Pineapple Island

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Update on our ukulele band

I’m sure you’re dying to know how the band is doing. Better than I could possibly have imagined. Although Suzie has been too busy hanging wind chimes at Dis ‘n’ Dat and grooming her bichon frisés to give me ukulele lessons, I’ve picked up a book titled “Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘n’ Tunes” and have pretty much figured the basics out on my own. Yesterday, while sitting on the veranda of The Lodge working on a Shipwreck, I almost managed to tune my uke all by myself. I got the My Dog Has okay, but stumbled a bit on the Fleas. But I’ll get it.

(Speaking of fleas, do you know how the ukulele got its name? Well, supposedly in 1879 a laborer named Joao Fernandez arrived in Honolulu from the Portuguese island of Madeira, bringing with him a 4-string Portuguese instrument called a braguinha. Evidently the islanders were quite enchanted by this little instrument and, like me, decided they wanted to learn how to play it. Since they couldn’t pronounce braguinha—and neither can I—they called the instrument an oo-koo-le-le, which is Hawaiian for “jumping flea,” since this is how the islanders described the effect of a player’s fingers “jumping” around the fretboard. And now…you know…the rest of the story.”)

If you think of Arthur Godfrey or something when you think of the ukulele, you should check out this YouTube video of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (I kid you not) playing the theme from “Shaft.”

Awesome. I’m just wondering how long it will take me to get that good. Probably more time than I’ve got left on the island.  

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The great pineapple search

Do you know what’s almost impossible to find on the Pineapple Island? Pineapples. I haven’t seen a single plant the whole time I’ve been here. Yesterday I decided to go on the Great Pineapple Hunt. I started at the Blue Ginger where, over breakfast, someone said he thought there were some plantings out at the airport. So I drove out there and poked around, but I couldn’t find anything. Then in the afternoon I allowed myself to get lost on private land in the Palawai Basin where they used to grow tens of thousands of pineapple plants. I figured there had to be a few remaining plants somewhere. I mean, they couldn’t all just disappear, could they? Wouldn’t there be a forgotten plot, somewhere, of rogue pineapple plants?

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

I drove and drove and drove, down one cinder road after the other, until I came to this field that had a locked gate blocking the road and a sign that said RESTRICTED AREA. Why, I wondered, was access restricted? What the hell was going on behind the gate?

Since I couldn’t drive any further, I got out and started walking. I must have walked a mile or more down that red road. And you know what I saw? Nothing. Just the same shoulder-high grass you see everywhere else on the island. Yet I have to say that I had this feeling that the pineapples were out there somewhere. Hiding. Don’t ask me why. It sounds like an animated Disney movie, right? The Land of the Lost Pineapples.

Totally frustrated, I drove back to The Lodge, thinking I’d sit out on the veranda and have a Shipwreck or two. And that’s when I saw it. A little garden, tucked away, just to the right of the long entry road leading to the resort. I parked the Jeep in the grass and went for a look. There were papaya trees and starfruit, mangos and all kinds of bananas. And there, in an almost forgotten corner of the garden, was a little plot of stubby pineapple plants. The last survivors, the great-great-great grandchildren of Dole pineapples on what used to be Pineapple Island.

photo by Macduff Everton

photo by Macduff Everton

It was kind of sad to see. But I like knowing that there are at least a few pineapple descendants still on the island. 

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A serene morning. Macduff, thankfully, got up at the crack of dawn to go search for petroglyphs. Alone. I take my coffee on the veranda of the Lodge watching as fast-moving clouds and fog sweep across the lush horse pasture across the road and wrap themselves in the branches of the surrounding Cook Island pines. Fat drops of water drip from the outstretched branches of the elegant looking trees. A hundred years ago, a New Zealander, George Munro, planted thousands of pines on the island after observing their ability to attract moisture from clouds passing through their boughs. Today these trees rise up over a hundred feet, all over the island, and continue to wring moisture out of the atmosphere on the rather dry isle (Maui and Molokai, nine miles away, steal most of the rain from the tradewinds before they reach Lanai).

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

I take my coffee and tiptoe across the damp lawn to an old island church being repainted a grassy green color by several workers. Also sipping coffee and leaning on an old pickup truck, idly watching the workers, is an island game warden, Derwin Kwon. We chat a bit and Derwin tells me he grew up just down the road from here in one of the white houses near a big jacaranda tree. I ask him what it was like back then.

“Well, for one thing, there were no tourists on the island when I grew up,” he says. “There were kids and outsiders who came over during the summer to pick pineapple, but that was our only interaction with people off the island.”

         As we sip our coffee and watch the men painting the church, I tell him I’m interested in stories about old Lanai, what it was like to live in such a secluded place, with just a single 10-room hotel on the whole island, while right across the channel, on Maui, all these big resorts were going up. What was it like, I ask, when Lanai produced 70% of the world’s pineapples?

         Well, it was both better…and worse, he says. “The work was hard and there wasn’t much future in it. If you were a kid growing up, you couldn’t wait to get off the island. But then again, we were a real community. When the whistle blew in the morning, everyone went to work. And when the whistle blew again, everyone went to lunch. At the end of the day, everyone got off at the same time. So you ended up doing things together, hanging out with your friends and family. Now we all have different schedules. The only time I see my friends is in the morning when we all hang out at the Blue Ginger to talk story.”

         What’s that like? I ask him.

         “Come find out for yourself,” he says. “We meet around 6 every morning.”

         Well, that’s a little early for me. But it beats getting lost on dirt roads looking for petroglyphs. So I tell Derwin to look for me tomorrow morning. I just hope I can drag my sorry ass out of bed before dawn. 

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