ISLAND COWGIRLS

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Photo by Craig Brandau

I am here on the Garden Island of Kauai…to decompress.  To put a little distance between me and doing, doing, doing.  To sh-sh-sh the crazed hamster turning wheelies in my head. To tear myself from my cell phone long enough to breathe and not get sucked into another wormhole.  I’m here to feel my heart beat.  Again.  To look up at a watercolor sky.  To walk barefoot.  Somewhere. Anywhere.

 

 

My husband Craig and I are up for a little adventure too.  I read about it in the airplane magazine—The Kauai All Girls Rodeo. This week!

Photo by Cali Rose

We follow the GPS to Poipu then rock n’ roll down a rutted dirt road to CJM Country Stables, park by a horse trailer and slog our pasty pale bodies to the nicely painted stands just as the girls ride the flags—U.S., Hawaii, The Kauai All Girls Rodeo Association–around the arena in the opening ceremony.

The “cowgirls,” as they are called by the announcer, are little ones wearing “kid” helmets to older gals, with wind-tousled gray hair that goes all horizontal on their high speed cowponies.  A few wear cowboy hats and those hats go flying as the ladies circle the barrels and race for home.  The winner does it in 17 seconds; the little girls take longer.  Chivalrous cowboys retrieve the chapeaus for the ladies.

Photo by Craig Brandau

We arrive with the can of sunblock we snagged at Wal-Mart in Lihue and my ubiquitous bottle of Gatorade.  Even the announcer warns us about the perils of dehydration…

I think this is my first rodeo.

But when I was a little girl oh I LOVED horses, ever since I learned to “post” on an English saddle in the badlands of Washington D.C.  Better known as the bridal trail loop in Rock Creek Park.

But when the family moved to Los Angeles the best news was that Western saddle.  Oh God there’s something for my little girl hands to grab onto.  In those days an hour horse rental at the local stable cost $2.50.  I paid in pennies.  I’m also lucky to be alive because I wasn’t a very good rider.  Nor very smart around large animals.  Twice my horse reared up and I went in the opposite direction, landing hard on my butt.  Once my horse fell down, on all fours, and took me with him.  I scrambled free before he rolled over me.  Then there was the time my rental steed took off down a desert ravine, I lost my balance and slid off but caught my foot in the stirrup.  I could have been paid big bucks for that nifty trick if I was a stuntwoman.  But no… I just got dragged in the dirt until the horse decided to stop.

Craig and I took a trail ride during our honeymoon in Lake Tahoe and that’s the last time I’ve been on a horse, unless you count the merry-go-round in Santa Monica and Disneyland.  It’s been 30 years.

All these memories wash ashore again as I watch the ladies do their thing. The trade winds feel like soft feathers across my face.  The lush green hills and sparkly ocean form this spectacular backdrop for a rodeo, Hawaiian style, where the girls and boys speak Pidgin.  Where the island tradition of Paniolo is honored and carried forth.

After the opening ceremony the “rodeo Zamboni,” which in this case is a flat bed truck pulling a giant metal grill, drives in neat concentric circles around the arena.  I am mesmerized by the whole spectacle.  And it’s good to smell horses again.

Flat-bed Zamboni. Photo by Cali Rose
Photo by Craig Brandau

I cheer on each girl, even if she knocks over a barrel.  My stomach drops to my knees as one the young lady is thrown from her horse at the second barrel, right in front of me.  She’s laying flat on her back, legs splayed.   She can’t get up.  The medics rush in, another cowgirl grabs her loose horse.  They know the routine.  The announcer tells us that “these things happen.

I remember how I walked away from my horsey mishaps, unscathed and very lucky, and am much relieved when the young rider is finally helped to her feet.  Strong arms support her as she limps to the gate.

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My life is very busy.  Go cowgirl, go!  Faster.  Faster.  And then the barrel gets ya…
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Look closely at the phone in her pocket. Is that a picture of a horse? Photo by Craig Brandau
Photo by Craig Brandau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stay for the team calf roping event. There goes a baby cow…or is it a steer…and it’s running, running, taking aim at the opposite end of the arena as two ladies, their ropes spinning in the air, chase after the critter. One cowgirl is supposed to lasso the head and the other is supposed to lasso the hooves. And I’m wondering if the cow is thinking “F**K YOU!”

AND they are being timed how long this all takes, IF they can do it at all.  Most of them can’t and one pair of cowgirls actually gets chased by the cow.  Really? That got them a free turn.  Bad cow!

 

Photo by Craig Brandau
Photo by Craig Brandau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am fascinated. This is…so…outside my “bubble.”   But my brain is still here, churning butter and trying to figure out HOW things work…  And I’m really curious how the cow knows to RUN in the first place AND to the other side of the arena where it trots into a rather compact metal slot.

So we pass a couple cowgirls on our way to the car and I mosey over to have a little chat.  “Hey There!  I have a city-slicker question for you…” as I confess ignorance when it comes to animal husbandry. Well they are the nicest ladies and one declares “that’s a very good question.” What a relief because I’m feeling kind of “bubble-wrapped.”

So this is what happens:  The staff comes early to work with the cows, run them around, show them the exit and all that stuff.

“Will they remember for the next rodeo?” I wonder aloud.

Apparently they kind of do remember UNLESS the rodeo is at another arena in which case they have to be “re-educated.”  I immediately flash on my early piano bar days–when I changed gigs a lot and it was a different piano, in a different room, facing a differing direction, with different people… well it took me a while to “find my slot.”

This is one reason why I recommend people play their ukulele in different places in the house, outside, on a park bench, at your doctor’s office.  It gets easier to find your slot, no matter where you are.

Just makes good horse sense.

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A Little Extra Something:  Years ago I wrote a song called “I Wish I Was a Cowgirl.” It’s one of my absolute favorites.  I was stuck in freeway traffic one icky, smoggy afternoon and this country-fantasy daydream stole me away and wrote itself into a song.  Please click here to watch the video on YouTube.

 

Breathing-In Aloha

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We don’t watch television for twelve days. In a row. 288 hours. Can you freaking believe it? Husband and I get out of town. Hawaiian Airlines deposits us on the Garden Island of Kaua’i. We drive to the North Shore, Hanalei, where we hunker down in the little studio apartment over our friend’s garage. After a very challenging year, this vacation is about doing a whole lot of nothing in one of the most beautiful places on this beautiful planet. And that “nothing” part includes not getting sucked in by the daily drum beat of news and manufactured drama and insipid opinions expressed by people who, by all appearances, have no bodies…only heads that talk and squawk.

The infamous Kauai roosters do all the squawking here—starting around four in the morning. Joined by a chorus, well cacophony, of exotic bird calls, rain that sounds like a steel drum on the tin roof and the soft whoosh of trade winds blowing through the phalanx of tropical trees and tangles of bushes. Oh the explosion of greens! And reds, oranges, pinks, yellows, blues, purples. In the sky, the ocean, the land, the tee shirts at Spinning Dolphin in The Ching Young Village in Hanalei central.

THIS is the view of Hanalei Valley from Princeville. You have to drive across a one-lane bridge over The Hanalei River to get there.
Another beautiful sunset from the Hanalei Pier.
This “sudoku-from-hell” is from the Sunday Honolulu Star Advertiser. Yes I cheated a little to solve this one. Busted. But Kenken and Sudoku are like my daily dose of St. John’s Wort.
I’m walking to town…because I can. 🙂

And there are rainbows. Lots of them. Because it rains. Everyday. When I was a little girl, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, told me “the devil is beating his wife” when it was both sunny AND raining at the same time. You know those kinds of days?

Sometimes we say things without thinking them through. Well maybe lots of times. I took this disturbing observation to heart and obviously it’s still rattling around in my head. But really, who in their right mind would marry the devil? And IS there a devil? Some guy who needs anger management…or psychotropic drugs…or more fruits and vegetables in his diet…because…well…he’s a horse’s ass?

By the way, meteorologists call the phenomenon a “Sun Shower.” Hooray for science!

Craig captures this fantastic rainbow at the Hanalei Pavilion Beach.

So I sleep, eat and walk. Almost 10,000 steps a day according to my handy-dandy smarty-pants phone app. But mostly I pull the covers over my head and go unconscious. Until it’s time to get outside, play a little, meet and greet…

I take a lesson with Auntie Beverly who plays smoking’ hot strums on the ukulele. She also teaches hula, plays piano and bass and performs all over the island—wherever the compass points. She is a living, breathing avatar for her native culture and melts her sense of history and aloha into every note she plays and every word she sings.

My husband takes a video of the two of us playing Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Country Roads.” NOT the John Denver version I grew up playing. Like he does with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” Iz changes up the words and the chords. So I gamely strum along, smile and bounce around, even though I have no idea where Beverly is going with that middle part…because this is Auntie Bev’s world and I’m just passing through… Click here to watch.

It’s kind of a joke, me doing “nothing.” I talk a good game, but really, I gotta be doing something. Like practicing the uke in bed and writing a couple songs.
Here’s Auntie Beverly and me after our ukulele lesson in the lanai downstairs.

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She’s from Manhattan, the sales woman who could sell a slinky pareo wrap to a Bolshevik granny. We are perusing one of the gift shops in town where we meet her. Manhattan or not, she’s lived on Kaua’i for over half her life so I ask how she’d compare the two locales. In one sentence. This forty-something happy-one ponders my inquiry. For a few seconds. Everything on Kaua’i takes a few seconds…more.

“We talk to each other here,” she says. “In Manhattan, people just walk by.” With rare exceptions, we find this wondrous exhibit “A” of human connection in full bloom on this island.

Yes the ocean is THIS blue at The Kīlauea Lighthouse on the north shore of Kaua’i.
What a face. This is Tom, a naturalist at the Kīlauea Lighthouse. He tells me that birds fly 200 miles round trip a day for dinner, Not exactly “fast food.”
This educational display is inside the information center at Kīlauea Lighthouse. The answer to this question is…next.
I open the lid and there it is: E. All the above. Whoa! This is what giant birds eat because they think it’s food. Of course I eat Spam because I think it’s food…

 

Kona Don (on the tall chair in front) and I are sitting in with Steve and Ed at their Happy Hour gig at Tahiti Nui in Hanalei.

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By the time we leave, my husband has befriended the locals at the breakfast joint. Clarence and Bill for example.

Bill the Bird Man.

Like many cafes in Hawaii, the doors and windows are wide open. Birds fly in and out and make themselves at home. Our last morning in Hanalei, a sparrow bangs into something and keels over in our booth, right next to my husband’s backpack. I zero in for a closer look. The little thing is lying on its side, quivering like it’s having a really bad dream. And maybe it is. I figure—oh good, it’s not dead.

So I go over to the table of North Shore eccentrics and sputter some bird nonsense. Bill ambles to our table, leans over and, with exquisite tenderness, lifts the bird in his hands. He must have the special island mojo because that bird comes to life like some Disney audio-animatronic parrot in the Enchanted Tiki Room. Although in this case it’s the enchanted Village Snack Shop and Bakery.

Because it’s cheap and good we are there every morning, before 8:00 A.M., before the spam musubi, my favorite, sells out. One of the cashiers, Narcie, shares a bag of lychee nuts from her tree with us. Just like that. These “kinda-look-like-a-grape-inside” fruit are very labor intensive. It takes A LOT of peeling to get to the good part. But I like to play with my food so lychee nuts are delicious AND oh so soothing.

Homemade spam musubi and island passion for breakfast.

People are kind and say “hello” or “aloha” except for some uptight tourists. We see a bunch of local kids fishing in a river by our food truck. “What are you catching?” I ask the young woman and she gives me a Cliff Notes education on local, eat-able fish and who the boyfriend is…”over there.”

This is why we go back to Kaua’i again and again. There is a palpable sense of connection—with the air and water and land and each other. A little more “time-lapse” between words and thoughts. Of course there are issues roiling under the surface that you won’t see in the glossy travel brochures. Always something. Everywhere. But in this place I find my way…back to my heart.

Sunset over Hanalei Bay (the “Hanalee” referred to in the song Puff The Magic Dragon).
And a little island “attitude” too…

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Both my classes: Ongoing Ukulele Workshop & Jam and
Ukulele For Beginners start Saturday, July 15, 2017 at Boulevard Music in Culver City, CA. Please join us.