Thursday, July 2, 2009

Towards-Full Moon Swim

It’s true--I’m part fish. I absolutely love being in the water--ocean, lake, pool--It doesn’t matter--I’m at home. When I moved into the place I’m renting now, the sealer on the deal for m was when my landlady said, “And there’s a pool.” My eyes must have brightened up because she then said, “Do you want to see?” She took me around to the pool area, and I fell in love. I was ready to sign on the doted line--yes, a pool!
I swam when it would have been prudent not to--when the temperature of the water got below 60 degrees I still attempted a quick dip. But being fish not polar bear, I had to quit come the end of October. The winter months were long and dark. I would sometimes just go to the fence and stare longingly at the water. As soon as the weather warmed up--not the water, necessarily, but the air--I was back in the water--the brisk 60 degrees seems to be my starting point. Yes, it was cold. Yes, my landlady thought I was nuts. Yes, I was happy.
Since I came back from Hawaii, I’ve been out there several times a day, beginning with my morning wake-up swim, long afternoons “pooling” and now the after-dark au natural dip before bed.
Tonight the coyotes were singing in the foothills, sending their songs to the almost full moon. Yips came from the young ones, longer choruses from the adults. A bat flew out of one of the eucalyptus tree, dipping quickly toward me and then swooping up again. Over in the field beyond the fence I heard an owl hoot. Then everything got very quiet. I slipped off my towel and stepped down into the water slowly so as to barely make a ripple on the water. Back and forth I paddled: breaststroking in one direction, a doing a modified elementary backstroke on the way back. If I take my time--for there is no hurry--I swim making no sound whatsoever. I am as silent as the stars, as the moon. The Big Dipper was off to my right above the pool house, the Pole Star directly over my head. As I swam back and forth, the rising moon was peeking out at me, playing a game of peek-a-boo behind the cypress trees. The stars lit up one by one. I swam until I saw a shooting star dash across the eastern sky. The air was so still I could have sworn I heard it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Kani-a-ka-pupu: "The Singing of the Land Shells"

Finding an archeological site can be a challenge. Very often there are hastily given directions as the person is waving goodbye. Their last words are to the effect: “good luck.” So I drove to Old Pali Highway and headed up the road, remembering my first afternoon on Oahu and my sister-in-law taking me up to a pond at that turn off and telling me about the Menehunes. Little did I know how close I was to the summer palace of King Kamehameha III and his second wife, Kalama, in the cool Nu’uanu forest.
The directions were to go .3 miles past the turn-off. It was then I looked down at the odometer on the car I was borrowing and realized that there was no way to read .3 miles--that I would just have to guess my way up the road to the appropriate spot. “Of course,” I said to myself. “Why would I expect it to be any other way? I’ll just have to rely on celestial navigation…” and said a prayer to the spirits that guard the place to understand that my intentions were pure and to help me find the palace. So I drove up the road, and thought I saw the side of a building in the dense bamboo. “Piece of cake,” said to myself as I pulled off the side of the road. I walked back a few hundred yards and saw nothing. “Teasing me, are you?” I said to the spirits and got back in the car. I drove up the road and looked for my next landmark--the water district building. I drove slowly--not having any idea, really, how far three tenths of a mile is. Suffice it to say that I drove back and forth several times, stopping at a couple of different places, getting out, locking up the car, and heading into the brush before feeling the signal from the spirits to turn around. I could sense that I was getting close, but I wasn’t finding just exactly the spot I’d been told about. I just laughed--that’s the part about searching I’ve grown to understand and appreciate. As I get closer to sites, the spirits test things to see how serious I am about finding the spot. I try to keep my sense of humor as I stumble and bumble, knowing that the stumbling and bumbling is part of the trip.
Finally I saw it: the opening in the bamboo that I had missed the two other times I’d gone up that road. I parked the car across the road--as per my instructions
--and headed up the trail. I had been told some water pipes were along the trail, so I knew I must be in the right area. I walked up to a stream, knowing that somewhere along the property was a sixty-foot waterfall. I thought about crossing the stream, and actually did get my feet wet, but halfway across the stream I was stopped by an invisible hand. I stood there, letting the cool water rush over my feet, teetering on the edge of a drop-off and peered into the forest. I could see the semblance of a trail, but no water pipes--and then there was the issue of the invisible hand stopping me--so I turned around and made my way back to the safety of the bank. I walked back the way I came for a bit and then veered off the trail, following a water pipe, and headed across an open spot near the stream. I heard rustling in the bamboo and all I could think of was the wild pigs that live in the forest--something I sure didn’t want to meet face-to-face. I stopped dead in my tracks, feeling the hand of the spirits pushing me back to the trail again. On the way back toward the road I saw a trail off to the right. “Oh what the heck? I’ll go up a little ways and see…” and wouldn’t you know it?
I could see the ruins through the trees. I stopped and thanked the spirits for leading me to Kani-a-ka-pupu. I approached slowly, drawing back the veil of time respectfully. I saw the ti plants at the corners and lining the cobblestone approach to what would have been the front door. When there is no resistance, then I know I am accepted--as long as I keep my respect--and I walked around the lava stone and plaster walls and the piles of rocks where the walls have fallen into heaps. I tried to imagine the parties that must have been held there--the forest ringing with music, the smell of the baked pig wafting from the imu The story goes that there was once a party of over 10,000--“271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 602 chickens, 3 whole oxen, 2 barrels salt pork, 2 barrels biscuit, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh fish, 12 barrels lu'au and cabbages, 4 barrels onions, 80 bunches bananas, 55 pineapples, 10 barrels potatoes, 55 ducks, 82 turkeys, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 heads of taro, 180 squid, oranges, limes, grapes and various fruits.”
The Pali highway--between Honolulu and Kailua--is one of the main roads that leads from one side of the island to the other, well-traveled at any time of the day or night. It was very strange to be so near the highway that I could hear the whish-whish of tires on the pavement--close enough that I could have walked to the side of the road through the dense jungle. I thought of that line in one of Brother Iz’s songs: what would the ancestors say if they saw Hawai’i now? A modern roadway--following the pass through the mountains--near what was once a royal residence. How many people traveling across the island that day even knew the palace had existed? Not many. I had traveled that road countless times, having lived in Waimanalo for years, and not been aware. Secrets hidden--that’s what I’ve grown to think of Hawaii--so many secrets hidden--and in our modern life of rushing from one place to the other, we--I--fail to know what is just off the roadside, hidden in the forest, awaiting discovery.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hawai'i

I had been so busy getting my grades posted for two community colleges that I really hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that I was once again heading to the island that I love: Oahu. The fact that while there my wardrobe consists of a swimsuit, beach towel, snorkel and fins never fails to make me smile. I threw two loose-fitting dresses in my suitcase and was off to the airport. Roxanne picked me up in the middle of the night—3:45 a.m.—before I (or the sun) was thinking about rising. I am used to the five and a half hour flight, so I just hunkered down in my seat. After a long snooze, I awoke from feeling something pulling on me—not on me physically, but on me psychically. I glanced at my watch, which had been set for local Hawaiian time, and I realized we were about an hour from landing. I felt the hands of the islands reaching out for me—drawing me closer to them, calling me home. It is as if an Auntie is standing at the top of the steps, her arms outstretched to greet me, welcoming me home. I stared out the window longing for the telltale clouds covering the Koolau Mountains, knowing we would soon be within sight of land. I remembered my house on the beach in Waimanalo and the many afternoons I spent in the shade of the ironwood trees, swinging in my hammock with Kaohikaipu Island and Makapu’u lighthouse in the distance. Tears welled up and I let them run down my cheeks as I recalled swinging my legs over the side of the hammock and burying my feet in the soft sand. We flew around the southern end of the island, made a right turn at Hanauma Bay and up the populated side of Oahu. The islands are sacred space—the a’ina—moving slowly northwest from the hot spot in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Every time I come or leave the island, I feel a lifting of the veil, allowing me entrance to the special world of the spirits. It is palpable, and I welcome it as I fall into Pele’s embrace. As soon as I got off the plane, I headed for the women’s room, rip off my long pants and shoes and don my muumuu and slippers… aaahhhh… at home and free at last!

One morning I traveled across the Pali—rain beating down so hard that I could barely see the forest on either side of the road—to Waimanalo. I carried with me the graciousness of an old friend who, from Germany, had arranged a massage with a friend of hers. I was very thankful for the massage because my right knee had been giving me some problems, causing me to limp and list in a manner that was causing me some distress. I was anxious to have Christine work out the kink and get me standing up straight and tall again. She welcomed me to her home and bade be lie down on the table. I relaxed to her healing touch and let her manipulate my tired body. When I rolled over on my stomach and she began work on my back, I heard voices—low at first, as if the sound was coming from far away. Christine had some Hawaiian music playing in the background so just to be sure it wasn’t on the CD, I asked her if the song that was playing was an instrumental. “Yes,” she said. “Then they’re here,” was all I said as I sank into timeless space. As soon as I relaxed, the sound became clearer. I heard men’s voices chanting in Hawaiian. I could not make out any words, but the feeling was very soft, like the rain that began to fall, the drops hitting the leaves of the ti plants outside the open louvered windows. I don’t know how long it lasted for I had fallen through a crack of time and anything a clock would have shown me would have been “White Man’s time.” Just as gently as the voices came, they went, and then, were gone.

I was sitting on the lanai of my rental condo one evening, watching the lightening storm that was drifting across the mountains and over the Ewa plain. After a few minutes it dawned on me that I was not watching heat lightening—that these were jagged streaks and that they were heading in the general direction of the main power plant on the Waianae coast. The light in the kitchen behind me flickered once and I decided the smart thing to do would be to unplug my computer. I got up, shut down my laptop computer and put it away in its traveling case. I returned to the lanai, leaned back in my chair and watched the storm. Just a few minutes later all the lights in Waikiki went out. I had no hurricane preparedness kit: no candles--not even any matches--no transistor radio. I looked around and thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?” There was no place I needed to go, nothing I needed to do, so I simply sat and watched the traffic on Kalakaua grind to a snarling halt. Then my cell phone rang and I was able to use the ambient light from the parking garage across the street to find my purse. When I answered the phone, I expected it to be one of my friends in Honolulu, calling to ask if I was OK. Instead it was my friend Hiroe from Tokyo. “Are your lights out?” she asked right away. “You’re all the way across the Pacific and you know the lights are out? How weird is that?” I laughed. Instead of claiming the cosmic intelligence I tried to give her, she confessed that she had been talking to a friend who lives in Waikiki when the lights went out. She called me, knowing that I would think it was a pretty good joke. She told me that the lights were out on the whole island and wouldn’t be on any time soon. After we finished chatting, I sat on the lanai and was able to see the stars—something that is never possible in Honolulu, and especially in Waikiki, because of all the lights. Finally the deep black sky hypnotized me to the point where I felt I’d better crawl out of my chair and head for bed. The next morning I got up and flipped the switch—still no power at 6 a.m. The sun came up around 6:30, and having no running water (electric pump, I surmised) therefore no coffee and no toilet, I decided that was enough reason (and there was enough light) to make my way down the eight flights of stairs to the street. Tourists were scouring the shops in search of coffee and food, but not much was open at that hour—even Starbucks was closed. I went over to Kapiolani Park, knowing some friends would be meeting in the park and they would have all the answers to all my questions. Sure enough, they had the information about the power outage, when the lights were to be turned on, a hug and a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Ah, the Coconut Wireless… When I got back to the condo around 9:00, the light was blinking on the microwave—power restored. I threw out my small container of milk and checked the freezer. Although I understand that some businesses and homes were gravely effected by the loss of power, my loss was that my Melona ice cream bar had melted. Instead of eating it from the stick, I had to put it in a bowl and eat around the stick.

My dear friend Lani, who was raised on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala (“House of the Sun”) of Maui, invited me to Mauna ‘Ala for He Ho’ohanohano No Ke Kuini Ema Kaleleonalani—the celebration for Queen Emma’s 173 rd birthday. It was drizzling rain in Waikiki that morning so I was positive it would be raining inland in the Nu’uanu valley. When we arrived at the mausoleum grounds, Lani handed me an umbrella and went to join her Daughters of Hawaii group. The Royal Hawaiian Band was playing under a canvas canopy while a beautiful wahine danced hula. Gentle rain began to fall as the crowd gathered. One elder couldn’t move her walker fast enough to get out of the rain, so I walked over and stood beside her with my umbrella over the top of both of us until she was rescued and taken under the canopy and given a seat next to a trumpet player. A soprano from the Kawaiahao churh shared her beautiful voice. Then the Daughters of Kamehameha, in their long black dresses and hats, proceeded up the steps of the chapel. The Daughters of Hawaii, in white, followed. When they were all in the pews on the right side of the chapel, everyone else left their shoes on the steps and entered on the left. Part of the gathering was to honor the board of the Queen’s Health Care systems. The service was short—not much mention was made of the Queen—and we exited the church in the order we’d come in. The hosts had seen to the orderly placement of shoes (much unlike the usual method of kicking off your shoes and leaving them by the door for everyone to trip over…). I was one of the last ones out of the chapel, but I heard the trumpeting of the conch shell as I was scurrying to put on my slippers. The gathering had gone around the side of the church to the granite monument, which stands behind the chapel. Representatives of the civic groups respectfully delivered leis to a man who then draped the garlands across the face of the tomb. Both while I was in the chapel and again when I was at the tomb, I asked for permission from the spirits that guard the islands to be allowed to speak about Hawaii in my next book.

After the ceremony at the monument, we went up to Queen Emma Summer Palace for a tea party. I had forgotten about the bookstore behind the Summer Palace but as soon as I saw it, I smiled and went inside. I was browsing through the books and piled a few on my arm for purchase. Who should come in but the lady with the walker. Evidently she remembered me being of assistance. “What kind of books are you interested in?” she asked. “History,” I replied. She turned to the cashier and said, “Give this woman my discount. My name is Auntie Mary.” And so, Auntie Mary’s kindness gave me the opportunity to buy two books for “free.” Lani had gone in to the room where we were to have a tea party and I came in just as they were saying the prayer. She had found us two seats at a table, and after we filled our plates we sat down to eat. At our table were three Hawaiian women: one told us she was 91, the second was 88, and the third (the youngest) had been raised on the island of Lanai. They started to “talk story” as the rain poured down. It was as if we had been transported to their lanai (in fact, one woman had lived next door to the Summer Palace most of her life)—we were all old friends who had stopped by to visit until the rain let up. One woman regaled us with story of meeting Madame Pele as she had been chased back to school after she and a friend had decided to play hokey one afternoon. That same auntie had worked for Lani’s uncle in the pineapple factory on Maui. Time stood still as they shared stories, each telling adventures that they had not been witness to, but had been passed down through their families. As in all good things, the end came too soon. Lani and I gave them our aloha, put up the umbrella and headed for her car. As we were driving away, I glanced at my watch what had seemed like visiting with those ladies all afternoon had not been that long. As they are able to do, the Hawaiians stopped time so that we could “talk story,” then catapulted us back into “White Man’s Time.”

When I think about leaving Hawaii, I start to get all choked up. It’s like I can’t bear the thought of stepping foot off the island—the Mainland is but a fairyland place that I had once been, but has faded into the mists like Avalon. All too soon the days rolled by and it was time for me to board the plane back to California. As the brave little soldier I can be, I strapped the seat belt around me and settled in for the red eye flight. We taxied down the runway and I was surprised that I wasn’t crying—usually the tears were flowing copiously by then. As the wheels left the runway, the tears started and it was all I could do to hold in a plaintive wail. The plane pierced the invisible veil at about 1,000 feet as I was whisked away into the starry night sky.