It was 1947. I was a freshman at the University of Arizona, majoring in animal husbandry under the GI bill. Although my goal as a teenager was to own a farm and raise horses someday, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
We were on a field trip and I sat on the ground talking to a classmate, Gordon Cran. I noticed that he had an unusual accent, so I asked where he was from. He replied, “Hilo.”
Most of the students in the class were from Arizona, so I asked, “Gila Bend?” (Pronounced heela.)
He said, “No! Hilo. In Hawaii.”
Remember, this was before television and before statehood. All I knew about Hawaii was Pearl Harbor, coconuts, and what I saw in Dorothy Lamour movies. So I asked him, “How come you’re going to school here?”
Gordon said, “Well, my goal in life is to manage a ranch in Hawaii, and this school has a good course in range management.”
“A ranch in Hawaii?” I asked, surprised.
“Sure,” Gordon said. “We have over 200 cattle ranches in Hawaii. Most are small family operations, but some are very large. The Parker Ranch runs from 25,000 to 40,000 head, depending on the rain.”
I thought to myself, This guy is either a pathological liar or he thinks I’m stupid.
“Are there grazing lands in Hawaii?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” Gordon said. “See, on the island I’m from, one side is desert with only 6 to 8 inches of rain a year, and the other side is rainforest with 100 to 200 inches a year, and in between there are huge grasslands.”
I pretended to believe him and asked, “How is that possible?”
“Well,” he explained, “It’s because of the mountains. They affect the rainfall.”
“Mountains?” I was surprised. “There are mountains in Hawaii?”
“Oh sure! We have mountains nearly 14,000 feet high, and they have snow on them in the winter.”
“Snow? In Hawaii?” I said, stunned.
“Yeah, and the snow provides water for the dry side. I’ve seen cattle wade out into the ocean to drink fresh water coming down from the mountain through lava tubes,” Gordon said.
That did it! This guy thought I was a sucker.
However, as the school year progressed, I realized that Gordon Cran was a special person: honest, kind, gentle, and sincere. He told me more extraordinary facts about the Hawaiian Islands, and I added a visit to Hawaii to my meager bucket list. Somehow, someday I would go there and see the wonders that Gordon described: the black, white, and pink sand beaches; volcanoes; wildlife; sunsets; people; sea caves; jungles; lava deserts; waterfalls; climate; rich pastures; orchards; villages; paniolos (cowboys); and the historical monuments. I didn’t know how I’d get there or how long I’d stay. I didn’t know when I could go or how I would manage to see more than one island, but I promised myself that I would do it.
I am writing this column on the last day of my 46th visit—and I have never had to buy an airplane ticket. Every trip has been as a speaker for the veterinary profession or for the animal industry. On each visit, beginning a half-century ago with a conference of zoo veterinarians, I have worked two days and stayed an average of two weeks. So I have spent about two years of my life in Hawaii, and I hope for more. I’ve been on all the major islands at least once, and on some many times. My wife and I have dear friends in Hawaii.
So thank you, veterinary medicine, for enriching my life and giving it more meaning. But thank you especially for the privilege of getting to know this paradise on Earth.
Gordon has since passed on, but he achieved his goal on the Kapapala Ranch of the big island of Hawaii. We were friends for life.
So, to all my colleagues: put Hawaii on your bucket list. I don’t mean a week on Waikiki; it is beautiful, but it isn’t Hawaii any more than Paris is France or San Francisco is California. Attend a veterinary convention, and then stay an extra week. See another island or two.
First visit? Try Maui—it has a little taste of all the other islands.
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.