Living simple and hanging loose in Hawaii

23 Nov

This is me dissertating!

Well, OK, so I was supposed to finish up and turn in the last paper before The Wildlife Society conference whisked me away to Hawaii (and subsequent island vacation).  Well, turns out dissertations seldom run on tight schedules.  So, what’s a gal to do?  Find the most serene and remote location that still has some semblance of computer hook up, that’s what!

A fruitful variety on the farm! Guava. Papaya. Macadamia nuts.

So here I am, revising chapter three from the lanai of my farm cabana / shoji hut at a hilltop farm overlooking the Pacific.  Nearly two miles below I can watch the waves batter the cliffs of the Hamakua coast.  At the edge of the property is a 300 foot waterfall plunging down the sharp face of a deep valley.  And just at the edge of my doorstep are banana trees, fragrant tropical flowers, enumerable stars in the evening, and bees.  Yes bees.  Geo and Jen are bee farmers.  Well, they’re all-round subsistence farmers, but the bees boast the biggest worker population on this farm.

Just a few busy bees at one of several hive boxes.

Of course my hilltop cabana is a quaint and relaxing place to rest my head – but it’s also a paradisiacal example of off-grid living.   My laptop and wifi are solar powered.  My shower is fed from collected rain water, in a lovely bathroom enclosed by woven mats.  And, yes, worms eat my poo!  These lovers of the invertebrate workforce also employ some serious vermiculture.

These goats would just love to bust free for a tropical fruit buffet.

The farm itself is an inspiring place to visit.  Everything works so smoothly, it makes you realize, it’s just all so doable!  I don’t want to say simple – Geo admits it takes some adjustment and some maintenance when the system breaks down.  Jen found herself marveling at the time it takes to do everyday chores and keep things in running order on the farm (she tells me as she tries to train the collie to herd the goats so they don’t eat the wrong trees).  But it is doable.  They’re doing it!

OK, water probably is pretty simple – it rains here – a lot.  The farm is situated about 1,500 feet above the ocean on the rainy side of the island where 100+ inches of rainfall is standard.  The building have corrugated metal roofs and water runs off to be stored in large catchment cisterns.  Even the animal troughs are a work of simple genius and utility – stock tanks are shaded by a tiny angled roofing sheet with just a couple feet of pipe feeding the rainwater directly into the tank – self watering livestock – perfect!  The piping system is of course a bit more complex for the houses, but  a pump system moves rain water from cistern through piping just like any house on well water.


The other side of the plumbing gets interesting.  Vermiinteresting (pun apologies).  Comfy in the semi-open-air bathroom, you’d never know there was anything special about the toilet.  It flushes perfectly normally (though flushing any chemicals is a no no for the worms).  The pipes go down to a 50 gallon plastic tub where the worms live and process the toilet waste.

An old tub becomes a worm compost bin.

The electrical system was the most surprising to me – in that it’s utterly unsurprising – a couple solar panels and a little windmill here and there.  But what struck me was just what a small system was needed – the family farm and guest cabana run on just 2 solar panels and a series of three tiny windmills (really, tiny, cutely tiny, almost toy-sized).  Geo refers to it as “small but adequate”; the solar panels are 600 watt and the tiny turbine gives an additional 400 watts of passively trickling charge.  All that power runs through an inverter and charges 8 large batteries that run the whole show.  And while they keep a back-up generator in case of emergencies (or long cloudy stretches), the afternoon sun and evening breeze are typically enough to keep things going.

Small. Simple. Adequate.

Sure things are bit minimal – there are no big screen TVs, just the house has a full kitchen and my little patio kitchenette runs on a propane camp stove and an ice chest.  And sure the lifestyle is a bit careful – you don’t leave your phone charger or unused appliances plugged in when you’re collecting every watt you waste.  But it’s far from deprived – there’s the modern convenience of wifi, and of course lights and electrical boxes just where you might expect them.  As Geo puts it, the transition to living off-grid is really “nothing major at all”.  Just a little added awareness of your relationship to the weather and some caution against wastefulness.

Of course a lot of the energy efficiency comes with design – the houses are practically walled with windows!  Great for the view, and of course there’s not even a need to turn on lights until the sun goes down.  And how about that sun!  I suppose it helps to live in the ideal climate to really save the energy costs of climate control – warm tropical days are kept just below hot by the slight elevation and the ocean breeze, and evenings dip to just cool enough to wear a sweatshirt star gazing and appreciate a cozy comforter on the bed – but almost never would one need either heating or cooling beyond the sun and the breeze.  Alas – perhaps everything just works a little easier in paradise.  No wonder the Hawaiians can just hang loose!

My little cabana overlooking paradise.

You too can get away to the farm.  I found this place for a bargain on


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