Buried Alive

Not unusual, this Tuesday. I hop on my bike and head downhill toward the vast indigo ocean with Maui shimmering across the channel, verdant rolling fields a parenthesis between me and the sea. I fondly regard the local dairy’s towering wooden silo alongside giant red and white windmills, revolving in rhythm to the crispy gust of tradewinds. On my ten mile cruise along Akoni Pule Highway, I try not to focus too much on the roadside garbage, but thoughts creep in unbidden. When was it we began to ignore this blatant insult to the landscape? When did we collectively decide that walking, cycling and driving amidst rubbish was an acceptable state of being? And more broadly now, when did we collude in the wholesale polluting of the planet?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; recall milk deliveries, ice cream trucks, the separate weekly groupings of glass, paper and household rubbish. Into present awareness jump newspaper drives in grammar school, mammoth bundles tied with string, awaiting collection. Competition for our scout troop, summer camp, church fundraisers blends with somatic recall of smog alerts, times we had to refrain from playing at recess because our lungs burned with acrid air.

I reminisce on struggling with President Kennedy’s fitness programs, for we were not conditioned before running long distances around a track, not encouraged to stretch before attempting records at the long jump. My lungs and muscles ached for days, not to mention incurring virtual heat stroke from the solar-saturated asphalt surrounding islands of sand and swings. A playground promising blessed relief from forced intellectual and behavioral incarceration could likewise conjure mirages on the most blistering of days. I remember square dancing, pergola lunches, endless spinning around monkey bars, tetherball and five cent lunch milk in paper cartons. Recall going steady with boys in the fifth grade, playing spin the bottle in the bushes at Hamilton Park. And yet try though I might, I cannot summon the existence of roadside trash. All the way through high school, I covered mile after mile to and from those halls of learning. I walked to school, Brownies, band, drill team and water polo practice, I walked to the store, to friends’ houses, I walked to avoid going home. And I am certain I would have remembered curbside litter, as I was raised in the suburbs yet educated in the natural world of canyons and mountains, of ocean, high and low desert, of fresh and salt water lakes.

It was somewhere between thirty years in the Maine woods and spending quality time with a dear friend in Boston that I ventured into that city for focused periods of time. And one of the most striking features of forays into these urban environs was the sheer volume of rubbish blowing about the streets. Strolling through Somerville with plastic, styrofoam and paper collecting around my ankles lent stark contrast to long stretches of trees, grasses and pristine shorelines of the north country. And yet this began a time, for me, of mentally recording the emergence of a refuse culture, either ignorant, ignominious or both, in breed. We had somehow, somewhere and at some point become overwhelmed with our non-biodegradable consumerist compost. We had somehow, somewhere, and at some time chosen to ignore it spilling out from our homes and into our roads, highways, and landscapes. We had mysteriously made the collective decision not to care if it did.

Today I took note of the following items tossed from car windows, blown from beds of trucks and moved mauka to makai – from mountain to ocean – by the ever-present trade winds of Kohala. Grasping for perspective, I could not help but wonder what if anything moves through the minds of those who discard these objects; I who swoon with guilt anytime I’ve cast banana or orange peels far out the car window and into the scrub of landscape. Part of me knows they are biodegradable while another part wonders what would happen if a thousand people performed this act at the same time. To wit: beer bottles, large and small – some smashed, others whole, a disposable diaper, wadded paper towels, a large black sock, clear plastic roofing scraps, an entire plate lunch wrapped first in styrofoam then tied securely in a white plastic bag, red plastic drawstring from a garbage bag, cds, a cardboard box, a full orange adopted highway plastic rubbish bag that somehow had been moved off the highway collection spot and into the bushes, a Gatorade bottle left over from the last Ironman race, a rubber marker for a baseball diamond, plastic drinking bottles of all sizes and colors, plastic and galvanized garbage can lids (some shredded by the county mower), innumerable plastic bags blowing around, stuck to barbed wire fences and caught on tree branches, assorted aluminum cans, a child’s large inflatable toy, balloon bodies, woven plastic covers to county sandbags, a child’s rubber slipper, cigarette boxes, a man’s XXL “Year of the Tiger” tee shirt covered in dirt but otherwise perfectly wearable, an automobile wheel cover, plastic floor mat and old garage sale signs, both plastic and cardboard.

This rubbish collects along Akoni Pule Highway, gateway to our lovely community as it winds through some of Hawaii’s most striking landscapes and terminates in the incomparable Pololu Valley overlook. I have cycled this highway since moving here a dozen years ago, and for all the cleanup that periodically transpires, there is ever a recurring impulse to junk it up again with the telltale signs of a culture gone made with consumerism, the same culture that ignores a middle aged woman in the cashier’s line in front of me two days ago carting no fewer than ten well boxed and styrofoamed lights, requesting that each be securely stowed in its own brown and orange plastic Home Depot bag.

 

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Of Angels and Deep Water

When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.

Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.

Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …

Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.

Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in.  Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.

Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.

Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.

I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?

Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel. 

To this day, I wonder.

 

Papohaku Beach, Molokai

 

(republished from January 2012)

 

Composer

Communication is composition,
ideally orchestrated if fortuitous enough
to grasp one another by our carefully
chosen words;

Yet too often in bright headlamps
of passing thought trains, we stand
transfixed, unable to move forward
or back, confused and confounded,
misconstrued meaning having wrung us
flat through slight inflection, unintended
direction; our own mind grasping
that tempting baton and running directly
to the finish, team long forgotten,
striding solo in self imposed isolation,
owing sadly to misinformation.

Quench

Drip, drip, drip, the rains come
and drop from the ends of ti leaves
scorched yellow by ceaseless sun
even during this Hawaiian winter
while the rest of the country lies
deeply buried in drifts of snow
or snarled in turbulence
of another sort;

Drip, drip, drip and I count precious
beads of moisture, one per second,
and reflect how it is that by morning
the ground will be soaked through,
roots nourished, new growth pushing
out from centers of petioles;

One drop per second, 86,400 in a day,
and if the rain can manage it,
we might well take its lead
and spread love, one act
of kindness at a time, moment
by moment, day upon day in
this parched and thirsty world.

For Jim

What is the lens through which we view another?
What color and hue, are they sister or brother?
Do we place them in boxes without really thinking
of sorrows and pleasures, the history winking
from under the furrows, aside from the layers
the total and sum of the person, not player;
To see them as how we would most likely wish
to be thought of, not pent in or judged
on or dished;

The circle is cast and who knows by what hand,
the scheme of our lives is thus simple or grand,
but these too are but fabrication and frail,
and are easily worn thin when piercing the veil
of illusion that obviates once we wax old
and cannot pretend to be cut from the fold
of the cloth that enshrouds each as death
draws us nigh, no longer the tailor or tinker
or spy; but merely a human as everyone is,
with hopes dashed and dreams and
the unfinished biz;

While the living continue the dance, as it were,
now without us to ponder, confront or infer,
and the wise ones among us reflect, as we must,
on a fragile existence wrapped up in a husk.

~ on the death of a dear friend last Saturday

Dance

Passion peaks and wanes, conflagrations
cannot burn forever, yet if tempered and fed,
a gentle glow is maintained, steady heat,
protracted afterglow;

If we could always remember this moment
now, just as we are, tensions resolved
in baptismal sweetness, life would be
a dream; but we do not, and for all I know,
humans lack the capacity for sustained
euphoria, always something, anything
to pull us into crisis, individually
or collectively;

The young will live forever, the old
hold tragedy too vividly, death
stalking at every turn, and if
the middle way seems ripe
for embracing at middle age,
those days are subsumed in children
leaving home or careers revealing
themselves untenable and we,
with empty hands shaking out
residual memories and thoughts
and habits not readily put aside,
do not easily welcome acceptance
as a viable alternative;

And so we begin again.
At any stage of life. We recommit
to living with each sunrise, and
as the day spreads its magic
and mayhem, we learn to dance.
And we learn to love the dance.
As we learn better how to love.
And that in itself unites us.

 

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
―Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018)