and into the water with the dolphins, but the water was still too cold, and they wouldn't have let us anyway. 

In August we drove to Panama City Beach, Florida to hopefully snorkel with free dolphins.  On the dolphin-tour boat it became of fruitless tourist game of “There’s one.  Quick, jump in the water.”  The next day we rented a pontoon boat, so we could stay out longer and therefore increase our odds of seeing dolphin, but we didn’t see any. 

We drove on to Chrystal River, Florida to swim with manatees.  We wrongly assumed that summertime would be the best time to swim with manatees.  The best time to see manatees is during the coldest months of the year, when they come to the cold spring water, to get away from the even colder ocean.  There were a few manatees who still lingered nearby; but unfortunately not by the cool, clear spring’s area, but in the murky lakes and streams where they faced ever-growing danger of recreational boats hitting them.

Because the visibility was so poor, it took courage to get into the water with the manatees, and required a person remain on the boat to guide us toward the manatees, once we were in the water.  When I first saw a manatee underwater, I thought it was a rock.  The water was so murky that, even when touching the manatee, I couldn't see the nine feet from her tail to her nose. It was disconcerting being in the water with a thousand pound animal that I couldn't see until I was close enough to touch her, even more so knowing Florida has alligators, and my imagination populated the lake with them.  As I lightly rested one hand on her warm side, and she continued to calmly eat, my imaginary alligators drifted away, and I was left with the wondrous feeling of floating in the water with the manatee mother and her calf.  What warm, peaceful creatures they are.

We then drove to Key West, in search of clear warm water.  We went to the places where we were told snorkeling was the best.  We tried those beaches on different days and at different times of the day, but found all disappointingly cloudy.  The only exception was when we took an excursion to the Dry Tortugas US National Park.  It is an island that is 70 miles off shore and required a two-hour boat ride to get there.  The snorkeling was exceptionally good but ended too soon.  Much more time was spent on the boat than in the water.  We should have camped overnight on the island, even though our worst camping trip was on an island.  

Every day while in the Keys, we would go to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park because of its reputation of having great snorkeling.  The boats going out to the shallow-water, coral reef of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; were cancelled because of jelly fish.  We snorkeled in the bay with the mangroves and back at our hotel on Islamorada.  Since the snorkel boats were not going out, we eventually took their glass-bottom boat to the coral heads.  They would have been very inviting had it not been for the thousands of jelly fish, and the many thousands more stinging pieces of jelly fish, which had been torn apart by boat propellers, and were still floating in the water. 

Our trip was cut short by the unexpected death of my mother in Oak Cliff on a Tuesday.  We started our drive home, so that we’d be there when her ashes arrived.  We only half unpacked the van knowing that we’d be taking her to New Mexico.  Her box arrived on Friday.  We planned to leave Tuesday to avoid driving during Memorial Day weekend.  Sunday, I spent the morning in the pool reading scripts, so I could finalize my season show choices for my adult and youth theater troupes.  It was September 4, 2011 and the day the Bastrop Texas Wildfires started.  It would be many months before I would swim again. 

We spent September and October in shock and sadness, and trying to clean up after the fire.  We were saddened discovering what our home insurance did not cover, the outrageous prices being bid to fix things we could not, and that we would never be able to build back what we had.  We were further sadden by the enormity of the loses our friends and our community experienced.  When I could not take another day of crying, we started on our delayed trip to New Mexico to see my grandfather and my uncle, both sick with cancer, and my aunt.  Mom’s ashes rode with us.

We rented a vacation house in Aztec, New Mexico.  It was an hour away from family but allowed us to bring our dogs.  The owner was ironically a retired insurance claims adjuster.  He stayed at his condo while we stayed in the home he built.  It was on a creek feeding into the lovely Animas River.  It was a wonderful place to start healing; watching the water and the animals it drew to its shores.  Days were spent doing insurance paperwork while looking out the back windows, days spent with relatives playing bridge and listening to stories, days spent hiking along the creek and river banks, days spent watching the snow arrive, and doing more insurance paperwork.  The river, too cold to swim, would stay that way even come summer as it was fed by the snow runoff upstream.  We moved on.

Our 15-year-old daughter Rachel said, “Since I can’t be home for Christmas, I want to be where it snows.”  Having been born in Austin, she’d had little experience with snow other than to visit it on three ski vacations.  I researched lift tickets and chose Vail’s package, since it offered five ski resorts in Colorado within an easy drive of each other, thus increasing my chances of finding some place to stay that was dog friendly. 

We arrived late at night and awoke the next morning to see the picturesque Lake Dillion across the street.

Sunrise on Lake Dillon from our balcony.  (Colorado 2011)
Sunrise on Lake Dillon from our balcony.  (Dillon, Colorado 2011)
We walked the dogs there every day for a month.  We watched the water freeze over.  We skipped rocks on the ice-covered lake and were amazed by the sounds they made.  We left the living room and dining room curtains open all the time to enjoy the beauty of the lake and mountains.   

We gave ourselves ski passes as an early Christmas present.  When we were not filling out insurance reports, creating our contents list, or looking at real estate websites, then we skied on frozen water on five mountains, at Keystone, Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creak, and Arapahoe Basin.  We thought about staying longer, but I couldn’t find another dog-friendly rental for January in the area.  Summit County was a nice place to heal, but we could not stay there.  Someone said there were only three outdoor pools in the whole county.  The snow-run-off lake was there to quench the Denver’s thirst, not to swim.

Lake Dillon, CO as seen from Keystone Ski Resort 2011
Lake Dillon as seen from Keystone Ski Resort, Dillon, Colorado 2011
Our ski passes also included the Northstar and Heavenly in the Lake Tahoe area in California, so I looked for a vacation rental there.  We found that it was cheaper to stay in Tahoe, than to return to Austin.  That was unexpected, so I broadened my internet search not just for a temporary rental, but for possible long-term housing.  I found we’d been living in a economic bubble; Texas real-estate prices had remained pretty constant or risen, and Bastrop’s home prices had risen due to the almost 1700 families displaced by the fire now searching for a place to live.  While in much of the country, housing prices had fallen dramatically.

I had an agent unsuccessfully looking for something that could be both home and business for us back in Texas.  Bill, Rachel, and I spent many hours searching the internet.  In a tiny town in Florida, I found a large historic home that was now a restaurant, but could easily be a theater rehearsal space, wedding venue, and a home.   It was close to a spring where people would scuba dive, and prices there were reasonable enough that if the business did well in town, we could later also have a more secluded house in the country. 

We laughed at the listing of a wonderful historic theater / restaurant / bar / classroom / home for sale at the freezing base of Lake Michigan.  If I could just picked up the building and put it down anywhere warm and close to friends and family, it would have made the perfect home business. 

As a diversion Rachel found inexpensive cottages in Scotland and Ireland, villas in Spain and Italy, and a temporary home in London.  Which lead me to discover that I could get a Master of Fine Arts in directing while living in London for two year, cheaper than I could at the University of Texas.  I wondered what the water was like in London, cold and cloudy I imagined.

I found a listing for a Kona coffee farm that had two houses on it.  Eric and Chrystina said they’d consider renting out their Austin home, and coming with us to try farming for a couple of years to see if it was right for them.  Our family together again, a ready-made business, two houses, and we could afford it.  Chrystina, an art major who had been a barista while in college; and Eric, a creative writing and anthropology major, could start a coffee shop on the property and fill the place with young creative friends.  What could be better? The farm was in Hawaii and close to the best snorkeling on the island!  Maybe it was time to finish the journey to Hawaii we started 22 years earlier.  Dreams like these were good motivators to keep working on the home-content list for our insurance claim.    

We called a real estate agent in Hawaii and asked if the farm was still for sale, she said, "Yes."  She explained the reason for the low price was that the farm was a lease hold that we would need to keep it planted with a crop, and that we would forever pay rent for the land and never own it.  I remembered my great grandfather’s warning to never be a tenant farmer.  Yet, between the time we talked to the agent and the time we discovered she was in fact wrong and that the house did have an existing contract on it, Bill had fallen in love with the idea of living in “A Little Grass Shack” and being a coffee farmer in Hawaii.  Nothing else sparked his interested or imagination. 

We packed all our possessions and watched New Year’s fireworks from our Dillon, Colorado balcony.  Early the next morning, we headed for California.  We spent the night in a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, and were standing on a pier on the Great Salt Lake at sunrise the next morning.

Great Salt Lake (2012)
Great Salt Lake, Utah (January 1, 2012)
Rachel at the Great Salt Lake, Utah, 2012
Bill Great Salt Lake, Utah 2012
We crossed over the Bonneville Salt Flats with their strange, other-worldly feel.  It was not the place to be for people who loved water, unless we wanted to make a movie about the moon.  


Bonneville Salt Flats rest area, Utah 2012
For hundreds of miles, Rachel would look up from her book or a nap and say with disgust, “It’s still a dessert.” We drove through a lot of dry country made dryer by drought and finally arrived in South Lake Tahoe, California after dark.

Our January house was halfway between the ski lifts and the lake.  When we awoke, we drove first to the lake.  Frisky tugged hard at his leash to get into crystal-clear water.  I knew how he felt.  It was beautiful.  Lake Tahoe looked like a mammoth version of Lake Dillon.  

Memorial Point, Lake Tahoe, NV 2012
Memorial Point, Lake Tahoe, Nevada 2012
Taunted again with, “Water, water, everywhere, but not a place to swim,” we went to see the ski areas.  It was hard to imagine skiing when there was no snow anywhere in town.  The next day we took a ski gondola halfway up the mountain at Heavenly and skied on mostly man-made slush.  The locals in town often apologized for the lack of snow, but we thought it was fun and quite different from the 14-degree days skiing in Colorado.  We’d do insurance reports early, and give the ice on the ski runs time to melt.  We found by keeping our skis well waxed the slush was enjoyable until around 3 p.m. when it would return to ice.  The lower elevation of Heavenly made it easier to breathe than in Colorado.  The regular skiers stayed away keeping the lift lines short, and the views were outstanding.  
Bill at Heavenly Ski Resort, California,  Lake Tahoe in the background, 2012
Bill at Heavenly Ski Resort, California,  Lake Tahoe in the background, 2012
We could not be in the water, so we would be on it.  We skied the two California ski resorts that were on our ski pass, Heavenly and Northstar.  While we were in Tahoe, Vail purchased another ski resort and made Kirkwood available; so we skied there, too.  It was perfect.  There were days we skied in our T-shirts; days we skied in a blizzard; a day we skied in rain, and one day we just took off our skis and walked back to the gondola and went home, because the wind was so fierce that we were afraid it would blow us off the mountain.  We enjoyed it all.  It was a series of firsts.  We would say things like, “We've never skied in rain before,” or “We've never skied in fog.”   We watched the mountain go from grass to snow, all while the town stayed clear enough that we never had to buy tire chains.  More snow meant that the resorts opened new terrain for us to explore and enjoy. 

Then it began to get warmer, and we watched as the snow melt and waterfalls appear where there had been none, and saw big waterfalls become bigger and more powerful.
Bill at Eagle Falls, Tahoe, CA 2012
Rachel sitting by cold Lake Tahoe, CA close to were Eagle Falls enters the lake.  2012  


Eagle Falls, CA 2012 Powerful spray
Power thundering waterfall, Eagle Falls, Lake Tahoe, CA 2012
We hiked, and we sat for hours by the beautiful snow-melt lake and thundering waterfalls.  We took lots of photographs of waterfalls, but not one could capture their beauty, scale, and power.  


Every month we would call our landlord in San Francisco and extend our lease for another month.  It was sweet and sour.  I will always be grateful to have found a place so beautiful, which made it easy to make short excursions and escape from the computer where we spent so much time looking for a temporary and permanent home, and listing, valuing, cataloging, and categorizing our losses.

Lake Tahoe, CA 2012
Lake Tahoe, CA 2012
Bill and Rachel stayed in Tahoe for four month.  I was there for three.  I spent one month in Texas directing a show, because I had promised to do so.  While there I looked at Texas houses I’d found on line, and I met with builders.  I was away from Bill and Rachel longer than I’d ever been away, but I spent time with Eric and Chrystina (my son and daughter-in-love), and many of my friends.  I had written a short play in January that won a competition; and I presented it at a conference where I saw more theater friends.  Loving friends and family helped with the show, and they reminded me how much they missed us by trying to find a home for us in Bastrop.  Before leaving, although done while crying, I was able to throw away the few tiny, burned artifacts and remnants of our life that we had rescued from the ash, that I was unable to part with just months before. 

None of us had ever experienced six months of winter.  Frisky’s fur got longer and thicker than it ever had been in his life.  He gained 16 pounds and looked very lion-like.  When we left Lake Tahoe, we were all in better physical and mental condition than we were when we arrived.

We spent May driving around California going from hotel to hotel.  We saw many beautiful places.  Rachel was thrilled every time she saw a mall, a Trader Joe's, or a Starbucks.  We left mounds of Frisky fur everywhere.  Thinking we were being lead somewhere, each place we visited we asked, “Could this be home?” or “Could we leave Mom’s ashes here?” 

It took some doing, but we arrived in Hawaii, June 7, 2012, that was the first day the dogs were permitted into Hawaii.  My world’s pool had been “closed” for a full school year, from September to June.  During that time, I learn much about myself, and about what I want and don’t want.  We learned things from each house where we stayed.  We learned things about the land, about the weather, and about each other. 

Late afternoon on June 8, I sat on the sharp, black, lava-stone in Hawaii and held Frisky and Toto’s leash, while I watched Rachel and Bill snorkel.  Then Bill held the dogs, while I found a precarious path into the water, then, holding Rachel hand, I quietly snorkeled.  After 279 days out of the water, it took me only a minute to feel at ease in the water.
Kahauloa Bay, Big Island of Hawaii 2012
Kahauloa Bay, Big Island of Hawaii 2012 The white speck on the distant shore line is the Captain Cook Monument.
Twice I've been frightened in Hawaii, once in Kahauloa Bay when I thought there might be a shark headed toward Bill and Rachel, and once when our dog, Frisky, was lost for an hour.

We celebrated Bill’s 52nd birthday and our 30th wedding anniversary in Hawaii.

Our possessions still fit into our van.  We’ve now taken our Lake-Tahoe-made list of homes and driven by the few Kona coffee farms that are for sale.  They are similar to the one that started Bill dreaming, but never asked to looked inside, because we have now experienced the vog (volcanic smog).  The idea of growing organic coffee beans for others while breathing dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide and poisons thrown off by the volcano does not make any sense to us.  When my face is in the water, it is too easy to forget why we should not stay.  At this point, we have driven three fourths of the highway around the island.  We have enjoyed it.  We wear shorts or bathing suits almost all the time.  The house has no air-conditioning or heating and we haven’t missed either.  We’re barefoot in the house like we were at home; but we have to wear shoes outside, because lava rock hurts.

In the last few weeks I have snorkeled with turtles, eels, countless colorful fishes, starfish, crabs, shrimp, and a white-tipped reef shark.  I watched Bill and Rachel swim with a huge manta ray.  Two days ago a large pod of spinner dolphin visited our favorite snorkeling spot, Two Step, near the sacred "Place of Refuge."  There, lying in the water as the dolphins circled, I said, “Thank you,” to the mother dolphin as she swam by with her baby.  My salt-water tears of gratitude and overwhelming emotions would be swallowed by the sea, and I thought, "While this won’t be my home, it may be a place for Mom."  There is a place on the island that looks like New Mexico and West Texas, and she was a smoker, so she won’t mind the vog.  Here I can picture Dad swooping her up and saying, “There’s my pretty girl.”

by Engela Edwards 2012
To see Bill's video of this dolphin snorkel click here.

Quick update as of 12/12/2015:  Two years and one day after the swimming with the dolphin above.  We were living in Bastrop, Texas in a rental house almost within sight of our burned home.  I found a brand new listing for a lease-hold coffee farm, on the ocean side of the street, on the street we loved (the one with the original coffee farm that had started us dreaming), within sight of the Captain Cook Monument, and an easy drive to Two Step, our favorite snorkeling spot in the world.  Our home is now that coffee farm in Hawaii which has for the last 30 years has been called Engel Farm, so it seems that it was meant to be ours.  I'm teaching theatre to teens at the local community theatre, and a part-time 1st grader teacher.  Bill actively farms everyday and loves it.  We call the business Kona True.  The dogs are still with us.  We miss my son Eric, Chrystina, and our grandson.  I miss my Texas theatre company, friends, and family.  But Rachel decided to join us at least for a little while.

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