Night on the Kahawai

TA shrimp

For three non-native white guys, going out in pursuit of Hawaiian freshwater shrimp meant intruding on the protective nature of the Big Island’s north shore communities.

A short story by Tim Akimoff

We drove the 53 miles from Kona to Hawi in silence with no air conditioning, and it was at 95 degrees out on the lava flats. It was exhausting to do anything but drive or stare out at the Martian landscape.

It was all highway noise. Guys don’t talk just for the sake of talking.

The old GMC truck we were riding in was rusted out on the bottom, so that you could see road running beneath the threadbare floor mats.

The north side of the island was cooler than then sun-baked Kona coast. The clouds were rolling down from the volcano like liquid nitrogen boiling over a beaker.

We stopped for gas at Kawaihae and grabbed two packages of rotting squid for bait, some new Gamakatsu fish hooks and a new rubber for Sam’s spear.

The big local at the station asked where we were going, and Jay, the smartass of the group said, “Know any good spots around here, brah?”

The big guy just smiled at the joke and rolled up a couple bills in change and handed them to Jay.

We had heard about this place at a party a few months before, when a local girl started talking about her ex-boyfriend’s favorite place to catch opaekala’ole, these tasty little freshwater shrimp native to the pristine Hawaiian streams on the north shore.

She made the spot sound like the garden of the gods, at least for fishermen looking for that magical place with a wide channel where you could find the hundred-pound Uluas that seemed to favor that side of the island.

At the base of the stream was a little half-moon beach covered in small boulders with a steep shoreline that seemed to fall into a roiling, ever-present shore break. The ocean rolled heavily toward the shore, but things calmed down the further out you went, because of a deep channel that ran straight out to sea.

The magic, she told us, is that you can swim your bait out through the channel, and there is no second reef.

Uluas, silvermouth trevally, are big fish that like to run when they are hooked. They’re like little marlin, all muscle and razor-sharp fins. They’ll run you up, under or over a reef to cut your line, so a deep channel with no second reef was like Xanadu to serious shore casters like us.

TA trevally

A giant trevally, also known as an ulua in Hawaii.

Haoles never fare well in surf movies, when they invade the locals’ secret surfing spot. Imagine the response when you combine the secrecy and passion of fishing with the protective nature of the north shore communities in Hawaii.

We agreed that there would be no fights over access rights. We respected the land and the people, but we lusted after those big fish.

What we didn’t know was where we could access the stream on public land. Everything was fenced off on that grassy part of the island, and the stream crossed the road through a series of pipes that ran under the roadway.

We arrived in the evening, just before the sun set to the west of us, which seemed to put the shadows of the big volcano over the top of us and sucked all the warmth out of the air.

We grabbed our spears and our 14-foot Ugy Stick shore casters and nets and put tabis, rubber socks on our feet with felt bottoms, on our feet.

Well-laden with gear, we opted to take a side trail for the two miles down to the small beach and leave our shore casters there before hiking back up to join the prawn harvest.

We never saw another soul on our way down to the beach, but we stopped to eat some guavas from a tree that were as yet unmolested by birds.

Daylight lasted us the entire journey down, and we stepped onto the rocky beach with just enough light left to set our rods up in their holders , where we left them up and baited until our prawn hunting journey downstream finished.

Jay and I worked our way back up the trail using headlights when we couldn’t see well and turning them off when the moon provided enough light for us to see our way.

At the top of the stream, Sam informed us that he’d already ran into one local guy in another beat-up truck who said this is all private and that we should stop in and ask permission. But he wouldn’t say which ranch.

“I say we just go for it,” Sam said. “Ask forgiveness later.”

Jay and I worried about that idea, based on the fact that while total haoles, we had spent most of our adolescent years in the islands, and we had come up with survival mechanisms that included not pissing the locals off whenever possible.

It was dark now with the moon setting over the volcano, which would give us good sight for finding prawns by using our headlamps.

Sam wanted at least five pounds of prawns, part of which he planned to sell to some tourists in Kona Town.

TA prawns

Capturing Tahitian prawns, an invasive species introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in 1956.

The fence proved more difficult than we imagined, snagging everything, including our nets and spear rubbers.

It was tight, new wire, obviously designed to keep us out rather than cattle in.

We saw the first no trespassing sign as we approached the place where the stream came out of the tubes that ran under the road.

It was pretty clear.

Trespassers would be shot on sight.

With a little sign of a rifle for emphasis.

Sam didn’t care, but Jay and I knew this could end badly.

Jay found the first group of opaekala’ole a few feet downstream and started spearing them as fast as he could.

He had a half pound in the first quarter-mile of stream.

I had a more difficult time seeing the little eyes that glowed like burnished copper in the water, having always struggled a bit with my eyesight, but I had speared another half pound after the first half-mile of stream.

Sam was moving furiously, probably just stabbing at anything that moved, but he had managed to find his bag full of big prawns, probably a full pound by the time we took a break from the cool water to go find the guava tree up on the trail.

Jay and Sam turned off their head lamps before the small pathway that led from the stream to the side trail gave way to open fields.

Unfortunately, I did not.

I emerged onto the side trail a few yards above the guava bush just a bit later than Jay and Sam, and I swiveled my head around to get my bearings.

That’s when they saw me, two paniolos in the bed of a truck being driven by a big local guy.

They were screaming at us to stop, which we did in spite of Sam’s advice that we go back to the stream.

“Come on, guys, we don’t want to fuck with these yahoos,” Sam said, ducking back into the brush below the guava bush.

Jay instinctively did the same.

I did the old deer-in-the-headlights look and stayed where I was as the truck bore down on me.

The two local guys in the back were certainly carrying rifles slung across their backs as they held on to the roll bars across the top of the truck, which was careening across the grass.

It was at this point that I decided to shut off my headlamp.

By the time I headed back into the bushes myself, the truck’s headlights had framed my position, which made my sudden dive back into the bushes awkward.

The men stopped and jumped down from the truck, and they were yelling at us, no, screaming at us to come out.

My heart was thumping so hard, it felt like a jack hammer as I hugged the ground and closed my eyes.

Sam and Jay were already back to the stream, hiding under one of the embankments together.

But the locals found me first and rather easily too. I wore black clothing,  but I was so close to the field they had driven in on, that my legs were visible just inside the first row of vegetation.

“Bettah come out now,” a surprisingly calm voice said to me. “I no wanna shoot you if I no have to, brah.”

I risked looking up and into the eyes of a smallish local guy in a black tank top with a rifle hanging over his shoulder.

He had his hand outstretched toward me.

“Come out, it’s okay, I only gonna shoot you if you run,” he said, and there was a smile in his eyes that belied his threats.

I rolled over and extricated myself from the bush and sat down on the grass on the other side of the trail.

The gun stayed over his shoulder, and I could hear the other two guys walking along the trail calling out for anyone else.

“How many people you got with you?” he asked.

I didn’t say anything, just sat looking at the ground all guilty like.

“Brah, my name is Kimo, what’s your name?”

“Tim,” I said.

“You from Kona side?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What, you guys thought you come down and do some fishing, eh?”

“Yeah, and maybe find some opaekala’ole too,” I said.

“Shit, man, I love opaekala’ole from da stream, too. I like fry ’em up in da butter and garlic with some soy sauce. I serve ’em on da eggs too.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes trying to figure out the bearings of the others.

“You know you can no trespass out hea, brah,” he said after a few minutes of listening.

“I know,” I said. “We didn’t think we’d get permission, but we really wanted to experience this place.”

“Dat’s da problem wi choo haoles, brah,” he said. “You feel privileged to do whatever you want to do on someone else’s land. For sure, you maybe no get da permission to fish here, but you no let dat stop you.”

“If I go walk around on the lawn of one of those big Kona houses, ho, brah, da cops gonna come tackle me so fast,” he said.

After a few minutes, one of the other guys from the truck was leading Jay up the trail towards the spot where I was sitting.

“You all right?” Jay asked me.

“I’m fine, man. Sorry about that.”

“No worries, mate,” Jay said. “Didn’t want to leave you here by yourself.”

“How many more out there?” Kimo asked Jay, but Jay shrugged his shoulders.”

Jay’s captor, a taller local guy with a thick mustache and long hair tucked into an Island Pride hat, shoved Jay to the ground about 10 feet away from me.


Atyoida bisulcata, also known as ‘Opae Kala’ole, is a Hawaiian freshwater shrimp.

“Look, guys, make dis easy on yourselves, we jus tryna make sure you no damage nothing wit your trespassing. If no cooperate, we gonna call da cops.”

Jay didn’t say anything, so I didn’t say anything.

“How many opaekala’ole you guys find, before we catch you?

“I don’t know, man, I got like a pound maybe,” I said.

“You gotta stick dem in some water, brah or dey gonna die and no taste so good den,” Kimo said.

“For why you talk this haole?” Jay’s captor said.

“For real, Manni, dey jus fishing,” Kimo said.

Jay’s captor took the butt of his rifle and struck Jay in the back, which caused him to fall forward and get up slowly.

“How many you guys in her?” he asked.

Jay is a serious guy. He’s big, he’s tough, but he’s got a huge heart, and he’s really soft spoken.

“We’re three of us, just doing some fishing, mate,” Jay said, through gritted teeth.

“Where da udder guy den?” Manni asked.

“Man, I don’t know. I came back here to see if my mate was okay,” Jay said.

“Ho, where you from, brah, widat accent and all?” Kimo asked.

“I’m from New Zealand,” Jay said.

“Kimo, I think Jay is hurt bad,” I said.

“For real?” Kimo said.

“Yeah, he’s wincing every time he talks, man. Can you help him?”

Jay asked if he could stand up, which took some of the pressure off his lungs, and he took a big, ragged breath.

“I think he broke my rib,” Jay said.

“Should be glad I no break your skull for trespassing on dis land,” Manni said.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Jay said. “I knew better, and I should have kept my mates out of trouble.”

“For sure,” Kimo said. “You can breathe bettah now, brah?”

“Yeah, it’s sore but I can take a full breath,” Jay said.

A gunshot suddenly rang out from somewhere downstream.

Jay looked horrified, and Kimo and Manni both got up quickly and walked down the trail a ways.

Kimo hollered out into the darkness, “Hey, Keolani, no shoot deze guys, eh.”

I thought he was trying to be funny to deescalate the situation, but Jay was worried.

“Oh, no, mate, don’t shoot Sam, we didn’t mean any harm. We know we made a bad decision,” Jay said.

“I no think Keolani shot him,” Kimo said. “Unless your buddy got da gun, eh.”

Jay and I knew Sam didn’t have a gun.

There was a second gunshot, and this time Kimo went running down the trail.

“Manni, stay hea, I wanna find out what he shooting at,” Kimo said.

Jay had a wild look in his eyes that I couldn’t tell if it was fear or panic.

I moved down the trail to be closer to Jay, because Manni had his back to us looking down the trail towards the sound of the gunshot.

“You okay, bro?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine if I can stand up. Hurts like hell when I sit down,” Jay said,

Every kind of fear ran through my head as we waited for news.

Did they shoot Sam? If so, would they shoot us? I would have rather been stuck with Kimo than Manni who seemed to have a short temper.

I wondered who their third guy was. Was he nice like Kimo or short-tempered like Manni?

Jay was wounded and couldn’t run, so that pretty much screwed any chance we had of making a run for it up the trail to the truck.

And our cell phones didn’t work at all out here in the shadow of the volcano.

“Mate, I’m scared,” Jay said.

And it sounded strange coming from a big guy who descended from some of New Zealand’s fiercest warriors.

But there was something about being in the wrong. We knew it. And there was nothing to do but face the music.

Kimo came running up the trail whooping and hollering, which was really confusing for us.

Manni pulled his gun off his shoulder again and turned around to face us.

He was as confused as we were.

“You two get down on da ground,” he said.

“Please, Manni, Jay can’t breathe when he sits,” I said.

But it was too late, he started advancing on us with the rifle pointed at Jay’s belly.

Kimo’s gibberish suddenly became clear.

“Ho, Keolani shot da pig, brah,” he said, with a huge smile on his face, “Was dat big one he trackin last week. Dis crazy haole sees da pig and tells Keolani he’ll go around and flush it out. Keolani gets da nice shot in da clearing. One shot for bring it down, one shot for make sure no slice him up wit da tusk.”

The pig story completely threw us off our guard. Manni just looked at Kimo and re-slung his rifle and started walking down the trail.

“No, Manni, Keolani want you bring da truck down to da cleaning for hoist da pig up, eh?”

Manni turned around and got in the truck and fired it up and pointed the headlights down the hill. We waited for Kimo to get to us and catch his breath.

The next two hours were surreal. We were covered in dirt and pig blood from hoisting this huge boar on to the truck, where this guy Keolani butchered it right in front of us.

TA stream

A Hawaiian freshwater stream on the north shore of the Big Island.

Then Manni and Kimo and I continued down the stream spearing as many opaekala’ole as we could before we reached the mouth of the stream. When we got there, Kimo damned off a small pool where we put the shrimp. Then he grabbed the nasty squid bait and opened the bail on my Penn Reel and took off into the waves of the shore break.

I could barely see him swimming out into the bay in the dim starlight, but Manni had a one million candlepower flashlight he used as a beacon for Kimo.

It took 20 minutes to swim it out of the small bay into the open ocean, but I could see the line was taut as Kimo crawled back onto the beach.

“Watch dat line closely, brah, some big fish in dis place,” he said.

The bell atop my pole started ringing within a few minutes, and Manni and Kimo coached me through setting the hook, which I did just as they instructed.

I wrapped one leg directly around the rod with my hands holding the rod about two feet apart to give myself some leverage.

Whatever was on the line wasn’t big, but it was way out there.

It was a long, steady pull.

I kept the rod tip up high and reeled until my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

When our quarry was about 15 feet from shore, Manni and Kimo took our spears and waded out into the shore break holding on to the line.

It got really rough for a few minutes in the boisterous shore break, but then my prey came sliding onto the beach as if it was hand-delivered by the gods.

It was a huge puhi uha, otherwise known as a conger eel. It was gray with large stripes, and it writhed around on the beach. I fully intended to try and extricate the hook and let the creature go, but Manni and Kimo had other ideas.

They both stabbed it with our spears at the same time, causing the eel to straighten out to its full length of about four feet.

“Why are you guys killing it?” I asked, in as light a tone as I could muster.

“For real, dis puhi uha, is da kine, brah,” Manni said. “Grill it on da skin, best ting you evah taste.”

They tossed the still squirming eel into the prawn pond, and Kimo rebaited the hook and swam the bait out one more time.

“No get da ulua tonight,” he said when he returned and caught his breath on the beach. “When see da eels, no catch da ulua.”

But the next fish to take the stinking squid was a nice seven- or eight-pound papio, which fought admirably all the way onto the shore break, where Kimo stabbed it in the head with a spear.

“Ho, brah, now we make da feast,” he said, smiling.

Keolani, Jay and Sam had butchered the pig and taken it to the ranch and Sam and Keolani returned to the beach just as we were reeling in for the last time. They brought cold beer and some dried fish, and we sat around drinking and eating for another hour, recounting all of the evening’s adventures.

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A traditional Hawaiian imu, a type of pit oven used to cook pig.

I couldn’t believe that three hours earlier, I thought these guys were going to shoot us for trespassing.

We offered all the opaekala’ole to Manni, Kimo and Keolani, but they told us to bring it up to dinner at the ranch.

We hiked back out to the truck with sacks full of prawns, a four-foot conger eel and a nice papio.

When we arrived, Jay was sitting on a bench near the house with a large bandage around his mid-section with a pretty local girl attending to him.

“Well, this couldn’t have gone any more differently,” he said with a big smile stretched across his face.

We dropped the night’s bounty on the kitchen table, where three ladies started taking out the prawns and dropping them into a basin full of cold water. One lady picked up the eel and grabbed a filet knife and split that thing faster than I’d ever seen a fish filleted before.

In one corner, the largest rice maker I’d ever seen sat steaming away, infusing the house with the intoxicating scent of jasmine rice.

I walked back outside, where Kimo, Manni and Keolani were hanging up the pig in the barn. Kimo grabbed my arm and dragged me out the back of the barn to show me a spot where the ground looked recently dug up and reburied.

“We cook da whole pig in da ground,” he said. “You evah had da real pig in da imu?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I went to the luau at the Royal Hawaiian a couple years ago.”

“Dis not real,” Kimo said, indignantly. “That’s for da tourists.”

If they were hanging the pig that Keolani shot tonight, I wondered where they got the pig that was cooking in the ground oven known in Hawaii as an imu.

But I followed Kimo back through the barn.

There was more beer, and then we were introduced to the ranch owner.

This guy was as haole as we were, at least by appearance. He spoke pidgin, and his wife was definitely local.

“You guys no trespass on deze lands,” he said, with no trace of a smile. “Otherwise I’m going to have to start shooting you guys instead of da pigs for my imu.”

We apologized collectively and individually to the ranch owner who was introduced to us just as John.

He looked us each in the eyes and then shook our hands. He was big and seemed gracious enough.

And then he broke into the biggest grin and shotgunned a beer. “Let’s eat dis food,” he said to everyone.

It was now 11 at night, and we sat out beneath the stars watching cars arrive down the long lane that led from the road to the ranch.

People brought all kinds of food and added it to the growing table of food with the rice cooker on it.

Six men, including Manni, Kimo and Keolani unearthed the pig, which had been cooking all afternoon, revealing a steaming pile of bones with succulent meat falling off them.

I saw a bowl of prawns, now bright red and steaming fresh from the boil. My papio was cooked whole with the head on and served with some kind of seaweed. And the eel was now cut up into six-inch pieces, which were grilled on both the skin and meat sides after marinating in soy sauce.

And there were crabs and slipper lobsters, more prawns served in some kind of curried liquid. There was purple poi, which I could just make out from the faint light coming from the house.

I have never seen a feast like this in my life, and to be sitting here, when we probably should be sitting in a jail cell was completely mind blowing to me.

Tim Akimoff Kona

Tim Akimoff on the Kona Coast, 2012.

I’ve met hospitable people all around the world, but sometimes I’m still surprised at how a situation can go from dire to dining together in the space of one evening.

“You guys want to come back and fish on my property, no problem,” John said after he had pushed his plate away finally. “Just come down to da ranch and ask first, so my guys no mistake you guys for da pig and shoot you.”

We promised to always ask permission, and the feast went until well after 3 o’clock in the morning, after which we fell asleep on the couches on John’s lanai.

I woke up to the smell of jasmine rice cooking, and the little kids were up and running around.

We ate prawns and eggs and rice with some Spam, and Manni had the biggest smile on his face.

“I told you is good, brah,” he said. “Best food you evah tasted.”

All photo illustrations: Tim Akimoff


Tim Akimoff says: ” ‘Night on the Kahawai’ ” is a short story that I started writing almost 20 years ago when my wife and I were living on the Big Island of Hawaii. She worked long hours at Kona Coffee Co., while I spent a lot of time fishing for our meals. I still look back at my 20-year-old self and think about the lessons I learned about entitlement, how we treat others and overcoming cultural differences from this experience. Some mistakes have a way of shaping our lives for the better. This is one of those mistakes.”

Editor’s note: I met Tim in 2005 when I recruited him to The Oregonian for a reporting internship. I was astounded by the breadth of his travels and cultural experiences — he had been to about 50 countries by then. I continue to be impressed by his journalistic growth as he has moved from Alaska to Montana to Chicago and back to Oregon, where he is now social media outreach coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. And, by the way, he is a terrific writer and storyteller.

A haven for political junkies

EH gary johnson

Conversations about Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson appear regularly in the author’s online political group, as do debates about health care, GMOs, minorities, countries with bombs and guns.

By Elizabeth Hovde

Like most people who use social media, I started seeing a lot of Facebook posts about politics early this year. At times, they even outweighed posts about cute kids and cats. I knew I would need to take drastic measures.

Not only was I becoming tempted to respond to these posts, I found myself wanting to share news items or opinions I found insightful. This was trouble. I’m usually a political minority among my friends — and in the Northwest. I’ve written an opinion column for a newspaper for 20 years. I usually talk about those columns with zero of my closest friends. That’s best for all of us, and I have readers who indulge me with political discussion.

To continue to preserve my friendships and keep from becoming what I’ve always tried to avoid — the friend or family member you don’t want to bring up politics around — I knew what needed to be done. I joined an online group of political junkies who talk politics all  the time with reckless abandon.

No cute kid pictures or links to pigs walking cats. (Really. See for yourself. I saw this posted at least five times:)

Only pigs walking Trump would have had more staying power in my newsfeed that week.)

Most people in this politically interested circle weren’t friends when they arrived. They might have known one or two other contributors in a past or current life somehow, but they were not well connected, live in different parts of the country or world and wear different political stripes. Best of all, their political discussion was about more than just Hillary, Trump and Bernie. Ahhhh.

At first, I only watched the banter and barbs. I liked what I saw. Most of these people were my people!

I thought they only existed in editorial board meetings or in pre-2010 legislatures. They were the type of people you could debate with for hours and then meet for a beer, without a side of grudge or drama.  They weren’t afraid or sorry to say what they thought. They didn’t shut up when someone told them they should. They took insults, shrugged and came back for more. There isn’t a lot of dwelling, and posts in this group really only have a daily, or hourly, shelf-life. There is always a new issue or candidate to haggle over within the hour.

I’m pleased with the timing of this group in my life. With less column space available to me and newspapers “changing,” I’m having to decide again what to be when I grow up.

It’s much harder this time around than when I was 20. I’m now a 40-something single mom who needs a reliable, living-wage job to keep my kids in their beds at night. (I used to have one of those. That was cool.) And column writing has spoiled me. I love researching and writing about politics and social issues. I’m passionate about furthering discussion and building bridges with others. I’m addicted to learning new things and often learn most from my political opposition.

I met this Facebook group of political nerds (I call them that with admiration) at a good time. They’ve helped show me there can be interesting political debate and discussion for me when my column writing has to end.

The desire to keep doing something I love for work has led me to believe I should be a florist, a recreational therapist or a chef — three professions for which I have absolutely no qualifications. My resume is full of entries about my experience in an industry that is changing in ways that make it unrecognizable to many writers. I’m writing a book and thinking about blogs, but they don’t promise an income I can work with.

Trying to find the next right fit, I have written press releases, grants and website copy. I have taken on emergency substitute teaching in local, public schools. I’ve brainstormed a house-cleaning business I could start when my kids go back to school so I can continue to accommodate the hours in which they need an adult. If I did that, I could at least listen to OPB, play loud music and think of good points to make in my all-political, all-the-time Facebook group when I get home.

I can only offer so many emoticon reactions to pigs walking cats, after all.

Photograph: Katie Frates, The Daily Caller


Elizabeth Hovde writes for The Oregonian and takes other random contract gigs. She’s a mom of two boys. Currently, one likes her and one doesn’t. She believes nachos should be eaten at least weekly.

Editor’s note:  I got to know Elizabeth when I edited her columns as the Sunday Opinion Editor at The Oregonian. Though our politics differ, that doesn’t lessen the friendship that has grown from our professional relationship. Few people I know are as genuine as her.

Tomorrow: Tim Akimoff, Night on the Kahawai


The Lady and the Lotus

LJ lotus

In Asia, the delicate, beautiful lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence.

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

The flat round leaves, anchored with bulbous stems, float gently in the water like giant saucers. A black-and-white bird steps on a leaf delicately with one leg, walks on water and gently skitters on to another leaf.  Scattered throughout the floating barge of green are ethereal blooms of water lily radiant in the morning light – pale yellow, pink or with a peach colored hue. In Asia, the lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence – of purity rising from the muddy waters.

I am in a cottage on stilts on Lake Inle in Myanmar. The lotus-filled water stretches out for miles to hills in the distance.  It could easily be the time of the King Anawrahta, who founded a kingdom by developing an irrigation system in a dry land and turning it into the rice granary of the region. In a way, this trip is also a quest for roots. A great uncle lived in Rangoon in the early part of the 20th century. At that time, Burma was a province of British India. An aggressive Burmese king had prompted the conquest, not to mention the need for teak and rubies.

LJ lake inle

A cottage on Inle Lake in Myanmar evokes a feeling of serenity, a world away from urban stresses.

I hear the gentle splish-splash of a boatman who stands on a stick and uses his leg to row the boat. It’s far away from a world of mass shootings and barbaric terrorist attacks. No traffic gridlock, no phone calls or appointments. It is life reduced to the bare elements, water, sunshine, air and lotus. Except for one thing – the 4G here is better than in the U.S. For years the country was undeveloped because of military rule, but now, since there was no slow evolution of technology here, cutting edge mobile connectivity is instantly available. So I post my lotus picture on Instagram – not so much for validation, but in a feeble attempt to freeze the present moment.

I love that the women seem empowered, somehow, in their fitted blouses and stylishly draped longyi skirts. No hiding hair with scarves or hunching behind veils to cover their breasts.  Whether it’s a village woman cleaning fish on the banks of the lake or a smart businesswoman in the capital, they seem confident and are treated with respect. The only restrictions are in pagodas. For some reason, the management is obsessed with “spaghetti straps” and there are warning signs everywhere not to wear them. Or shorts. And women are not allowed in the inner sanctum.

Lotus cloth is a big industry in Lake Inle and designers from Europe pay big money for this cloth more expensive than silk. I can see why as a woman at a weaving house extracts lotus fiber from a stem – the process is very labor intensive. And the end result is cool like cotton – not smooth and fine, but a great alternative if you have ethical concerns about silk.

LJ pagoda

A couple worshipping at the Shwedegon Pagoda sport their longyis, traditional Burmese attire.

The night sky feels primeval as a full moon shines over the lake. This phase of the moon is considered holy, and there is chanting all night in the monastery across the water.

Coincidentally, the next day is also a major national holiday – Martyr’s Day – the day the “Father of the Nation,” General Aung San, was assassinated by a political rival. When we get back to Yangon we discover that admission is free at the Bogyoke Aung San museum (his former home) because of the holiday.

From the crowds that throng the house, it is obvious how much the brilliant statesman is still venerated. There are pictures of him with world leaders.  I read a letter he has written to the British government announcing Burma’s choice for independence. A picture of him playing joyfully with his young kids shows so much hope and promise, that it’s sad to see the following one –  of his wife weeping over him on his last day. The sadness seems to permeate the house even now.

At the doorway, you have to take your shoes off and carry them (this is something you have to do a lot in Burma – in temples and, apparently, sometimes even in offices). The furnishings are stark and simple – a teak bed with a mosquito-net stand, a coat rack and a glass cabinet displaying the leaders uniform. A wedding picture graces the wall.

LJ General Aung San

A wedding portrait of Burmese General Aung San, “the father of the nation” and his wife.

Another bedroom contains Aung San Suu Kyi’s crib. As it is with Burmese names, her name actually consists of her father’s first name, her mother’s (Kyi) and a grandmother’s – Suu. I can relate to this because in South India – we don’t have last names either. It’s hard for me to understand the sacrifices Suu Kyi was willing to make. She refused to leave the country to see her dying husband because she knew the military regime would never allow her back. But her prioritizing country over family can be explained by her spiritual beliefs – the Buddhist concept of embracing suffering as a meditation practice.  It might also explain the patience and gentle demeanor of the people that we encounter everywhere, despite the poverty and the hardship they must have endured.

Even though Suu Kyi’s party won a historic election in 2015, rules concocted by the military did not allow her to become the President.  Instead, she is the “State Counselor” and also has to share power with the military which retains 25% of the seats in parliament. She is poised to implement agricultural and infrastructural reforms so Myanmar can join the global economy, but the path could be difficult since democracy is so new. Another serious issue is the persecution of religious minorities and armed ethnic tension.  I learn that for an American NGO based in Yangon, conflict management education is an important task.

LJ. weaver

Lakshmi Jagannathan with a woman who is a weaver and also teaches the skill to guests.

On the last day of our stay there is a heavy downpour – it’s peak monsoon season. We are in a fancy new pizza place, that serves microgreens, but when it’s time to leave, the compound is flooded. “No problem” says the manager. A taxi is hailed and people place benches on the water so we can step across and sit in the car seat. Burmese hospitality at its best.

Ever since Aung San Suu Kyi came into office, expectations are very high for her, but the challenges are many.  I hope the peace they have now lasts and the country continues on its path of reform and accomplishes its goal of a brighter future for its people.


Lakshmi Jagannathan is a writer, startup cheerleader, reiki healer/counselor and tree-hugger. “Lately,” she says, “I have found that if I call myself a writer I get asked too many questions by immigration officials in different ports, so now my official occupation on application forms is ‘counselor.’ It works — the junta left me alone in Myanmar.” Follow her @BeavertonWriter. Read her Living La Vida Pura blog on WordPress and her Veggie Travel posts on Facebook.

Editor’s note: I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writers program. Then and now, I’ve admired her intelligence and writing ability, her multicultural sensitivity and love of the natural world. Through her VOA posts, I feel as if I’ve traveled to multiple Asian and African countries.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, A haven for political junkies

I’m desperate

moon over the sea

By Taylor Smith

I’m desperate.

I’m desperate because
it feels like every day
I hear news of
hatred and
violence and

and I take it personally,

because I’m human

and in my humanness I feel
the intensity
of the pain and suffering
of my brothers and sisters in this world,

because we will all face heartache,

and it can break

Gihembe 2

I’m desperate for

I’m desperate for
someone to step out and say,
“This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

I’m desperate for
people to see
we’ve gone too far —
gone too far away from
who we are,
who we were created to be,
what we were born to do –
serve others, love others, love God.

I’m desperate for
a taste of civility.

I’m desperate for
people to be people of their promises.

I’m desperate to see
communities bound together in commitment to one another
and to the community that is
this world.

I’m desperate for people
to take off their crowns
and trade them for ashes,
to get off their pedestals
and get on their knees,
to take their dictionaries and degrees
and cast them aside
to hear real people
with real stories.

Gihembe 1

I’m desperate for
families and strangers to gather around the table,
even if it gets awkward.

I’m desperate to see time stop,
for an hour,
or even just a few minutes,
for bread to be broken,
for plates to be passed,
for grace to be shared,
for hands to be held.

I’m desperate for
so we can be reminded that
we were not given this opportunity of life so it could be easy for us,
but for it to be real,
and messy,
and vulnerable.

I’m desperate for
leaders to kneel on a foundation of
dignity and respect.

I’m desperate
for fathers to guide with wisdom and conviction,
for mothers to lead with strength in their hearts and in their voices,
for siblings to wrap their arms around each other and say,
“We may be different, but I’m going to love you, always.”

I’m desperate for
us to give it all away
to love just one person well.

I’m desperate for
genuine and meaningful conversations.

I’m desperate for
heart-level truth and friends who hold one another accountable.

I’m desperate for
so that when we’re hurting, when there’s a problem,
we can rise to the occasion
and meet chaos with compassion.

I’m desperate for

I’m wholly desperate for
Holy Forgiveness.

I’m desperate for these things because
the only way I can make it through a single day on this earth is the security of knowing that
I’m wrapped in
and Love.

I’m desperate for
an identity check.

Taylor Boneza 2016

Taylor Smith gets in touch with her inner child, with preschool children in Boneza, a rural village in western Rwanda.

I’m desperate for
people to put down their magazines and television remotes and cell phones,
desperate for people to erase their titles, their resumes, their bucket lists,
desperate for people to see who they were when they were born into this world
– fragile, tender, beautiful JOY –
a baby born with no ideas of murder, or discrimination, or fear,
but a baby who smiled when her face first pressed against her mother’s warm skin,
a baby who snuggled into folds of safety and protection,
a baby who only wanted to be loved, for that is
the only way to live,
to survive,
to grow.

It may sound like I’m desperate for a lot of things –
a lot of big, complicated things.

But truth be told,
I don’t believe it’s that complicated,
if we only took the time to look at where we come from,
how we came here,
why we are here.

In the end,
I’m desperate to believe in the goodness that is at the core of each one of us,
simply because
we’re human

— and I’m unwilling to compromise this belief,
no matter what happens.

Moon over the sea photograph: Armin Grewe, Pictures from the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

<a href=”” title=”Islay Pictures – Pictures from the Isle of Islay, Scotland”>Islay Pictures Photoblog</a>

Taylor Smith is a tree huggin’, deep-conversation lovin’ Oregonian with a passion for listening to people’s stories. Taylor works (but it’s really her passion!) as the community and development manager for These Numbers Have Faces, a Portland-based nonprofit focused on rising up the next generation of leaders in East Africa. 


Editor’s note: I met Taylor when she was a reporter and I was the opinion editor at the Hillsboro Argus, a suburban newspaper/website owned by the Oregonian Media Group. I’ve always admired her zest for life and compassion for people. She originally wrote this piece on the eve of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, on October 1, 2015.

Tomorrow: Lakshmi Jagannathan, The lady and the lotus

Rhubarb summer


In a summer of loss and love, rhubarb plays a symbolic role.

By Jennifer Brennock

I lost my job today. I mean, I have five jobs, most of them meaningless and labor-oriented, but this was the one that made me feel like something. It floated me when the tide was low and kept a roof over my kid’s head no matter what. It woke me predawn for a red eye ferry for six years. I walked into it and said “Good morning, class” with a genuine smile every session without fail. It tested my brain’s capacity and asked me to be better because what they learned was important. Yeah, that one.

I’m a little freaked out. In response, I’m harvesting rhubarb. I should be trimming the mean girl tomatoes, but all I care about is the emo rhubarb.

My child is already in bed this summer evening, so I’m being liberal with the wine bottle. From my view, no structure nor person can be seen, only pasture, birch, and evergreen—a Cascadian ideal. I am solo under an expanse of easy sky, but clouds lurk atop the treeline. The moon wants to be seen and the swallows dive for insects inches above my head. I can hear their wings back and forth in a spasm of feeding. There is a Brett Dennen song on the radio. Not my favorite, but he insists “It’s the life you made.”

The rhubarb is a mistake I made. I planted this blushing, awkward teen in the center of the very best bed in the garden. Inside the deer fence. Deer don’t eat rhubarb. I could have planted it anywhere else, making room for sensible broccoli, more delicate lettuce, and cheerful, knobby Brussels sprout. Instead, I am protecting something that no longer needs it. Even so, there is primordial, fantastical growth on these dogs. It’s like science fiction out here.

The music floats over the berm to the narrowing valley and pasture below. I wonder how far this sound travels at night. I turn it up.

“Who do you think you are?”

Tonight, I feel the full power of middle age. I select a stalk, grip it at the base, and twist. The decisive choice makes the most satisfying staccato of fiber breaking under force. Rhubarb harvest is imbued with more “fuck you” than any other fruit picking. With a middle finger, I tell life to do its worst. I’ve already been here. There’s nothing you can do to me that I will not survive. This is just another day. There have been worse. Days when I could not get out of fetal. The days I hiccuped from crying too much. The days I fell farther. The days I fed myself with nonfood that I will never confess to. Still, every time I got up with Invictus, not because I believed I deserved to live, and certainly not because I believed I deserved to be happy. I got up because someone smaller needed me.

JB jennifer

Jennifer Brennock: badass writer, artist, mother on Orcas Island. (Photograph by Melanie Masson)

Tonight, I remove the yellowed, limp, snail-trodden leaves at the base. They were the front line months ago before the plant knew it would survive new earth. The clouds are approaching slowly, as if I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. My nose fills with the fresh and bitter fruit, an olfactory stab. The wine buzz and unyielding song makes this night a syrupy date.

Rhubarb is obnoxious. Who does it think it is with those gargantuan leaves of poison? We know what you’re up to; you’re not impressing anyone, rhubarb. You are not the umbrellas you think you are.

This rhubarb summer, I am in love after rejecting him over and over for years. I managed to fabricate reasons. His desire to provide my soul with daily tenderness and my life with strong shoulders was, you know, over the top. I had to save myself; I believed these were separate things.

“Don’t be afraid of the hands you play.”

I give sun space to the stalks that need the light by pulling out the four-foot charmers. The new ones—curly, insecure entering the world, virginal—are wearing the wrong green. If a stalk is thick but short, I pardon it, ask it to grow taller with girth and confidence. Confidence begets confidence they tell me. Hot pink root tips peek through, small flames, genital-like, solidly in place and keeping steadfast to center.

I’m in love with a man who drives without shoes on and brushes his teeth in the shower and once said the words “I concur” while we were fucking. His heart has been broken in the worst way it can be, and he is still willing to go all in. You know the guy who taught you to ski? Remember how he leaned down to your cold-rosy five year-old face on the verge of tears and asked with perfect enthusiasm and a smile, “We gonna have fun today?” Remember how just then you forgot you were scared to death and how you let go of your mother’s hand without thinking and took his? That’s him. He enters sleep just like a tree falls, calls climbing Rainier “going for a walk,” and is not afraid of carrying heavy things. I am a heavy thing.

“Who do you think you are?”

rhubarb JB

“I’m in a love with a man who drives without shoes on and brushes his teeth in the shower…”

I’m the chick who writes about being alone while being a parent. These are the stories I tell. I write about falling down. I write about sex, and I write about pain. To separate things, juxtaposed, rarely intersecting, but close enough that the possibility is there. That’s my schtick. I make weird art by destroying 1950s gynecology textbooks and sticking their diagrams next to poems describing fellatio. To remind you—haunt you—that love and body are not one, and they are not to be trusted together. It’s all going to hell once you’re happy and spooning. But what happens when the sex is actually leagues away from any pain, and he loves you enough to correct you when you call it fucking? He’s not leaving tonight, and not tomorrow either, and if he’s right, I may die at his side. What happens? Will I still have words? Will I still have night gardens and disturbing poems and breaking rhubarb at the neck? Will I still come out to see the moon at 2 A.M. alone?

All good stories must be universal, and, dear reader, for you to trust me, you have to get something out of the read. So here it is: you deserve it. We all do. Each of us deserves to be loved and supported regardless of our failures and voids, past and present. You’ve said things you regret. You’ve neglected someone who was counting on you. You failed her. You couldn’t deny wanting someone else. You did not forgive him in time. No matter how hard you try, you are not enough for her. You made him into someone he didn’t like. Okay. That happened. Still, there isn’t some huge karmic punishment coming for you because of it. When the song points at you and says, “Who do you think you are? This is the life you made,” you can just say, um, yeah? So? My head is unbowed. So you planted the rhubarb in the wrong spot. You gave attention to the wrong thing. You made bad choices. You still deserve to be loved, supported, adored, and saved. You do.

The rhubarb is crowding the artichokes. I shouldn’t’ve planted those there either. The trees are blowing now and the birds have become bats. The bird-murdered strawberries won’t be moved tonight, but these fruit-stalks look like an armload of ugly miracles. I’ll make cardamom sugar for the jam this time, I think. Best go inside now. The rain is coming, and I gotta find a job before summer’s end.


Jennifer Brennock lives on Orcas Island in a cabin nicknamed “Slaughterhouse” for some reason that she’s not asking too many questions about. This is an excerpt from Real, a memoir-in-progress about adoption and single motherhood with conversations with the Velveteen Rabbit. Contact her for organic rhubarb $2/lb.

Editor’s note: I met Jennifer seven years ago when she was leading a creative writing workshop at the Orcas Island Public Library. She is a dazzling writer — fierce, fearless and unfailingly honest — and someone I’m proud to call my friend.

Tomorrow: Taylor Smith, I’m desperate

VOA 6.0 index page

GW field

(Photograph by Gosia Wozniacka)

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts for 2016 Voices of August:

Aug. 1:  Anne Saker | Summer of change

Aug. 2: Alana Cox | All in for the Olympics

Aug. 3: John Knapp | On with the show

Aug. 4: Angie Chuang | Why some immigrants (heart) Trump

Aug. 5: Elizabeth Lee | This thing called retirement

Aug. 6: Gosia Wozniacka | The memory keeper

Aug. 7: Michael Granberry | America: Still ‘the beautiful’?

Aug. 8: Lillian Mongeau | Mile 17

Aug. 9: Michelle Love | Proof of service

Aug. 10: George Rede | Susie Reimer & the Humdinger

Aug. 11: Rachel Lippolis | U.S. lags on maternity leave

Aug. 12: Sue Wilcox | Last words

Aug. 13: Aki Mori | American internship in the shadow of Yellowstone

Aug. 13: Midori Mori | My visit to Heart Mountain

Aug. 14: Gil Rubio | Fate and destiny

Aug. 15: Lynn St. Georges | Impermanence

Aug. 16: John Killen | The downsizing dilemma

Aug. 17: Tammy Ellingson | Finger printed

Aug. 18: Michael Arrieta-Walden | Ripples of fear haunt kids

Aug. 19: Maisha Maurant | No room to breathe

Aug. 20: Patricia Conover | My movie star mother

Aug. 21: Parfait Bassale | The hidden script

Aug. 22: Jason Cox | The great white hope

Aug. 23: Nike Bentley | Sweet Claire

Aug. 24: Andrea Cano | A special neighborhood: Sesame Street

Aug. 25: Monique Gonzales | Pregnancy in my 40s

Aug. 26: Bob Ehlers | Back road cycling: Senses come alive

Aug. 27: Jennifer Brennock | Rhubarb summer

Aug. 28: Taylor Smith | I’m desperate

Aug. 29: Lakshmi Jagannathan | The lady and the lotus

Aug. 30: Elizabeth Hovde |  A haven for political junkies

Aug. 31: Tim Akimoff | Night on the Kahawai


Back road cycling: Senses come alive

BE scenery

Typical Willamette Valley scenery includes the occasional turkey vulture.

By Bob Ehlers

Recently, on a very pleasant weekday afternoon, I went for a round-trip ride on one of my formerly favorite stretches of back roads, from Hopewell to Dayton on the charmingly labeled S.E. Webfoot Road.

My usual routine is to drive from my house in south Salem to  the start of wherever I plan to ride. I do this because I abhor riding in city traffic, even Salem’s. I prefer the nearby rural roads of Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, with very little vehicle traffic and/or occasional farm tractors and combines to contend with.

Farm houses dot the roadsides, interspersed with pastoral scenes of cows, horses, llamas, alpacas grazing in the fields indifferent to my presence, even when I call out a friendly, “hello.”

Just after noon, I arrived in Hopewell, a tiny collection of homes and businesses (two) about 12 miles northwest of Salem, a place more promising in name than in appearance. I parked my truck and unloaded my bike in the side parking lot of the now-closed Hopewell Store. The sign on the side of the building promised the essentials to survival – groceries, cold beer, pop. The real estate sign in the front suggests this dilapidated, forlorn structure is an ideal location for a wine tasting room.

Forgoing the wine tasting, I rode the one block to the north end of Hopewell, passed the Hopewell Bed and Breakfast and Paintless Dent Repair (same address), crossed Highway 153 onto S.E. Webfoot Road and began my journey toward Dayton.

As I mentioned, this is one of my formerly favorite roads to ride. In the past couple of years, the road surface has become extremely rough with many expansion cracks and potholes, presenting numerous opportunities to blow out a tire and/or wreck a rim. Lightly traveled by vehicles, the feature I most appreciate for my rides, it is probably the same reason the Yamhill County road department has not deemed it worthy of timely maintenance. I’ll come to the other major downside in a bit.

Approximately 3 miles north of Hopewell is Hauer of the Dauen winery, owned by the Dauenhauer family. Apparently, the name of the winery is an intentional, but meaningless, play on the family name. The winery tasting room sign says CLOSED, possibly a permanent state of affairs.

Just beyond, abutting the other side of the road, is the southeast corner of the back side of the massive, I mean really massive, Monrovia Nursery, covering 4,700 acres with cultivated shrubs, trees and many other landscaping plants, supplying Home Depot and Lowe’s along with many of the local gardening stores. It may be the largest nursery in the state, internationally known but tucked away on these back roads.

Continuing on, a couple of miles north is the site of the other reason this is no longer one of my favorite rides.  An anonymous complex of huge, windowless, aluminum-roofed sheds with huge fans constantly in operation, this is a contract poultry production farm.

BE poultry

Poultry sheds along Oregon Hwy. 153 are a source of eye-watering, nose-searing smells.

When the wind is in the wrong direction, the searing fumes of ammonia from the chicken waste are overpowering, burning my eyes, causing me to hold my breath and ride as fast as possible, dreading this part of my return ride. According to a neighbor (why they continue to live next door to this fowl – pun intended – odor is a mystery), this nameless operation apparently churns out a new batch of chickens every 14 weeks, supplying “broilers” to grocery stores, restaurants, etc. for happy-hour BBQ chicken wings and oven-roasted chicken for no-hassle meals.

Passing wheat fields, filbert orchards and vineyards and the occasional turkey vulture, I arrive in Dayton, a small town which is in the midst of wine-country gentrification. The Courthouse Square Park with its concert pavilion, fountain, and relocated 1856 military fort, is now bordered by restaurants serving gourmet brunches and lunches, wine-tasting rooms and gift shops. I paused long enough in the park to snack on a Fig Bar and enjoy the surroundings. Twenty minutes later, I’m on my way back to Hopewell.

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Courthouse Square Park sits in the middle of Dayton, a small town in the midst of wine-country gentrification.

Sadly, I think for the near future, this was my last ride on S.E. Webfoot Road. Although it passes through pretty countryside, and is mostly flat with few cars to worry about, the rough road surface and the stench of the poultry waste are reasons enough to head to my other regular cycling routes.

Bob Ehlers

Road warrior Bob Ehlers

As much as I enjoy the discovery of new roads to ride and the unveiling of various sights and sounds, I treasure the repeated journeys along familiar roads and past familiar scenes.

I know how long it takes to get from point A to point B, where the unchained dogs are in unfenced front yards. I witness subtle changes and characteristics over time — the evolution of family life in an osprey nest, a farmer’s yearly crop rotation from wheat to pumpkins to sweet corn, the ability to predict headwinds on a stretch of road, the ripening of apples and blackberries, and most importantly, being recognized as a regular passerby by the locals.


Bob Ehlers grew up on his family’s farm in northeast Iowa. These days, he is a retired general building contractor who lives in Salem. A long-time city dweller by choice, Bob says, “In my heart and head, I feel the greatest connection with the open spaces and farming communities in the rural areas around Salem.”

Editor’s note: Bob and I go back, way back, to when we became fathers, just days apart, and then members of the same babysitting co-op in Salem. Our wives bonded as did our sons, born just days apart, and my friendship with Bob has only grown stronger in the passing years. He’s a regular at poker, a frequent companion at Blazer games, and a guy who makes any gathering better because of his genuine Midwestern friendliness.

Tomorrow: Jennifer Brennock, Rhubarb summer

Pregnancy in my 40s


Mother-to-be Monique Gonzales soaks up the southern California sun.

By Monique Gonzales

If you had asked me in my 20s if I wanted to have kids, I would have said no.  Even in my 30s I still had too many ambitions: yearning to travel, live in Europe, earn my master’s degree, etc.  I consider myself lucky to follow generations of women who paved the way, making it possible to have so many choices and paths in life.  It’s true that more women are choosing to start a family in their 30s and 40s now, and I’m one of them.

Did I know that a doctor would classify me as AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) at age 35 when I was 35?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I met my future husband when I was 35.  So unless I wanted to say “Bonjour, nice to meet you, want to have kids?” on the first date,  the cards of modern medicine were already stacked against me.

When we decided to embark on our fertility journey together, we hit a lot of walls.  Who knew that it was so hard to get pregnant?

I laughed at myself thinking about all the effort and worrying that went in to pregnancy prevention when I was younger.  It’s not always easy for young couples trying to get pregnant either.  I wondered if the powers that be were punishing me for not being the type of mother who always knew she would have kids and had baby names already picked out.

It took 3 years of poking, prodding and testing to start off with a clean slate.  It never occurred to me that I would have any physical issues that might prevent me from getting pregnant.  Along the way I had a couple of surgeries.  One to remove a polyp from my uterus and another to remove a massive fibroid behind my uterus.  After that one, I had to wear a balloon in my uterus for 2 weeks and take hormones in order for it to rebuild itself — fun.


Monique Gonzales and her husband Julien Gledel.

Even though I now had a clean slate at age 42, all the doctors were telling me that I had to undergo fertility treatments — take shots to stimulate multiple release of eggs or in vitro fertilization.  They said that it would never happen naturally.  Isn’t that what they always say?!

My husband and I believed if it was meant to be, it would happen naturally and if it didn’t happen naturally, it wasn’t meant to be.  So we kept trying and were able to conceive naturally when I was 42.  We were overjoyed and surprised!  If people keep telling you something is impossible you start to believe them.  We were definitely keeping this under wraps until I was out of the miscarriage danger zone.  I wasn’t even telling myself during the early stages!

My doctor had me come in every week for an exam, inquisition and an ultra sound starting at Week #8.  Even though my pregnancy was already confirmed by a blood test, I remember the skeptical look on my doctor’s face when she did the first ultrasound.  She even said, “Well, let’s see…”  Not only was there something to see, there was something to hear!  I’ll never forget hearing the sound of our baby’s heart beat for the first time!  It still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the marvel of human life and the love I immediately felt for this tiny being.

After Week# 10 was over, my doctor declared me out of the danger zone.  Now it was my turn to be skeptical.  I started counting back to our conception date and decided that it was too soon to be so sure.  I waited until 12 weeks from conception date (Week# 14 in the OBGYN world) to tell anyone.


Rockin’ the bikini as a pregnant 42-year-old.

Now it was time to have fun!  I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the news with everyone and watching their reactions.  The first people I told were a bunch of strangers:  the women in my prenatal yoga class, followed by my husband’s family in France (you should have seen the looks on their faces when I turned down champagne!), then our close group of buddies, my immediate family (my sister guessed before I could make my big announcement) and lastly my new boss who is infamous for collecting secrets in the office (I surprised the hell out of him!).

I’ve been fortunate to have a fairly easy pregnancy so far considering my Advanced Maternal Age.  I try to listen to my body in terms or exercise, diet and sleep.  I have been interviewing doulas and have learned a lot from them about natural birth.  It’s been quite a ride, and I hope to give you a glowing report in October.  Wish me luck!


Monique Gonzales lives in Los Angeles with her French husband and 2 cats with a baby on the way.  No one knows if it’s a boy or a girl but everyone keeps saying it’s a boy so that probably means it’s a girl!  She has been practicing yoga for 16 years and aspires to become a gluten-free baker or a travel writer.  For now, she works as the finance manager at a marketing/event management company.

Editor’s note: Monique is the youngest of  my four cousins named Gonzales who grew up in Gonzales, California. No, the agricultural town near Salinas wasn’t named after them.  She and her siblings are the daughters and sons of my late Aunt Ramona, one of my mother’s sisters, and my Uncle Eddie, who was my godfather. Everyone called him “Pro” because of his owlish professorial look. He’d be proud of his youngest daughter wearing a Dodgers cap in the above photos.

Tomorrow: Bob Ehlers, Back road cycling: Senses come alive

A special neighborhood: Sesame Street


Emilio Delgado, with his furry friend Elmo, joined “Sesame Street” in 1971 as the character Luis. (Muppet Wiki photo)

By Andrea Cano

Early on the people who populated our young baby boomer lives included Howdy Doody and Clarabelle, all the kind teachers from Romper Room and their Mr. Do Bees and Mr. Don’t Bees.

From these folks, we learned about being nice to one another, courtesies, acceptance, and affirmation. We learned to find expression in singing, dancing, laughing, and more.
Decades later, my young son Michael enjoyed others — Mister Rogers, the Electric Company, and the inimitable “Sesame Street” with Big Bird, Miss Peggy, Kermit and other residents of that happy neighborhood — Mr. Hooper, Susan, Maria, Bob, Gordon, and Luis —  an intergenerational and intercultural community first brought to you by the Children’s Television Workshop, then PBS.

Now, after 40-plus years “Sesame Street” is relocating to Nickelodeon/HBO. Word has it that the actors known as Bob, Gordon, and Luis may have “aged out” of the series. So, I called Luis himself — actor Emilio Delgado, the character who ran the Fix-It shop and a friend for years — and reminisced about his time with a program now seen or replicated all over the world.

sesame street vets

From left: Bob McGrath, Roscoe Orman and Emilio Delgado are leaving the popular children’s show after more than four decades each as cast members. (Sesame Street photo)

To this day, Emilio says he has no idea how they found out about him. By 1970, his only TV acting credits were Canción de la Raza portraying a returning Vietnam vet and Angie’s Garage, playing his guitar and singing, both offerings on KCET, the local PBS station serving Greater Los Angeles .

Originally from Calexico, one of the Twin Cities of border towns with Mexicali being the other, Emilio says that around his 14th birthday, the family moved to Glendale, California, where he attended Glendale High, took drama classes, acted in every play, played the trombone for the marching band and the symphony, even sang in the school chorus. His theater studies continued at Glendale Community College.

By the early 1960s, few roles were available for Latinos except the romantic leads that went to Cesar Romero, Ricardo Montalban, and Anthony Quinn. Young actors were cast only as gang leaders, dope dealers, generally just bad guys. But alas, he earned his Actors Equity card performing in a summer musical with Martha Raye, and hoped for the best.

emilio delgado imdb

Emilio Delgado, now 76, went from shining shoes to starring on “Sesame Street.” (IMDb photo)

“So when Sesame Street called,” he said, “I never could have imagine going to New York and keeping such ‘a day job’ for 44 years,” a distinction of being the only Latino with a consistent presence on a national TV program.

As with other actors, he also secured other roles on prime time TV and theatre.  One year, he was hired by Broadway producer Joe Papp to understudy Raul Julia in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”  He got used to NYC winters and the different cadences and accents of the Spanish spoken throughout Manhattan.

Emilio also maintained his bicoastal relationships and was fortunate to establish roots for a while in southern Oregon with his wife Carol. Now they visit Oregon as much as possible and Emilio sometimes performs with Pink Martini.


Andrea Cano

It appears that Emilio and his colleagues are still waiting for some clarification, but also know that their time on Sesame Street was a great run.  He says they are very much surprised and appreciative of the myriad responses and support people have voiced — from generations of people who grew up with the program.

After all, generations of children not only learned their ABCs and numbers from Luis, Maria, Bob, Gordon, Susan, and Mr. Hooper,  but also what it meant to be an intergenerational, intercultural community, and more importantly, to be familia in that very special neighborhood called Sesame Street.


At an age when most people are retiring, Andrea Cano continues to serve the community as a palliative care chaplain for Providence Hospital in Hood River and affiliate faculty for the Providence Center for Health Care Ethics while “creatively embracing my crone y doña status, and aging in place!”

Editor’s note: Andrea is one of those people who defines “well-rounded.” She is an ordained minister, a former journalist, a social justice advocate,  a chaplain, an educator, a foodie — even a lover of jellyfish. We met years ago when I was at The Oregonian and she was chair of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Tomorrow: Monique Gonzales, Pregnancy in my 40s

Sweet Claire

By Nike Bentley

She was nine months old when we met. A petite, greyish-brown tabby showcased at Petco during one of their adoption weekend events. I signed the papers and knew as soon as I put her in the car she was the missing piece.

When I released her in my apartment she cautiously stalked around sniffing electronics, the people, and then coming back to me. Gus, my playful large white shorthair was relegated to the bedroom while she explored. He wanted to play with her, but she would have nothing of it. (Eventually he figured out she would play with him as long as he stayed under the couch’s slipcover. The game was over as soon as he showed his face.)

She came with the unfortunate moniker “Stripes,” so while she explored I tried different names on her. In the end, she was Claire. A light bringer.

2007 Claire

A month after Nike brought her home, Claire sleeps through her new owner’s bachelorette party.

Where Gus was playful, Claire was more reserved. Where Gus was reserved, Claire would crawl in your lap and purr. Together they were the perfect cat.

Claire saw me through the two months I lived alone between my roommate moving out and my wedding day. She was there when I returned from my honeymoon. But she also was a master escape artist. I spent countless hours looking for her over the course of six years before throwing my hands up and deciding she could be an indoor/outdoor cat – so be it!

She yowled through no less than four road trips to and from Eastern Oregon and endured six moves over eight years, including an accepted four-month stay with my brother while we bought a house. Her cries while we all grieved Gus’ tragic loss haunt me to this day.

This sweet kitty sat in my lap as I wrote papers and completed my bachelor’s degree. She was a comfort during my two years of clinical depression and bore witness to hidden hurts and healings. Ever the faithful lap cat, she grudgingly welcomed my firstborn and more graciously accepted the second. She saw me become an adult in my own right.

2008 Watching Birds

Dogs fetch balls and sticks. Cats sit near windows looking at birds. Any questions?

My love for her was more mature than it was for my childhood cat, Patches, who was also wild at heart but less snuggly. Claire was affectionate so it was easy to bond, but I had also grown to embrace Robert Heinlein’s mantra, “Women and cats will do as they please and men and dogs should just get used to the idea.”

It took me twenty years, but I finally accepted that you never truly domesticate a cat. Cats love adventures.

Perhaps it was that growth in me that kept me from pushing the issue when she refused to come in one night.

I had a business dinner and arrived home late. Claire met me in the driveway and walked me to the door, happily chatting all the way. When I held the door open for her and asked if she was coming in she meowed a “Nope!” and took off across the yard. My husband was also working late so I went to bed. Claire wasn’t there in the morning.

To lose a pet to a grand adventure, what I often call “a walkabout,” is a strange thing. You’re unsure when or how or if you should grieve. For three weeks I called for her morning and night. My husband and daughters canvassed the neighborhood and inquired at shelters to no avail. I mapped the most direct route from our house to our friends’, holding on the frail hope that maybe, just maybe, she decided she liked Boring better than Troutdale and estimated she would arrive in roughly ten and a half days on their porch.

She didn’t.

2011 Claire in a Bag

“I had a big purse and my cat fit in it,” Nike says. “She was not amused.”

More than two months have passed since I last saw her middle-aged chubby face. I have quietly accepted she made her choice and whatever fate befell her she was doing what she loved most – running wild. It’s a small comfort, but it doesn’t fill the void in our home her absence has brought. But, given a choice, I’d still choose to lose her to a walkabout than watching her slowly decline or have a sudden and tragic accident.

My memories of Claire aren’t marred by sickness or death’s cold grasp. The uncertainty allows for imagination, and imagination allows me to believe she’s on an expedition working towards solving our mole problem once and for all.


Nike Bentley is a wife, mama, and friend. An Oregon native, she enjoys hiking, harvesting fresh produce, and wearing fleece jackets while eating an obscene amount of s’mores.

Editor’s note: When I taught my first weekend seminar at Portland State University, Nike was among my students. I enjoyed having her in class and even more so have enjoyed seeing her become a college graduate, a mother and a valued employee of a nonprofit health foundation in Portland.

Tomorrow: Andrea Cano, A special neighborhood: Sesame Street