From the Road

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Counting Raindrops in Germany

Again I have promised myself to find sleep before 1 am. Again, I am awake, working to catch-up with my life after the intense experience of the International Space University, Space Studies Program in Cork, Ireland.

A moth flutters between the lamp shade and bulb. A distant jet passes overhead, by the sound neither arriving to nor departing from Frankfurt International Airport which is just a few kilometres distance from where I sit. This enclosed space provides the deeply nourishing aroma of untreated pine, floor, walls, and ceiling. An enclosed half gazebo is my resting spot each night, in the back yard of a family friend in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

Small spaces. Safe spaces. A room just big enough for a bed and table lamp, both resting on the floor; an area rug and place to place wet shoes. This is what feels right to me. Not the opposite of wrong, but right as in comfortable, natural, and satisfying.

We are so much driven to embrace thick walls, insulated ceilings, and windows that reflect heat and block sound that we forget what it means to fall to sleep to the wondrous sound of raindrops, falling, one by one.

By |2017-08-30T18:52:15-04:00August 30th, 2017|From the Road, The Written|Comments Off on Counting Raindrops in Germany

Counting Raindrops in Ireland

From the passenger seat of this rented Opal, I watch seagulls contend for strings of seaweed and scraps of bait tossed overboard from a passing fishing vessel, the only one to enter Reen Harbour this Sunday morning.

Two dozen small ships are anchored here, in the neck of this natural safe haven. Some old, rusty buckets that have seen many storms; some new, clearly more for sport and weekend fun than generating income.

Michael, the principal guide of yesterday’s kayaking tour directed my attention to an otherwise elusive, black hulled, single mast sailing boat which is, he shared, simply gorgeous on the inside. The owner purchased the hull in another country and had it towed here, to Castletownshend, Ireland for an overhaul. A master craftsman, he has meticulously refurbished the interior to a degree that was best expressed by Michael as a whistle rather than words.

It is the owner’s intend to sail to Iceland, but recent poor weather has kept him here for a few weeks more. I was shocked to learn of this intent, for the boat appears quite small, with a square stern and equally vertical bow, it does now appear to the layman’s eyes the kind of ship one would take into then open, northern seas.

I slept here last night, in this rental car, after my second guided paddle for the day. Michael, his partner Caroline, and Patrick are passionate about their line of work, as they take customers onto the water two times a day, five, six, sometimes seven days a week. They carefully interweave the experience of exploring this harbour by kayak with history, biology, and a lesson in mindfulness training.

Michael suggests that we let go of all that we brought with us. In a tag-team fashion, Michael continues, “find your child’s imagination again,” for in that place lie the ghosts of history come alive in the silhouettes on-shore and the unknown treasures in the depths below.

We paddled through pockets of brilliant bioluminescence, pockets of phytoplankton that have by day stored the sun’s energy in order to release it again at night. Caroline shared that some 90 percent of the ocean’s lifeforms are able to produce visible light. The reasons for this communication are not yet fully understood.

The wake of a kayak, the twist of a paddle, even the flick of fingertips across the surface of the water invokes a magical light show. Michael snatched a net of seaweed and demonstrated how one could invoke a cacophony of illumination, hundreds of points of light popping on and off again.

We returned to shore just after midnight, but I was reluctant to exit my boat. I could have remained adrift ’till sunrise, content to watch, to listen, to take innumerable more deep breaths. The chilled, salty air of the coastal Irish night drew me into the comfort of my borrowed comforter which this morning continued to hold me tight.

The windscreen is littered with raindrops from the most recent ladened clouds. I have rolled the side windows up and down a few times already in concert with the passing clouds. The sun has shone but for a few minutes, only to retreat again to its own safe haven, a harbour for a celestial body relatively unknown in this land.

By |2017-07-30T10:37:31-04:00July 30th, 2017|From the Road|Comments Off on Counting Raindrops in Ireland

The Ultimate Camping Subaru

Your Office in the Woods
When we think of car camping, we often picture a tent or open air sun shade, cooler, cook stove, folding chairs, and mountain bikes atop an SUV or minivan. Car camping allows ready access to beautiful, even if not terribly remote places.

But for me, car camping is what I do when I need to quickly get away from the insanity of the city, even if I continue working. With 4G mobile data, the speeds are sufficient for email, web research, multi-channel conference calls, and the upload of draft film edits. So, why sit in a stuffy office in a stuffy building with stuffy people when you can instead be working from your favourite campsite?

Exactly. So, all we need is power.

To work from the primary car battery is not a good idea. Yes, it functions, but standard lead acid batteries are designed for short, high amperage discharge to start your car, not the continuous drain of a low-wattage cell phone charger or laptop power adapter. While AGM batteries are becoming more common, and deliver both the power to start your car and consistent supply for electronics, concern remains for monitoring your battery to make certain you can start your car again. If you are all alone in the middle of the National Forest, running your car every 2-3 hours might be ok. But if in a campground, the fumes are annoying, the sound obnoxious. Why not go solar?!

This photo essay is how I converted my 2000 Subaru Forester into the ultimate camping car with a continuous supply of 110V power, day or night, supplied by 100% renewable nuclear fusion—the sun.

Each of the following are available from Amazon, save the battery and 12V power socket which I purchase from a local auto parts dealer:

  • Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel
  • Renogy AK-20FT-10 10AWG Adaptor Kit Solar Cable PV with MC4 (F/M) Connectors
  • Renogy TOOL-MC4 Solar Panel Mc4 Assembly Tool
  • Morningstar Sunsaver TrakStar 15 Amp MPPT Charge Controller 12V/24V
  • Renogy Solar Panel Mounting Z Bracket Set of 4 Units RV Boat Off Grid Roof
  • [brand] 12V / 7AH AGM battery
  • 12V power socket with mounting bracket
  • Morningstar SI-300-115V-UL 300W pure sine wave inverter
  • Household 110V A/C power socket and toggle switch to trigger the inverter ON/OFF

Design & Planning
What these photos and this essay do not convey is the amount of time spent in measuring, sketching, measuring again, and planning the layout of this project. One does not just drill holes in the roof a car, even a 16 year old car, without some careful consideration.

I likely spent equal time in Ace Hardware, working with one of the helpful employees to find the best way to accomplish the task at hand, as I did implementing each task.

This project required 3-4 hours a day for 5 days, or roughly 20 hours start to finish.

Solar Subaru: remove panels by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: lower roof panel by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: drilling holes by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: drilling holes by Kai Staats

If you can find a way to bring the cables from the solar panel into the car interior without drilling holes, by all means do this. You thereby avoid potential water damage and of course, drilling holes in the roof of your car.

On my prior 2003 Outback Sport, I was able to do this because the solar panel I applied was lower wattage and therefore used thinner electrical cables. With this 100W panel, I stuck with the suggested 10g wire which with its thick insulation was pinched by the opening and closing of the rear hatch. So, drill holes I did.

If you must drill holes, remove all interior panels required to lower (or remove) the ceiling panel, allowing access to the metal of the roof, where the holes will be drilled. In selecting the location of the holes, I took into account the cross bar which I most certainly wanted to avoid, the placement of the panel and where the power leads terminate, and the physical constraints of the water proof adapters employed for the task.

I used a multipurpose hole saw which adapts to a drill bit. Let is spin at nearly full speed, press lightly, and be ready to catch the whole contraption before it punches through if you did not remove the interior panel. Else, you may accidentally drill through that too.

Solar Subaru: make water tight housing by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: insert water tight housing by Kai Staats

I experimented with a number of water tight fittings at the hardware store before I discovered these nifty right-angle adapters which have both a removable plate for helping the wire make the bend, and a water tight fitting which when turned, closes around the wire at the end. The silicon rubber ring is a separate purchase. I had to ask the manager to look when the clerk was unable to find what I needed. Ultimately, they had the right one to both fit over the threads of the threaded fitting and seal to the roof of the car. I did not use any adhesive, and it is 100% water tight against the car wash, garden hose, and weather.

Of course, you want to select the hole saw to match the diameter of the threaded nut as close as is possible.

You will also note that I used a metal hack saw and 120 grit sand paper to reduce the depth of the threaded nut to a minimum profile so as to not press against the upper (hidden) side of the roof panel, allowing the thick solar cable to bend over the widest arc possible.

Solar Subaru: water tight cabling by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats

The final installation is both professional in its appearance (if you consider plumbing parts on the roof of your Subaru to be professional), low profile for minimum air resistance, and water tight (see above, left). Once the cables are routed above the ceiling panel and down the interior of one of the two rear beams, you are ready to replace all the interior panels.

Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: remove roof struts by Kai Staats

The mounting of the solar panel will be specific to your vehicle. I found a way to use the existing roof rails (above, right) in which I drilled holes and inserted bolts from the bottom up. Using lock washers, I was able to fit thread dowel nuts onto the bolts, creating a surface onto which the panel brackets rest. When the wing nut is tightened, the panel is completely snug, not the slightest vibration.

All of this took a significant amount of careful measurement, so take our time, check all measurements twice, and do it right the first time.

Solar Subaru: panel brackets by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: panel hing by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel up by Kai Staats

Mounting the panel itself was a bit tricky. I used the brackets ordered along with the panel, but in a way they were not intended. Designed to attach to the side of the panels, I drilled new holes along the ends, again carefully measuring so as to fit perfectly to the bolts which press through the roof rails. The only messy effort is the need to make the holes in the mounting brackets slightly oblong so as to accommodate the angle of the panel when it lowers onto the bolts.

The hinge serves two functions: to allow the raising and lowering of the panel for work on the wiring or cleaning the roof without removal, and to angle the panel to face the sun. I now carry a short wooden stick which readily props the panel to approximately 45 degrees. Eventually, I would like to attach a metal “kickstand” with a set of angles built-in.

Solar Subaru: panel flat by Kai Staats

The final product is solid, low-profile, and even allows for full use of my roof rack, unobstructed.

Solar Subaru: finished by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: finished by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: 300W inverter by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: 110V A/C by Kai Staats

In the rear-left (driver side) cargo pocket I drilled holes to route the positive (+) and negative (-) electrical cables from the panel into the interior space, to the AGM motorcycle battery. The charge controller is mounted to the wall of the pocket (which was a bit tricky, given that no glue would stick to the vinyl). I used T-nuts designed for wood working, applying 3 small screws per T-nut but careful to not strip the forced threading in the thin plastic wall of the pocket. Again, this is specific to my installation. The new 12V power socket was affixed using the same T-nuts and a total of 6 small screws, 3 per T-nut.

In the rear-right (passenger side) cargo pocket I mounted a standard, household A/C socket and toggle switch connected by 18g wire to the Morningstar 300W inverter mounted on a slab of wood (cut to fit neatly in the bottom of the plastic bin) just above the spare tire. The wire from the inverter to the socket is standard 14g as required in home wiring.

The end result is A/C power from either side, or both, whenever I need it.

The AGM motorcycle battery is ample (without the sun up) to provide one full charge of my Apple PowerBook Pro. Seems low, but when I run the numbers it makes wattage sense. It is incredible how much power is stored in Lithium-Ion batteries but at 1/10 the physical volume of the AGM. For now, it serves its purpose perfectly, providing power to get through the evening hours and into the night with my laptop and cell phone charging, a low-wattage LED work light. By day, I have all the power I need.

I now have a completely separate electrical system which leaves my car’s primary battery to start the car. Should it ever die, I simply run a cable from the original rear power socket to the new socket I installed, positive-to-positive, negative-to-negative (parallel wiring) and I can charge the dead battery from the rooftop solar PV panel.

By |2018-03-27T16:42:31-04:00May 23rd, 2017|From the Road, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on The Ultimate Camping Subaru

Into the Blue

South Point afternoon by Kai Staats

The swell
The swell of the sea was visible from the height of the forty foot cliff at South Point, Hawai’i. Movement of water not as white caps nor ripples, for the surface was relatively calm. Rather, massive volumes of water rose and fell, a meter in elevation off shore, more than two meters where it met the black walls of an ancient volcanic flow. The percussion of the union could be felt as a low rumble once every ten minutes when the waves built to a crescendo.

In the early morning the swell was too great for me to feel comfortable in cliff jumping. Even snorkeling at the bottom of the rough in-cut, a series of blocks and ledges which allowed fisherman and snorkelers access to the water just 50 meters from the ladders, instilled concern for my ability to get back to safe harbour. While my strength in the water had grown with nearly two years surfing in South Africa, this kind of water, at an immediate depth of nearly ten meters, was too much for me.

By noon the tourists had arrived in large numbers. Many stood at the cliff’s edge, cameras held in shaking hands as they dared to ponder what lay beneath them. The crystalline blue water enabled a view of the massive structures below the surface, black rock now blanketed in various forms of lightly coloured coral.

My confidence that day was not great, despite my having jumped at this location a dozen times across prior visits. I had in 2006, 2012, and the previous weekend jumped from the West facing cliff and also into the collapsed lava tube whose belly provided a typically safe passage beneath the cliff line, a one minute swim back to the open sea and up the same ladders.

The swell made things more critical. Timing the jump and the return to the ladder was critical. No one was jumping into the tube for the swell was amplified in that confined space, a rise and fall of four or more meters, and I later learned, the water cashing against the ceiling of the otherwise ample fifteen meter diameter cave. What’s more, the froth created by the water slamming against the volcanic rock and resulting cavitation filled the blue water with air, turning it to a frothy white. I knew from prior experience that this water offered far less buoyancy. A swimmer would struggle to keep his or her head above, let alone make progress in any direction.

Colleen and I retreated to the rocky ledge roughly one hundred feet south of the cliff and ladders, where we had one week earlier enjoyed an incredible afternoon of snorkeling. There too the swell was, by ocean standards, minimal. Yet, it gave me discomfort. Not for the entry but for the exit. The sharp rock was sure to cut and scrape with even the slightest abrasion.

After some observation and contemplation I dove in sans gear and practiced timing my exit. Twice I was successful, but not without struggle and multiple attempts. On my third entry I wore goggles and snorkel. This time, with Colleen on the second ledge, I was challenged at the exit. Knowing I could simply float for an extended period of time, I should have pushed off shore and waited, returning to the shelf when I could properly time the exit.

But I panicked, and tried three times. I hung by one hand while the water pulled at my body, it’s grasp stronger than my own. I fell back into the water, my snorkel filling, little air in my lungs to expel the water. But my body reacted as it should, waiting until I surfaced, expelling, breathing lightly to test the apparatus, and then recovering.

Colleen shouted, “Wait! Just wait!” I ignored her and tried again. From my point of view, the entire world was rising and falling, sliding side to side. Logic too said wait. My panic said go. I succeeded in the fourth attempt but was nearly pulled back into the froth with another rise and fall. I quickly climbed onto the third shelf where I would just one hour later engage in an entirely different fight for survival.

I was bleeding from both feet and my right hand. Minor scratches and a lesson learned. “Ok. Let’s not snorkel today,” I concluded with a nervous laugh.

The jump
We returned to the cliff where the local kids were the first to jump, showing off to the captive audience with back flips and swan dives. A few Swedes and Danes were next, each of whom had jumped and found their way back to one of the two ladders (the climb far more scary than the fall) encouraging another. Overall, a dozen succeeded.

I knew that if I too jumped, my confidence would return and I would feel good about my final day at South Point before Colleen and I returned to the mainland the next day. I removed my hat, shirt, and shoes. I timed the swell at its peak and leaped from the cliff. As with all previous jumps, my eyes closed long before I hit the water. I don’t recall ever taking an intentionally deep breath, but I always had ample air as I returned to the surface. It seems this is a natural reflex, not something for which one must train. But I am not certain.

Once back to the surface, I felt good, even relatively calm. Away from the cliff face, in front of the opening of the massive cave, the rise and fall of the swell was not as noticeable for the reference points were in the relative distance.

I rolled onto my back, arms outstretched and floated for a short while before making my way to the ladder. That is when I noticed it was over a meter above the water’s surface. I would have to wait until the water brought me up to that elevation.

Just as I arrived, so did another jumper. We connected to the bottom rung of the rusty ladder at the same time. Just then the bottom of our liquid world dropped out and we were left hanging by one arm each, only our ankles yet in blue.

The water rushed into the cave. The ladder, composed of three sections, was drawn in as well. We were pulled to a nearly horizontal position by the force of the swell. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the water rising to the ceiling of the cave, some sections slammed with a force ample to knock a swimmer unconscious. I did not let go.

Again vertical but with the full weight of our bodies dangling from the ladder, my companion fell back into the water. Typically, this is not a problem. The water is deep, warm, and invites an incredible swim. But getting to and from the ladder in an active swell is compounded by sharp, rusty edges. Nearly every jumper that day had some scratch for their effort to climb out again.

I too dropped off, feeling the need to make room for my companion to get back on as I could not determine, in that moment, if he was a strong swimmer comfortable with his position, or needing something to hold on. I quickly grabbed a thick loop of rope tied to the bottom rung. It was encrusted with years of barnacles and was rough to the touch, difficult to hold.

Above me, the last jumper-climber was nearly to the top. I was not even suppose to be on the ladder until she was off, but with a growing line of swimmers waiting to climb, I started up. Immediately, two others climbed on below me. If I fell, I might take them with me. But that was a risk everyone was taking, to get out of the turbulent water.

At the top of the ladder, I was relieved and my confidence for that day rekindled. Colleen greeted me, noted the small cut on my stomach, and offered to show the video recording once we moved away from the cliff edge.

We watched a few more locals jump, and a few tourists too. Then a woman named Jen walked to the edge, and as with the others before her, leaped into the deep blue. She was a heavy woman, fifty years of age if I overheard later conversation correctly. Colleen and I looked down from where I had jumped and saw her looking back up, to her friend, smiling, adjusting her swimsuit before she swimming to the metal ladder.

We talked, watched another jump, and then noticed that all the tourists had moved from the top of the two ladders south to the cliff edge which overlooked the rough set of blocks and ledges where I had snorkeled an hour earlier.

I realised Jen was not coming up the ladder but attempting to swim around. I ran past the growing crowd, left around the end of the cliff to the top of the series of steep, stone blocks where one can get down to the water in a few bounds.

Jen was just off-shore, maybe twenty feet. To her front was a young man, a strong swimmer with tanned skin and dark, curly hair. In the water he had guided her from the ladder to the ledge where she might exit. Exhausted, she swam very slowly. She was on her stomach. I arrived as she lifted her head just once, then put her head into the water again. She just lay there, arms out-stretched.

I called to her, initially believing she was resting, “Lady! Hey lady! You are almost there! Keep going!” But I soon realised she was done. She was drowning. The swimmer had arrived to the rocky ledge just before her, turned and swam back out. I looked above me to the top of the cliff and yelled, “Get a rope! Get a rope!” No one responded, not a single voice called back. I yelled again, “She is downing. We need help down here!” Two boys bounded down the series of steps. I turned back to the water. A local fisherman in a wet suit handed me his sun glasses and then dove in. The young man who had guided her remained in the water. One of them, I don’t recall now, rolled her onto her back, looped his arm under her chin and brought her to shore.

The water rose and fell four to six feet with the swell, threatening to toss her onto sharp rocks. I jumped down to the lowest shelf, knowing that if the swell returned in that moment, I would likely be dragged into the sea. I stepped back up one level and called out, “I am not strong enough to help you bring her in! I’ll help pull her out!” The three men in the water nodded and kept swimming. The water rose, her body came within my grasp but I could not hold on. I nearly lost my footing and let go. Again, the water rose and I was able to grab her right arm at the pit. I then saw that her upper arm was cut deep, across more than half the diameter and nearly to the bone. I later learned it was the ladder, when she had tried to climb out but fell. The blood loss must have been tremendous, combined with the swim likely inducing shock.

The two in the water made it to the shelf and did their best to lift her up. I pulled from my position, trying to keep her from being cut. Another person arrived, to my left, and contributed. Our success in getting her onto the first shelf was thwarted shortly thereafter when a swell lifted her up and took her out to sea again. Two others again swimming by her side, my single hold on the rocky ledge kept me from being dragged out with them.

When the water receded I leaped to the next shelf up and noticed one of the young men, a tourist, who was at my side. He was leaning against the base of the cliff, sobbing, nearly sick as well. I asked him if he was OK, if he had been hurt. He shook his head, the tears mixed with salt water and ocean spray. I advised him to climb out, so as not to be injured. I then called up for more help, to the twenty or thirty who watched from above.

I later learned Jen’s friend was one who saw this ordeal unfolding, the two of them on vacation. Jen has lost her mother not long before, had no children nor immediate family. Jen was on the phone to a friend or her mother, I don’t know.

The water brought Jen back in again, and I jumped back down to again grab her arm. I noticed two more boys in the water, all trying to get her out of the ocean. Another rescuer was to my left, the boys and man in the water, lifting as best they could.

We succeeded in lifting her out and onto the first shelf. Some one had thrown down a boogie boar and we set it on the next shelf up. On a poorly coordinated countdown, we lifted Jen to the next ledge. It was very difficult, the rock threatening both her limp body and our own. We set her down, half on, half off the foam board, adjusting her position as best we could in the cramped location.

I am trained in Wilderness First Response, with two recertifications. I have used my training twice before, when a man was hit by a bus in Tanzania, and in Palestine when a fellow hiker was unable to continue due to heat stroke. In those situations, I knew what to do, to stabilize and then evacuate the person in critical condition. But nothing fully prepared me for this.

We began chest compressions, the placement of my hands on her bare chest, the rhythm of that movement came naturally. I switched off with a young, energized Chinese girl who was pumping too fast, too shallow, but I did not correct her for I was struggling with my role in this. While trained and comfortable in taking charge of the situation, I hesitated. I stalled. I had never seen, never touched nor held a person who had died within reach of my hands.

The facts were strong in my mind: likely heavy loss of blood, no oxygen for 6-8 minutes, overweight and exhausted. The chance of CPR working was already less than 5% across the board, in any situation. I am ashamed to admit the reality of my thinking, but I did not see the point in continuing.

No one who was taking turns had provided breaths. It is not technically necessary with good chest compressions, and the condition of a drowning victim makes this … difficult.

The bat and the reel
Then behind me I heard yelling. At first, I thought someone had fallen in, another person struggling. Then I heard the male voice call out, “Get the bat! Get the bat!” It was a fisherman I had not seen before. He either moved past all of us on the narrow ledge or climbed down, which would have proved difficult.

A giant marlin, the fish with the massive dorsal sail and long, sharp mouth was less than a foot to my right, partially suspended on a heavy line. Its mouth was just inches from one of the rescuers, close enough to cause harm. Then I heard the sound of someone clubbing the fish. I quickly looked over my head between compressions and realised the fisherman was killing the massive fish with the short bat.

“We got ’em! Keep the line tight! We got ’em!”

I was immediately enraged and yelled back, “What the fuck are you doing! We are trying to save this woman’s life and you are killing a fish!?” The moment those words came from my mouth an image of him beating me instead warned me of pushing any further.

He responded, “Dude! I ain’t going to fuck’n let it go! This is the best of the day! And it’s dangerous man, fucking dangerous! We have to get it out!”

I saw both points. The marlin was a good five feet long. It likely offered 50 or more pounds of meat and could injure one of us if it started thrashing. But the juxtaposition of the two stories so closely intertwined was so difficult for me to process in that moment. Two lives taken by the sea. But for very different reasons. Both violent in their own way.

The best we could
After a few minutes the water rose again. It splashed onto our feet and Jen’s legs. I motivated the crew to move her again to a higher ledge. I called for men with shoes. Those on the cliff hesitated until one of the tourists called to his friends, berating them and at the same time motivating them to come down, “Get down here! NOW!” Two did. On a proper count we lifted and moved her, legs, arms, head, and boogie board too.

The Chinese girl yelled that we should continue CPR. I knew this was the correct thing to do but I hesitated and she jumped in. I immediately felt confusion over the battle in my brain. I was suppose to be the one motivating, driving this operation until the medics arrived. I looked to the cliff opposite me, across to the other side of the chasm in which we operated and asked if anyone had called 911. I was suppose to have commanded that ten minutes earlier. Of course, more than one person had.

It was the Chinese girl who motivated us to continue CPR and we did. I was moved by her energy and switched off every 40 or 60 compressions. People on the cliff attempted to contribute by yelling instructions, how to do CPR. I did my best to ignore them, knowing we were doing it properly. I corrected placement of hands when someone took over but was too high or too low. One women did not interweave her fingers properly, and after a few failed attempts I asked her to let someone else in who had training.

When someone asked why we were not adding breaths, I said we needed a plastic bag with a hole or piece of cloth. Someone jumped down the half dozen ledges from the top and offered the top of a 1 gallon water jug, expertly cut just moments earlier. We inserted it into her mouth and took turns blowing, but we could not get it to seal. Jen’s chest did not rise and fall.

Someone suggested we cut an opening in her throat. Another called out that was the wrong procedure. I ignored them both. They had watched too many dramatic movies. A bandanna arrived shortly thereafter and with that as a subtle barrier we were able to provide air, her chest filling and releasing again.

Jen’s color returned with each round of chest compressions, but faded almost immediately when we stopped to move her. The sound of her forced exhalation confirmed that her lungs were free of fluid enough to allow air to enter, if only it had not been too late.

The paramedics arrived some 40 minutes after she had first put her head down. We had applied CPR for close to 30 minutes, to the best of our ability. She was moved once more to a higher ledge where the paramedics provided a backboard. A few of us helped strap her on while one of the paramedics continued compressions until she was lifted, passed hand to hand up the steep, narrow incline. I followed the eight men who carried her, watching as the wheeled legs folded and she slid into the back of the ambulance.

Some of those who assisted were with YWAM, a Christian volunteer organisation. As the ambulance drove away, they huddled in a prayer circle, heads bowed. I could hear one crying. The rest once gathered at the top of cliff dispersed, slowly returning to their cars. The police recorded the events of the afternoon through interviews.

One of the YWAM volunteers who was at my side down below, I believe, hurried to where I was standing and the police officer taking my story. He exclaimed, “Hey! That guy just threatened me with his knife!” pointing over his shoulder to a group of local fisherman, one of which had stood behind me with the club and the fish.

The officer followed his outstretched arm with his gaze but quickly returned to the boy. He said simply, “Let it go. Just let it go. Walk away.” The boy looked at me, confused and angry. The day weighed heavy on him. I said, “This is not our island. Nothing you can do.” The boy lowered his head and walked away from us, and from the sea.

The officer is a Hawaiian native. I stated, naively, “It is not easy to be in another place, another culture, when things like this happen.” The moment he responded I realised my mistake, “It’s not our culture. It’s just him. But there are some like him.” I apologised and nodded.

I had not seen Colleen for nearly an hour. I found her close to our rental car, waiting. She opened her arms as I drew close and held me. I didn’t cry then, not until later as we drove. I whispered, “I forgot so much of what we are trained to do. I didn’t even want to try. I’ve just never, … I don’t know what happened. It was, … ” Colleen answered, “You did the best you could. There was nothing more you could do.”

Before we left I found Jen’s friend standing where the ambulance had been before it departed. I don’t know why she did not ride along. Maybe I have watched too many movies too, maybe they don’t really allow friends or family to climb in back. Maybe she didn’t want to.

I introduce myself as the first one to arrive. She just stared at me, nodding. She welcomed a brief hug and I said softly, “We did the best we could. We all did. We tried.” She responded simply, “Thank you.”

I walked with Colleen back to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the open sea. I sat down, legs dangling. I noticed that my fear of falling was totally gone, that sensation in the stomach that induces the motivation to take a step back again free. We sat there for a few minutes before we drove away. I said goodbye to South Point, to Jen, and to the sea.

The deep blue
Processing something like this gives me incredible appreciation for those whose lives are daily intertwined with death. To do this for a living is simply astounding. But I also know that paramedics, nurses and doctors are not unaffected. As with any level of intensity sustained, it takes its toll on the mind and body.

I look back to the moment Jen jumped and the memory of her looking up from the ocean below, smiling, waving. She did something exhilarating. She pushed her boundaries. She took a risk to do something outside her norm. While those final moments must have been terribly scary for her, for I had experienced panic in that same spot just a half hour earlier, the total act was something beautiful.

All of life on this planet, save the fungi, bacteria, and waterbears is incredibly fragile. We humans can run, jump, climb, swim, and fly (with some assistance), but a single gulp of water in the wrong chamber, a brief inhale of the acidic air produced by the volcano down the shore and we are imperiled.

This line of thinking leads to so many parallel threads, about the value we place on life in our conversation, in the news, in the movies, to what it means for that life to end, for a line of stories to so abruptly terminate, without proper salutation.

It happens every day, thousands of times each hour. And so few exit this place and time doing something they enjoy, as Jen did, with a leap into the deep blue sea.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:30-04:00January 31st, 2017|From the Road|Comments Off on Into the Blue

A return to Hawai’i, a photo essay

Lava Flow, Hawaii by Kai Staats

Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats

South Point Hawaii by Kai Staats There is an amusement park quality to the Big Island of Hawai’i, a series of microcosms and ecosystems juxtaposed such that tropics and snow are little more than an hour by car. You need only travel for fifty miles to transition from a place which receives 400 inches of rain per year to another which receives just one. From flowing lava to lush forests, from snow-capped peaks to the warmth of a tropical ocean, the diversity of this land is like few others in the world.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats In two hikes, six days in total, Colleen and I moved some 50 miles by foot, carrying tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, cook stove, fuel, and food. We treated water along the route, knocked a coconut from a tree by means of a found projectile, unsuccessfully cut into its shell, and spent the afternoons in the sun and water. At night we were greeted by turtles just inches from our camera and light. A massive eel caused us to wonder if snorkeling by day in this remote location was a good idea.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats As in 2012 when I visited the Big Island and wrote The Birthplace of Stone, there is a sense of returning home, to be reminded how the Earth was formed. The raw, exposed, treacherous nature of walking on lava leaves one uncertain at nearly every step. The hazards abound while the beauty overwhelms.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats This was the kind of adventure that is not easy nor easily ignored. It settles into your skin much as the salt accumulates in your hair or the sulfuric vog pulls at your lungs. Eventually, the memory fades, but something says you must return again. That way of living, in which all that is required is on your back, that is what for me feels natural and normal and true. The rest, this is the dream from which I hope to wake and return to the real world.

Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats

By |2017-05-24T18:03:03-04:00January 20th, 2017|From the Road|Comments Off on A return to Hawai’i, a photo essay

Theatre’s End

I am an unknown actor
playing an inconsequential role,
in a production which has no author.

An invisible stage crew,
wearing clouds so as not to be seen,
has elevated this narrow stage to an unnatural height.

Here I witness the moon,
as a canned light hung from a hidden catwalk,
burning to bring us the night.

The chair on which I rest shudders with vibration,
a massive engine suspended from the adjacent wing
which folds only once with the closing act.

The light of the Moon comes to me twice,
once from its refractive regolith,
then again from the curve of the nearby, rotund shroud.

Internal blades spin with incredible precision at an incomprehensible velocity so as to maintain this airborne guild. With me, there are three hundred actors. I am but twenty seven and one. Together, we long for an audience which cannot attend yet will embrace us individually, at theatre’s end.

By |2016-01-20T15:27:35-04:00January 19th, 2016|From the Road, The Written|Comments Off on Theatre’s End

The Hawk, the Fox, and the White-tailed Deer

On the inner fringe of the Tucson Mountain Park, where the last of the massive homes dot the landscape, the red-tailed hawk rose out of the canyon with but the slightest motion of her wings. I wanted to follow, but could not find the means.

The fox scurried from beneath a creosote bush as I scrambled down a canyon wall. His body pointed away, but head remained facing me. I sat to embrace his stare. We engaged, for how long I don’t know, both wondering who would lose this contest of will. He raised his nose. I could see his chest expand. Then he turned, climbed over a small boulder, and disappeared into a hollow.

The white-tailed buck moved with a light, long stride, just to my front and right side. His broad antlers brushed the upper branches of the cacti. I heard him before I saw him, despite his tremendous size. I increased my pace, sprinting on the game trail when I thought I was out of view, slowing at the crest of the next hill. But in the shadows of this Sonoran desert refuge, I knew the chase was through.

Perhaps each of these dwellers will also return to their homes to tell the story of the human whom they encountered. Slow, cumbersome, unable to move in silence yet somehow, the one whose kind have encroached upon all but the furthest reaches of their homes.

By |2016-01-07T00:07:20-04:00January 6th, 2016|From the Road|Comments Off on The Hawk, the Fox, and the White-tailed Deer


Some transitions are easy, taking us to a better place.

Some transitions are scary, challenging us to enter unfamiliar space.

Some transitions are extraordinary, for the outcome is completely unknown.

In those spaces and times unfold life stories not yet written, not yet told.

By |2015-12-01T08:38:28-04:00December 1st, 2015|From the Road|Comments Off on Transition

The Bottle and the Waves

Today was the first day I have seen this sea with any waves. It is usually quite flat. There were people surfing (which seldom happens here, at any time of the year). I found it difficult to stand in the waves, as they had tremendous power on-shore (remember, the beach in Barceloneta is entirely man-made, and drops off very quickly).

Two drunk guys on the beach today, here in Barceloneta, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. One was completely wasted and trying to get back into the water. His friend, who had just opened another bottle of beer was blocking him, to the best of his ability.

The drunk guy (without the bottle in his hand) made it past his friend and fell face first into a wave. He lay there, face down, not moving while the wave tossed him a half meter high and low. As it tumbled him, he tried to stand but couldn’t get back to his feet.

His friend, still holding the beer, walked out into the water and tried to guide him back to shore. The next wave knocked him over as well, his beer now a mixture of salty water and brew.

The first guy was being tossed about as if in a washing-machine, mostly with his face under water. It was clear he was not going to get out again and would likely drown.

Thousands of people on the beach, yet no one doing anything. I ran down to the shore and waited. I did not want to go out into the water, as he could pull me under. The next wave tossed him to my feet, the water a half meter deep. I grabbed his shirt, lifted him, wrapped my arms under his and dragged him up onto the beach. He attempted to stand, stumbled, and I dragged him further up, to dry land.

Again, no one else assisting, but everyone watching.

He struggled to his feet, coughing, and tried to walk back into the water. I placed my leg behind his, pushed hard on his chest, and took him down. I threw his arm over his head and pinned it to the sand, placing my knee on his upper arm, the full weight of my body on his chest.

I yelled at him, “Hombre! No mas! No pincha mas, ok?!”

He nodded, but was still catching his breath.

His friend came along side, bottle still in hand. I pointed to the bottle and told him to empty it. He did, on command, and then thanked me for helping his friend.

I held him in position until he stopped struggling, and asked his friend to look after him (for what that was worth). I stood, they both shook my hand. Ten minutes later, they were both wobbling around the beach again.

By the public showers, I watched, waiting to see what would happen. Someone offered them two Cokes. The drunk fell down and lay still.

By |2017-11-24T22:54:54-04:00July 30th, 2015|From the Road|Comments Off on The Bottle and the Waves

To Swim a Mile

Barcelona, Spain – July 20
I was in the ocean twice today, at 7:30 am and again this evening. The water is so incredibly warm. I have not experienced anything like this since Hawaii. Amazing. I swam nearly 1km today, with one break on the beach. I am not an efficient swimmer, having had no lessons since I was six years of age.

This evening I will watch a few Youtube videos to see if I can improve my strokes.

I typically move from breast stroke to side stroke to back stroke to the other side and breast again, essentially rolling as I go to give muscle groups a break. All my days in the turbulent surf at Muizenberg, even if on a surf board, has given me greater confidence in the ocean, and more stamina.

Today, I recognised that I had hit a swimming “high”, the sensation that I could go on forever. As with running, it took about 30-40 minutes for me to get past that first plateau, and then the breathing and rhythm came easily.

My goal is to swim 1 mile, without a break, before I leave Spain.

Barceloneta Bay, Kai Staats swims a mile

July 24
I accomplished my goal! I swam 1.65 km (1 mile) without stopping. Damn! It took over an hour. Might have been faster to crawl on all fours (backward), but I made it.

The stretch between the man-made break (upper right) and the coastline near the W Hotel (lower right) was a bit scary for me as I have never swam that distance before, unable to see the bottom or return to something safe.

However, what the satellite image does not show are a half dozen buoys, anchored by long chains to the ocean floor. If need be, I could have clung to one of them, each was about 100 meter apart.

When I completed the lap, I felt as thought I had been run over by a bus, went back to Matt’s flat and slept for an hour.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:32-04:00July 24th, 2015|From the Road|Comments Off on To Swim a Mile