Coming in to the Tongan Group

image2 (3)We begin to see small islands as the sun makes patterns with this cloud.

We’re turning, so soon the sunrise will be astern of us, coming into the first port in the Tongan group.

Later. Came ashore in this little town. Doing wifi in a pub with wooden stools.

Cars still driving on the left side of the road. Not hot, just nice.

[Editor’s Note: We have been having some issues with internet connections. Hoping for more details and photos soon. – TCB Jr.]

tonga map

Life Aboard Ship

As the light changes, the sea becomes an increasingly intense blue and more detail in the different green growth on the islands becomes clear. Far beaches gleam in the high sun.

We’re just at the end of our fourth week, with three weeks to go. Between now and when we’ll start the long route back to San Diego, (which will take us that whole last week,) we’ll be exploring French Polynesia, the Tongan group, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Tahiti. I’ll celebrate my 83rd birthday aboard and will report.

We’ve gotten the cruise director to say he’ll put “Choral Enthusiasts ” on the daily schedule. Up to now they’ve given us the space but no way to tell people we were there. In spite of that, yesterday three of us convened, I with the keyboard, and actually sang for half an hour! We knew enough of the same rounds to do several, and we could do parts on “Amazing Grace,” albeit our tenor was a little wobbly, sung by me. It felt so good though just to be making music! It helps a lot to have the keyboard when you’re learning new songs or even just starting out on a familiar song together. And none of us was under 60 I’d guess, so these old voices could use all the support they could get.

I think of Norwood Hinkle at Putney, with his wife Cornelia at the piano, forging ahead, every Friday night right after supper, getting all 150 of us, whether we liked it or not, singing. We were boys and girls, 9th through 12th grade. We sat on wooden benches with no backs, in the Assembly Hall, divided soprano, alto, tenor, bass, from left to right, in Norwood’s view. He didn’t bother with warm-up, though we probably started with rounds, and new, incoming students would simply pick them up from older students. They were written out, several dozen of them, like “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Great Tom is Cast,” “Fie, Nay Prithee, John,” and several “Alleluias.” But eventually we all knew all of them. Dave Schauffler and I still had sheets copied from those original ones, in Cornelia’s hand. Besides those, we sang a lot of music: Handel, Haydn, Brahms.

This new friend yesterday knew “Hey ho, nobody home” and we taught it to Sue Moore, the other person who’s helping get this going, who picked it up quickly. I have brought four copies of my “Saving Songs” songbook that I assembled for our sing on 11-11-11, my 79th birthday, and we can get copies made at the front desk of some of those pages that will be most likely to appeal. Sue has already had some songs copied.

Julia, Hannah and Noah
Julia, Hannah and Noah

Happy Birthday today to granddaughter Julia Lincoln Carr, who was born in New Zealand. We are practically there, Julia….only a few hundred miles away, and we remember coming to visit you when you were just a few months old. We do love you so, and I love this picture of you and Hannah with Noah this summer.

The air today is just mild, breezy, completely pleasant, as it was yesterday. And the shifting colors of the water continue to amaze us: deep purple, beyond day-glo azure.

To Kona on the Big Island

image1 (4)Dawn over Hawaii, the Big Island as it’s known, holds two great stars one over the other. A passing couple, on the Promenade deck where I come to take a picture, think the bright one is Vega. We left Honolulu last evening.

We’ve just given five blasts, then two blasts, don’t seem to be slowing much. Some crew have arrived next to me, cordoned off the area under two tenders and are getting ready to lower them. So we must be nearing Kona, and it will be a “tender port,” not one where we are up against a pier.

Dinner was festive last night, the dining room decorated for Canadian Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Discoverer’ Day.

After a day when clouds engulfed us and the whole island of Oahu, we had had a nice view before dinner of the late afternoon sun on the city.

Our enjoyment of the harbor life included a fascinating sequence during the fueling of the Amsterdam on Sunday. We happened to eat our lunch at a table with windows right over the fueling barge, so we could follow the activity in detail at the image8end, the taking away of the orange, floating barrier from around the outside, the arrival of tugs Pi’ilani and Namahoe, the attaching of what would eventually be a huge tow chain between the barge, Ne ena, and Namahoe, the larger of the two tugs, and finally the hoisting aboard by the yellow cranes of the two fenders.

So here we are, backed down, anchored, with the tenders whiling away time in the waters around us until they’re needed to shuttle people to and from Kona. It’s only 6:45 so they’ll have a bit of a wait unless some people are heading off on long shore excursions and have to start early.

When we were exploring this island sixteen years ago, we were still taking photos with a non-digital camera, and I remember one wonderful one of Tom walking alone on an expanse of dormant lava, two panoramic-views-worth, not a sprig of grass or a plant of any kind in sight.

We were in a hotel in Kona when Hester called to say my mother had gone into the hospital and they wanted to do surgery for a bowel obstruction. We discussed the pros and cons of doing surgery. Ma was 90 and we wondered how she would survive it, but they decided to go ahead with it. We flew home in the next 24 hours, but only in time to be with her as she died. She had come through the surgery all right, but her heart had given out in the recovery room. In spite of her POLST saying she didn’t want it, they put her on life support, perhaps to keep her alive until we got there. At least that is how it turned out. We stood around her, three generations of us, in the sunlight that, from where I was sitting next to her, refracted like a jewel in her blue, blue eye as she died.


jsb pianoNow we can add to the saga of the keyboard. Holland America, via the Entertainment Director, had continued to refuse me the privilege of practicing on any of the three pianos aboard Amsterdam. So I asked son Tom to send our four-octave ke….yboard to me c/o the ship in Honolulu. Our friend Bryan at FedEx in Portland had packed it up and sent it off.

I had been in touch with the front desk and with Frank, the Port Agent, so I’d found out it had gotten as far as the HAL offices on shore. When we got back from dinner last night there it was delivered, sitting on our couch.

This morning, I first made a music rack out of two chopsticks with the ribbon leis that we made strung between them, and it’s the perfect support for my notebook full of my music. And putting it on the table in our cabin and sitting on the couch gets just the right level.

In the other arrangement, when I was using the ship’s pianos, I had to play at the crack of dawn before anyone else was up. Now I can practice any time of day. Thank you so much, Tom and Bryan!

Today, our second day in Honolulu, I’ve come ashore and walked just a few blocks along Ala Moana to a Starbucks where I can get on line for free at a breezy outdoor table. Will also do some banking and pay some bills on line before we set off for Fanning Island and points West and South.

Tom and I talk about how two days ago, ready to fill his medication box with the next week’s supply, he thought he had somehow not brought enough. He came and sat down, distraught. “My mind is shredded!” he exclaimed in a kind of plaint, almost a lament. For a few minutes we sat there afraid, worried. “I did all that planning, made sure I had enough for the trip and then just didn’t bring them.”

“But they’re in your black toilet kit,” I said, hoping I was right. He’d said that’s what was in there, but he’d just looked and said it wasn’t, began to talk about calling Jim at the pharmacy in Portland. I went to get the kit, realizing he might be angry at the implication that he hadn’t looked carefully enough, while he pulled out one of the empty suitcases and started to look in there. Perhaps I was just going to find nothing.

But as I read the labels, I knew these were the pills he needed. The largest batch had been transferred to a ziplock bag. When I brought them to him, he took them, sat down and examined the containers one by one and finally said, “Yes, these are what I need.”

So a crisis was recognized to be not a crisis. And actually we had a new look at Tom’s brain which had not perceived something, probably because his “mild cognitive impairment” (a phrase he loves to roll off his tongue) caused a panic that blinded him: unfamiliar place, imagined failure, no memory of transferring those particular pills into the Ziploc bag.

Other incidents have given us clues as to how we need to function. It’s difficult for anyone to know which is Forward and which is Aft when you’re inboard and can’t orient yourself by looking outside. Only on Deck 3, the Lower Promenade deck, or way up top on the Sport Deck, can you go outside. There are signs everywhere, once you know how to spot them, telling you where you are and which is which. But when we separate, it is very difficult for Tom to find me again. We have tried writing down where I will be. And that may help. But it is easy for him to forget where to look, or even that we have written it down. I’ve learned that if he doesn’t reappear as he said he would

Interesting and good that moments like this don’t seem to interfere at all with our overall enjoyment of the days, our reading, watercolor painting, writing group and crafts group on “Sea days,” delicious meals and Happy Hour in the Crow’s Nest. And at most times, in fact, his memory works fine.

On to Nawiliwili, Kauai

In almost to the first breakwater at Nawiliwili on the SE corner of Kauai, we can now see the rich mix of colors on the cliffs: the red dirt of the exposed areas lies next to several different greens, blacks, purples. I can already see the pier where we’ve sat sketching in the past. Beyond the first headland, you can see another that sticks out South over near Poipu. The main mass of the mountain in the middle of the island is covered as it often is in clouds whose tops reach up and catch the sun.

image2 (1)We seem to have halted now, and I wonder if we’re waiting for a pilot. A small power boat is zipping out toward us. Yes, that’s who it is, a tidy yellow and black hornet of a boat, not wasting any time in what is a choppy sea for her. And a tug has come and stationed herself at the middle of the first curve we have to make, leaving the first light to our starboard, the second to our port, rather like trying to move a whale in a swimming pool. The pilot boat shoots off home having delivered her pilot, and we begin to move again, “Red Right Returning.”

It’s a bit confusing, using this alliteration to remind yourself that, coming in to a harbor, you leave the red buoys to your starboard and the green ones to your port in order not to stray from the channel. Then, leaving, it’s the opposite. But “Red is the Color of Port Wine” is what you use to remember that on the bow, at night, a red light is on the port side and a green one on the starboard.

image3 (1)We can think of harbors all over the world where we’ve navigated small boats to the safety of a dock or a mooring: New England, Greece, the Canadian and American San Juans, mostly sailboats, but an occasional “stinkpot” as we called them scornfully except when we were aboard one and very happy to be there. We even spent a week on the River Wey in mid-winter once on a Narrow Boat, sometimes having to break through ice but cosy and warm below.

We were three generations aboard on that trip: my mother and father, ourselves and our two sons. It was the 1978-79 sabbatical year we lived in London, and Mother and Dad had come (and helped us bring our three children) for Christmas. It was a snowy Christmas and it was between Christmas and New Years that we borrowed the “Guildford Dragon,” the Narrow Boat belonging to Tom’s sister and her husband, stocked her with food and drink, and took off. [Editor’s note: Please see photos of the barge trip below. – TCB Jr. in Portland]

It didn’t take long to learn how to work the locks. You picked up local knowledge as you went along like how much the water level might change in the night and how to adjust your mooring lines so you wouldn’t be strung up. My father later wrote a delightful article for a Seattle magazine about the whole experience.

The art of piloting was wonderfully described in a talk we heard at the Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. The speaker was a Columbia River Bar Pilot himself, and there’s no doubt that that Bar is one of the most dangerous in the world. He described what were nearly drastic experiences with captains who didn’t have much sense or tried to refuse his advice. Here on a calm, warm day in Hawaii there was very little tension, I suspect, and we glided in, slowed to a stop, sidled with our thrusters pushing us in port side to the dock.

[Below is the flashback to the December 1978 England canal barge trip mentioned above – TCBJr]

Landfall at Hilo

Even though you can see Hawaii in the virtual world of Navigating instruments from the moment you leave San Diego, still there must be a little thrill as you see with your own eyes the great island loom through mist after several thousand miles. First just the low shape on the horizon, then gradually the differentiation of image1 (2)fields and trees, the brilliant flashes of white waves crashing against the rocks, but silent for us.

It is fun coming in by sea to a place we once explored by car and on foot. A long breakwater extends out in an oblique L from the south end of the town. Once inside it, we’re slowed even further. “Leave that buoy to your starboard, for heavens’ sake!,” I think, as we ghost along past hotels and marinas, the angle of my view from the Crow’s Nest in the bow making us seem deceptively close to reefs that extend out toward us.

From this height I can see over the tops of oil storage tanks and sheds to planes landing and taxiing at the airport, green fields and woods beyond. The sun has come out and means I can tell we’re docking heading SE, unexpected on this coast, but we and the shoreline must have taken several curves I wasn’t aware of.


The next morning is quite a different picture: we wake to the sound of anchor chains and hydraulic lifts lowering tenders. The sky is blue with little clouds, and mountains go up quite steep on Maui before the point levels off toward Lahaina. I watch one of the tenders taking an early group of Shore Excursioners in to their buses. It follows a kind of crazy zigzag path at first, and I wonder if the  pilot is confused about which dock he’s supposed to land them at. Hardly likely, they’ve done this so many times. But it appears they are supposed to stick to a certain path In past moored pleasure craft.

image1 (1)The advantage of taking a hot tub this early is that the sun hasn’t hit it yet, and there is nobody in it you feel you have to talk with. The metal statue of the great mother bear looms over me. I drew her and her cub the other day, but from this angle she looks even more alert and protective.

I drift and let the jets buoy me. One of the crew comes by filing the open towel cupboards at the corners of the pool with fresh dark blue towels, each tightly rolled. I can remember when I’ve had repetitive jobs like that, arriving every morning, putting on a uniform, making beds or taking people’s orders for lunch, or putting instruments and gloves in an autoclave and waiting for them to be done.

image2Both those jobs were in health care facilities, the more recent one at St.Christopher’s Hospice outside of London where I volunteered two days a week for a winter. The other, so different, was in the late forties at the Brattleboro hospital when I was a senior at Putney. Dr. DeWolfe had found me the place. And it was he who got permission from  his patient, a woman having her sixth child, for me to be present at the birth, an experience that probably influenced my life more than any other single event.

There was a wonderful mnemonic we learned when we were studying French, to help us remember which verbs were conjugated with ‘etre’ and which with ‘avoir:’ “The ins and outs, the ups and downs,  the comings and goings and the Extremities of Life, are conjugated with the verb to be.” Je suis arrivee but J’ai achete un chapeau.  In the world of work and interests, my life seems to have been involved often in “the extremities of life.” Maybe it hasn’t always been planned, but I’ve delivered a baby, sat with people as they died, and maybe “the holding of opposites” that I use as the subtitle of “Well-Being and Being Well” has something to do with it.

En Route to Hawaii

We’re entering our third day at sea, bound for Hilo. We’ve shared Tom’s book and my “Well-Being and Being Well” collection with several members of the writing group we meet with every day, and have had wonderful reactions. It will be fun to see where it leads. Just the idea of learning poems by heart, or writing an idea and then paring away the extraneous words and listening for the rhythms, is new to many people.

Later in the morning, we sit in the library, Tom reading, I pasting the cutout paper Hawaiian quilting designs we made yesterday onto cards, and the librarian comes over to talk. I’d given her copies of Art Is/Letters Are and “Well-Being and Being Well” the other day. She says she loved them and is putting them into the collection here. I find that delightful and very touching. She was glad to meet Tom, amused at how much his logo looks like him and like the sculptures that are “Self Portraits.”

Just finished The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The feel of Provence is strong as you build toward the end of the book. Right at this time of year in 1952, a group of us were settling in to families in Aix-en-Provence for six weeks before going North for the academic year in Paris. Those were vivid weeks full of wind and new impressions, views of Mont St. Victoire, trips into the countryside, speaking only French. My hostess was an impressive lady named Madame Lanes who dominated the dinner table with tales from the past, as far back as “la guerre de Soixante-Dix,” by which we finally realized she meant the war against Germany of 1870.

Tom and I had just met that spring, and I had sent him a postcard during the summer from somewhere along our route, singing with the Smith College Chamber Singers from England to Rome and back. Now, in Aix, I got my first letter from him, with photos, and I was overwhelmed with the idea that he might have felt the same way I did! Love at first sight is what they call it. I remember reading that first letter over and over and over! We wrote sporadically all that year, those little blue air-letter forms, occasionally if you wanted to enclose a picture, a regular envelope. We didn’t meet again till September of 1953, he returned to teach again at Williston, I back after a summer in Seattle for my senior year at Smith.

So the South of France is imbued with strong emotions for me, though I didn’t get back to it with Tom till years later when in 1979 at the end of a sabbatical we camped our way across from Spain to Avignon. We visited friends in Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Nimes, eating enormous meals pressed on us by those loving friends, the same dishes whose recipes appear at the end of this wonderful, evocative book.

We’ll sometimes sit at a meal now, so carefully taken care of aboard the Amsterdam, and recreate moments in that journey. We weave the details, the smells, a turn of the road: “….that time we stopped for lunch by a field of cork oaks in Spain, popped the top of the camper, and part way through our picnic realized the field was full of young black bulls and their huge mothers! They were curious about us, too.” Which of those young bulls would prove to be a Ferdinand and which would challenge a Matador even to his death?

The Internet connection is down so I will store this up to send later. Son Tom has shipped the keyboard to meet us in Honolulu. I will be glad of it!

[Editor’s Note: I am back in Portland, digitizing collections of Tom & Joan’s slides onto the computer. I must have been channeling the conversations Joanie mentions above, because I have just finished the slides from that very 1979 trip. See a few of the photos below. – TCB Jr.]

Out to Sea!

The ship feels quite crowded after adding another several hundred people in San Diego. We try not to feel proprietary about spaces we had begun to call our own, moving during the day from the library to the Crow’s Nest to the restaurant, walking the Promenade deck (My pace is about a twenty-five minute mile: it takes me 7-8 minutes to go around once, and  the sign tells us 3.5 rounds makes a mile.) The only assigned places are our own cabin and our table for two at the early seating for dinner.

Our cabin is nicely central on the Main Deck, right next to the mid-ships bank of elevators. We have an Ocean view and are not far above the waterline. The window is at the head of the comfy Queen-size bed, then comes the sitting area and tables, a set of built-in drawers, closets opposite the head, and the door. The Steward, come to take away our breakfast tray on the mornings we’ve had breakfast in the cabin, manages to hoist the big tray onto his shoulder so he can fit in the narrow passage and still have a hand free to open the door for himself.

When we return in the evening to go to bed, there’s always a towel creature to greet us. Last night it was a friendly dog.

Today, Tom and I had separated to go to different things after a 9:00 Writers workshop. We found each other eventually and managed a watercolor workshop after lunch in the Crow’s Nest. There’s a significant swell so people navigate holding onto each other, to railings, leaning against bulkheads, walking with bent knees and ready for a quick side-step.

From yesterday, some nice dawn pictures coming in to San Diego. The “morgen stern” could have been Venus.

The writer’s group is going to prove fun, people coming for different reasons, one way to meet people with like interests. It will happen in the morning every “sea day.” One person started it, but clearly the group is open to different writing exercises, conversations.