Lightning and strawberries

June 03, 2008 01:48 pm

Recently, I dreamt of my childhood dog, Rita. She darted around my backyard in Oregon while I stood next to my apple tree, considering the weeds.

Once, while my family was sleeping, Rita darted around our post and pier house during a thunder and lightning storm — the little bell on her collar a minor sound to the roar. Just behind the house in front of a thick bamboo grove, our above-ground water tank was a tempestuous brew and made its own thunder.

Earlier that week, while I attended school on another island, a classmate and I discovered that her family had lived in the same house a year before (we were renting this one while my dad built our current house nearby). In physics class, she told me that while they slept, the water tank burst. Sure enough, when I arrived on the Big Island for the weekend, I put my ear to the ground and looked under the house. The long grass there, yellow and dry, was flattened down with all the tips facing down slope. Dry rivulets cut deep through the bare soil. We were sleeping in the path of 10,000 gallons of collected rainwater, capped only with black tarps, a bungee cord or two and rope.

The night Rita made circles around the house, the lightning was so bright, the flashes made the trees outside look like they basked in a white sunlight while patches of darkness flooded in. By now, my sister and I, keep in mind this is midnight, knelt at the windows captivated by the scene outside: the sublimity of the weather that made us feel so small and the small sickle-tailed white dog with the little bell on her collar that braved the torrent to do whatever it was she thought she was doing. Now that she’s gone — she went into the forest and never came back at the age of 14 human years — I think of her as lightning. Her bright white fur makes a blurred darting figure, now a cast member in my dreams.

My little companion since I was 12, exploring the Big Island is not the same without her. She walked with me, hunting skinks and beating me to the small wild strawberries that grow on the small shaded hill in front of the family house.

When I was 12 and didn’t know better, I shared honey with her and yogurt. In fact, what was mine was hers. My dinner plate had her name on it. Luckily this never made her unhealthy as far as we could tell and my parents soon regulated the practice. Still, it seemed she preferred the strawberries, choosing the ripe juicy ones, plucking them off carefully, leaving me the green ones and skink tails too.

I had had no idea dogs craved fruit. I knew they sometimes ate the tips of long tender grasses like California grass when they were having digestive issues, but strawberries? I would try to race her saying, “Those are for me!”

I think that my family misses Rita a lot. They’ve tried to replace her with five dogs — three belonging to my little brother; one family dog that wandered in and decided to stay and her daughter, Honi honi (kiss) that my mom coddles, claiming the puppy enjoys listening to the radio and likes watching Oprah.

Honi has a cache of kukui nuts. She retrieves them from under the trees near the strawberries and takes them back to the little shed where she was born. The shell is tough, not easily opened by milk teeth, but they are her favorite toy.

Her mother, Pikala, and one of my brother’s dogs and Honi’s father, Bam Bam (a pitbull with papers) raid the sugar cane whenever they get can. Together they also browse the waiwi fruit (kind of like guavas but with less pulp, more seeds) gobbling them. They prefer the strawberry waiwi, the flesh a little sweeter.

Lightning flashes and I think of my little dog, my favorite lunch date, and whenever I eat a small strawberry, like the one I picked from a greenhouse planter recently, I’m amazed it makes it to my mouth.

Eden Kruger is the news assistant at The Observer. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .