Bloody hell, my room’s on fire!

Another restless night at the Hale Pohaku Resort & Hotel for Stray Astronomers. But there was a tinge of excitement to waking up. I thought there was a smell of sulphur (translation: ‘sulfur’) in the air and my first thought was “Blimey, the vog can’t be so bad that it’s climbed 9000 feet and is thick enough to penetrate into the buildings and rooms? ”

Now, we all know that your first thought of the day (even though it was 4pm, this was the start of my new day!) is never your best one, so I dismissed it and waited for the next, better, thought to arrive. “Fire, it smells like something is burning.” That was a better thought, for it was to turn out to be the truth. The next thought, my third, was worse than my first: “Bloody hell, my room’s on fire!”

In the back of my mind (and that’s where I keep my best thoughts, but they always hide away back there as whenever they venture out they get bullied on by the Crap-Thoughts-Gang), I knew that what I had just thought was b*ll*cks (translation: ‘b*llsh*t’… well, close enough).

Curiosity is probably one of my strongest instincts and it was that, rather than fear, which got me out of bed, showered (another round of the HP Shuffle) and out to investigate. As I climbed the stairs between the dorms and the main building there were white flakes falling.

Crap-Thoughts-Gang: Snow!! It’s snowing!! Come on Ant, let’s play!!

Back-of-my-mind-thoughts: (quietly) No it’s not. It’s ash. You go and play, we’re staying here.

Indeed it was a fire. A controlled fire we were told. Not-sure-who, were clearing bushes on the north-eastern slopes of Mauna Kea near to HP. The smoke was really thick and it did smell like a forest fire (I know, I’ve been caught in the middle of one). I thought of taking a picture but the smoke was so thick that a grey (translation: ‘gray’) picture wouldn’t have been that interesting. (Andrew over at A Darker View has a good image though which shows the smoke filled sky.) Anyway, another thought came to me: “It’s been 8 hours since I last ate.”

Actually, I think hunger must be my strongest instinct.

UPDATE: Andrew over at A Darker View has found confirmation that this is indeed a real fire, scorching some 60 acres near the Mana Road.

Water of Life – a balancing act

For the next few nights I am here at Hale Pohaku Hotel & Resort for Stray Astronomers, exiled from the world, civilisation and my family.

Having the fortune of living in Hawaii, we are constantly reminded every day of the beauty that surrounds us. This planet we live on is a gift and it seems that we are only just starting to learn that there’s a delicate balance in the existence of this beauty around us – delicate, as once it is gone it will be very difficult to get back.

Paradoxically, one of the things that you become acutely aware of by living on an island is that precious commodity, water. You’d think that being surrounded by water  we would have no trouble with its supply for domestic and agricultural use…wrong. “But you’re in Hawaii,” I hear you say, “the tropics, it’s always raining there!”. Yes that’s true – we have lush rain forests, waterfalls and rainbows – but it seems that almost every year we go through a drought when the scarcity if water for domestic use becomes a serious issue for many on the island. (Part of the reason for that is that many on the island depend on rain water for their domestic water)

Maybe it’s an island-thing?! I was born on another island, in the Mediterranean (aka ‘Middle-Earth’ for all you Hobbitses out there!), called Cyprus. Water shortages are a very real problem there as there is nowhere near the amount of rainfall in Cyprus as we enjoy here in Hawaii. There are times when neighbourhoods go without water for days, the local government cutting off supplies in order to regulate its use. And they’ve come up with other “innovative” methods. There are two types of water supply: clean domestic water, and partially cleaned water exclusively for use with agriculture (almost everybody in Cyprus has a their own little ‘farm’ in their back gardens, no matter how big or small). I’ve heard my dad say at the table, “They’re watering our potatoes with sewage water! How do they taste?”

Now, back to the point! At the Hale Pohaku Hotel & Resort for Stray Astronomers, the problem is more accute as the Resort is built at the 9,000 ft level on the slopes of Mauna Kea, and all water needs to brought up here by tanker. However, a very unique system for preserving water has developed. It has been around for as long as I have been coming here (gosh, that’s almost 20 years now!!) and it prevents you from wasting too much water in the shower. You’ve been awake for 18 of the last 24 hours, twelve of which you’ve spent at the summit. You only managed to get 4 hours sleep and you fall grogilly out of bed needing a shower before you start the next 18 hours. You get the mixer taps balanced just right and the water is perfect. You jump in and you’re really comfortable and you start to relax and your thoughts unwind from the previous night’s work at the telescope. Just as you get to the point when you think you finally understand what’s going on “up there” your back and shoulderes are scalded by extremely hot water coming out of the shower. From contemplating the universe in a zen-like state to 3rd-degree burns in a fraction of a second. You struggle to regain the balance but there’s no chance of getting back to that nice place. Whatever is in there regulating the mix of water has gone non-linear, chaotic. Add a touch of cold water and freezing water tries to frostbite your toes (and other bits!). Too much, go the other way! Ow, ow, hot, hot!

Soon enough you give up and get out. The shower has won and the water of life is preserved.