Friday, September 29, 2006

The Road to Hana

So, we drove to Hana. That is, I drove, and Megan clung to the door and rethought the whole atheism thing. The road was too winding to build up much in the way of speed, but the profusion of blind curves and one-lane bridges more than made up for it. We stopped periodically to look at waterfalls (most on private property, with "No Tresspassing" signs that went largely ignored, though not by us), peer at the grand ocean views offered by lookout points and the dense surrounding greenery. Which, if you take photographs of them, end up looking like pictures of water and leaves. Examples to follow shortly.

All told, it took us a couple of hours to make the drive. Hana itself isn't much of an attraction, just an average small town with a fabulous location. Maybe I was just imagining it, but I got the impression that the people who lived there were not overly thrilled by their town's international reputation as a great place to visit in your rental car. The culinary options were certainly limited-- your choice of the fancy restaurant at the one hotel or an overpriced sandwich window down by the beach. We went with the sandwiches.

The beach was a black sand one, allowing me to check off an item on my 'things to see' list. Close up, black sand looks an awful lot like asphalt, only sandier.

We had considered continuing on to the innacurately named but felicitously alliterative "Seven Sacred Pools", another hour or so down the road, but the day was wearing on and a girl can only do so much driving. So we turned around and headed back the way we came, stopping on the way out of town at a little gift shop-cafe-smoked fish-candied coconut emporium, where we had some really excellent banana bread and a somewhat lumpy smoothie, served to us by a girl who was the first person from Hana to go to Brown (home for summer vacation, doesn't like the winters in Providence). Thus fortified, we faced the return journey.

One thing on Megan's tropical to-do list was to swim in a waterfall pool, so to that end we made a stop at the twin falls, a spot reccomended by both our guide books for just that purpose and proof positive why you should never put too much faith in the accuracy of guide books. The falls were described as being "a short walk" up the path, which was true, for certain values of short. Other people might call it more like half a mile, but hey, details. Totally omitted was the fact that, to get to the waterfall after making this short hike, one had to cross a section of concrete, about one foot wide and six feet long, then make one's way over the rocks and through a couple of waist-deep pools. All of which is especially challenging if one happens to be wearing one's wedge sandals which, though comfortable, are not exactly intended for off-roading. There are times when it is useful to be unafraid to go barefoot.

Needless to say, we did not make it all the way to the waterfall. (The swimming part was what finished it.) But we did have an Adventure.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Alrighty Then

Having now had my uncharacteristic and, frankly, embarassing, moment of sincerity, blogging will now return to normal. What I remember of the rest of Maui and an important message about cruise ship photography to follow shortly. Watch this space.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


It's a long way from Fremont to Willits, in just about every way, and the drive gives you a lot of time to think about things, especially if you're trying not to think about something else.

One of the things I ended up thinking about was my job. I'll admit, after the end of my academic experience, and its subsequent redirecting of my career goals (translation: I got kicked out of grad school, so I don't get to be a scientist) work became more something I did for the money while I dreamed of becoming a Famous Writer. I handed out the standard line about "wanting to do something that really helps people", and I meant it, but the truth is that in terms of influencing my career choice, "helping people" had about the same weight as "can wear jeans to work".

But driving up 101 last Monday, I started feeling uncharacteristically good about what I do. I mean, I may be a minor and replaceable cog in a giant biopharmaceutical machine, but without someone doing my little cog job the machine wouldn't run. And if it runs, it can maybe generate drugs that can mean that someday, someone is not going to have to make that drive, or at least postpone it for a while. And that's something.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Written on 9/12/06

Sometimes things don’t turn out okay.

Yesterday, at work, I got a call from Mom. Two calls, actually, I was just starting to play the one on my voicemail (I had been away from my desk, refilling my fishtank) when my cellphone rang. I did not know right away that something was wrong, but I found out soon enough.
I’m up in Willits, she said. Nana is dying.
Willits is the small town in Northern California where my mother grew up and her parents and brother (my uncle Bruce) still live. Nana is her mother, my grandmother, Hattie Ogden Burton, the keystone that keeps this family from collapsing in on itself. She has been sick for a long time, a fact which I have dealt with in the same way I deal with anything that disturbs or upsets me: by thinking about it as little as possible and pretending that everything is going to be all right. Which is probably why my first response was incredulity.
Seriously? I asked. Seriously, she said. We talked for a little while and I cried onto the open pages of my lab notebook. Then I got up, told my boss I had to go and asked him to take care of the cells I had growing to freeze down for the cell bank, got in the car and started driving. I had been housesitting for a friend last weekend, and had some toiletries and a couple changes of clothes is my car, so I only stopped at home for long enough to feed my cat and send an email to my writing group saying I wouldn’t be able to make this week’s meeting.

With no traffic to speak of, I made good time up 101. I didn’t want to think of where I was going or why, so I made up a feud between myself and a particularly obnoxious actor I had just read about in Entertainment Weekly and really gave him a piece of my mind. That jerk. I also listened to my satellite radio, which has spent the last month working through every pop song that ever charted. We were just finishing with the eighties as I passed through Ukaih. There’s something comforting about listening to the lousy music you loved when you were twelve. Works even better if you sing along.

I got there around three, and Mom took me back to see her. She was sleeping, sedated, really, so I gave her a kiss and said I loved her and I would be back to talk more when she felt better. Which was stupid, but there you go. I went in again, later in the afternoon when Mom was giving her her medicine. I thought I’d wait around in the hope that maybe she would wake up and I could talk to her. But I didn’t. Because I am weak and a coward and I couldn’t handle seeing someone who I had admired and respected being fed medicine from a syringe like a sick kitten, and so I ran away.

By the evening all the available family had gathered at the house and a few close friends had stopped by. We kind of took turns going back to visit and sitting out in the front room and talking. Uncle Bruce played her some songs on his banjo, and at Mom’s request, Dad sang the Lord’s prayer in Russian. Around eight-thirty I went in to say good-night, kissed Nana and told her I loved her.

I’m not going to talk about finding out when she died, because I don’t want to.

When the people from the mortuary where on their way I ran away again. Entirely away, out of the house and down the hill in the dark to the tennis court, so that I wouldn’t have to see the truck or the stretcher or the people saying we’re so sorry for your loss, now if you could just sign right here at the bottom. All of a sudden this person, who was a very important person, is just a problem of logistics, and that’s too wrong to even think about.

So instead, I stood in the middle of the tennis court and looked up at the stars and said the most honest prayer in the history of praying:
‘Dear God,
Please exist.’

I have the luxury of being outrageously cynical (and, occasionally, cynically outrageous) because I know that my life is never really going to be that bad. That if worst comes to worst, I can always call home and my parents will do whatever they can to fix it. And even if they can’t (for example, grad school) I know that at my baseline state I have a place to live and people who love me and I will never be without food or even, for that matter, laundry detergent. And Nana was part of that. Nana was, in a lot of ways, the founder of that, the person the people I turned to would turn to when they were out of options. I know she was not as perfect as I once believed, that she was, shockingly, human. But, coming from a childhood that was not the picture of stability, she built a family where "family" was the safest place in the world and for that, if nothing else, I owe her everything.

Good night, Nana. I love you.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Day 7- Maui and Out

Our last day in Hawaii does not begin well. As soon as they process your account, cruise ships loose all interest in you, and their focus is on getting you off the boat as quickly as possible. This pulls some focus from, for example, dealing with all of the people who have found mistakes on their bills, such as a waiter having charged someone else's bottle of wine to their account. Just, you know, as an example. Plus they lost (okay, temporarily misplaced) my luggage. People talk a lot about the importance of first impressions, but for my money last impressions have a lot more impact on whether or not they will ever be getting any more of my money.

Things improved significantly once we were finally off the boat and in the rental car, a nice small one this time. Our plan for the day was to drive the road to Hana, thirty-some miles of twisty, waterfall-studded goodness.