Ever since I’ve had a choice, I’ve lived in the wild. My body, tethered to a mind that wanders, needs constant affirmation of its place in the earthly scheme of things. Without this physical contact, my spirit years too much for that nameless home in the sea of pure consciousness. When I feel like a spring onion bobbing about in primordial soup, earth grounds me to this precious life.
Perhaps the grace in drawing breath is the rare gift of knowing I can be, for a time, differentiated into I. What joy in perceiving the miracle of Other – this dance of light and darkness, variety, color and form! The divine drops into matter to experience itself in a sentient universe, and how thrilling to realize I already have a part in the play!
That I might remember this with every breath, earth herself virtually assures. But the mind grows bored and restless, forgetting and distracting in endless repetition. Thus I choose to live where it’s easier not to overlook the miraculous embedded in the mundane, in a place so beautiful that, should my head stray too far, I can actually hear my heart ticking off minutes of mortality, bringing me back to what is essential in the splendor of sea and sky, in wind rustling branches and hissing through grasses.
If I listen very carefully, I can even hear grains of soil separating themselves, and I experience the alchemy of temporality to my borrowed bones. I know what is real and what is merely a figment of my forgetfulness.
I never had a proper swimming lesson. Heralding from a family of nine, my mother did what she could to get my younger brothers and me to the nearby community pool in the blistering summer months, where two memories vie for prominence: the spitting trough that surrounded the pool’s interior and the overwhelming lung ache produced by Southern California smog, coupled with too many chlorine fumes both wafting from the pool as well as streaming from locker room showers. They must have used barrels of the stuff on a daily basis. Still in all, I yearned to immerse myself in water, and that was a place I could experience the ecstasy only buoyancy could elicit. It was here that I experimented with the dog paddle and the back float rather unsuccessfully. The most natural posture my body assumed was on my side, stroking along with my nose clearing the water’s surface. I could both swim and breathe this way which sufficed to soothe any misapprehension in the learning process.
I did not master the crawl or the backstroke until high school when I joined a swim team. It simply didn’t look right as a pseudo-jock to sidestroke my way across the pool like a panicked crab. And so I faked it to make the team, though it was my legs that saved me. They have always been strong and trusting in the depths. And though I did participate in competitive water polo and later learned about the buddy system, my lifelong love of swimming ultimately derived from the joy of being alone, surrounded by the nurturing and supportive element of either fresh or salty water.
Certainly in some kinesthetic way we all remember our uterine origins – induction to life here on earth. There is ever something undeniably primal in surrendering to an amniotic-like matrix. Where fear sneaks in for those I’ve spoken with who tend to shy away from deep water is the dearth of knowing what lies beneath. After all, save for twins or other simultaneous siblings, most of us cruised that womb alone. Meanwhile if so very many people did not fear the plunge, it would indeed be crowded out there in Mother Ocean, but it has never been – despite the fact that Hawaii remains one of the world’s premier tourist destinations.
My husband and I recently enjoyed the documentary I AM, conceived by Tom Shadyac, famed director of such films as The Nutty Professor and Ace Ventura. In this film, researchers postulate that we’ve got it all wrong as pertains to the nature of human beings when it comes to actual versus perceived threats. It is in the findings of these scholars and scientists that we discover an inherent cooperation and goodness in all life forms, along with a definitive interrelatedness. Even National Geographic continues financing untold numbers of films depicting the awe-filled savagery of Creation. In truth during the majority of the time however, creatures foster and support community rather than actively engaging adversity. But boring isn’t good box office, nor does the mundane elicit the same kind of funding that contention and discord likely do. Nobody’s fault. But it’s worth a mention and a viewing to discover some of what prompts us to fear so much about this multifaceted miracle of our temporal existence. If we understood to our core that fundamental interconnection, would we relax into trusting more than skittering about in apprehension? Would it make a difference in our experiences?
For me it is less boldness than an acute sensitivity to large bodies of water, coupled with a faith in destiny – that propels me out and into the depths. Maine offered the sparkling glacial jewel that is Goose Pond. In the Hawaiian ocean it is a kinship with the spirits of the deep that has never guided me falsely. If I always pay attention to my gut feeling before entering the water, I remain confident in trusting those impulses. Sometimes that means I sit in the sand and go home to return another day. Most times however, I head on out into the bay.
In the end, if I’m meant to die being torn asunder by sharks – if that is indeed my destiny – there isn’t much I can do to prevent it, even if I never set foot in the ocean again. I might be flying overhead as the plane crashes with the same result. All I’m saying is that somehow I don’t allow fear to overrule the pursuit of happiness in this life. And filling that cup to overflowing always involves joining with nature in all her wild manifestations. I’ll tell you, all the lights on Broadway don’t amount to an acre of green …
Beaches close fairly regularly here in Hawaii while tiger sharks measuring up to fifteen feet cruise on through. When waters are murky, best forego the swim. Plenty else to do. My own shark sightings have invariably occurred at this, my favorite beach – though not today. Feeling the ocean tells me it’s safe to swim, but first I bide my time, warming my fully clothed body in the brilliant sunshine while visitors from colder climes run around in bikinis. Mauna Kea is about as protected a bay as you’ll find on the Big Island, and due to restricted public access (best arrive early to secure a parking spot), never crowded. Beginning of the week on a windy day and it’s mostly tourists – young families with grandparents in tow. A lithe towhead of a girl about eight picks every beach morning glory blossom in sight. She’s making a lei, and raises her hands to me the Observer in proud demonstration. I haven’t the heart to tell her that her blossoms will all be wilted within the hour. Everybody looks happy, and why not? The beauty of the place is staggering.
Offshore winds pick up out of nowhere like tramps in the night. Hawaii’s seasonal shifts are not at all like New England’s – where a nighttime chill in the fall air will by morning produce a palette of colors as far from off-the-rack as bouillabaisse is to Campbell’s soup. Changing seasons here are far less dramatic – one must watch the ocean, be aware of the tides, the color and clarity of seawater; direction of wind. Here on the north shore, one is less inclined to sleep with windows open in order to ward off ill health. Degrees of dampness vary tremendously, and the night air can leave one with cricks in the neck and shoulders during colder months.
Today the ocean is a turquoise jewel, a sparkling crystal of invitation. Fins and mask in hand, I wade in. The first wave fails to render me breathless – a sure sign that winter has passed for good, if fledging cardinals and mejiro birds fail to jog the memory. The ocean never lies. Stroking out into deep water, the bay once shared with scattered others becomes mine alone, and I soon discover why. An offshore wind whooshes into my ears on a turn, and I subsequently notice a subtle underwater silt cloud while reflexively surfacing to check my mask for fog. Experience has shown me I am still safe, but I won’t swim back across the length of the bay today. Calmly I complete my single lap, end to end, tucking into the coral reef for a peek only to discover it has created its own little torrid environment. I quickly turn, roll onto my back and kick my way back to shore, lungs inspiring the bright cloudless atmosphere above. It takes awhile, but I don’t panic the way I did when first caught unaware in similar conditions. Fear burns up energy reserves, and fighting the sea is never wise.
Still and all, I’ve had my day – nothing trumps the freedom this elicits, save free-falling into azure sky before a parachute opens. And this is only conjecture on my part, for I’ve never been skydiving. Nor will I regret, at life’s end, never having done so. I recall years ago when moving from Hawaii to New Mexico, mourning the imminent loss of Big Blue. My dear friend Linda had lived in both places and gently remarked, “Yes, but in New Mexico, the ocean is the sky.” At 8500 ft. elevation, this indeed proved to be true. Still I’d rather be swimming. Or sailing on, gazing at or floating in water. Maybe it’s an ancient memory of gills, or perhaps it’s because the body is over sixty percent water, much of which is saline. Like the fish out of water that I am, something always compels me to return to the sea.
It always seems premature somehow to arise before day has broken. Before that glorious ball of fire that lights and warms the earth sees fit to rise, there is surely beauty in the pre-dawn. A sacred silence before resort workers hit the highway – bound for the altered worlds that irrigation and obscene amounts of money create like worlds contained within themselves.
Missing the daybreak, I am content in conserving my contemplative energy for the sun’s navel as he lowers himself onto his bed of horizon each evening. Whether melting into the sea or flashing green like a strobe, theatrics reign here on the north shore of Hawaii island. Old Lā always bows out in superb style, night after night. Sometimes low clouds obscure his passage, but rays that bleed through streaks and puffs of pink, grey and black slice through these obscurations as if their source is tilting his head back and laughing. Zeus in his chariot pulled by four black horses, necks arched, nostrils flaring, thunders through his sky. He is not daunted, and liquid joy seeps out, around and through.
Sunsets have always drawn me into their palette, as saturated colors in a painting are wont to do. Watercolors belong to the dawn – those muted, diluted rosy hues streaked with a wet brush onto pebbled canvas. Living in Maine for thirty-two years, I caught sunrise over the first mountaintop to glimpse the light of day in the eastern United States – Cadillac – but once. It was a cloudy morning, and though fog proves lovely as it spills over Maine’s coastal islands like water over the backs of porcupines, it further muted morning’s hues as if a painter had swished her brushes one time too many in the same glass of water.
Instead my days climaxed in a sun setting over the hills surrounding Goose Pond; eyes dancing with summer damselflies flittering about on gossamer wings, tickling shoulders as we pulled oars through dark water. While beavers settled into lodges after a long day’s work, tails slapping, osprey nestled into the tallest treetops. The buzz of cicadas joined bullfrogs in a nightly serenade that waned with the flair of Venus emerging into darkening skies, gathering less brilliant companions to her flanks until they congregated like bees populating a hive, turning out the sweetest product imaginable.
Stars are the reward for ushering day into night. Last December I witnessed a full lunar eclipse – stepping out, at intervals, into the wee morning hours to photograph and gape, dumbstruck, at what early humans surely considered a portent. It was magnificent enough that I would repeat the ritual without hesitation. But until then, I’m content to sleep until daylight restores my vision and breaks over the land.
Different, these seasonal shifts here in Hawaii. It has been the coldest winter that we have experienced in nearly a decade of living on the islands. Yet unbelievably to most mainlanders, spring is here. Birds are mating, horses are shedding and the wind’s currents here on the north shore shift in every direction, pulling windmills into unfamiliar patterns. Rains continue, still without complaint from us as we are situated in a dry area prone to drought these past few years.
The landscape seems charged with magic. Shrubs and trees planted only a few years ago that started a foot high have grown up to fifteen feet. Farmers markets explode in lettuce, kale, bok choy, chard – beets maturing from seed reach a foot tall inside a couple of weeks. Citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit and baskets and bowls of them sit around the kitchen like unmoving guests awaiting a banquet. Bananas hang in bunches in the garage, ripening in stages.
Yet somehow I find myself reminiscing about the northeast, awakening in its own profound sense in its own time, still a couple of months distant. After thirty-two years on that coast, I miss not the cold and hardship that winter brings, but the unmistakable transition of the seasons, the land emerging from its blanket of white and grey into greens, reds, yellows, periwinkles, violets and pinks in any palette you might imagine. The lime green of sedges; the brilliant orange of copse fungi. Growing things that seem to sense they have only a brief time in which to deck themselves splendiferously out.
Birds gather and descend onto land, seeking the abundant feast that awaits. Flocks of purple-sheened grackles crack and caw, settling sleek black bodies onto half-rotten fenceposts. Evening grosbeaks stun with brilliant colors dreamed only in the tropics. Loons lilt overhead, heavy-boned bodies laboring to alight onto stretches of open water. Foxes, marten, bear and raccoon; moose, deer, skunk and mink resume mating rituals. The woods vibrate with life; underground springs gurgle as last year’s leaves mulch into thickly carpeted trails.
Yes, our island spring is glorious to behold. Northern New Englanders have to yearn a month or two yet, before snowmelt and mud give way to popping buds and solid pathways. Patience is ever rewarded, however, with vistas altered by the passing of the seasons. Nothing, and everything, changes – revealing itself afresh to wondrous eyes fixed on changing horizons.
Sometimes I find myself wrapped in envy for those who seem to possess a sort of natural foundation to their lives. Not the ones with the two-point-five children and a house in the suburbs, no. That holds no allure for me whatsoever. It’s more a kind of self possession – a poise and grace – that seem to seep from their skin as sap from a sugar maple in springtime, running freely into buckets lashed to their sides to be rendered down into a divine elixir. It’s as if these people possess access to an abundant stamina – paradoxical restraint resulting in a protracted harvest, a nurturing sort of aura to be drunken in by those fortunate enough to encounter them. An ex-husband yearned for this from me, as if it could be coaxed like water from a dry well. As if water could be exchanged for fire.
For better or for worse, I am not one of these people. Instead I’m rather like a stately redwood nurtured by the mist – reaching, reaching massive fertile branches upward, snatching segments of brilliant sunlight, irrepressible as the fog is furtive. I want full disclosure of and for myself and others while guarding a thick privacy like a bear holed up in her den. Yearning for both complicates the structure I seek to establish – I keep wondering if I’ll ever grow up and into one of these steady folk. Then I gaze about me at the wilds of my existence – the freedom of both inner as well as outer Creation – and I begin to breathe like a bellows gulping air, and it feels right somehow. As if to roam is my home.
Perhaps I kept bumping head-on into the American Dream, inculcated in me from that early age of the dawning of an emerging sphere for women, the mid to late nineteen fifties. The free spirit taking root in youth from that time period forward presented me with a house-wife-less archetype, that of the Wanderer, carefree flower child moving through fields and forest, gathering harvest and shelter from the good earth. Donning the cloak of the Faery Queen, I broke faith with a stoic upbringing and, covered in loam and moss, rolled like the proverbial boulder, clumsily careening around sapling and stream. I learned to survive not in comfort but in ever-changing conditions, settling my restless spirit like a hen sitting on her eggs.
More circumspect now as expected, given a distant view of the gates. Yet I can’t remain in the manse, however tempting – there is ground yet to cover. And though I might long to thrust my feet by the comfort of the hearth, there is danger that I might languish too long, become too complacent. If I lose apperception for the vibrating thrum of birds’ wings or the smell of leaf mulch, I let go of life. A steady inner world is ever at the ready, but my time here as an explorer will end, and right now I don’t want to miss a thing.
A former client once quipped that expectations are like premeditated resentments. I can’t help but notice what a recurring theme this is in my own life.
When I was young and living in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, the biggest treat for me was when Dad would wake us up at four in the morning to load up the boat and/or car in readiness to experience wilderness. Whether on land or sea, plunging into the wide-open always swelled my heart to overflowing with a sense of meaning, of purpose in Being. And yet our father was a paradoxical man: if any of us seven made a false step, even unwittingly as children do, the trip was canceled. Time and again I resented the gods for placing me in a family that stymied my sense of impending joy. I ached for the kind parental images captured in the television box – white compliment to my black existence.
In retrospect and after having journeyed almost sixty years into this life, it is clearly a paramount lesson to release expectations and enjoy life as it comes instead of trying to bend conditions to my will. In doing this, I am often pleasantly surprised by the spectacular. Before I possessed hindsight, I did not realize that my spirit was in training. For in order to fully participate in the here and now, I cannot be delving into the precipitate of my past nor flitting about in an unknown future.
And so it is that I venture out in Paradise without prediction or conjecture – striving to remain in the present moment while allowing for the possibility of what might present itself – while not attaching myself firmly to how that might play out. And it is here, in the interstices of space and time, that I often experience more magic than the average bear.
Journal: Sunday, January 29, 2012: We head out from our home on the north shore of Hawaii Island to Waimea town’s Mana Road. This bumpy four-wheel drive road is accessible courtesy of Parker Ranch, one of the country’s largest working cattle ranches. One of us drives while the other jumps out to let dogs ramble and/or to open the various gates chained to rein in livestock. The first leg of the road is often laced with fog:
This misty collection of gentle slopes nestle around the base of the great Mauna Kea’s back-side. Visitors must keep reminding themselves that they are indeed in Hawaii, but residents originating from the mainland’s wooded areas seek respite in these hills. Just before the next gate, we encounter these lovely creatures:
Finally we arrive at the crest of the road and enter the forest. One of the first sights that jumps into view is this stand of bluish eucalyptus seedlings, christened by the light of day to show off an unusual hue:
The subtle interplay of light and shadow is always most apparent to me at this juncture in the trail:
And although we care for three dogs, the only one we brought with us from Maine is Chudleigh the chocolate Lab. Originally from near Maine’s Canadian border, he always rocks out with pure bliss when his feet hit the forest floor:
Anyone disputing the Sacred has only to enter this grove of trees to know It to their bones. (And for those who are very astute, there is a spirit face in the lower left quadrant of the photo.)
With just a dite of imagination, anybody can see face(s) in the bark, just below:
Walking slowly in a forest gives a person time to marvel at what lies above as well as below:
Leaving the forest, and I wish I could show you more, we head onto that gnarly red road – down the slopes toward an eventual meeting with the Saddle Road and the National Park’s entrance to Mauna Kea’s summit. I think to myself, Wow. Another amazing trek through one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s strange though – we haven’t seen any owls or turkeys or geese or wild boar like we usually do up here – though we did hear some pigs screaming. Oh, well – I’m content to have experienced the beauty of this place, once again. And on we go …
One of the many sights along this stretch of road are the dinosaur bones of old cast-off machinery. What I least expect to present beauty, does. And then my husband points his finger at the Pueo, circling an adjacent field. These are the Hawaiian day-flying owls which we often see while on this road, and we are not disappointed:
Then as if the heavens themselves open up and cast mana to the weary, wild turkeys begin to cluster, here and there:
It takes effort to suspend disbelief as, walking right up close to our truck, two wild boar piglets stand and pose for their portrait – then scurry back in the underbrush to their mother:
Sinking once again into the shrouded mists surrounding the base of the mountain like a Hawaiian version of Avalon, magical island of my Celtic heritage, we have touched the arcane and it is enough.
This is one of the last vistas we behold before hitting the tarmac, once again. Saddle Road, here we come! But if it is endings we are expecting, Madame Pele, Goddess of fiery volcanoes, holds yet more in store. This small cinder cone volcano lies beyond the outer limits of Waimea town – reminding me of the old television series The Outer Limits as much as anything ever could. Completely unretouched in the light of the setting sun:
Returning to civilization is a gentle thing when views such as these bathe eyes in wonder:
Waimea town lies still in the days’ waning light, as I glance backward in a bid of farewell to the magical Mauna Kea …
This parting shot brings to mind lyrics from an old ‘eighties tune: Thought it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night, I can see Paradise by the dashboard light … A hui ho. Until we meet again …
Summertime in the low desert of the American Southwest can be brutal to the point of deadly. Temperatures soar well into the hundreds, and highways, though improved from the days of my youth, provide no great sense of security to those in the know. The landscape is still sparse and rest stops are few and far-flung.
I remember all too well cruising along the roller coaster single-lane road east of Desert Center while feeling my parents’ rising tide of panic as the radiator steamed dry.
Seven kids cranky from being packed into the station wagon and blistering heat on asphalt, paused by the side of the road to guzzle Squirt from glass bottles. Dad and brother John’s instructions on swallowing large volumes of air to expel in long, resonant belches. Racing to capture horny toads or gopher snakes. Nostrils burning from parched dry air. The perennial lack of air conditioning in these extreme temperatures. And the endless promise of water in the desert mirage.
It was a miracle that we returned, time and again, to savor the extraordinary beauty that such places undeniably held.
Nights are the reward for those willing to risk heat stroke just to trek far enough off the highway to experience their wonder, unimpeded by the lights of any manner of civilization. For it is here that one beholds billions of brilliant luminaries close-up against an inky night sky. The only visual impediment are legions of bats swooping low enough to touch, while stars shoot and arc across the heavens. Soft breezes coupled with the still-radiant heat of daytime seep into bones through toasty sands, securing peace in slumber and a lifetime of incomparable memories.
And while Spring in that part of the world is a riot of color and smells in an otherwise stark landscape – ocotillo and barrel cactus in bloom, yucca exploding into creamy blossoms, the pungent odor of rain hitting creosote bush – the chance encounter with a prairie rattler baking itself lazily in the noonday heat and the otherworldly scream of a mountain lion notwithstanding – I would risk the danger and solitude of another spate of 120 degree days just to experience that timbre of nightfall, once again.
Wind in and of itself makes no sound. It passes like a wraith in weakness and in strength. What creates noise are the obstacles that impede its path: overhead cables vibrating and thrashing with an eerie whining whistle; grasses hissing and sighing as the backs of tall stalks bend in crushing gusts. Gales zing through perilous knotted strands of barbed wire – cheap fencing meant to hold in cattle, but too often scar horses instead, spooked by voices carried along cross-currents of atmospheric jumble.
Wind here in north Hawaii can sock window screens full of red dirt in milliseconds. It launches airborne volcano residue hundreds of miles across vast oceanic channels. Then without warning it will blow the stuff back from whence it came, purifying the mixture of oxygen we inspire. Breezes waft gently, then gather force into fits of frenzy lasting hours or days on end. Visitors often find this unnerving, but for those of us living on these shores, a lack of wind generates greater concern. Earthquakes erupt in stillness. A windless Kona front will wet grasses without precipitation, driving stiffness into joints. In the way that winds disorient tourists, a lack thereof vexes the minds of those accustomed to its propensity for metaphorically clearing out the cobwebs.
Ironman athletes are known to curse these forceful currents, but for those of us practiced at cycling into stiff headwinds, a quiet strength takes root in our hearts and limbs. Let them obsess in their girded designer polyester, for I’ve not passed many on these roads who seem to radiate any great love for the process; rather they are competitively consumed, jaws set and bodies wound tight as springs. I’ll take eclectic clothing and our laid back little collection of street folk any day – striders, cyclers, skateboarders, the old and the young – who smile, nod, and wish one another a heartfelt good day. Perhaps it is our shared joy of living in the midst of verdant fields in striking view of the Pacific ocean and sister island of Maui. And then there is our nemesis and ally, the Kamakani ‘O Kohala – blessed winds of the north shore of Hawaii island.
Inexplicable, this love affair I have with Raven. My father hated the bird – stealer of eggs, killers of fledglings. It was in fact his disdain for these predators, combined with a protective reflex for their prey, that may have endowed the man with respect for something precious and worth preserving: a reverence for life that his fellow human beings simply did not engender.
Perhaps it’s the inky black feathers which, when sunlight fastens upon them, flash indigo. Or their catty way of communicating from lookouts lodged atop the highest trees.Time and again I have observed them in the Maine woods and in the absolute stillness of the New Mexican high desert. And what I have come to comprehend is that many of their seemingly indiscriminate cries are not devoid of purpose. One or more seem ever poised as lookouts, strung along a pathway only they might care to claim as their own. And when danger seems imminent, the deep guttural cawing begins – slowly at first, as the primary lookout bird’s sharp beady eyes detect intrusion. Then along the line it continues, sentries escalating alarm into a collective crescendo until the event elapses – even if it is only a harmless human walking a dog.
Ravens are bold and will look you directly in the eye, unlike many fellow scavengers. And when you try imitating them, if you are earnest, they will cock their heads, search your features as if sensing sincerity and, if you are fortunately inclined, answer you back.