Writing for Hana Hou!

David Douglas

I checked a publication off my wish list by snagging a great assignment from Hana Hou!, the inflight magazine of Hawaiian Airlines. My story, about the David Douglas memorial on Hawaii Island, and my friend Lois Leonard’s addition of a new plaque to the monument, will run in the December-January issue.

Lois is the director and producer of a documentary film about Douglas, “Finding David Douglas.” She and I first met as children at Camp Wind Mountain, a few miles upstream from where the Scottish botanist David Douglas “discovered” seeds of the tree that would bear his name after his untimely death in 1834. At camp, Lois and I would join the other little campers in singing:

‘Neath the whispering firs of Wind Mountain, Girl Scouts learn the way of the woods.

Douglas fir

Douglas fir

Back then, Lois and I never imagined that we’d both be working on a film about the man for whom those whispering firs, Douglas firs, were named. It was my great fortune that Lois invited me to write the film’s script. In 2009 I traveled with her and other members of the team for filming in Hawaii, including at the site of Douglas’s death on the Big Island. Later in the year we all traveled to Scotland for a visit to Douglas’s hometown of Scone and a screening of an early version of the film. The film was completed in 2012 and is available through the web site on DVD.

I thought our Douglas adventures were over until Lois told me of her plan to affix a new plaque to the memorial that was built on the slopes of Mauna Kea to honor the famous botanist on the centennial of his unfortunate and mysterious demise. (He is thought to have been either murdered and thrown into a bull trap, or the accidental goring victim of a trapped bull.) The pyramid-shaped, lava-rock cairn has stood unchanged in a secluded grove of Douglas fir trees since 1934.

But Lois realized that the year 2014 was the 180th anniversary of Douglas’s death, as well as the 100th anniversary of the publication of his journal. She studied the plaque that was laid in 1934 to perfectly copy its style and ordered a plaque from a Portland foundry. Lois’s plaque reads:

Honoring the life of David Douglas on the 180th anniversary of his untimely death and the 100th anniversary of the publication of his journal. “To no single individual is modern horticulture more indebted than to David Douglas.” Gardeners Chronicle, 1926. Placed by the Finding David Douglas Project, October 2014.

Lois & Doug

Lois & Doug

Of course, she first got permission from the Hawaii state forestry division, and a forester was present to oversee the work of Lois’s husband, Doug Magedanz, as he drilled into the ancient lava and mortared the new plaque into place. Photographer Jeff DePonte, who actually appears in Lois’s film, captured the moment for the magazine.

On October 22 we gathered at this peaceful place at the 6,000-feet level of a volcano and dedicated the plaque.

Lucy Douglas

Lucy Douglas

A special guest, David Douglas’s great-great-great-great niece, Lucy Douglas of Yakima, Wash., did the unveiling.

To write the article for Hana Hou!, there was a lot of history to condense, beginning with David Douglas’s work in the Pacific Northwest as a plant collector and his botanizing expeditions across Hawaii Island; the fascinating forester (L.W. Bryan), who erected a monument to a man whom he idolized and emulated, and Lois’s dogged dedication to a 20-year project that ultimately brought David Douglas’s life to the screen. In fact, my first draft contained such a hodgepodge of information that the editor sent it back to me for a rewrite.

After completing nearly every article, the thought crosses my mind: “I could have written a book!” Or, in this case, a film. In February and March, I hope Hawaiian Airlines passengers find this brief introduction to David Douglas to be interesting and enjoyable.


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