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What Are People For?

What are People for?: EssaysWhat are People for?: Essays by Wendell Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first encountered Wendell Berry in freshman English at OBU. The essay we read seems to be in this volume, "Word and Flesh" (at least this essay makes the same points I remember from 1992). At the time I disagreed with him, particularly that problems, including environmental problems, cannot be approached globally but can only be addressed locally.

I came back to Berry near the turn of the millennium, when I read his poetry and fell in love. The poetry invited me into the essays, and Berry has been one of the most significant influence on my thought.

But his ideas are rarely easy for me. In fact, they are quite difficult. He is not a writer I read for confirmation of my own ideas, but to convict and challenge me. Whenever I read him, I am reminded of my hypocrisies and moral failures.

Back in 2004 I considered following Berry's advice and abandoning my life and career and moving to a poor small town to become a teacher and grow much of my own food. I didn't do that. I came out, and gay life led in a very different direction. Though I did have friends who did something of the sort.

It is exciting in 2017 to see Berry's influence for good upon our culture--the local food movement, more sustainable agriculture, more awareness about food ethics, the various craft movements, etc.

This is one of the essay collections I had long planned to get to. It seems particularly apt in our Age of Trump, even if the essays are from the 70's and 80's. What Berry was warning us about has come to fruition.

I marked up this volume like my adolescent Bible. I will return to it often.

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Wind & Clouds

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Enriched, but tired, from our hike along the coast to the Cliffs, we rested and refreshed at our B&B before heading out to Gus O'Connor's Pub for dinner, libations, and live music.  Our B&B owner, Sean was a rich and delightful source of information and stories.  I asked what I should eat and he suggested two things--the mussels, because they were in their best season, and the beef, because beef from Western Ireland is the best in the world.  Saturday night I at the mussels and Sunday the steak.  Neither disappointed.

Doolin was our favourite stop of the trip, largely because of the pub, which was just a short walk from our B&B.  Each night we got a front row seat for the live music, something Mom was really looking forward to.  We chatted with other customers and enjoyed the people watching.  One night a young woman handed my sister a picture she had drawn of her.  I enjoyed trying local whiskeys.

Sunday we had planned as a rest day.  Fortuitously, this was the only day of our trip with continuously bad weather.  Throughout the morning and midday the skies were overcast and the rain came and went.  After a slow start and long breakfast, we decided to drive around to some of the nearby towns and villages and do some sweater shopping.

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Near the Cliffs of Moher, we stopped at the Well of St. Brigit, where the grotto was filled with items signifying people's prayers, and the trees were covered in ribbons.

In Lahinch we saw people golfing, walking the beach, and surfing, despite the weather.  

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Late in the afternoon we returned to Doolin just as a real Atlantic storm came ashore.  We drove down to the pier and watched the waves pounding the rocks and saw the last ferry from the Aran Islands tossing about like a toy boat.  That night the winds howled, whistling through the house.  The next morning, I lingered outside, enjoying the cloud formations over the hills.

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Clints & Grikes

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Kinvara lies on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay.  Our second day out from Dublin, after an enjoyable breakfast and plenty of hot tea, we drove along the coast stopping often to admire the beautiful scenery spread out before us.  Barren hills rose to our south, marking the beginning of the Burren, while green pastures sloped down to the shore.

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In the village of Ballyvaughn we stopped just as the farmer's market was opening up.  I grabbed a wedge of one of the local cheeses, garlic and nettles flavored, and purchased a bundle of carrots.  The farmer selling the carrots was also selling parsnips that I thought looked wonderfully tasty. Commenting on the appearance of his produce, he responded, "Vegetables from the Burren are the best." I munched on those carrots every day the rest of the trip, each time remarking how tasty they were, so I have no cause to disagree with the carrot farmer of Ballyvaughn.

The Burren is an area of exposed limestone left over from the last glacial age.  The glaciers deposited both Mediterranean and Arctic plants on the Burren, and they grow side-by-side.  From Ballyvaughn we turned south, into the hills, approaching the Burren proper, but before we reached the rugged hilltops, we stopped at the remains of a ring fort, this one overgrown with grass and trees, such that I felt like I was in a fairy circle.  Maybe we were?

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Then the road rose up through barren limestone.  Atop the hills are some prehistoric ruins, including a prominent passage tomb, the Poulnabrone Dolmen.  To reach it you walk across the strange rock formations of clints and grikes.  Clints are the surfaces and grikes the fissures.

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But the land was not completely barren.  Flowers and other plants we abundant.  Cattle were grazing throughout the area.  Later we were told that beef grazing on the Burren were the best in the world.  Having tasted a local steak, I think I agree.

One interesting feature of the trip to Ireland was the abundance of livestock.  One saw sheep, cattle, and horses constantly.  Trails led through pastures. Animals walked over to fences to exchange a greeting with you. Almost every major scenic view included grazing animals.  I realized how little we now see and interact with livestock in the US.  Once a drive through the country was filled with sites of animals.  An Irishman explained to us that they do not use feedlots and other forms of industrial agriculture, preferring to graze their animals the traditional way, leading to better quality food.

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The Burren was a magically strange place and well worth another visit some day.  In the village of Kilfenora we admired their Celtic High Crosses in the ruined churchyard and ate a warm and hearty lunch.  Kilfenora's bishop is the pope.  During the potato famine the town suffered so much that the pope took over the diocese in the intention to try and help the local population.  The irony of stuffing ourselves in a city that suffered misery during the famine did not escape us.

Early afternoon, we drove through the resort town of Lisdoonvarna and on to little Doolin, on the coast.  From there we had a most spectacular adventure.


The Pivot

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After our 13 mile hike along the Eagle Creek Trail, we returned to Hood River for flights of beer and burgers at pFriem.  I was very excited by the note in the men's bathroom above the changing table.  This hospitality is lacking in so many places which don't even have changing tables in the men's rooms.  

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Across the street was Waterfront Park and a creative, unusual playground area with grassy berms, climbing walls, giant wooden xylophones, and more. I missed Sebastian in the moment.  Clearly my mind was pivoting to my return home.

The lake was filled with paragliders, their colourful chutes floating across the crisp blue skies.

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We meandered along the waterfront and I took my shoes off in order to enjoy the grass on bare feet--making sure to avoid the goose shit.

Friday we slept in, ate breakfast in Parkland at a place decorated with reggae and NASCAR memorabilia and a poster from The Crow.  The coffee was very bad.  

We cleaned up the cabin and departed, deciding to drive up and over the mountain instead of down the gorge.  We arrived at McMenamins, where Dan had brought me three years before, for lunch and to kill time drinking beer and playing shuffleboard.  The place was filling up with evening concert goers, but we enjoyed the activity and browsed the shops, including watching the glass blower.

Dan dropped me at the airport early so he could get home to his wife.  He had to leave town again the next day for a church conference.

As I've typed this probable last post on my Oregon hiking journey, I've been listening to Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, always a great accompaniment to the landscapes of the American West.


Misery Ridge

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The women were quite nervous as they very carefully and slowly descended past us on the Misery Ridge trail.  We were ascending.  One woman said, "I think you chose correctly.  It would be easier to descend the other way."  I responded, "He's been here before and made that call this morning."

This despite 30 minutes before hearing some man say to the woman with him about us, "I think I'd rather descend this way than the other."

We did chose wisely.  The Misery Ridge trail was long slopes of loose gravel with little to hold onto.  The other trail was mostly swtichbacks and steps, much, much easier on knees and nerves.

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Smith Rock was glorious, even with the rough hike up and down the mountain.  

For our second day of hiking Dan recommended driving two hours near Bend, in the high desert for this wonderful place very unlike the Gorge and the Cascades.  As we drove around the side of Mt. Hood, it snowed on us.  On June 14.  Later that day Michael sent me a thermometer reading on his car back here in Omaha that read 108 degrees.

As we descended from Mt. Hood toward Bend one noticed that the trees began getting shorter.  Then scrub grass appeared.  And finally, the trees disappeared.  Radical changes in landscape in a few miles.

Smith Rock is a small canyon with towering rock formations--something like a Yosemite in miniature.  The place is popular with rock climbers, and we watched many ascending the walls.  Little stands were conveniently placed with crutches and stretchers for those who might need them.

Along the floor of the canyon runs a gentle stream graced with wildflowers.  The valley was filled with song birds.  After the clouds and rain of the day before, the bright sunlight was a welcome refreshment as we walked gently along the bank, pausing often to look up at the rock towers beside us.

Then we ascended Misery Ridge, a humble reminder of our age as we saw much younger people bounding up and down.  From the top there were wide views of the valley.

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After our hike we enjoyed delicious food and beer at Crux Fermentation Project.


The Final Day

So neither of us was feeling very well anyway, much less the idea of leaving the warmth, relaxation, and fun of Hawaii where we had only been a week (too short) to return to Omaha where the predicted high temperature for the day of our return was 2.  That last day we lounged around in our room (and packed) till checkout time at 11.  We were joined that morning on the lanai by a couple of geckos.

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Then we headed to Island Lava-Java for breakfast.  We sat outside with a nice view of the water and enjoyed our banana pancakes with maple syrup and 100% Kona coffee.

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We had not yet walked around Kailua-Kona itself.  Eventually we decided to save this for the final day of our trip, since we didn't want to mess with going to the beach or some other activity and then having to clean up and change after we had packed our luggage and checked out.  So today would mainly be walking around and shopping.

It felt like the hottest day so far, which wasn't exactly great for sick Michael.

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After we'd pretty much covered the downtown shops and sites, we drove back out to the old airport, this time for the community garden and walking path.

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After that, it was our intention to visit the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, but were surprised that the gate was locked.  Apparently they close at the strange time of 4 p.m.  Now we had time to kill before returning our rental car at six, so we went back downtown and sat on the lush green lawn of the King Kamehameha hoteld and watched people on the beach.

At six we returned the rental car and the McConnell's picked us up to take us to dinner.  We went to the Bite Me Fish Market at the marina for fresh fish.  Michael had a great ahi tuna steak, and I really enjoyed the marlin.  With even more time to kill, the McConnell's drove us up to the King and Queen Shops, where we mostly enjoyed browsing art galleries.

At 9:30 they dropped us off at the airport, and we said our goodbyes.  Then there were very long lines, longest I've stood in in years, to get through airport security (it seemed that passagener for four or five flights were all trying to process through the tiny airport at once).  All the "gates" are outdoors and you walk across the tarmac and up the stairs to board the plane.  We noticed that they were using a forklift to get people in wheelchairs on!

Five hours to Phoenix, two hour layover (with an hour of that delay as our plane had mechanical issues, and they got us another one), three hours or so to Omaha.  When we arrived it was one degree, and we were still in our shorts from Hawaii.  We quickly put on jeans and sweatshirts, but we had no coats (it hadn't been that cold when we left).  When our ride texted asking where we'd be standing, we replied "Inside!" 

Michael asked just this morning if our slow recovery from our colds was affected by simply missing Hawaii.  Seems like a reasonable conclusion.

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Will He Rupture His Ear Drum?

That was the big question last Friday afternoon and evening as we prepared for our final night in Hawaii.

As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, we both got sick while on vacation.  By Friday morning I was feeling a little better, but Michael was worse.  He mustered enough energy for our breakfast plans with the McConnells.

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We went to The Coffee Shack, beautifully overlooking Kealakekua Bay (where we snorkeled on Thursday).  Months before the McConnells mentioned that we should go there for breakfast, and various other friends who have visited the island also recommended it.  Kathy and I had the Papaya Special, and Michael and Gary had a daily special, ahi tuna eggs benedict.  Not only is the food great and the view magnificent, there are geckos to entertain you as well.

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From there we visited the nearby Painted Church.  A pretty little building with a nice garden, the inside is uniquely painted.  There are six images painted on the wall; they aren't the six Bible stories I would care to emphasize.  In fact, they are rather macabre, including one of "A Good Death" which is supposed to contrast with the image of "Hell" next to it.  I found the painting of Cain and Abel most interesting, with Eve crouching to hold her dying son.  Wouldn't you want to see these images every week while worshipping?

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Gary had hoped to drive us around and show us more things, but Michael was just not feeling well at all, so Gary showed us where we were to catch our ride that afternoon for the tour van taking us to the summit of Mauna Kea, and then he headed home.  This was one of the things that Michael most wanted to do--go to the top of Mauna Kea to see the observatories and stargaze.  Tours to the top are rather pricey, and we had booked and paid ahead of time.

After Gary showed us the spot for catching the van, I took Michael to the Urgent Care.  The physician told us that this virus was going around all over the U. S. and that they were seeing 30 cases a day.  He said it would last about a week and there was really nothing to do but take some over the counter medicine, rest, and drink lots of fluids.  He asked when we were flying home.

"Tomorrow night."

"Then Michael especially needs to get better because with the fluid behind his ears he could have trouble on the flight, as they pressurize the plane to 8,000 feet."

Hmm, I thought, the summit Mauna Kea is 13,000.  I said, "Tonight we are going on a tour to the summit of Mauna Kea."

The physician, "No you aren't."  He explained to Michael that the changes in air pressure due to the elevation could rupture his ear drum.

After the Urgent Care, we returned to Wal-Mart for more medicine and then drove back to our room to rest.  Along the way Kathy called to see if we'd still be able to go that night.  I told her that the physician said that we should not.  Michael said as emphatically as he could in his weakened state, "We are going up the mountain."

So, we did.  I was worried the entire way up and down.  And there were moments of pain for Michael, but he endured.


My Fortieth Birthday

Last night at our Ash Wednesday dinner I was sitting next to Bowen who turned nine last week.  He was talking about his birthday party.  I mentioned that my birthday was the day after his, and he asked me if I had a birthday party.  

"No, I went to Hawaii."  Bo's mouth hung open in surprise.

"I went kayaking and snorkeling on my birthday.  That's better than a party."  He was speeechless.

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That morning we started early and were in our kayaks by 9:30 a.m.  We rented from a fun woman named Annie at Pineapple Park.  She made a handful of jokes while we were filling out the rental forms.  After she ascertained that we were married, she wanted to be sure we knew who would be paddling in front and who in back.  "Sometimes they are known as 'divorce kayaks.'"  This fit with our experience on Lake Superior a couple of years ago!  Fortunately we had no (serious) disagreements about the paddling or steering this time.

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We were kayaking across Kealakekua Bay to the monument marking the place where Captian James Cook was killed.  It also happens to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the world.  Unfortunately, I have not pictures of our kayak trip, the reef, or of Michael next to the monument (one of his bucket list items), because apparently I sat the waterproof camera down to put on my life preserver and failed to pick it back up when we got in the boat.  We realized we were without it when we were out on the water, and it wasn't on the rocks when we returned.

Twice before that week we had tried to kayak, but we were lucky it was today that worked out, because it was the calmest water of our visit.  We paddled across the bay and approach the monument side.  There are rules against disembarking from your boat onto the land, this to protect the corals.  The only way you are supposed to get to the land is to hike down (about a four hour roundtrip up and down a steep slope).  I did notice that many kayaks, including whole groups, were beaching in a little cove to the west of the monument and the main snorkel area, but we never beached ours.

The waters will filled with visitors--some had hiked down, plenty others had kayaked, and then there were a number of snorkel guide boats and even big party boats with people sliding off water slides and such.  The lifeguards and tourguides of some groups were on paddle boards, standing up paddling themselves around.  Some had even paddled all the way across the bay.

Captain Cook presented himself as a god to the Native Hawaiians.  It was at this location, during a skirmish, that he was wounded and groaned.  The Hawaiians heard him and yelled "He groans.  He is not a god!"  And then killed him.  The monument on this location calls him the discoverer of these islands.  A Native who was sitting nearby saw us reading the inscription and yelled out, "Lies, all lies.  That's the British version.  He didn't discover anything."

Stunning beauty awaits you under the water.  A reef filled with coral, various sea life, and an abundance of colorful fish.  We took turns snorkeling, the other one minding the kayak.  Michael also clambered on shore to explore the area.

After a couple of hours, we paddled back across the water, which took a little longer, as it was now windier and choppier.  The bay itself is mostly fronted by a tall, steep cliff that drops sheer into the water.  Only on the two points does the land drop down to the water's edge.  There was once a great beach on the opposite side (where there are neighborhoods), but it was washed away.  The state park facilities remain, but no beach.

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From Kealakekua Bay we drove back along the coast and through town to check out the beach at the old airport. You drive and park on the old runway.  On one side is a beautiful community garden, which we visited a couple of days later, and on the ocean side is a long white sand beach (though it is very rocky in places).  We spent a couple of hours lying here in the sun.

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Unfortunately, we both caught colds on this trip.  I was the sickest on Monday.  On Wednesday I had a runny nose that wouldn't quit.  By Thursday I was beginning to feel some better.  But Michael was getting worse.  He had started with a sore throat on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon, after we'd spent the day in the sun, he was feeling pretty miserable.  He got worse and continued to feel bad well after our return.  Neither of us has yet fully recovered.

After the beach Michael was zonked out, so I ran to Wal-Mart to get medicine and food for that night's dinner.  The Big Island Retreat had a great outdoor kitchen that we wanted to use one night for our dinner.  Since we had already had a really nice dinner the night before, I asked for a simple birthday dinner.  Michael stir fried shrimp with fresh coconut and pineapple.  We had rice and black beans, local beer, and local cookies and chocolates for dessert.


All Wet . . . When We Didn't Intend to Be

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The day started well enough.  In fact, it was the clearest, prettiest day of our vacation, which was quite fitting because we spent the morning driving across the island from Kailua-Kona to Hilo over the Saddle Pass Road that runs between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  Usually clouds hang around the peaks of the mountains, obscuring views, but not today.

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The beautiful morning drive ended at the Hilo Market, which is on Wednesday mornings.  We browsed the many booths tasting food and checking out the crafts.  

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For lunch I noticed that there was a Filipino place across the street, and Michael got all excited when I showed him.  He enjoyed some of the things his Mom used to make, and we particularly liked the Filipino roast pork, which reminded us of what we had at our wedding.  

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Then we toured around Hilo, visiting the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, the King Kamehameha statue, and the Naha Stone.  Like the sword in the stone of Arthurian legend, whoever could first move the Naha stone, which weighs 7,000 pounds, would be the first king of a united Hawaiian islands.  If someone tried to move it and failed, they would be killed.  The story goes that Kamehameha tried and when he was unable, the priest was approaching to pronounce his death, when he was able to overturn the stone.

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[Note: Michael was not touching the stone, as per the sign near it.]

Our final stop in the immediate environes of Hilo was Rainbow Falls, where we also saw a pretty incredible banyan tree.  

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From Hilo we headed north on Highway 19 with plans to see sites along the northeast coast, but we'd spent so much time in Hilo, that there was little time left for any attractions, especially if we were going to make the Waipio Valley Overlook before sunset.

There were things we wanted to see along the Hamakua Coast which we did not, but that and much else will have to await a future trip.

We did take the scenic drive overlooking beautiful Onomea Bay and decided to hike down the donkey trail (that's its name) to the shore of the bay.  When we reached the idyllic shore, we set our stuff down and wandered out onto the rocks.  

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Not only was it beautiful, but there was lots of ocean life in the rocks.  I pointed this out and said something about not wanting to be those stupid people who stand watching the ocean only to get pulled in by a big crashing wave.  Not long after that, just after Michael took a picture of me with his phone (I still haven't seen that photo) a big wave did crash on us.  Fortunately, it didn't pull us off the rocks (though Michael, who was facing the ocean was momentarily frightened) but it did drench us.  We laughed and laughed at ourselves, enjoying the adventure.

Except that we then had to change into our swim trunks and dirty beach t-shirts for the rest of the evening--when we were planning our nicest, most expensive dinner that evening at Merriman's in Waimea.  And sure enough, hours later, we enjoyed our magnificent steak dinners in our grungy beach-wear as everyone else around us was properly attired!

After leaving Onomea Bay, we continued our drive along Highway 19 along cliffsides and across gulches, with beautiful views of the ocean, the rainforest, and the occassional waterfalls.  In the quaint town of Honokaa, we turned toward the overlook.  I've already written about this magical moment and my sense of gratitude, on this the final night of my thirties.

So, even being all wet and in our dirty clothes didn't ruin this enjoyable day.

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Day of Restoration

Following our long and exhaustive day driving around the South Point and visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, we had a much more laid back day.  Since we hadn't gotten home till after 1 a.m., we slept in the next morning.  And then, even once awake, we laid around in the lanai eating breakfast and reading (plus Michael did some work).  

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Michael wanted to kayak that day, and we wasted about two hours trying to make connections before we were told that it was really too late in the date and that the waters were rough (it was a windy day).  As it worked out, it was better anyway, we just wish we hadn't wasted the time.  Also, I finally seemed over my agitation and anxiety of the first couple of days.

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We went to lunch at Annie's Island Fresh Burgers because we kept seeing a crowded parking lot.  I had the  

The Steakhouse Burger
A juicy beef patty with fresh sautéed Hamakua mushrooms, gorgonzola and arugula. 
Topped with parsley caper relish. Served on a toasted ciabatta roll.  
 
Michael ate the 
The Māla Burger
A vegan patty of chickpeas, carrots, poblano peppers, herbs, garlic, and onion, pan-fried, 
topped with tzatziki sauce and lime coleslaw. Served on a whole wheat bun. 
For a totally vegan sandwich, try it with our parsley caper relish on a ciabatta bun.
 
I really enjoyed mine, but Michael's chickpea patty was so delicious, I wish I had ordered it.
 
We then spent the late afternoon lying on the beach and snorkeling again.
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That evening we had tickets for the Royal Kona Resort luau.  Months ago Michael said he knew it was corny, but he wanted to go to a luau.  I said sure, despite my remembrances of one my family went to 22 years ago when the food was marginal and the entertainment cheesy.  But this luau far exceeded my expectations.  The setting was lovely, as we watched the sun set over the Pacific while the spray crashed behind the stage.  The food was really good, not just the tender roast pork, but also the beef, chicken, and fish dishes (I stuffed myself).  Then, the show was very entertaining, with a variety of Polynesian dances.  I'd seen the like before, but this time it was without all the cheesy jokes.  I admitted to Michael that it was a great time and was glad he had wanted to do it.
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