Over four years ago I met a woman on the plane from Kona to San Jose, CA. We immediately hit it off and chatted the entire flight. I bet you’re immediately thinking of an annoying chatterbox you’ve found yourself seated next to on a plane, and think she or I are that person. Ha ha! Some people you just click with. And sometimes you might meet such a person on a plane ride. I know someone who met a special lady on the plane who would become his wife of over 50 years. Anyway, my plane friend and I have stayed connected through occasional emails and one Open Studios visit (her husband handcrafts fine wood furniture). She has sent her friend to visit our farm. She subscribes to our coffee, wanting to support a family farm, since her family has a generational California farm. I’ve invited her to write about her family’s CA farm on my blog. Maybe some day …
She and some of her family members came to visit our farm just recently. Her young adult grandson, when he saw our huge lychee tree, was super excited to climb into it. We made him learn a little about coffee, mac nuts, bananas, papayas and avocados before we set him loose on the lychee. Good thing, too. He asked if the green fruit pictured above were avocados. He’s from the East Coast, and not from a farm. [Aside: Bea said my dad thought they were bell peppers the first time he visited in the 60’s, before there were any traffic lights on the west side of the island]. When he finally got to the highlight for him, the lychee tree, he quickly clambered up, and then he just sat there in the shade looking so content. He had new appreciation for how hard it is to get the fruit sitting on the top of the umbrella. He understood that you have to cut/prune the branches that have the fruit, but from inside the tree you can’t easily see which branches eventually end in fruit. So he just sat and enjoyed being in the tree.
It was his first trip to Hawai’i, and I think he had only been on-island for maybe two days at that point, but he already LOVED it and wanted to someday live here. I got the impression that he felt he belonged here, that he had never been around so many people that looked like him. I describe it as a “poi dog” look, all mixed up. I felt like he found his multiethnic tribe or something. I don’t really know him, though, maybe he’s super enthusiastic about everything. Regardless, being around a positive, enthusiastic person is fun.
On another note, every Monday the local paper, West Hawaii Today, publishes a photo from the Kona Historical Society titled, “Can You Help Identify This Photo?”
It wasn’t long ago that I read the book Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall, the author who wrote Born to Run. It introduced me to this completely alternative world of donkey racing I had no idea existed. It was such a fun read.
With the above photo, I realized Kona used to have its own donkey race! It was the FIFTH annual race back in 1987. I put some decent effort into finding out more, but I haven’t yet found the right knowledgable person. I contacted the Kona Historical Society person in the ad, and the person there who cares for their own Nightingales (donkeys) who circled me back to the KHS person in the ad, a grizzly runner/run organizer who put me in touch with the photographer, Uncle Harold (UH), etc. I still have to ask “Jon Kunitake the Great” (he introduced himself to me that way), former professional jockey, one of the founders of the Kona Marathon, and coffee farmer.
A week or two later this same ad feature in the paper identified the runner in the photo as Jim Gannon, and the donkey’s name as Jacob. I had also learned that the races were part of the Kona Coffee Festival. Gannon’s shirt says Isbell, which could relate to Virginia Isbell, who was a former prominent politician, public servant and pillar of the Kona community.
Our grandparents used to have a donkey to help with the farm. Caring for it was one of UH’s chores. When I asked him about his donkey duties, he replied,
“My donkey duty was to put him in an enclosure in a pasture after the work day.
I saddled and unsaddled him. The donkey carried about 200 pounds of cherry coffee to kuriba [pulping location].
Donkeys were easier to load up than mules for us shorties.
A few early marketers circa 1980 labeled packaged coffee such as ‘bad ass’ or ‘donkey balls.’
That was very insulting to the Kona Nightingale.”
Ha ha! Terse and to the point, ending with a little UH humor.
These articles contain more info about Kona Nightingales:
Saving the Kona Nightingale (back in 2011, Keola Magazine)
Kona Nightingale Program (Kona Historical Society)
Kona Nightingale Gals 1953 (Kona Historical Society)