A blog by Bill Hess

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The wedding: high winds, lava, surf, coral, the surprise officiator; we dance to Apache songs

Late in the evening before the wedding of Rex and Cortney, the wind began to blow. Throughout the night, it picked up in speed and force. It howled loudly and tore at the house. It sneaked in through crannies in windows and doorways, slammed things around, caused shutters to clatter loudly and forced the light sleepers among us to get out of bed and batten a few things down.

Come the next day, the wedding day, it continued to howl. It was not like our winds in Alaska - it was warm. You could stand in it wearing just short pants and a t-shirt and not get chilled at all. Still it threatened to whip skirts about, blow sand into eyes, rip plates from hands, turn them into frisbees, scatter food about, spill cups and spray their contents all over everybody. Yet, there was no thought of a change in venue - the wedding would go as planned on Puako Beach, about eight miles north of where I took this picture at lunch time.





As the 4:00 PM hour drew near, Cortney experienced a bit of pre-wedding jitters. This was nothing to worry about. It happens to just about everybody. It happened to me. It happened to Margie. I picked her up on our wedding day and drove her to the house of worship where we would wed. She was grumpy all the way and would hardly speak a word to me, but she has only rarely ever been grumpy to me since.

Back at the house, Cortney donned her wedding dress. 

Need I say it?

I will say it.

Cortney looked lovely. Beautiful.

Down on the lava that covers most of the beach and just about everything else on the Big Island of Hawaii, Rex waited a bit nervously with the preacher in anticipation of the arrival of his bride. Wait! That is no preacher! That is Melanie, Rex's oldest younger sister. Melanie - my daughter. There was no preacher in sight. No Justice of the Peace. Only Melanie, standing on the very rock one would expect the preacher or whoever was going to conduct the wedding to stand.

What was she doing there? And where was the preacher?

Seeing as how the wedding was a nearly spontaneous, casual affair, held way out in the middle of the Pacific just a tad north of the equator, many thousands of miles from most friends and family, the number of guests would be small. But guests did come, including Rex's mom and my wife, Margie and two of his maternal aunts, Janet and Lee Ann from White Mountain Apache country, Arizona. All three were adorned in beautiful, traditional, home-sewn Apache camp dresses.

While it did not altogether die out, the wind seemed to oblige us at this point. It calmed significantly.

... and then... here came the bride, escorted down the sandy aisle by her step-dad, Hal and mother Janet.

The wedding has begun... and it is my own daughter Melanie who is conducting it. She is doing a fine job of it, too. I was very curious about how she happened to acquire the legal credentials to preside over a wedding period - let alone one in Hawaii. This is how it happened:

After making their spontaneous decision to get married in Hawaii where they would go so Dr. Cortney could attend her medical conference, the betrothed realized they did not want a stranger whom they did not know and would never see again to conduct their wedding.

They wanted their wedding to be conducted by someone they love, by someone who loves them.

Melanie fit that bill.

And in Alaska, there is a law and procedure that allows a regular person to obtain the legal credentials to conduct ONE special wedding for a friend or relative, and one wedding only. Melanie obtained those legal credentials. Then, without ceremony but with the legal witnesses required to make the wedding valid under the law, Melanie conducted an exceedingly brief legal wedding in Alaska. All required documents got signed, witnessed and validated.

Then they came to Hawaii where Melanie conducted a full ceremony.What makes a wedding real? Cortney explained. Is it the paper, the signatures, or is it performing and going through the ceremony in a special place before those you love?

In their case, it was both - each part happening thousands of miles apart.

To the law, the part that happened in Alaska matters most. The law is indifferent to what happened in Hawaii.

But to the human hearts of the bride and groom and we who love them, it was what happened in Hawaii that mattered. This is what brought our son and his bride together and made both one family, and one family with us.

Being informal, there is no bridal court with a bridesmaid or a best man for the groom - but Rex's best friend from childhood on up is present: Eddie, in the pink shirt with his arms folded. Cortney's best friend, Bryn, wearing the burgundy dress and standing in front of her husband, Paul, is present as well. Bryn and Paul traveled from the Bronx in New York.

When the ceremony reaches the proper point, my daughter Melanie invites her brother Rex and his bride Cortney to exchange their vows.

Says Rex:

Cortney Nicole Boulton, I Rex Hess take you to be my wife. 

For on this day, just as the day we met, I want to get to know you. 

I want to work with you to build our family and our lives together. 

without expectation, I will support and honor your love for all my days

and without exception I will give you my love, so long as you will have me. 

this is my promise to You.

Says Cortney:


I love you. 

I promise to love you forever. I know, that like the ocean life and love can ebb and flow

Some days bring blustery wind others healing rain and sun. 

I vow to be a constant source of love, support, respect and silliness. 

I want nothing more than to forever be by your side.

Then Jobe the ring bearer, our little grandson, gets his turn to shine. He carries the rings to the bride and groom. Happily and proudly, he presents them to the couple.

Melanie invites the groom to place his ring on the bride's finger. He does.

Melanie invites the bride to place her ring on the groom's finger. She does.

Melanie pronounces them husband and wife. Then comes the moment all have been waiting for.

Bride and groom kiss.

The first wedded kiss ends, but... I do believe they're ready to kiss again.

The newlyweds turn to accept the applause of family and friends.

Then there is a picture session where the bride and groom pose in various groups - with her parents, his parents, friends, aunts. I must note that for the most part Charlie was in charge of this, as he was the official photographer.

I did, however, take a couple of pictures myself, including this one of the bride and groom with my youngest daughter, Lisa and her boyfriend, Bryce.

I should also note that in one of those happy coincidences, Lisa and Bryce had planned this trip to Hawaii long before they knew Rex and Cortney were also headed to Hawaii, let alone to be married.

By pure coincidence also, Lisa and Bryce flew and returned from Hawaii on the same flights as did Margie and I.

A bit afterward, on the beach.

Now that the wedding ceremony is done, Rex gives the maile lei to the sea.

Then he and his bride walk off toward the cars to go to the reception, to be held a mile or two to the north at Hapuna Beach.

There, we eat - and the food! Everything from seasoned raw fish to seaweed salad, chicken and smoked salmon from Alaska. 

Need I state it?

It is all superb, exquisite - tasty and delicious beyond my ability to describe.

This is all of us who attended the wedding and/or the reception.

People often tell me that I must really like digital, because it makes it so easy to improve reality - remove a wire, add a cloud, replace a frowning face with a smiling face.

No... no... as a photo journalist/documentary photographer, that is not how I work. If there is wire in a picture I take, the wire stays in the picture. If the sky is stark and cloudless, it remains stark and cloudless and if a face is frowning, it frowns.

But... I was part of this wedding group, too. I did not have a tripod or anyway to trigger my camera remotely, but I had to be in the photo. So I broke my non-manipulation rule. Right at sunset, I had Charlie stand to the far right of the frame as I made a few exposures.

Then I invited Charlie to put his feet where my feet had been, scrunch down a bit to make himself roughly as short as me and then I went and stood at the left end of the frame, Charlie took the picture and I photoshopped myself in later.

I don't feel bad about it, either, but to maintain my credibility as an honest photo journalist I feel it necessary to offer a full explanation.

After the sun sets completely. Kalib and Jobe romp on the edge of the surf.

Rex and Cortney had set this up as a gift-less wedding, but as good Apaches Rex's aunts had to bring gifts in order to properly join our families together. Lee Ann conducts this part. She puts a small Apache burden basket woven by a relative in my hands and some beaded items in Margie's hands, then plays a recording of Apache music appropriate to a wedding so that Margie and I could dance up to Hal and Janet Apache style and present the gifts to them.

Then Hal and Janet dance with the gifts - Hal here with the burden basket.

Lee Ann plays four Apache songs, one for each of the Four Sacred Directions and we dance to them. When all four dances are completed, everyone turns a circle to the right as an acknowledgement and thank you to God, known as Usen in Apache, that each one of us is alive.

Yes, I danced, too, but shot a few frames in the rapidly receding light as I did.

Then it was over and guess what? The wind suddenly picked back up to the full force it had demonstrated at the beginning of the day - the kind of force that whips dresses about, blows sand into eyes and turns food loaded plates into frisbees.

We returned to the cars.

We drove back to the house, where Rex and Cortney made a toast.

In fact, lot of people made toasts, including the parents, but that's too many pictures to run so I will just run Bryn's toast. Bryn spoke of how over the years Cortney had lamented that it seemed the right man for her would never come along...

...and then along came Rex. Bryn was damn glad about it. So am I.

Bryn also made the wedding cake. In fact, she made at least three wedding cakes over the week. It was a challenge to come up with the right blend of ingredients that would hold together in the warmth and humidity of Hawaii.

She succeeded. The bride and groom cut and shared the first slice of cake in the usual way, but found that once the first piece was gone, they wanted more of it.

And the only place they could find it was on the other's lips.

Not long after that, the bride and groom disappeared altogether and none of us would see them again until sometime the next day. I don't know why.

Most of the young people who stayed behind joined in a board game, the name of which I forget, but which they all seemed to think was great fun.

At some point on a following morning, best friend of the bride Bryn and best friend of the groom Eddie slipped away from the rest of us, gathered up some coral and left this note on the lava to all who would drive by. 

Coral messages on Lava extend for many miles along the roadside.

The wedding is now five days past.

I am in a different place now.

Last I checked, the temperature outside was -35 F. That was about as warm as it got all day.

I still have lots of pictures and stories from Hawaii I wanted to blog.

I will never get around to most of them, but maybe I will put up a few in my next post as I transition this blog from the tropics back to the Arctic.

Reader Comments (13)

Beautiful - congratulations and many wishes of joy for the happy couple. Thanks for sharing.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen

What a lovely account this is! Best wishes to Rex and Cortney :)

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Your pictures are wonderful. What a truly beautiful place. The best part....they get to celebrate two anniverseries!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

You have such a gift for telling a story. This was lovely.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergrannyj

These pictures make me feel like I was there. I can feel the joy! Thank you for sharing Bill.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterManxMamma

What Kathleen said!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing this beautiful day with us. What a family!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Gunka

Thank you for posting these. They are wonderful. Cortney looks so beautiful and they both look so happy. I will always remember the week we spent together in Hawaii. Aloha

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjanet boulton

Wonderful wedding! Thanks for sharing :) Congrats to the newlyweds! So handsome and beautiful and HAPPY! I'm glad you PS'd yourself in the picture too. Love their kissy pictures and K+J in the surf.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterangel

Beautiful wedding. Loved the pictures. Margie and her sisters are so beautiful in their dresses. Thank you for sharing such a special day with everyone. Welcome home.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

Congratulations to the newlyweds. You make it seem like the rest of us were there celebrating right along with all of you.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Love reading your blog. This post is wonderful. I also especially enjoyed the Pearl Harbour post. I have been there and the emotion you feel is so difficult to put into words. You captured the experience beautifully. Thank you!

February 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGuest

Congratulations, to the newlyweds! Cortney was a beautiful bride. They make a beautiful couple and look very happy.

Thanks, for sharing their wedding, with us.

February 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjuicyfruityy

Thanks for sharing Bill. Congratulations and best wishes to Cortney & Rex!

February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

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