|A new plaque at Kaluakauka|
My article, "The Curious Case of David Douglas," was the result of a trip I took to O'ahu and Hawai'i Island last October with my old friend Lois Leonard. Lois was the producer and director of "Finding David Douglas," a documentary film about the 19th-century Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who died tragically in 1834 while walking towards Hilo.
I wrote the script for that film, which was released in 2012. But, just like Lois, I wasn't able to drop my interest in the subject of the film. As often happens, one thing leads to another and a curious mind goes off on all sorts of tangents.
So when Lois told me of her plans to erect a new plaque on the David Douglas memorial at the site of his death, I was determined to find a way to accompany her and to write about the experience. When Michael Shapiro and Julia Steele, the editors of the magazine, said yes to my proposal, I was ecstatic. For one thing, I had long wished to see my byline in this exceptionally good magazine.
My article gives a history of David Douglas, for whom the Douglas fir is named, telling of how his scientific plant gathering in the Pacific Northwest led to a fascination with Hawaii's flora after his ship made a stop at Honolulu. Exploring further, he traveled to Hawai'i Island and there climbed three volcanoes, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Kilauea, collecting and pressing plants all the way.
On his final trip to the Big Island, he had a fateful encounter with a wild bull hunter. Although murder was never proved, some observers at the time made a connection between Douglas's body being found in an occupied cattle trap and the man who last saw him alive. Something about Douglas's missing money made people suspicious.
|Lois Leonard, Gordon Mason, Lucy Douglas|
Fast forward 100 years when in 1934 a state forester and Douglas aficionado named L.W. Bryan decided that the great botanist should be memorialized. Next to the cattle pit, which has since been filled in, Bryan built a lava stone cairn and affixed two plaques, one bearing the title "Kaluakauka." Meaning "The Doctor's Pit," it was what local natives called the death scene.
Lois's mission was to affix a third plaque on Bryan's monument, one that commemorated the 180th anniversary of Douglas's death and the 100th anniversary of the publication of his fascinating journal. On October 22, 2015, Lois, Doug Magedanz (her husband, who installed the plaque and is pictured above with Lois), Gordon Mason (a Douglas expert from England who was interviewed extensively in Lois's film), myself and a number of guests, including Lucy Douglas (David Douglas's great-great-great-great niece), conducted a brief but moving ceremony to honor Douglas and to dedicate the plaque.
You can read my article, complete with photos by Jeff DePonte, here.