Saturday, March 10, 2018

Building inroads

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, this place in Hawaii where we have come to live started out as a blank slate for us. I mean, REALLY blank… buildings, no electricity, and no driveway (unless you count the well established pig trails).

Our first steps in making a survey of possible building sites necessitated cutting my way through the fern and guava tangle using that mainstay of all jungle explorers…..the machete. Next, pick a route, any route, make your best guess as to where you might end up, then cut down anything within reach of the chainsaw.  Now it's time to bring out the big guns….the backhoe.

Having a machine like the backhoe to do the heavy lifting (or digging, as it were) has been an immense time and labor saver, although all that easy access to dirt moving muscle makes it somewhat more likely to bite off more than you can chew. A backhoe is a sort of jack-of-all-trades, able to do many things, but it's not necessarily the perfect tool for the job. The smart people hire a bulldozer and get the job done in a few days rather than fiddle around for a month, picking along with the hoe. To use this one machine as the sole means of building a road or leveling a house pad is folly so, of course, that's exactly how I choose to go about the task. It works for me, but it's not what I recommend to others, haha.

Try to choose a path that will entail the least amount of material removal, then muck out as much as you can.

I filled the deepest holes with a combination of rocks and old tree stumps, but the style credit goes to Renee. Some sections of the drive remind me of the Inca trail, with carefully placed basaltic lava filling and leveling things out as much as possible.

Unfortunately, this is only a foundation course. The next step buries all that excellent rock work underneath a bed of red cinder, the go-to choice on a volcanic island with no gravel deposits.

The cinder is the highly aerated ash and molten rock that gets blasted out of a volcano during eruptions. It's lightweight and very friable, crushing down to fill in the nooks and crannies amongst the larger stones. It looks cool and comes in either red or black, although red is harder and is the more preferred for roads. Some of the black cinder is light enough to float on water and it makes a popular growing medium.

Red and green….looking a bit like Christmas last winter.

As we wander over the land, we are trying to maintain a particular vision in how we are altering the landscape. Ellie had her eye on this naturally wet spot as the perfect site for digging a pond.

And after a few hours of digging, she was finished.

Next comes rock work, plantings, and the addition of some mosquito fish to keep the biting insects in check.

After 500’ of road building fun, we reached to a tolerably level area, a good enough spot to build a quick and dirty shelter.

What's that? You hear banjos?

Building here has been a trial all my own. I've had such grand ideas and desires, clever solutions and design/build concepts to explore, none of which have happened yet. I'm embarrassed to say that expediency has been the primary motivator, just trying to get a better roof over our heads. This area was only intended to be a dry spot to work but, as these things tend to go, we've been living in this shed for over a year now. Time for a real roof, ya think?

Stay on the trail a bit longer and the guava eventually thins out, getting replaced by Uluhe ferns and sparsely placed native Ohia trees.

Some date palms, a few soon-to-be monster Albizia trees, Hapu'u tree ferns and sunshine.

The perfect place for another structure, lightly built and none too well at that (although I'm far from being finished). I lugged in every stick, on my shoulder the entire way, so some big concessions were made in material choices and dimensions.

This too was intended as a quickly built and dry place to work, the primary building site is even further down the trail. We'll see how that plays out. In the meantime, it's a nice place to string a hammock.

The sunny spots attract a different kind of wildlife.

I swear, most of what we are building here ends up being taken over by the critters.

Her favorite nesting spot.

Eggs and tools, two things that might be better off separated, but at least we are getting the eggs more often than the rats do. Finally, somebody is earning their keep!


  1. Awesome! You gotta dream up that vision for a long time when you move to a new place, get the feel of it.

    1. Thanks Gabe!

      A vision would be a great thing to have...sometimes it feels more like a hallucination though, haha.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason