Not where we expected to be

But things happen, and you make the best of it.

We’re in the ballroom of the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, about nine miles away from the mountainside where we live. The hotel was exceptionally quick and generous to make it available to us. True mālama, true ‘ohana. So much aloha.

Along one wall a table has been hastily set up with soft drinks and water, bags of Maui potato chips, pretzels, and silver punchbowls with whole green apples and oranges.

Two portable televisions are on at opposite ends of the room. One is on the Cartoon Network, and children are seated on the floor watching and laughing, some of them half asleep with their moms’ laps as their pillows.

The other set is tuned to CNN, but no one is watching because there’s no local news on yet. It’s still too early in the afternoon. The adults are more interested in the radio that is nearby, and the radio volume drowns out the CNN broadcast anyway. The music is good, but people are more interested in their own conversations, only turning their attention back to the radio when the next civil defense message comes on. The messages have been infrequent and give very little detail. It’s been frustrating, and people get more news by eavesdropping on the newer arrivals that have just come down the hill from the Village.

The rest of the room has been left as it was set for a group’s final night banquet last night, but no one minds, for the table linens have been changed and are clean. This is a good place to be, all things considered.

The ballroom chairs work great for the hand-held loops that are at the end of the dogs leashes. It is amazing to me how quiet the animals are. No barking, no growling. I suppose they are just happy to be inside after all the commotion that went before.

We’re all happy to be together with our families, and away from the smoke that was making it harder and harder to breathe without coughing or getting an awful taste in your mouth. Away from the black ash that was getting on everything outside.

They say that so far the runaway brush fire has burned over 8,000 acres, but it seems like much more. They also say that it jumped the fire break above the stables, and that it is only a matter of time before the stables are lost. Or so they say. It may be another rumor. The horses are all safe though, and so are the dogs. Someone said they were taken to another ranch in Kohala earlier this morning.

We’ve heard the same story about the stables a dozen times over now, for it’s the safer, calmer thing to talk about, and we all know what the stable story means. No one mentions that the stable is barely a half mile away from our homes. No one mentions that it has been a very dry summer. No one talks about the Waikoloa wind, continuing to relentlessly blow between the saddle of our two magnificent mountains, pushing the flames into a greater frenzy despite the firefighters’ efforts. No one talks about how small those water-carrying helicopters looked next to the huge brown clouds of smoke.

There’s no need to talk about those things. Instead of that, this is a good time to catch up with our neighbors, people we see in their yards or in the market fairly often, but despite those frequencies we hadn’t then taken the time to really talk story with them. Earlier, I discovered that another woman who runs every morning on nearly the same route I take is named Chris, and she works in this hotel with my husband. We talked for a long time, as if we were very old friends. If they let us back in the village tonight you can be sure we’ll both be running again in the morning, but this time we’ll run together and pace each other.

After all, this is just one of those things. We’ll all be back to our routines tomorrow, right?

Pretty cool that I have an internet connection here. Just enough time in my turn online to get this posted quickly, and to let you all know we’re safe. Before they evacuated us, Zach and I were able to pack a bag for everyone in the family (Ashley and Kerwin were at work). Runaway, wind-whipped fire changes directions and spreads quickly, and so it was interesting to us what we grabbed for as the policemen at the door urged us to hurry. We talked about it as we drove down the hill. Our computers, Zach’s iPod, Ashley’s cell phone charger and her Coach handbag, and Kerwin’s reading glasses on the coffee table. All the papers in the fireproof safe. The most comfortable clothes we own, no matter how beat up they look. The very first copy of Managing with Aloha that came off the presses, now filled with the signatures of everyone in it that I mention. My favorite picture of Ashley and Zach, taken about 16 years ago, and a Christmas reunion photo of the entire clan taken the year before my dad died.

The hardest thing about the packing was keeping our train of thought because the phones kept ringing. The house phone, my business line, my cell phone, Zach’s cell phone. Everyone calling to ask, “Are you okay? Will you please hurry and get out of there?” It was unnerving, but at the same time we felt very loved.

But honestly, there is a smaller than 2% chance this fire will reach our house: It’s highly likely that all we’ll have to deal with is the smell of the smoke that was already saturating everything when we left. Please don’t worry about us. I just hope that everyone else is equally fortunate.

Soon we’re going to help the hotel staff serve the dinner they’re putting together for us.  All my resort experience sure comes in handy when I least expect I’ll be needing it. Seems like this hotel is Kerwin’s second home most times; he officially got off a few hours ago, but he’s still in uniform and still working because he wants to. Ash and Zach have literally grown up here; they know everyone and where most things are kept, so they’re ready to jump in and help too. Times like these, the best thing we all can do is keep busy and make ourselves useful.

I’ll post more later. If you wonder about the fire before then, you can check here. Tiny communities on Pacific Islands don’t get too much press when this sort of thing happens.


  1. says

    Glad to hear that you’re all safe. It is an intriguing thought to consider what I would grab out of my house if I had 3 minutes (or less) to throw things in a bag. I’m in the midst of a move and have a lot of my “stuff” in boxes. It’s interesting how much I don’t miss or need most of it.
    Will continue to pray for your well-being.

  2. says

    Rosa, you were on my mind yesterday as I drove to work at 1pm and looked at that nasty yellowish brown cloud blowing down the hill. 25,000 acres, according to this morning’s paper, almost incomprehensible. So glad to know you were safe at the Orchid. It was a schizophrenic night at work, hotel guests who were petulant about whether they’d be able to drive around the Island unimpeded (“We only have one day left and we will be really upset if we can’t see the whole Island”) and then locals poking their heads in to ask what news I’d heard on my radio, grateful that the word was no homes or condos had been touched. And my farrier told me this morning even the Stables seem okay.
    How like you to be on line with your Ho’ohana community, reflecting on the events while you were still in the middle of them, making us think about the meaning of things, what’s important in life. Not a bad exercise for any of us to think about what we would carry with us if everything we owned was in danger of loss. To reflect on whether it is important to have neighbors we know, friends we can rely on, whether we live in a community where people would take care of Us or take care of only themselves–and what we can do to create that community every day, not only in crisis.
    On another note, I thought the response of the hotels was magnificent. How often do we see businesses that only pay lip service to the notion of “their community”? How wonderful to see them, at the peak of their summer season, throw open whatever space they had available to the well-behaved canines and their human families.
    A hui hou