Kevin to Alan, 11/28/97

From: Kevin
To: Alan
Date: 11/28/97
Subject: Typhoon Troubadour

Dear Alvino,

Happy Thanksgiving! I was curious about how they would treat the holiday here, since the occupation and settlement of the Pacific Basin occurred so differently from the colonization of America. Perhaps it is one more of the wonders of political association with the U. S. that we have inherited some of the Federal holidays in addition to the Commonwealth holidays of Constitution Day, Covenant day and Citizenship Day. We went to a delightful Veterans' Day celebration to celebrate that holiday, and where Caroline's school band performed (she plays flute). One of the local Veterans' groups provided a buffet-style lunch for all those in attendance, which was very good. The speakers were the usual dignitaries from veterans' organizations, as well as the Governor, the CO of the Navy installation on Guam, and the manager of the Veterans' Memorial Park, which is part of the National Park Service. Among the groups honored that day were the Provisional Marine Guides, Chamorro citizens who acted as guides for the Marines and Army during the invasion of the islands in 1944.

It is odd to think that you probably have temperatures in the 30s and 40s, and even have some snow on the ground. Here, our daytime temps are still in the 80s, and 70s at night. I well recall the cold walks I used to take along the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago when visiting my Grandmother during Thanksgiving. Of course, we are not lacking water nor places to walk next to it, but I have always equated this holiday with the feeling that winter was settling in, and that days of extended outdoor activity would have to wait a few months.

A couple of weeks ago a group of us hiked to Forbidden Island, on the east side of Saipan. To get there, you drive a series of bumpy coral and dirt roads until it is impossible to go farther. Then, after parking along the side of the road, a 45 minute hike goes through scrub brush, grassy fields, and down a very steep trail to the ocean. One of the guidebooks said the elevation drops 360 ft. in 3/4 of a mile. Eventually, you arrive at an area where the forces of nature have carved away at the shoreline, slowly during day-to-day tidal activity, and quickly and forcefully during typhoons. The result is an area where there is a coral and gravel-strewn beach interspersed with huge boulders and other rock formations. Forbidden Island was probably at one time attached to the main island, but now stands about 300 feet tall and a few acres in size about 1/3 of a mile from the shore. The sides are almost sheer. I suppose that someone with the desire could find a way to climb to the top, which appears almost perfectly flat, but none of us felt that temptation. The rocks in that area are either of volcanic or coral origin, and are extremely sharp on all surfaces. The currents in the ocean are notoriously tricky due to the surge of the waves, and the waves themselves are large and come quickly. There is, however, a large pool that is surrounded by large stone outcroppings that have not yet succumbed to erosion, and which is protected from the ocean currents. It is a great place for snorkeling, and is occupied by a number of species of small reef fish. They are very colorful blues, yellows, greens, and even a very bright neon blue. It is possible to safely swim at the fishes' level in the clear water for as long as one's breath can be held to see the fish close up. Fish do not appear to be as timid of swimmers as they are of people in boats or on the bank. I suppose they just assume a swimmer is another sort of fish.

I just received trial dates on a couple of cases for October, 1998. That is an unthinkably long time, when one considers how easily witnesses' memories dim. It looks like December will be a busy month for me in court. I have a three defendant bench trial on Tinian starting Dec. 11. The case involves three locals who assaulted two Bangladeshi laborers. Dec. 12 is the regular monthly court day in Tinian, and will be the first time I have handled the docket there without the assistance of Alan Lane, who is leaving our office to work for the Public Auditor. Alan is from California, went to Palau as a public defender, became appointed to the Supreme Court of Palau, and finally landed on Saipan as an Assistant Attorney General. It seems that everyone here has a story. On Dec. 15 I start a jury trial on Tinian, which concerns an assault on a police officer. It may take a week to pick the jury, since of that island everyone either knows each other, is related, or both. Rumor has it that no one has ever gotten a conviction on Tinian. On the 29th I have a two defendant bench trial on Saipan. The case involves an assault by two Thai workers against a Chinese coworker. If the jury trial on Tinian pleads out, I will cover a jury trial on Saipan on the 11th of January. That case involves a Filipina who married a local, and is another assault case. Of course, any of these cases can be adjourned by the court, but all I can do is be prepared.

We have not had a typhoon for three weeks - what a relief.! The last one came from the south, instead of the north, as the last two did. It hit the island very hard - in fact, the Red Cross has been attending to disaster relief activities next door to our office since shortly after the storm left. Some people still live in what they call "tin houses" - temporary houses built of corrugated steel and 2 x 4s that are set up on homestead property to satisfy the occupancy requirement. Amazingly (and fortunately) there have been no serious injuries due to this years' typhoons, even with houses being scattered over the countryside by the 100+ mph. winds. We live in a concrete house which leaks badly, but is otherwise pretty solid.

Three days a week I take my turn at the carpool to drive Caroline, Violet, and my boss' daughter Sabrina to school. I usually pass a small, very old Japanese cemetery at an intersection on my way back to the office. It is actually quite ramshackle by now - the stones are weathered and uneven in the ground, weeds abound, and the grass never seems to be cut. It has a couple of tall stones, and a few smaller ones which I take to be those of children due to their small size, and their placement in relation to the larger stones. There are a few Japanese lamps of the type often seen in Japanese graveyards and other architecture. Someone leaves occasional offerings by the grave markers - food and drink, as I saw before on Wing Beach, on the north end of the island. The concrete fence around the border has collapsed in some places and is missing in others. Between the large trees behind the plot, the traffic on Beach Road, and the fact that it is so overgrown, it would be easy to overlook its existence at all. One day I drove by and something caught my eye on the wall, so I stopped to look more closely. Someone had left a small carved elephant on the wall, facing toward the east. It is a very simple carving, about 9" tall and 12'' long with glass eyes. It is unfinished, and the weathering of the wood has given it a gray patina, with a few lighter spots. I thought someone might be tempted to take it, as it is a simple but beautiful piece of work, and numerous children pass by it each day on their way to school. But it has been there for weeks. After the most recent typhoon I was curious whether it had survived the winds and rains. Recall that this was a storm that resulted in the island seeking designation as a disaster area, that knocked out utilities for over a week because of downed trees and power lines, and that knocked some houses flat. Driving past, I did not see the elephant on the wall, so I parked and got out of the car to look more closely. I found that despite the devastation in other areas, the carving had only fallen off the wall to the ground, but was otherwise sound. I picked it up and placed it back where it had been - it seemed the only thing to do.

Better go now - let me know how your pickup sounds when you get it. If you have trouble finding a machinist, let me know and I'll ask my brother-in-law, a truly sterling fellow who works at the U. and who has many contacts in those arts.

The Typhoon Troubadour, KAL

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