Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Matt's Obituary

Matthew Henry Stevenson, of Wailua, Kauai, died unexpectedly at home on May 22, 2016. He was 37 years old. He was a cherished and admired father, friend, brother and son.

Matt was born in Washington, D.C. to William (Bill) Stevenson of Greenville, South Carolina, and Mildred Teruya of Waikapu, Maui. The family moved to the Bay Area when Matt was five. As a boy he loved the birds, lizards, grasses, oaks and cattle that populated the watersheds and hills around his home. He also loved the time he spent in Maui with his grandparents, Walter and Joyce Teruya, where he loved grandma’s lei garden, grandpa’s plantation days stories, and the family history that connected him to Japan and Okinawa. He spent several summers in England visiting his dad, and loved the castles, the moors and the Neolithic standing stones. These early experiences in nature put him on a path to the career he loved as a range scientist, and a life he loved in Hawaii, but as a citizen of the world.

Matt graduated from Miramonte High school in 1997. He attended BYU in Provo for one year before serving an LDS mission in Tokyo Japan. He loved the Japanese language and culture, and was proud to follow in his grandparents’ footsteps. Although his relationship with the Mormon church changed, he maintained a lifelong love of Japanese history, myth, literature and religion. Most importantly to Matt's life, he came to love Aikido. His practice of this martial art trained his body and guided his mind, and he excelled to the rank of 2nd Dan under sensei Wesley Shimokawa of Lihue Aiki Kai.

Matt graduated from BYU in Wildlife and Range Resources, minoring in Japanese and graduating with honors (2003). His favorite classes were his honors Art History and Shakespeare in Film. He became an insightful critic of media, loving museums and galleries, films and literature. Matt was a scientist with a poet's heart.

In 2003 he married Rebecca Anne Davis in Manti, Utah. They moved to Gunma, Japan, where they broadened their appreciation for travel and adventure, enjoying onsen, shrines, hole in the wall ramenya, quaint ryokan, museums and memorials around the country.

Matt and Becca completed masters degrees at UC Berkeley, Matt’s in Environmental Science, Policy and Management. In Berkeley they discovered gourmet alleyways and made lifelong friends in the dilapidated student housing and Berkeley Ward.

Matt and Becca then made the move to Hawaii in the spring of 2006, where Matt began work for the University of Hawaii agricultural extension service in Waimea (Kamuela), on the Big Island. He had amazing mentors in his career in extension, and was proud to be able to serve the ranchers and farmers of the state of Hawaii for ten years.

In 2007 Matt and Becca welcomed their first child, Roselani. In Waimea they raised chickens, lived entirely off of their garden and delighted in their precocious little blond daughter. They explored the island, impressed with the volcano, quieted by the haunted black lava fields of Kona and dripping Hilo laua’e, and healed by the dryland rainforests on Puʻuwaʻawaʻa. Matt loved and respected the Paniolo culture that shaped the unique Hawaiian cultural and physical environment: the Hawaiian rodeo, the slack key guitar, the windswept plains at the foot of Mauna Kea, the green puʻu of Waimea, the tangled ohia and hala overlooking the black-sand valleys.

In 2009 they moved to Kauai, where Matt became the Kauai county livestock extension agent and served the livestock community of Kauai and Maui, while continuing to collaborate on the Big Island and beyond, into Guam, Saipan and other pacific islands. He worked with the 4-H kids and conducted research at the Kauai Agricultural Research farm, where he lived with his family. He was also working on his PhD in Range Science and Wildland Resources from Utah State University, studying tannins, pasture weeds, animal management and ungulate health, up until the time of his death.

In 2010, Maile was born in Wailua. Matt was a proud and tender daddy, deeply loved by his little girls. He took them to playgroups and cheered at their soccer games and cried proudly at their May Days. In 2015 Likolehua was born at home. He was a steady and supportive birth partner, and this last baby was welcomed in love.

Matt enjoyed the travels that took him around the world, with his work and his family. Everywhere he went he became a student of the history and culture. The Marianas, New Zealand, Canada, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Holland, France, England, Wales, Ireland, as well as across the US. He loved the West-- the desert scrubland and alpine meadows, the Maynard Dixon colorscape and the endless ozone-blue bowl of the Western sky.

Matt was passionate about his family history, and felt a strong connection to his ancestors--the plantation families, the sailor chef, the shipwrecked, the brave veterans, the difficult, the troubled and the astounding history of his family. His great-uncle Ken died in Rome in the Japanese-American 442nd, and his charm and handsome local-boy ukulele and motorcycle innocence reached across the years and particularly touched Matt. He was a student of warriors, fascinated with their humanity and strength. He too was a warrior, battling for his life in spite of terrible pain.

Matt was a perceptive historian, a wry social commentator, a thoughtful and capable music maker and appreciator. He played NIN and Joni Mitchell and Tannahill Weavers on the guitar, and serenaded his goats in the far pastures of the farm with his small bagpipes. He blended and expressed a unique fusion of his Japanese, Scottish, and Hawaiian roots, equally at home in a kilt or an aikido gi, at a Ceilidh or an Obon, in flip-flops or cowboy boots, playing bagpipes or slack-key guitar. He was a gentle, deep-thinking, loving soul, taken from us too soon.

Matt is survived by his wife Becca, daughters Rosie Jo, Maile, and Liko, his mother Mildred, his father and stepmother Bill and Wendy, his brother Andrew, father in law and stepmother in law Mark and Andi, sisters in law Liz, Katie, and Zina, and brothers in law Xan and Duc, and many other devoted in-laws and extended family.  He leaves behind countless friends from his home town, from college days, from his time in Japan, from his professional life, and from his aikido dojo.

Matt had a beautiful life and was profoundly loved. He fought the disease that killed him for many many years, through terrible heartache and pain. He was a fierce defender of the disadvantaged and the underserved.

None of us will forget him-- he seared brightly across our lives. We will tell his children about his wit, his hard work, his respect for history, his music. We will remember the meals shared, the hikes over hills and crags on pacific islands and Western peaks. We will carry him with us when we walk those places again.

A memorial service for Matt will be held on Saturday June 4, 2016 at Kauai Community College in Lihue, Kauai, at 3 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations to support Matt’s family may be made at Or via PayPal to Please send recollections and memories for the family to the same email address.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Amelia Likolehua Louise's Birth

10-24-2015 Saturday
Baby Name As of Yet Unknown has arrived! She  is dozing on the boppy on my lap, Maile is watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for about the 8th time this week, Rosie and Matt are grocery shopping after Rosie’s double header soccer games-- last of the season. Oh-- I just heard the chain clinking on the gate- they’ve made it home.

I want to write down Baby’s birth story while it’s still fresh and visceral and hasn’t reduced itself to an outline…

So she was due October 12. Liz was here, with kids and husband in tow, staying down at my dad’s timeshare in Kapaa with a beautiful condo, a big TV, and a open-late pool that we swam at every day. Liz, with her experience as a doula and auntie status, was here to help with the birth, and especially to watch out for the girls, make sure they were in the right place, make sure they weren’t freaked out… so we waited and waited, spent nice time at their pool, sent their family off on little touristy adventures while we had spring break (clean all the things!!! Declutter and disinfect and discard!) and then when the girls went back to school, riding the bus back and forth and I stayed home and tried to think birth-giving thoughts. Every evening contractions would pick up a little, especially if I was walking around, and I would think, FINALLY HERE WE GO! And get all settled in, tidy the Birth Stuff Box, and then settle down for a sleep before things got really started. And then wake up the next morning with no labor, no action, nothing. It got discouraging. I wondered if I was mentally blocking myself-- I was REALLY REALLY anxious about giving birth (nobody die, nobody die, OMG what are my girls going to do without me, how would I ever survive if the worst happened...) But on the other hand, you can’t THINK your way out of a pregnancy. It HAS to come to an end. No amount of self-blame can dissolve the situation! So that’s what I was hanging on to….This has GOT to happen.

Around a week late, baby really started dropping, and I really was waddling around as I walked and walked and walked. A stranger at the soccer park said I looked like overripe fruit. Thank you stranger.

Liz and Andrew and cute boyos left on the 19th and-- still nothing. I tried everything: I tried red raspberry leaf tea, I tried evening primrose oil, I tried pineapple and spicy food -- one night it really seemed like something was happening and I turned off the “wake up, take the girls to school” alerts on my phone, but…. nope. Morning came and we stayed home, walked around to the new goats at the far end of the station, and the last remaining contractions dwindled to nothing. I told Keala at school that I was keeping the girls hostage at home until baby showed up.

I met with my midwife Sharon and we talked about my anxieties a bit-- she heard me out, just that don’t enjoy the pushing and I was kind of dreading the intensity and pain of labor. She checked me out-- I was already 4 cm dilated. It was encouraging to know that all of the false starts were doing something-- almost half-way dilated and no actual labor!

Day 10 overdue arrived -- Thursday night-- and I made an appointment with an acupuncturist. I was sufficiently spooked. I was having occasional nice contractions-- I had to actually whistle and blow through them-- so I had Matt drive me down the hill for my evening appointment. To my surprise, the acupuncture was more than I could handle. It was excruciating-- like getting hooked up to electric fencing. She said that was a good sign, it meant I was ready to give birth. While I sat in the recliners with skinny needles in my hands and legs, I had some brutally intense contractions. I was supposed to stay for an hour and a half, but I texted Matt and said, Ack I can’t handle it come and get me!! He did. I made a panicked break for it.

It’s funny-- things that haven’t bothered or scared me in the past-- the gyn exam, the acupuncture needles, my flu and Dtap shots, labor-- have been completely emotionally overwhelming for me. Hormones, man. Hell of a drug.

That night, after we got back, I blew and whistled like a bomb dropping through increasingly serious contractions. I fell asleep on the couch watching Qi and Whose Line is it Anyway clips on Youtube. At some point Matt went to bed and turned out the lights. At about 1:30 I woke up with actual contractions. Matt came out and paced around with me-- I called the midwife Kelly right away-- she’s the young intern who they’re letting be lead on everything-- sit the long hours of early labor, do the after care visits-- and she came up right away.

And by the time she was there, things were already a little weird, and my recollection is already in an altered state, through a weird shattered timeless lens. Later talking it over with Sharon, she pointed out that labor time isn’t linear-- it’s a different dimension like a maze- that’s very true or me. Events seem weirdly stacked in time-- 3-D rather than a timeline-- I was joking and shivering and listening to music all at once.

It was dark-- just the kitchen light on-- the fans going, the girls sleeping in my room. Matt put on Metamora then Sileas then Nightnoise-- each album seemed very short. He read our list of names out loud. I started shivering and shaking right away. I still was dreading actually delivering, so I was battling myself. I knew if I stood up and walked, changed position, relaxed, I could bring on strong contractions and I could get this over with. So I did a bit-- got on my knees on the floor-- Matt put out the waterproof mattress cover and pillows on the livingroom floor so I could kneel comfortably and lean forward onto the couch.

Then I would wimp out, back away from it, lock my knees, and curl up on my left side and on the couch and just wish for the whole thing to be done, and shiver violently under piles of blankets.

Matt was absolutely my anchor-- if he was right there with me he could bring me into calm and focus. If he was out of reach, I got all out of control and screamy. I leaned on him and needed him right there. At some point I looked up and Colleen-- the other midwife-- and Nicollette-- the secretary/birth photographer--were there! I walked around a bit and experienced weirdly lucid moments where I joked and chatted and laughed and thought, weird, I’m fine. Is this done? And then-- wham. Completely out of my brain again.

I was feeling for the first time the slightest little desire to bear down-- I’ve never felt that before. I decided to go and hide on the couch. During some mega contractions I gave experimental little pushes. Kelly got ready to check my progress but I couldn’t face it-- I knew if she did, it would be too intense for me to handle. So they left me alone. Colleen, from somewhere in the dim room, said I could stop blowing and moaning upwards through the contractions and could start bearing down with a grunt and low growls. It was very easy to obey her voice-- It gave me something to do, to focus on.  I gave it a try and -- oh #$%^.

As soon as I started pushing, I knew I was really in it. I was still mostly on my side on the couch, with my knees weirdly locked, hips angled awkwardly to the left. Kelly was at my feet, Matt got the girls up and they came out-- I gave a mighty push and my water broke with a deeply disturbing POP sound and unnerving sensation. I could feel the head! Maile started to cry and left, I gave one more huge push with Kelly saying slowly slowly slowly keep going! and the head was out already! I felt it down there, little bumpy mushed features, and gave another mighty push and out came the shoulders and there she was! I was still lost a bit but I heard Kelly say It’s a girl! She put her on my stomach -- all purple and slimy and bloody and flailing-- in blankets and she snorked and coughed and spluttered-- Matt cut the cord and then Kelly tilted her forward on me and rubbed her back vigorously till her breathing was better-- I babbled and babbled--later I asked what the first thing I said was-- Colleen said it was, “oh you’re so beautiful!” Baby immediately tried to vigorously suck on her arm, and then latched on to me and snuffled and snuggled…and it was 4:58am, Friday 10/23/2015.

The rest of the morning blurred quietly into dawn. Eventually they weighed the baby-- 8 lbs 9 oz and 19” long, they gave baby her vitamin K shot. That fractured time sensation faded a little… Matt made breakfast for everybody-- beans and eggs and toast and coffee, Colleen started a load of laundry, Colleen and Nicollette left, Kelly stayed for a while to make sure everything was normal and talked me through a pile of paperwork with instructions that I retained zero of, and then there we were! Just us. All at home safe and cozy and well! The girls watched shows, Matt went and milked the goats, I carefully stood up in my realigned skeleton and felt hips and coccyx and sternum crack into their unfamiliar original spots and tied a sarong tight around my wonderfully empty but very sore belly to keep from giving in to the weird feeling of my guts actually falling out… Oddly, my ribs hurt worse than everything else-- I could feel them bending back into place. Very unnerving.

It was wonderful to just… be at home. To come slowly back into time and  space. I took naps. I drank cider and martinellis. We went to bed early and baby woke up and nursed every two hours and pooped spectacular meconium poops and was unbelievably small and soft-- impossibly soft skin and hair, wrinkly little hands and feet, tiny red bum…

And today-- Rosie played her double-header soccer game in the wilting heat, Maile and baby and I napped and watched shows and I creaked around and baby’s name continued to elude us...what a glorious blessing to have arrived safely at this day!

October 30, 2015 Friday
Now it’s a week later--I can’t adequately hook my gratitude-- it’s too big. It runneth over the confines of the ceiling, of our bodies. Her perfect little fingers-- my thumb fills her whole palm-- and toes the size of lentils. Her intense focus and sweet snuffling snorting and growling, her enthusiastic nursing and sudden quiet focus, her random panting breaths, the rise and fall of her tiny ribcage-- she hardly cries, she just snuffles and wriggles and yawns and growls and roars and mutters and cooes and drifts suddenly to sleep, blinking unfocused, arching her back... She inches and squirms around, flips herself over to find boob, grins dopily as she drifts off, dribbles milk, poops mightily.

Her piko stump came off already-- her piko is still a bit oozy and crusty-- the other morning when it came off I squawked, “There’s a hole in my baby!!” Maile thought this was hilarious, and cackling showed me her piko-- “Ack there’s a hole in my kid!”

The girls are so soft with the baby-- they coo at her. She’s so soft! she’s so cute!l Look at her fuzz!  They take showers right after school so they can snuggle her without me freaking out about nasty school germs and the cartoonish clouds of dust they seem to bring home from school every day...  

And her name has settled! Amelia Likolehua Louise! I think of her mostly as Baby… and then Baby Liko… ooooh I could eat her up, those little vestigial legs...

A week from birth and we’ve settled into our life so pleasantly. This has been the easiest recovery yet. Goodness, I don’t have words to express my gratitude. I should chant it or sing it or draw it… Praise for the miracle of each simple shimmering new day!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Thing: Underwater

I'm going to confess something horrifying now. I've lived in Hawaii since 2006. That's, what, seven years? And I don't swim.

Not even a little.

I thought, when I packed up my stuff from our dilapidated student apartment in Berkeley and smushed harp, heirloom china, guitars, pottery wheel and a lifetime of books all into a ten by twenty foot container, that I would move to Hawaii and become and ocean person. I imagined myself surfing like a Nordic-Hawaiian queen and frolicking with innocent fishy best friends (I blame a childhood misspent compulsively rewatching Little Mermaid for that one). Surely my suspicious attitude towards water deeper than my bathtub was due to a childhood in landlocked places. Once I had the chance to get to know water better, we'd surely be great friends!

On the big Island, Matt and I went to the beaches every weekend. We'd throw ourselves into the waves, Matt executing graceful dives and swimming out to pet the sharks and kiss the sea turtles (hyperbole. DO NOT PET SHARKS OR KISS SEA TURTLES) but the second I was in water deeper than my eyeballs I'd panic. I thought goggles or a snorkel mask might help. Maybe it was the disorientation of blindness that freaked me out? But the sandy gloaming, with vague shapes floating into view, was too scary for me. My last attempt ended with me clawing at my long suffering husband and hyperventilating into my snorkel. I gave up in humiliation.

Since then I've stuck to the shallow end, giving up on ever being some svelt beach goddess, cutting through the way like a golden tanned seal.

But gosh darn it, I'm tired of being scared of stuff. Of having things that, no thanks, I just can't do. So today, I borrowed my kid's goggles and went galumphing out to sea.

I chose a shallow and rocky corner of the beach. I jumped in quickly, grateful that nobody I knew was standing this side of the beach. I ducked under and floated and spluttered around for a moment, then tried to focus on the alien world around me. The rocks were red-brown and furry with limu. A crescent of shining white mother of pearl caught my eye and I scooped it up from the bottom to show my kids. A school of needlefish, about a foot long each, pointed this way, that way. Beaky little humuhumunukunukuapuaa pecked at the seaweed, a pair japan flag fish rolled with the low waves. I moved out deeper, still shallow enough for me to panic and stand up every time I needed a breath. I relaxed a little, let the waves move here to and fro and looked all around for fish. There were lots, and bigger that I could have imagined if I had stayed above water, on the beach.

So I didn't make any amazing discoveries, or even swim properly for more than a few seconds at a time, but I did something I wasn't comfortable with. And it was fun. Next time I'll bring a snorkel. Still won't go let any sharks though. (BECAUSE DONT PET SHARKS)