Making Lemonade – A Viral Reaction

As a kid I often had a Lemonade stand (okay Kool-Aid, really). When I had no spare change for fun stuff, I sold too sweet Kool-Aid to thoughtful strangers, mostly railroad workers who would chuckle at my attempts at entrepreneurship.

Now we really need to reinvent lemonade. Coronavirus has given us giant lemons – unemployment, death, fear of social contacts, school closings, overcrowded hospitals, overworked/endangered medical professionals. Lemons for sure.

Twelve years of a growing economy creates a very false sense of security. We all feel like we are genius-level business people when our business grows and makes money in a strong economy. We learn more when a business is failing and we have to scramble and truly innovate to survive and with luck, thrive.

Our new lemonade stand cannot rely on a rescue by Mom running to the store for more sugar. Some potential ideas we’ve kicked around (having lots of time for that these days) are:

• State level Green New Deals – If the feds cannot do it, progressive states with some wealth can bring together innovative types to create programs that improve our sustainability, and employ out of work folks doing community service, conservation, healthcare, senior care, etc. (after social distancing issues subside).

• Turn Shark Tank into Dolphin Tank – Bring billionaires together to meet with entrepreneurs and innovators to share investment ideas that make communities healthier and more sustainable, not just rich folks richer. Dolphins help each other survive – sharks eat their neighbors.

• Modernize our bottle bills to give a $.22 deposit on each returned item instead of the 5 cents currently used in most states that have a bottle bill. As kids in the 50s we picked up pop bottles and a case of 24 netted a profit of $.48. Since pop from a machine was a nickel or dime, we thought it worthwhile to spend our spare time cleaning up the neighborhood. Bottle bills have not kept up with inflation according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Make it a quarter – we need an upgrade that gets anyone needing a meal or spare change reasons to pick up thoughtlessly tossed beverage containers.

• Study the best homeless programs worldwide and invest in bringing those programs to the places where it is most needed. Don’t just work on housing. Work on how we reclaim damaged lives while helping people have safe, reasonable living conditions.

• Enlist every person who graduates high school or drops out in 18-months of community service. Help people mature in their understanding of what cooperative work is like at the community level. Don’t let anyone duck out on this due to bone spurs or other spurious excuses – everyone can do something.

These are not my ideas – they’re your ideas. I’ve heard similar ones for decades from friends and family and entrepreneurs. But now we need even better ideas and much better effort. We need more dedicated people to make things happen. It’s spring and our lemon tree on the farm is starting to bloom. Now is the time to think about how to use the lemons we’re given and get to building a new and improved Lemonade Stand for the future.

  • The Caffeinated Poet

Changing Norms about Littering

In 1980 I became the Executive Director of a nonprofit nature center in Pueblo, Colorado, on the banks of the fast moving Arkansas River. I was shocked to find car bodies, refrigerators, stoves and tires on the banks at the nature center. How do you excite people about nature if it is trashed? I fondly remember Arlo Guthrie’s classic 60s song, Alice’s Restaurant. Hippies are caught by Officer Obey in the song, tossing trash out of their van. They explained it was easier to throw their trash down than to pick up all they saw on the ground. Obey was not amused. When the norms are “dump it easy,” some people follow suit based on what they see.

Social norms in some communities include the use of stream and river valleys as dumps, despite laws against the behaviors. Pueblo had a serious litter problem. We organized Clean Up The Rivers Day in 1981 and spent one day each September cleaning up the Arkansas and Fountain Rivers in Pueblo. The first few years local contractors loaned us frontend loaders and skilled operators to pull cars, trucks and refrigerators out of the rivers. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts scoured the river bottoms for bottles, cups and tab tops.

Twelve years later the event had shrunk from a major cleanup into a  litter pickup on the 20 plus miles of bike trails in the river corridors. The norms had shifted. Dumping trash in the river would quickly result in some thoughtful citizen calling the police, thanks to the convenience of cell phones and lots of people on the river trails. We organized volunteer trail rangers on bicycles to patrol and help people and respond when they see damage being done. We were quite proud of the nature center being the catalyst for a major change in the aesthetics of the river corridors that had become valued for walking, jogging, bicycling, dog walking, and trout fishing.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 2.07.09 PM
Every big rainfall in Pueblo, Colorado, brought tires down from arroyos (dry creeks) to the Arkansas so clean up is never done even if norms improve. 

In our travels to 24 countries we found Rwanda to be the cleanest country of all we have visited, including the United States. It’s not an accident. Once a month every Rwandan spends a morning cleaning up in community service called umuganda and the impact shows. Rwanda also made plastic bags illegal years ago and now they are about to make plastic water bottles for individual use illegal. They have used both the laws and community activism to shift norms toward cleaning up their country. Why can’t we do that?

A dictionary definition of norm is “a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.” We live in Hawaiʻi. The islands have two million residents but more than nine million tourists visit the islands each year. Their beliefs about how to treat the environment come with them. Hawaiians have a tradition of mālama ʻāina (take care of the land). So Hawaiʻi residents’ norms about littering may or may not discourage a visitor from throwing a bottle out the car window or leaving fast food containers on the roadside. And some Hawaiians, like people everywhere, disregard the norm and litter.

My renewed interest in littering near our home was stimulated this week for a simple reason. I had a minor surgery that left me with stitches. I was told not to jog for two weeks to hasten healing. I rely on a daily run to meditate on the move, balance brain chemicals and shake off a few calories while toning up aerobically. If I can’t run, I thought, I could use the time to walk and pick up litter on our nearby roads, Napoopoo and Middle Keei in the Captain Cook area, much like we used to do along our hike and bike trail in Fort Collins, Colorado.  It turned out to be very rewarding for lots of reasons.

I leave filled bags on wide shoulders of the road for retrieval later by car.

I had to walk downhill and not uphill to follow doctor’s orders so I packed my pockets with 13 gallon bags and took on a different two mile segment each morning. An hour later I would have three to six full bags (1.5 cubic feet of rubbish per bag) stowed along the road to pick up later by car and take to the dump and recycling center. Some of the good things:

• People stopped or slowed to say thank you or flash me a shaka (Hawaiian symbol for thanks or hang loose). A nurse coming home from a night shift said it would inspire her to do that also. Bicyclists going by always said thank you.

• On my daily drives up and down the local roads or my jogging trips a week from now, I will not be looking at the littered roadside.

• I took lots of photos of what I found to share with my Hospitality and Tourism students at Hawaiʻi Community College.

And I learned a few things.

• Donʻt try to climb down lava talus slopes. I fell the first morning and added about 20 abrasions to my legs and arms (don’t tell the doctor).

• Tourists contribute more of the trash than local folks. The parking area near the trailhead to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument where tourists park daily was the trashiest stretch of the road. Middle Keʻei Road, used mostly by local folks, had a small amount of roadside trash compared to Napoopoo Road, the main way to get to Kealakekua Bay. Some tourists likely look at the lack of trash barrels and litter on the ground and like the hippies in the song, decide it’s just easier to throw their rubbish out the window.

• McDonalds, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and all of the cheaper beer companies provide the bulk of the trash. I didn’t find a single bottle of microbrew, despite the popularity of those brands. Budweiser and Corona share the beer brand award. Those one shot whiskey bottles were abundant making Jack Daniels the winner in that category. I was not surprised to find 3 pair of underwear, many shoes, milk jugs, ice bags, trash bags, drink cups, straws, hubcaps, candy wrappers, cardboard boxes, snack bags, a TV case, a 5 gallon soy sauce bucket, medical bottles, and a few usable bungee cords. The milk jugs I found were so decomposed that when I picked up a piece it would fall into dozens of smaller pieces Some plastics break down faster than others in the ultraviolet light from our Kona sunshine, but that just means there are more pieces to pick up, not that it goes away.

• Many of the soft drink and beer containers are HI5 items so a five cent bounty can be reclaimed for each one. But five cents is not a lot for the work involved. When I was a kid in the 50s, a Coke bottle was worth two cents. In inflation adjusted value we should have a 20 cent bounty on each bottle and can in 2018. The law has not kept up and some folks seem to need a financial incentive to keep such things cleaned up.

This truck had the engine and wheels stolen while sitting on the roadside for more than a month before being towed.

• Abandoned vehicles are the big eyesores on the road. The state requires they be towed within three days but it almost never happens. When they sit along a road for weeks, the wheels, tires and engine disappear mysteriously. And the rusting hulk becomes a place for others to dump their trash bags. This situation is improving but not fast enough.

I have lived near and used these roads daily for three years but this was my first cleanup walk. I have adopted these five miles of road for the indefinite future. They are cleaned up now and I want locals and visitors to see it this way. In Hawaiian we say “Mālama ʻāina!” Care for the land. The decomposing plastics of the land add to the microplastics in local waters as the watershed transport all things downhill, makai (to the sea).

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 6.02.56 PMI am printing Pick Up Hawaii T-shirts in Safety Green to wear as I jog and walk each morning (I jog down hills and walk up them) carrying my litter bag. I am hoping it inspires others to give it a try in their own neighborhood.

It is illegal to litter and fines are steep, but few police patrol our roads and littering is easy as an anonymous activity. Norms protect us when they are standards we all believe and follow thoughtfully. We can change norms, but it takes time and we each have to take some responsibility. I cannot clean up the Hawaiian Islands, but I can take care of five miles near our home. I’m on it. And Lisa and I will be working on an expanded five year strategy to get others to follow suit.

Tim Merriman



The Hawaiian Vanilla Company Experience

Lisa Brochu, my wife and consulting partner in Heartfelt Associates, recently celebrated a birthday and suggested we have her birthday lunch at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. In two decades of traveling to 24 countries and 50 U.S. states to train and consult on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences, we had somehow managed to miss visiting a vanilla farm, so it seemed the perfect opportunity.


Jim Reddekopp founded the Hawaiian Vanilla Company in 1998 following up on a dream to develop his own unique agritourism business. His in-laws were orchid enthusiasts and explained to him that the vanilla orchid is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit. He began his journey to create America’s first commercial vanilla company and admits today he might not have pursued this dream had he known the complexity and challenges ahead.


We live on the Kona or west side of the Big Island of Hawaii and have a small coffee farm where we also raise miniature horses. I teach tourism and destination planning at Palamanui Campus of Hawaii Community College and learning more about unique tourism experiences is always of value. Many of our students grow up on unique Big Island farming operations but don’t always realize the tourism opportunities available with most kinds of farming.


Jim Reddekopp prepares the appetizer table side.

They have a capacity of 24 people per day, but I booked two tickets easily over the Internet, choosing the combination of the Vanilla Luncheon and a guided tour of the vanilla farm, a total of $84 plus tax. The tour alone is $25. The farm is about three miles uphill from the main highway between Honokaa to Hilo at the village of Paauilo, almost a two-hour drive for us. We arrived about noon at the yellow building that houses their food service and Vanilla Shoppe. The building was once a coffee processing plant and later a meat processing operation, since this part of eastern Hawaii has had a rich history of changing agricultural fortunes from sugar cane to coffee to ranching.


The lunch began with Jim, the founder, cooking an appetizer at table side that consisted of a delicious shrimp with vanilla infused spice rub, sautéed in olive oil and served on a crisp bread with vanilla mango chutney. The entrée was a tasty vanilla citrus bourbon chicken sandwich topped with vanilla caramelized onions on a vanilla-flavored sweet bread bun with a choice of vanilla aioli or vanilla BBQ sauce, roasted spiced potatoes and an organic tossed salad with a vanilla raspberry balsamic vinegar dressing topped with spicy honey-peppered pecans. We tried the vanilla-flavored Jimmy Boy beverage, their own version of the Arnold Palmer combination of lemonade and iced tea. The meal was delicious and Jim shared the story of how vanilla accentuates flavors when activated by citrus, cream or alcohol. He also shared how to make your own vanilla extract by combining slit vanilla pods in a bottle with your favorite alcohol – vodka, whiskey, rum or whatever.


After lunch, Ian, Jim’s son, took us down the hill for a visit to the shade houses used to grow the vanilla orchid vines. Ian told the story of their learning journey very well. They credit Tom Kadooka, a Big Island orchid specialist with getting them started. Visits to Mexico farms that produce vanilla and Madagascar where the very best vanilla is produced added to their knowledge bases. Their approaches to growing and harvesting evolved over several years, but the current

Ian shared their unique story while showing us the growing vanilla vines.

system seems to be working well. Orchid vines take from two to five years to mature enough to produce flowers, depending on propagation methods. An orchid flower opens for only 4 hours and must be hand-pollinated in that period or no seed pod is produced. It is a very labor intensive farming activity, perhaps only second to the production of saffron. The pods have to grow for two months, be picked green and blanched, and then stored in a very specific environment and hand massaged to produce the best vanilla. The five Reddekopp children have grown up working to produce the unique crop and their good efforts show.


After the tour, we returned to the Vanilla Shoppe and snack bar. Cold water and a cup of vanilla ice cream completed the tour, along with a short video to reinforce what we’d just learned about the process of growing and harvesting vanilla, followed by a cup of vanilla flavored coffee (along with cream and vanilla sugar if desired). Jim answered questions and shared a favorite quote, “dreams come one size too big so you can grow into them.” They had a big dream twenty years ago and they have grown into it, producing more than 1,700 pounds of vanilla pods each year. They also produce more than 80 unique products using their vanilla as an ingredient. It would be challenging to go through the meal and tour and then leave without buying vanilla flavored items at their gift shop and so of course, we loaded up a basket of goodies to enjoy later, including the “make your own extract” kit of a bottle with three vanilla beans (add your own liquor).


You can stop by during daily hours for a quick snack and shop in their gift store.

The Reddekopp family added the tourism component to a very successful vanilla production farm to create year-round employment for their best employees. It’s a labor-intensive business and keeping a well-trained workforce makes it all better. For the Big Island it is a unique attraction and one more place for tourists and island residents to get a glimpse of a unique agri-business. We left the experience with new stories to tell and a new appreciation of the complex flavors enhanced by vanilla.


-Tim Merriman



Dolphin Swims on the Big Island

Sometimes there are no easy answers to complex problems. Dolphin swims on the Big Island have been around for several decades as a recreational activity. As visitors to the island we, like many others, enjoyed amazing experiences on dolphin swims with Dolphin

Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.
Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.

Journeys’ Captain Nancy Sweatt. She always provided a high quality and very ethical experience, emphasizing respect for the spinner dolphins and other marine life we would see.


A dolphin swim is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had on land or in the water. Her boat, Dolphin TLC, would drop us off in an area where dolphins were sighted cruising in about 60 to 90 feet of water over light colored sand. We were instructed to wait for dolphins to come near on their own, and told not to pursue them or swim toward them. We watched, took photographs, and kept memories close to our hearts. These experiences caused us to do

It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.
It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.

more research on spinner dolphins and learn more about the controversies surrounding human interaction with them.


Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) spend their nights diving down as deep as 1,000 meters to feed on fish and squid. In the daytime they cruise to shallow bays (100 feet or less) usually over sand or an open bottom to rest. One side of their brain sleeps while the other keeps them cruising down near the bottom for several minutes with quick moves to the surface for a breath and then back to the bottom. They need this resting period each day to remain healthy and strong enough to head back out to deeper waters to feed.


Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.
Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.

When we first went out with Dolphin Journeys, ours was often the only boat around, with just six swimmers and a crew member in the water to encourage respectful behavior. In recent years the number of operators has grown to a dozen or more in Kailua-Kona area alone. Dolphins in four bays on Hawaii and one on Maui might have as many as sixteen boats near them and 60 to 100 swimmers in the water each morning. Some boats have crew members helping and other seem to just drop their clients in the water, picking them up if the dolphins leave the area or their schedule dictates time to go.


Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.
Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has a policy and enforcement role related to marine mammals and they have set previous guidelines which include directions to not harass dolphins. Recently NOAA’s scientists have expressed concern about increased pressure on dolphins from swimmers, primarily associated with commercial boat tours but also in bays easily reached from the shore, such as Honaunau Bay.


A new proposal by NOAA will effectively ban dolphin swims from boats and in coastal waters throughout the islands. It will require swimmers to leave areas of a bay if dolphins come in to rest. NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office is holding six public hearings to get comments about the new regulations. I attended the first one at Konawaena High School and stayed for the first 3 hours of what likely turned out to be five or six hours of comments from 100 or more people with a total audience of 200 or more. As you might expect there were comments both directions – don’t change the regulations and implement the complete ban in coastal waters. Perhaps three-quarters at that meeting preferred the “no change” option.


My comments were from my unique perspective with more than four decades of working in interpretation of natural and cultural resources. Swimming near spinner dolphins is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had. While there are definitely differences in species and circumstances, the situation reminds me of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.


Mountain gorillas have come back from the brink of extinction in E. Africa. Tourism is a critical component for it pays for protection and helps people understand these poorly understood primate relatives of humans.

Researcher Dian Fosse opposed gorilla tourism. After her death, other biologists worked with government officials to develop gorilla tourism in hopes of saving habitat for and providing protection for gorillas. The mountain gorilla population was down to only 220 individuals. Largely due to the anti-poaching protection afforded by tourists with armed guides and guards, it has grown to more than 900 today. A strictly regulated number of tourists go out each day in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo with wild but habituated gorillas. Gorilla tourists often describe the experience as life changing. Swimming with dolphins has that feel also.


Who is helping people learn about dolphins and connect with these fascinating mammals since government agencies do not put ocean interpreters on the water with the public? More than 3,000 paid interpreters with National Park Service and 70,000 volunteers interpret 413 national parks, monuments and battlefields. A few dozen environmental educators and interpreters do similar duties in marine sanctuaries. For the most part, interpretation of dolphins and other marine mammals is left to private dolphin swim operators.


Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, you feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.
Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, we feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.

I think these activities should be allowed with some reasonable and enforceable regulations, but the proposed regulations do not seem reasonable or enforceable. NOAA law enforcement representative indicated fines could be as much as $100,000 and a year in jail – just for swimming near dolphins. NOAA lacks the staff to actually monitor these rules and if they did make arrests and get convictions, the public relations reactions could be more damaging than helpful.


Most of us who have been near them in the water have stories of dolphins coming over to inspect us, sometimes playfully, sometimes slowly, watching with care. Several who gave comments told anecdotes of dolphins seeking human help to untangle fishing line from their flippers or tails.


Largely missed in this conversation is the opportunity for citizen science. If the researchers at NOAA provided survey forms and training to boat operators and dolphin watchers from the shore, data could be collected that might answer some of the many unanswered questions about these unique creatures. Are spinner dolphin populations increasing, staying the same or in decline? What time of day do they arrive at each bay and what time do they leave? What exactly do they do while resting if undisturbed and how does that differ from when they interact with humans? It was interesting that everyone in the room shared a passion for helping dolphins. How do we harness that passion and commonality?


Can dolphin watchers, lovers, swimmers and advocates be allowed some accommodation to sharing the waters of Hawaii?


If ever we needed more inter-species understanding it is now and those who love dolphins would enjoy being involved in better protection and interpretation of them. NOAA is an agency of science and policy charged with protecting oceans and the atmosphere. We do appreciate what they do as an agency. We also need a grand effort to interpret oceans and connect people with these vital bodies of water and their inhabitants. Here is a great chance to collaborate, protect and interpret these fascinating animals.


– Tim Merriman



Everything We Do Matters!

One of our favorite quotes comes from one of our favorite people, Dr. Jane Goodall, who said:


Everything you do makes a difference. Only you can decide what kind of difference you want to make.


We were impressed when we first met artist Calley O’Neill because one of the first things she said Calley at the International Wildlife Exhibition, Londonwas “Everything we do matters.” Calley O’Neill is on a mission of inspiration through her unique collaboration with Rama, an Asian elephant, and Jeb Barsh, Rama’s keeper. We had a fascinating first meeting with Calley and her assistant, Julia, during dinner at the home of mutual friends. Conversations ranged far afield, but we soon learned that we share many interests in common.


Calley is Artist-in-Residence at the Four Seasons on the Big Island. She also teaches yoga twice weekly in Waikoloa. She has a long career as a muralist, stained-glass artist, painter and landscape designer. She has many clients but especially enjoys working with grade schools to create collaborative murals that light up the eyes and imaginations of young people.

Rama Four

If you watch the attached video, she tells the story of meeting Rama, an Asian elephant who painted at the Oregon Zoo. Much earlier in her life as an artist she had considered collaborating with an abstract artist on paintings that would include her more realistic images, but did not find InterspeciesPainting-OurDedication--element944the right person with whom to work. The idea of working with an elephant on a collaboration of that kind seemed just right. Ten years ago she began the project that will ultimately consist of thirty-six 5’x7’ canvases with Calley’s endangered species paintings overlaid on abstract backgrounds painted by Rama.


Rama, Calley and Jeb at the Oregon Zoo

With 21 of the planned paintings completed, Calley began to try to figure out when, where and how to exhibit these incredible images. She received a bigger first YES! than she could imagine! These wildlife thangka paintings will be presented as the major art exhibition at the IUCN World Conservation Congress comes to Oahu in September of 2016. The conference brings representatives from 170 nations together to share conservation successes and challenges, so it seems fitting that the THE RAMA EXHIBITION, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, will have its public debut here.


Everything-We-Do-Matters---Framing, transporting and displaying these works of art is not inexpensive and cannot be reasonably covered by the IUCN or by Calley herself. The Rama Exhibition team has put together a crowd funding program with to help bring this unique collaboration to its first major viewing and then expand around the world to inspire people to think about our ongoing collaboration among all species to live on this Earth together in harmony.


You can be part of this unique collaboration between a very talented Big Island artist and the late RAMA, an amazing elephant ambassador born in captivity. Visit Kickstarter to make a contribution and please share the story of Calley’s commitment to conservation awareness and action with your networks.


Mahalo nui (many thanks),

Lisa and Tim

Harambe – Rest in Peace

The story of the shooting of Harambe, the lowland gorilla, in Cincinnati commanded the air waves and TV time for several days. Harambe’s story, like that of Cecil the Lion, had the emotional power unique to human/animal interest news.

Kwitonda, a silver-backed male mountain gorilla enjoys a snack of bamboo shoots.

It reminded me of the great dilemma for management decision-making. When you manage a property visited by people, sometimes you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Cincinnati Zoo managers had to choose between two undesirable options. They chose the almost sure thing in terms of safety for the child, but an option fraught with reasonable criticism. Jack Hanna, famed zoo director and TV spokesman, said they made the right choice. He knows a zoo director who would choose protecting the animal over the safety of a child would likely be fired quickly, even with a good outcome in terms of injuries. Institutional managers and boards are reasonably risk-aversive.

For those of us who have seen gorillas up close in the wild, this was especially painful. People visit habituated gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda each day with highly trained guides and the 400-pound males allow strangers to mingle in their family space without conflict. The silverbacks and the guides keep a watchful eye on all concerned to ensure that everyone gets along and as long as individuals of both species keep a respectful distance from each other. It works. These close cousins of ours are herbivores. They continue to carry on their daily activities and eat bamboo shoots and other plant material with apparent unconcern while being photographed and watched up close. Harambe was habituated from birth at a zoo in Texas. He was not “wild” and never had been. Keepers had observed his behavior and responses to various situations all his life. Would he have harmed the child beyond what the fall did? We will never know.

Harambe’s behavior seemed more protective than threatening from the clips of the event that have aired. Perhaps something more threatening occurred that we didn’t see. Could they have fired a tranquilizer dart first and followed with a gunshot if Harambe reacted badly? Perhaps. But a decision was made and he is dead and no amount of conjecture will bring him back. And the child is safe, an outcome we would all applaud.

How did a child get into this exhibit? That’s under examination and the accident suggests that the fence was inadequate. They have already installed a taller one just days after the event. This kind of sad situation will send zoos all over the world into a reexamination of their emergency procedures and their physical structures that protect both the animals and the public. Did a parent have a lapse in watching the child? Perhaps, but all of us who have raised children have had lapses in attention. The result of this one was unfortunate for all involved. Blaming the mother seems counter-productive. She will live with this close call for her child the rest of her life.

Harambe was never going back to the wild. He was a captive ambassador for relatives in the wild he would never meet. And perhaps the saddest part of the story is the continued threats in Africa to the wild populations of lowland and mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas have moved from a low of 230 animals two decades ago to more than 880 today due to the ability of the nations of Rwanda and Uganda to protect family groups through gorilla tourism, a powerful financial engine that also builds empathy by bringing people up close to these amazing relatives of humans.

The western lowland gorilla, Harambe’s species, is believed to be more numerous than mountain gorillas, but endangered nonetheless. Estimates are that their populations are in sharp decline due to habitat loss and civil wars in their home ranges in several equatorial African nations. And their remote habitats in war zones in tropical rainforest make accurate population surveys impossible.

The future of gorillas in the wild is uncertain and Harambe’s early death did not change that. It did renew the discussion of how zoos handle and protect large animals of all kinds, while simultaneously protecting their visitors. This event hopefully also reminds us of the importance of protecting wild populations. Gorillas deserve protected places in the world, safe from human conflicts and destruction of habitat. We create virtually all of the threats they face. Will we care enough to help these large primates, our distant relatives, have a future? It’s a big question not easily answered. Rest in Peace, Harambe.

A Visit with Mountain Gorillas – CANCELLED 3/21/16

Due to not meeting the minimum travelers needed to tour Rwanda in October, we have cancelled the trip as of March 21, 2016. If you have a group of six or more interested in a tour of Rwanda with us as your interpretive guides, let us know and we can plan for your specific group.

Cook’s Journey

Cook's monument is visible from any point on Kealakekua Bay.
Cook’s monument is visible from any point on Kealakekua Bay.

Each morning I go out for a 2.5 mile jog in our neighborhood on the Big Island of Hawaii. In one stretch of the run I am looking down at Kealakekua Bay and the white obelisk erected to commemorate the location where famed explorer Captain James Cook was killed at age 50 on February 14, 1779. Cook circumnavigated the Earth, mapping many coastlines for the first time, proving New Zealand to be an island and disproving the hoped for Northwest Passage. Cook’s journey ended on the Big Island when he returned to Kealakekua Bay to replace a broken mast. He took King Kalani’opu’u into custody to leverage return of one of his landing boats borrowed by local people. He was stabbed to death by warriors and villagers loyal to the king, ending his third journey of discovery into the uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean and Coral Sea.


PW4JbbgvxHYCSense of place is based on many components with human history being an important element. Our move to this hillside coffee farm on Mauna Loa volcano stimulated me to begin reading Cook’s journals, which I downloaded from He wrote more than a million words over the years. I found them deadly dull with observations of sailing conditions, bland references to shipboard conditions and reports of disease or punishments handed out, but few of his motivations for exploring. Then I found Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote for the Wall Street Journal and New Yorker.


Many biographies have been written about Captain Cook. This book takes you on a unique journey with the author and colorful Aussie friend, Roger, to the modern-day locations Cook visited in the 1760s and 1770s. Horwitz blends his thoughtful observations of the modern realities of his stops along the way with Cook’s own words in his journals. The author speculates about Cook’s motivations and choices after interviewing local people and Cook historians at the locales visited. His extensive research of the varied side stories add charm and detail where needed to help sort out conflicting versions.


Horwitz started his research with a tortuous week-long internship as a sailor on a replica of Cook’s first ship, a wooden coal-hauling sailing vessel. Just one week convinced him that surviving a trip with Cook must have required incredible patience and endurance. Later in his research he traveled the Aleutian Islands on a ferry and learned that modern ships sometimes provide a miserable experience in the rugged waters of Alaska and the Bering Sea. His ferry captain observed that Cook’s feats were astonishing in surviving the rugged waters of the arctic.


The author also points out the broad influences of Cook on popular culture. I had never made the connection with the fictional Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, who also traveled with his trusted medical officer, Bones, and Science Officer Spock. James Cook traveled on the HMS Endeavor on his first journey with his trusted surgeon and science specialist.


By Nathaniel Dance-Holland - from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom - James Cook official portrait
By Nathaniel Dance-Holland – from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom – James Cook official portrait

Captain James Cook was a steady and fair captain by most accounts until the last few weeks of his life. He was a whiz at math, a master mapmaker, and ahead of his times in using fresh and preserved foods in keeping his crew alive without the losses from scurvy that plagued other sailors in his time. He traveled tens of thousands of miles in the worst possible conditions, but returned to his home in London for brief visits with family back in England before setting off on another exploration. His words from the 1770s sound like something a NASA astronaut might say today,

            Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.

Those of us who interpret nature and history rely on biographies to interpret key events and characters in history. Every additional source adds nuance.

Horowitz’ interpretation of Cook’s life and journey is the best biographical and travel reading experience I have ever had. It especially makes a great read before visiting any of the places Cook lived or traveled – Yorkshire UK, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Alaska and Hawaii.


  • Tim Merriman


P.S. Did I mention we live in Captain Cook, Hawaii?



Off-Grid Lessons Learned

On April 2nd I wrote about our plans to install an off-grid solar system with Aquion batteries on our new bamboo home on the Big Island of Hawaii. It seemed we had little choice. Off-grid solar was less expensive than hooking up to the electrical grid.


Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.
Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.

Seven months later, we live in the home and monitor our 2,475 watt off-grid system on a daily basis. Nine 275-watt panels are mounted on the south-facing roof and an Outback Inverter system and six Aquion 48-volt batteries manage the electrical storage and conversion to the usual AC (alternating) current of our 1,180 square foot home.


We rented another home for the 9 months it took to get through this building project that was also off-grid solar. It had lead-acid batteries and I had a taste of monthly checks of the batteries and addition of distilled water. I could hear the boiling liquid in the batteries on sunny mornings. I used a hygrometer to check the condition of the batteries with coaching from a neighbor. I knew to be careful with any acid spillover and scrubbed away corrosion with a bicarbonate of soda bath. When our electricity suddenly disappeared one day, I asked our solar contractor at the new house to look at the system. He found a loose connection where acid had totally eaten away the bolt connection. He quickly fixed it and it all worked again. It was a lesson in the importance of careful maintenance with lead-acid batteries.


Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.
Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.

I generally like new technologies because they often demystify existing technology. I am a new adopter with home computer devices but I am not usually a new adopter with mechanical or electrical systems. Off-grid solar systems seemed to teeter on that uncomfortable edge of being a little too technical for me. But we took the plunge into off-grid solar for good reasons. We like getting away from fossil fuels. We love supporting new technologies that make sense. We love the idea of not having an energy bill monthly. It was simply cheaper up front with the great tax credits from the state and federal government. So, HOW DID IT GO?


It’s been great, actually.


  • We have no electrical bill at all. On-grid charges in Hawaii are 48 cents a kilowatt hour, about 4 times the rate in most of the U.S.
  • Our viewscape of the ocean is uninterrupted by power poles. On-grid we would have had to install about $20,000 in ugly power poles, that due to the easements, would have obscured our view. Here you have to drill into solid rock to put in transmission poles and that doesn’t come cheap or easy.
  • An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.
    An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.

    The entire system we ended up with cost $24,000, but tax credits give back $11,500. Payback for this system from savings with no electric bill is likely about four or five years.

  • We worried that a 2.475 kilowatt system might not be enough to support our needs so living with it has been a learning experience. We usually draw down the batteries about 15% each night with daily use of a refrigerator, microwave, low-speed overhead fans, lighting and electronics. We also run the washing machine once or twice a week. If we get four hours of good sunlight on any given day, it brings the batteries back up to 100% by noon.
  • It would take seven days of no sun at all to draw down the system to 0 and that just doesn’t happen here. The system has a generator backup system that we likely will never need. With saltwater batteries it is okay to draw batteries down below 50% (a bad idea with lead-acid batteries).
  • We installed propane for cooking and a dryer because stoves and dryers require 220-volt power. Our system only produces 110 volts, a choice we made to save some installation dollars.
  • We went with a Solahart 80-gallon unit for hot water at an extra cost of $7,000 with a 30% federal tax credit (so $5,000 as an after-tax expense.) A heat pump would have met the state requirement for being solar powered because it would get its energy from our photovoltaic cells and would have cost one-fourth as much. We didn’t fully understand this until we were committed on the Solahart system. It works well and we are happy with it, but the heat pump option would have been easier and less expensive and if we had to do it over, we would probably go that route.
  • The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.
    The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.

    We simply have no maintenance requirements with the saltwater batteries. Checking the battery storage level daily is reassuring, but is not really necessary for the system performs as promised. RES, a family-owned business in Honokaa, has been our contractor and their installation work went very well and it all works as expected.


Certainly, there will be lessons to be learned over time. Aquion batteries are sealed, require no maintenance and should last 20 to 30 years, but time will tell. This is technology available only in the last few years so we

A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.
A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.

took the risk of seeing how long these batteries will last, having only the manufacturer’s projections.


The tax credit incentives provided by the federal government and most state governments are “window in time” opportunities. Eventually the window will close and those incentives will disappear, but they are making affordable solar energy systems a great bargain in most situations. If you haven’t looked into the costs and potential return on investment, now is the time to take a look. The sun will always be shining for you but you have to have the right system to take advantage of it for your home or business.


– Tim Merriman


Festival of 1000 Bowls

IMG_3105We recently stopped by the Cool Fusion: Festival of 1000 Bowls held by the Donkey Mill Art Center at Keauhou Shopping Center south of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, with only a little idea of what the 4-hour event held in store for us. It was lunchtime and a Somen Noodle lunch is part of the fun of this event highlighting local pottery.


For $20 in advance of the event or $25 at entry you may pick a pottery bowl from the specified tables to use that day and take home. A volunteer with an iPad and Square app stands by to let you use a credit card to pay. Then you can shop at the other tables with pottery items to purchase, listen to local musicians or the Innovations Youth Orchestra or join one of two lines for food.


IMG_3097Volunteers served up home-style Somen noodles or gluten-free rice noodles. We could add up to eight or nine items of choice including a variety of veggies, kelp, shitake mushrooms, wasabi and fresh ginger. Home-style soy-based soup finishes the dish. We milled around, enjoyed the noodles and went back for seconds. The price includes as many visits to the food table as you wish. For $15 you can buy a pottery sake cup and taste sake samples or you can enjoy iced Kona coffee and tea for free.


I like this approach to fundraising because it directly supports the mission of the organization. Pottery sales support local potters, many of whom learned the craft at the DMAC. The food honors the many Japanese-American coffee and macadamia nut farmers that live in this area. The entertainment is local and very much a part of the arts scene for the community.


IMG_3100 (1)Too often smaller organizations hold bake sales, car washes and rummage sales to raise funds. These do not usually match the organizational purpose or build a stronger image for the sponsor. When the fundraising event is programmatically aligned with the mission, it works at all levels to build brand. Repeating the event annually usually allows fine-tuning each year to improve profitability. This was the Ninth Annual Festival of 1000 Bowls and it seems to have growing support in the community, fun for residents and tourists alike.


Fundraising can be a tedious chore for nonprofit organizations. When events are both purposeful programs and successful in building revenue, everyone has a better time.


Tim Merriman