From my vantage point on the plane, my flight across the Pacific entailed nothing but lots of thick clouds. Only on occasion did I see any tiny blue holes of water lying underneath. When I did see blue, it was heavily wind-capped with white. The whole span of 2500 miles seemed to promise cool weather, but I only had to be concerned with landing on a tiny island, and then only one somewhat empty stretch of shoreline. The huge, cloudy, empty space did not much bother me as I sat quietly next to my wife and listened to the hum of the jet engines while reading a book I’d purchased online the night before. I’d be there in five hours and get to see first-hand what the wonderful tropic air of Kauai might be doing this fine winter today.
Though I’ve visited the island five or six times, it still feels magical when I take my first deep breath of Hawaiian air. It’s moist, sweet, and fragrant, although the fragrance comes primarily from greeters walking around the airport, as the kamaaina drape leis of plumeria over those just stepping off the rain-soaked tarmac. I want to sit or stand in some pronounced setting where I can better take in the immediate sensations of suddenly landing in the most remote place in the world.
My body thinks I am still in California. But there is the business of luggage retrieval and the family members soon arriving at curbside, looking for me and the wife, and so my brief study of colorful flowers and chatty birds twittering about the airport is interrupted by the practicalities of the moment. I still think the first breath of Hawaiian air is the best, especially when I have not tasted it for long.
I was here in June, so this is a relatively quick return to paradise. This time I am here with the wife to spend holidays with our two daughters, who have taken up residence on the north shore. I will always be successful at finding a reason to return to this tiny blob of enchantment. Something about the green, forested hills, and mountains with unique, volcanic-induced spires, and ancient lava flows that have become streaked with bright, red, iron-rich dirt–all this flow of geology stretching down through tiny busy towns and out to the edge of a wide blue sea.
If that is not enough for my eyes and mind to take in, I see creeks and rivers flowing through the towns and villages as well. Some are quite red, carrying the lava-like topsoil down to their mouths, where the fresh water mixes with the sea, stirring together red and blue to make a veil of purple for hiding curious and hungry creatures of the deep.
My daughters share a condo with a third girl. The third girl moved out for a month, giving up her bedroom so that the four of us together might have a long winter celebration. The daughters are delayed a few moments in picking us up at the airport because of road work. The roads of Kauai are constantly under repair from rain damage or maintenance upkeep from the many tourists who love to drive around and look over the scenic stops and variegated contours of this lackadaisical landscape. Nature has worked hard to make this island as interesting as one can become. Maybe if I live long I will take on some interesting character as well. Ancient geological forces have made the island one of America’s premier places to visit. As the oldest in the archipelago, it has taken on an elegance that the other islands desire to mimic.
When these daughters arrive, they hop out of the big black SUV they paid to ship over here earlier this year. Their little dog, a Pomeranian-chihuahua, is licking my face as the girls are placing purple and green hand-made leis over our white winter necks. They have lived here long enough, one for a year and the other a year and a half, that Kauai is now feeling home to me. My first visit was in 1973, when my wife and I came and bought a 1964 Chevy Nova for $200, and lived on the edge of the pineapple and sugarcane fields for a portion of the summer. Even then, we had considered staying. How can anybody leave paradise, unless because of conversations with snakes you have been tossed out by God.
We tossed in luggage: a couple of cardboard boxes of Christmas presents, and two small suitcases with shirts and shorts, and headed off through the back streets of downtown Lihue for a bowl of saimin at Hamura’s. The place has been here, buried in the industrial zone of this little city, serving up bowls of noodles and Spam and shrimp, since 1952. In 1973 a bowl of plain was 35 cents, and now is several dollars, but we come for the memory of how it felt way back when and marvel that this out-of-the-way eatery is more busy than ever. Maybe my career path should have been to open a saimin stand.
The four of us are ordered to stand against a certain wall while waiting for our spinning stool at the low lunch counter. If we stand against the wrong wall, other patrons will give us stink eye and try to set down ahead of us. When we get settled, I order the house standard. I have been most diligent about my commitment to vegan eating for a year now–but gosh, Spam saimin? Who can turn that down?
We wander in the big SUV through more of the tight little turns among busy back streets. I peer out at many old and badly rusted buildings. It is impossible to say what kind of business goes on within them, as it is with much of industrial America, only here on a much smaller and more human scale of random and thoughtless messiness. Maybe the locals cook fish in this building or pound out dents in the fenders of rental cars in that building. Even if I asked, I doubt they’d tell me what they’re doing inside.
We pass along the edge of Nawiliwili Harbor, where I get a peek at the dazzling green water in this protected bay. I can see surfers riding mushy, fast-moving waves in front of the Hilton. A large passenger ship dominates the port today. About a couple of million people will get off and wander the shore front for the next twenty-four hours, then hop back onboard and ship off to another island. I would like to hop on along with them, but really, I already know that this is the prettiest island. I would like to tell them to just stay here, but I think people on boats feel more secure when they don’t have to mix much with restless natives and wandering Californians trying to undo their frenzied lives.
We scoot around more of the back streets of Lihue to go buy groceries in one of the big chain stores, where prices are more agreeable. The stores on the north shore, where my daughters live, make a killing off the unprepared visitors who come here and rent a condo for a week or two. Lettuce is maybe four bucks a head, a gallon of milk seven. Carrying a small bag of groceries out of one of those stores, one feels like holding on tight, as if it were a sack of precious sunrise shells. So we spend wildly in the big store, stuffing a cart with all we think we might need for the next week or two.
There is a Christmas day dinner to consider, and days when laying on warm sunny beaches until the sun dips under the temperate horizon line, followed by tiki-torch parties while mingling with the moon and evening stars. We must have food for all these occasions. Back home in California, I have learned (and am still in training) how to eat less and eat simple, but here with the daughters all is one giant aloha party. For them, that warm and glittery sense of the grand life is associated with rich and yummy food. I know my belt line and I will be dialoguing before I can ever get back to the mainland and to the blessed assurance of my own eating routine.
Suitcases, boxes, stacks of groceries, and a happy, bouncing little dog, the four of us get back in the SUV and pull up to the gas pump in Lihue. Gas is $3.40 a gallon in California; here you just add an extra dollar to the price. I step out to pump and am quickly caught up in a terrific blast of wind that rocks me on my toes. Following that, a thick sheet of rain water coming at me sideways. In less than a minute I am completely wet from head to toe, my first Hawaiian shower of this holiday season. I laugh some, but must sit wet in the SUV for the next hour or more as we head home to the condo on the north shore.
During the drive and conversation with my little brown girls, we learn that in the Kalalau wilderness a violent crime has been committed and that part of the island, accessible only by trail, has been closed, and the wilderness areas evacuated by authorities, while a detailed search for the criminal continues. I’ve been boated into the Kalalau, and have hiked up through the main valley, where I could see the druggies or “tweakers”, as some like to call them, and the homeless with matted dreadlocks, doing their best to try to live off the land, or at least hide out from the civilized world. They have managed to ruin a beautiful wilderness hiking area by suspending others on the edge of panic and fear. This fellow on the news had pushed a Japanese tourist off a cliff, causing severe injuries, but not death. Once he had been identified, posters for his arrest went up around the island, and several people I spoke with said that he was commonly seen hitchhiking around various parts of the island.
From an interview with a sister in the local paper, I learned that he had once been normal, but had gone through a divorce, got upset, tried meth, ran and hid from the world, and then this day decided to strike back at somebody. I don’t know why I’ve heard this same pattern so many times in recent years, but it has sadly become a cultural cliche. We would hear more about the search for the wild man of Kalalau throughout the length of our stay, but he could not be found. Some thought he jumped into the sea, others that he slipped away at night by boat.
The Kalalau wilderness is a big area to close off and evacuate. Each day of the police operations, we’d see more hikers and homeless come out with packs and ragged sacks, while trying to thumb their way to the airport, or to some other part of the island where they might be welcome. But the aloha spirit, this Hawaiian outgoing flow of friendliness and peacefulness, is still a dominant factor in local island culture, so I am sure that those most in need would find the aloha connection they required in order to survive. Everybody, however, has their eyes peeled for the wild man of Kalalau, who could single-handedly destroy aloha during the blessed holiday season, when people come from so far to feel good about each other and the world in general, to obtain a hint of happy island peace.
I got some sun the first day on the island, but the second day we put together a beach picnic and went to Tunnel’s, which may be one of the world’s prettiest places to lay around and undo the mainland, pale-face look. From here I could see the amazing, odd-shaped rock cliffs of Makana, in the Haena Mountains, which made me feel like I’d stepped onto the movie set of “South Pacific”. In the movie the cliffs were called Balihai. A strong ocean current was running round the entire island this day. Life guards had placed red warning flags up and down the mile or more of beach to keep the inexperienced and those lacking good common sense from adding an extra voyage into their vacation plans. But I could go in waist deep, snorkel with sea turtles, and kick my flippers as I drifted and explored the shell-laden bottom.
People near by me on the beach looked as if they’d just flown in from Alaska, Canada, or maybe even in South Dakota. A beached sea of white skin smeared deep and thick with smelly lotions and oils. At one moment I’d get a whiff of coconut, and then a minty fragrance would follow. One family, I think German, took turns lathering each other’s backs and shoulders for half an hour. I suppose the ozone is thinner now than years before, or we have all become news-alarmed by the possibility of developing skin cancer. The real beach aficionados have several different lotions all stuffed in one lotion tote bag. Each squeezable tube has a different sun-protection factor, and some will moisturize while others will coat or paint you in white. Maybe this is fashionable, to carry many different brands and consistencies, flavors and colors. And yet, for those who have just arrived from parts of the world where the sun barely shines this time of year, the transition from nauseating white to hot pink skin requires only an hour on a warm winter day at Tunnels. I’m not convinced smothering one’s self in an array of lotions will do much good. Some of my California warm October tan had stuck with me, enough that I felt sufficiently conditioned to park myself oillessly in my beach chair while gazing at Balihai through my sunglasses. I got burned pretty good anyhow and should have taken better caution, instead of mocking the cautious pink and white people around me.
My days of easy lazing on warm sunny beaches began that first day at Tunnels. I had hoped to spend several hours every day we were on the island just moving about from one pretty tanning location to another. We sat on Anini Beach a day. It used to be Wanini Beach, but years ago someone scratched the “W” off the road sign. That’s where I went snorkeling over shallow coral reefs with my mask and flippers, chasing little bright-colored fishies as they snuck in between obscure holes and crevices below. Rain coming down from the mountains in the form of swollen red rivers clouded many beaches where it was easy to get access to snorkeling. Anini had some of this, clouding the fish viewing.
But at the end of one snorkel session, I stood in waist deep water and faced toward Kilauea Lighthouse, just in time to have the wind and current carry a bouquet of Hawaiian ginger flowers directly into my hands on the surface of the water. I don’t know where the bouquet might have drifted from. Maybe it had drifted for a couple of days. Ginger, though pretty, is tough and could easily have drifted for miles before landing in my hands. I had to laugh as I lifted it out of the water. Other sun worshippers close by me saw what happened and I could hear a round of aloha cheers go up around me. I think the fellow standing next to me in the water, an Alaskan fishermen come down for a month, would like to have caught this to hand over with pride to his Eskimo-looking wife, but my wife received it instead.
When I lay on a beach, I don’t expect much to be happening to me. I don’t want much to be happening, which is why I am there. I read, swim, gaze at fish, and nap. I had hoped to do mostly this for three weeks. I have been on the island enough times now to know the best places to go for this sort of nothingness activity. That seems to be the dream for most visitors. But lurking above in the mountain chain, besides the wild man of Kalalau, is a mountain named Waialeale. It’s the wettest spot on earth, averaging 400 inches of rain in a year. The rain clouds park here and over extend their stay. I’m not sure of the dynamics of cloud formations. Clouds seem to want to stack up against other clouds that are just sitting. Eventually they stack up all the way back to the beach and then they dump tons of water very quickly before flying rapidly away. I managed to get in about five good days of sun before this predominant winter weather pattern settled in on us. Those five days were wonderful, whereas most of the other remaining 22 days required measures such as laying on the beach in a rain poncho.
Christmas morning we all sang rounds of Mele Kalikimaka beside the tiny decorated palm tree, as we swapped gifts and made plans for a special all-day beach observation of the holy day. My skin had been badly sunburnt and I itched and peeled all over by Christmas day, so was glad to see one of those first-of-many cloudy, drizzly days. We set up a pop-up tent over a picnic table on the lawn at Hanalei Bay, cooked ahi, played board games, and walked on the sand between rain splashes. Other Hawaiian people came down from the village and staged their beach holiday as well. It was just a different kind of Christmas than any we had spent together. Surfers carrying their boards close by, ukulele music in the air, and terribly large and strong waves crashing on the beach all day long. When the rain drops would come we would huddle up under the pop-up. We stayed til nearly sunset, but clouds hid the setting sun. I had wanted to see one of those really crazy bright ones, to top off this day with one more great memory. I saw nothing but gray.
And the gray settled in over us for the next week. I may as well have been back home in California, on the Monterey Bay, where the life of gray can be so common this time of year. We would go out, sit on the beach a few minutes, get rained on, and just give up and come back and park ourselves in the condo and play with my daughter’s little dog, Bella, the Pomeranian-chihuahua. The dog has much energy and, I think, fancies herself being a ballerina, as she dances about the house on her hind legs and barks for food. I managed to slip into a reading fest while staying indoors those days and counting a googol’s worth of rain drops.
My Kindle is stuffed, still, with a bunch of electronically untouched books, so I read through four or five of them while waiting out the passing showers. I would look up and watch many large-leafed Hawaiian plants constantly being splattered with big goofy drops of water. I suppose that’s possible, for water to look goofy, or at least make me feel goofy after watching so danged much of it keep falling all about. And of course the island is full of loose chickens and roosters. During a hurricane years ago the farm pens and cages were badly beaten and all these birds scattered throughout the island, and now live quite free from any sort of human form of management. I understand it’s okay to kill and eat one if you can catch it. I didn’t care so much about the eating part of this deal, since I’m vegan, but there were many roosters close by the condo, cock-a-doodle-doing all day and night, that I’d love to have silenced. It’s an amazing experience, reading the 19th century English poetry criticism of Matthew Arnold while simultaneously listening to loud crowing just outside the window.
I kept reading. Nobody in the household bothered me much because they got the impression that I was a little grumpy, a little blue, over this constant onslaught of wet weather. I wrapped up Augustine’s Confessions, more of Arnold’s essays, two books of biblical scholarly debunking of the accuracy of the scriptures, Sophocles’s Antigone, Greek philosopher Epictetus and Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius, poetry of Yeats, Wordsworth and Rilkin, Montaigne’s essay on the needless fear of death, and my own journal entries from 2011 that I had loaded into my Kindle a year ago. So my brain got quite stuffed with a lot of things I’d been wanting to get to. In my old age, I don’t know if it’s a good idea for one to keep his nose constantly in books, but I didn’t feel like going out and getting wet. Rooster sacrificing ceremonies, yes, please sign me up, but sitting under an umbrella amidst big goofy drops of rain? Aurelius must have a word of advice for people like me.
Some of my reading preferences, I admit, cause me to indulge in philosophizing about the life around me. Often on the outward facing side of me, I’m just doing whatever everybody else around me is doing, while on the inward side I’m mulling over ideas I have either recently read or those that have come flying in through my open and unattended shutters. It’s part of the problem of being an English major in college. Anyhow, I got to thinking one day while laying on the couch in our condo, during more distressing raininess, about all these holiday island visitors. On average, there is something like 30,000 of them visiting here at any given time.
Now that I am retired I have no urgency to come to the islands to escape the pressures of modern living. I come rather to enjoy the scenery and the visit with the daughters. I see those around me who are younger and who have bundled their families together to come vacation here. I see them doing their best to become what they truly would become if they were not so wrapped up with the race between the hungry mice and the fat, sassy rats that control the track. These people coming here to have a week or two to share with their family, so all can join in to explore and define a harmony that is too rushed and too exploited by media when back home. They look like a thousand Captain Cooks, with crew, who have come here on a long and intense journey of discovery. It warms me to see this pilgrimage, and saddens me to think what inhumane pressures many of these same fine folks must return to. Their nervous tics may well kick in once back in their business cubes. If only we all could dwell on such an island as this forever and be concerned with nothing more than the intensity of our sunburns and the fog inside our goggles. I suppose that it is the hope among many that in the sweet by-and-by we shall all find our ultimate destiny to be a state of complete harmony and blissful relaxation. It used to be a part of the American culture that we would make heavenly situations a daily occurrence on earth, but that culture now seems dead and nearly forgotten. Now the culture seems possessed with a death-like darkness that I honestly do not understand, and it is here in Kauai as well, though is not embraced by all.
One daughter has a boyfriend on the island whose family has been here since the early 1800s, when they arrived from Japan, intermarried with Hawaiians and Dutch, and took up tarot farming at the base of the mountains that ring Hanalei Bay. We went up into locked-gate country one night to visit his mountain home that overlooks the bay and jungle, where we pigged out on fish and listened to some of his outstanding ukulele playing and singing. I cannot believe how many tunes he knows. I am so envious of people who can just pick up an instrument and entertain others for an hour. I could cause a whole community to evacuate if I sang for an hour. When I stepped out on the deck from his living room in the dark, I could hear the giant water falls close by. I knew that recent rains had supercharged them with enough water that they would be in constant and prolific plunge for days to come. Mitzy Gaynor came here to this bay in the 1950s and sang a song about “rinsing that man right out of my hair”. It’s a catchy tune, and many around here know it. She spent a lot of money on shampoo when doing retakes of the scene. But these water falls, coming down out of the mountains from the wettest spot on earth, were enough to wash my mind free of nearly everything. Maybe this daughter will remain in Hanalei forever and I will then have an excuse to come back any time I need a good shampooing.
We planned a New Years Celebration on the far northwest shore of the island. The boyfriend’s mother and an auntie own a cabin in the Koke’e forest, a forest of koa trees, on the upcountry part of the island, where tourists ascend when they go explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. We drove up into this high country, and then down a rough, red-dirt road, before dark that first night of our carefully planned two-day expedition, and temporarily took over the cabin, while a visiting Hawaiian cousin moved into a house tent in the forest. The cabin was off-the-grid, catching the heavenly rain for water supply, kerosene and candles for light, and propane we hauled in for cooking. That night of course it rained some, but only lightly, and I felt like I was experiencing something of Hawaii that most visitors completely miss. We had a large bonfire that night, despite the light drizzle, while listening to and singing along with more ukulele music. When the fire burned down and the forest went dark, we stopped the singing and laughing, the talking and the listening, and all went into the quaint and rustic cabin and drifted into a mellow sleep. I awoke more than once and heard frogs sing to me from the trees.
There had been a lot of hoopla in the media about the world coming to an end on December 21st because of modern interpretations of ancient calendar makers. I missed much of the fear talk, being somewhat unplugged and disengaged from anything electronic. Even in the condo in which we stayed, the TV stations were so poor and dull that we did not bother turning on the TV, except to hear the lies and false promises of sunny days that came streaming out of the Honolulu weather bureau. There is a rock on top of a cliff in Lumahai Valley that local legends say will fall on the day the world ends, so we did look at that rock several times during our stay. It’s still there. We would have our unique and personal celebration, as planned, in just another day.
We left the Koke’e cabin in the late morning–New Years Eve morning–to continue our end-of-the-year adventure into more of the Kauai back country. With two vehicles, a pick-up truck and an SUV, we drove up to Polihale Beach, a place known among locals as the end of the world. We drove several miles off the asphalt on badly rutted red dirt road, until there was very little flat land left under the steeply rising Napili cliffs. Then we drove up the back side of some bluffs of sand and dirt to a look out point, where we could see forever in all directions, just what it should look like when you get to the end of the world. The wind here was blowing like stink out of the northeast, but we were all so sure that it would relinquish before dark. Besides, the Honolulu weathermen had told us so.
The five of us together dragged out the contents of two completely stuffed vehicles. That list would include camping gear, pup tents, several coolers loaded to the top with ice, water jugs for staking down tents and for lip sipping, fireworks, sleeping bags, stoves, firewood, ax, boxes of food, pop-up canopy, and a thousand other tiny things my daughters, who love to camp regularly, had methodically packed away. All of it, we unloaded and carried some fifty yards from where the dirt road stopped, out on to the top of a sand dune that commanded one terrific long view of the rugged Napili coastline, the island of Niihau–taboo to non-natives unless invited–and many miles of open sea fringed with giant, pounding surf. Just a spectacular place to do our part in helping to bring in the new year, except for this powerful wind that would not let up.
We worked together to set up camp, and felt in our heart of hearts, that the gods of the wind would find mercy and give us an evening of beauteous calm. We cooked fish and made incredible island-style tacos, staked out the pup tents, and arranged our camp site for a long afternoon and evening of full-blown beach fun. And the wind picked up. My wife, who is always right, noted that the wind was not letting up. In fact, things not staked down, like chairs, that stood an hour ago, were now tipping over. Oh, and the sky was getting black; not from setting sun, but from an encroaching, blackened cloud mass. It had been an afternoon of paradisiacal camaraderie.
We had made this wonderful lunch, tickled our throats with long-necked Coronas, took long beach walks, and napped some in the late afternoon sun. We all reckoned that we could handle a little wind. About an hour before dark, however, the wind seemed to have no desire to stop. That was the plan, that the wind would stop. Then my daughter’s boyfriend received a call from his father in Honolulu,who had called to wish us a happy new year. We then learned from the call that a new and more heavy rainstorm was about to beat up the whole island of Kauai. With about one hour of daylight left, we realized that we had time to pick up the whole camp and move it elsewhere.
Campers a hundred yards away or so had given up their palapa, which was significantly protected from the prevailing wind direction by a thick grove of Hawaiian acacia trees. We saw that we had just enough time to move every single piece of our well-constructed campsite before complete darkness and heavy pounding rain and wind settled in on us. It was madness, but it was obvious that if we did not pick up and go that it would be a most miserable night out under extreme elements. In an hour of frantic movement, we managed to huddle all our stuff together behind the trees and under the tall palapa. We could see that we would be riding out this storm, or riding on the edge of it, but would pretty much be free from the wet and heavy wind. There was a grand sense among us of proud accomplishment, and then the New Years Eve party began anew.
We cooked more, shot a couple of hundred dollars of fizzling fireworks into the crazy wind, had a big bonfire of koa, sang and listened to more ukulele, not to forget a dozen rounds of Auld Lang Syne, and stayed awake until one-thirty in the morning. We had positioned the tents out from under the roof of the palapa because it had a concrete floor. The softer sand seemed the better idea. And in the night, about four, the heavy rain fell, but we all managed to stay dry and the tents didn’t blow away with us wrapped up burrito-style inside of them. If we had not been so determined to make this past evening one of fun and of great memory, the camping trip would have become one of unordinary misery.
I awoke to this new year of 2013 on a remote and desolate Hawaiian beach. The area around us was littered with broken branches and fallen leaves from the acacia forest that had been severely punished by the storm. The wind still blew a good 30 mph. Thank God not the solid 50 of the night before. We cooked a huge smorgasbord breakfast, Hawaiian style, one that the daughters had planned for several days. The surf raged. Anybody who thought they might wade waist deep would surely get sucked away to China, as Polihale is infamous for its fatal riptide and currents. And so with impossible wind, impossible water, we slowly packed up the two vehicle loads of camp supplies. I walked around in the sand dunes nearby and picked up exploded fireworks remains. When I had a couple of hands full of cardboard tubes and spent sparkler wires, I tossed them into the hot coals still smoldering from last evening’s great bonfire. I thought the cardboard would just burn up and become ash, but no, each piece I had picked up still had fire power in it, so we had a second display that morning of bright-colored sparks and fizzles, a replay of last evening’s celebration, before we jumped in the vehicles and headed back home to the other side of the island.
The wife and I spent another nine days on the island, mostly under more damp and cool clouds that would come rolling toward us from off the stormy Pacific. We would listen to more false promises from Honolulu weather gurus. On a few of those days we would pack a lunch, grab beach chairs and towels, flippers and snorkels, and go hunting for the best spot of sun, only to be further disappointed. On one of those days when I knew I could not sit still indoors, the wife and I bolted for the eastern side of the island once again, through perhaps an hour and a half of heavy, slow trotting traffic. Only one road takes you much of anywhere. The other roads take you up into the mountains to dead end stops, or to private, locked-gate communities where celebrities hide in tropical palaces. We drove through Lihue, on up and around the edge of Koloa and Poipu, another popular condo-tourist cluster, then beyond the old Hawaiian towns of Kalaheo, Eleele, Port Allen, and Hanapepe. Just past Hanapepe, we turned toward the beach, Salt Pond State Park, and found a place to plop down on warm, dry, sand.
The drive from Hanalei/Princeville to Hanapepe is not one I would want to do every day. The road is just too tedious with stop and go traffic. But it was the best solution for this day, to get off the wet, windward side of the island and to once again, on the leeward side, soak up more precious golden rays. It was indeed another fine day of swimming, oiling up the skin, looking at all the fat, white Minnesotans, who, I know, had been standing in their galoshes and muk luks in the Minneapolis airport only the day before. While I snorkelled in the protected area at Salt Pond, a couple with that pronounced Swedish accent that survives in the northern states, asked me what I was looking at under the water. I thought of saying something really kooky to them, like “Swedish meatballs, what do you think?” I could see how somber and curious they really were, however, so told them a little about the exciting underwater world of tiny, bright fish, and how, if they swam beyond the rocks, they would get a once in a life time view of some really big fish with very long, sharp teeth.
We got back to Princeville in the dark. Large, hard splashes of rain would dump on the highway, as if someone in the mountains was overturning buckets, or perhaps diverting waterfalls. The three or more hours of heavy traffic to get to the eastern shore and back discouraged my wife and I from making the trip one more time, so we opted for the rest of our visit to come and go between the intermittent down pours on the western side. About every fifteen minutes, all day long, the sky would change from hot to wet.
The daughters had busy, but irregular work schedules, so some days we’d see one, then both, then none. For Christmas they had given me a box of special dominoes for playing their favorite game, Mexican trains. So we played hundreds of rounds in the kitchen, matching the numbers and stacking the tracks in funny contours around the glass-top table, while the little dog stood underneath, always watching, waiting for a nibble of doggy bacon.
I began to long for home, for my tiny writing studio, where all is usually quiet, and where my keyboard had lain so idly while waiting for me to speak through it. We went out for fish dinner one night at Duke’s, down in Nawiliwili harbor, a lively, torchlight, open-air joint where warm trade winds blow through palms and rattle the bamboo shutters, where welcome moonlight tickles the frothy edges of the incoming surf. A special place, Duke’s, where the aloha spirit seems so heightened. We brought the daughters and boyfriend as a sort of wrap-up ceremony before we had to leave paradise.
I am home now writing this. California has been bitter and boogery cold. Maybe boogery is not a good word, but I have always called cold weather that. Maybe my grandfather in eastern Oregon taught it to me when I was a young. I hope we don’t get any boogerier. The portable heater sitting beside me sincerely tries to give me warmth, as I’m bundled with layers and wishing I had a pair of Minnesota muk luks. My worst fear, however, is that my brown skin will now begin to pale and I will look much like the rest of those who come visiting Kauai from the cold country. The good news is that when digging around in my tool shed the other day, I found a vintage Martin ukulele passed on to me from my father, who collected musical instruments. The local music shop is now putting new tuning keys on the neck of the thing, because it needed a little help. My wife bought a stack of ukulele music from the music store in Kapa’a. I figure it is now up to us here at home to generate our own aloha spirit, to conduct our mainland version of a hukilau, to keep our Hawaiian warmth fired up on the inside through the rest of this winter.