Nelson Ho

Nelson Ho
October 10, 2010

Sharing Knowledge and the Love of Hawaii's Land - Lorin T. Gill

People count themselves blessed to have a teacher like Lorin in their lives. I was fortunate to have two.

The first one was literally a biology teacher, Mr. John Obata, who taught science for many years at Kawananakoa Intermediate School. He was the first character that got me out of the urbanized, backyard streams of Nuuanu Valley, then my wilderness domain. Windswept vistas of green, fluted mountainsides rimmed by deep blue oceans, were the rewards to his students for keeping up with him on his Smithsonian Museum specimen collecting hikes.

It was, however, Lorin Tarr Gill, who set the standard and generously shared his Knowledge and Love of Hawaii with me, his Mongoose Gang and everyone who signed up to learn.

It was Lorin, who opened the door to serious wilderness backpacking and gave me sublime days away from urban Honolulu. It could have been 1969 when Lorin, ever the perfectionist, looked at the images of two budding photographers, Jan Becket and myself, and said, "Good, but why not use more endemic flora in your pictures?".  In those days, we were entranced by light, form and texture. It was hard to find an Ohia tree in the city, so we gladly took up his challenge to explore the more remote trails of Oahu.

After a few of those mud splattered, tabi clad outings, I was a happy member of Lorin's Mongoose Gang, addicted to the expansive beauty of Hawaii's vistas. The beach at Wailau Valley, for instance. I was ecstatic, even after being dumped over the side of a pitching fishing boat and emerging soaking wet from relaying plastic wrapped cardboard boxes to the shore.

Ah, the incident of the swollen Kohala Ditch valley stream and the dramatic guava branch rescue Lorin concocted. We were based at the remote, historic water ditch maintenance cabin in Honokanenui Valley. It was further in than Awini Cabin on the ridge, with its sour lemon tree and many valleys in from the Pololu Valley waterfall we loved walking behind. When we finally arrived at the old wooden cabin, we quickly shed our heavy packs and went off for a quick botanizing hike before the afternoon took our light. Lorin was happily sharing the history and explaining the biota of this old, dissected landscape. He was tricked by the decent weather overhead.

I had fallen behind the explorers, playing with my black body Nikon F-1 perched on my heavy Slick tripod, humped all the way in from the trailhead. It started to drizzle and then got heavier and heavier. The rain moved makai, after thoroughly soaking the mauka interior. Eventually, I came to a rushing, swollen river and stopped dead in my tracks. "How did Lorin cross that whitewater? And should I?". I only pondered that question for a few minutes.

Lorin and the poncho draped Mongooses popped into view on the opposite shore, now about 30 yards away. I could barely make out their shouts, the river was so loud. At first Lorin and some guys tried to wade through, but it quickly proved to be too dangerous.

Pondering our dilemma, it became clear to all that this was a known location for dangerous flash flooding. Overhead, crossing the river was a thick, braided wire cable, and on my side was a padlocked, hand operated wooden bench on pulleys.

I tested the lock and unsuccessfully looked for a hidden key. I could do nothing to break the chain and shrugged in defeat as the gang shouted undecipherable suggestions over the whitewater.

I don't recall whether it was Lorin not wanting to be made fun of for forgetting the old timers admonitions about this stream crossing, or not wanting his Mongoose charges to be stuck out in the rain all night. Ever resourceful, Lorin went off into the brush to search for options. He came back with a stout guava branch, shaped in a "Y" with branches that he placed over the cable and wove together to make a seat. I was laughing so hard as Lorin hauled himself over the raging river, foot by foot, that I stayed warm. I did not comprehend till later, how dangerous it would have been for Lorin, had the branch or cable snapped.

To make a long story short, we all enjoyed hours of laughter in the crowded, steamy cabin that night. Lorin and his Mongooses safe, dry and fed. For many camping trips after that incident, Lorin would grin, shake his head and say, "Sheesssh. At least I replaced the lock that I smashed to release that wooden bench."

The adventurous explorations were many, eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed. One was my first time up to Lake Waiau on Mauna Kea. Several times we experienced the serene chain of cabins in Haleakala Crater. We twice bounced up Hualalai's rutted 4x4 road to the summit cabin (the first time in 1979). We counted at least three trips with Calvin Harada and his dad exploring the first Hawaiian settlement around Waiahukini cabin tucked in on the lee of South Point. There were two memorable valley trips along the Molokai North shore. We eagerly ascended Mauna Loa several times, where Lorin, with his 65 lb pack, finally set aside his beloved tabies.

One further reflection about Lorin.

It happened in Hilo, on the front yard of Cathy Lowder's old house on Manono St. on a cloudless perfect morning. We were packing up the gear of the just arrived Mongoose Oahu contingent and readying for the arduous Mauna Loa summit cabin trail. In those days, passengers to Hilo used the old Lyman Airport facilities, but that was still very close to Cathy. Lorin paused, sighed in contentment, as he looked at the two proudly massive mountains basking in the early morning sun. He was purring in his Lorin way, delighted with the magnificence before him. 

"Why not live here, like us recently transplanted Oahuans and see this all the time?" I asked. He furrowed his brows for a second and then responded by saying he could not live on the Big Island, the views of the Mountains would mesmerize him and he would spend all his time marveling at their beauty.

All the hikes and backpack trips we undertook with Lorin, were full of laughter, learning and beauty. Mahalo Lorin, we will treasure those times with you in Nature, always.