THURSDAY JANUARY 11, 2001
I was on my way to attend a retreat at the Christ in the Desert monastery. I spent so much time preparing to go, deciding what to take and what to leave, what I really needed and what I only wanted to have with me. Finally the choices were packed and in the car. The driver was faceless and unknown to me. When we got to the turnoff on the forest road, for some reason, it was decided that I should walk the 13 miles back in and the driver would proceed with my luggage. As I left the car, I was delighted to be out in the beautiful landscape and have a chance to walk through such beautiful country; I wondered why I was walking. I wondered if this meant the car could have an accident but by my walking I would survive.
The trip back to the monastery went very fast and soon I came to the first of the retreat cabins. I looked in on the people getting settled, made sure they had every thing they needed and walked on to the main building.
Here I was not at Christ in the Desert, but at the Sequoia Lake Girl Scout Camp, in the big main log-cabin lodge. I walked to the front of the room where I saw someone had left many glass figurines lying on the altar. I knew these should be put away before the others came in with their luggage and packages. Accidentally something might get broken I thought. I packed each thing very carefully, rolling them in paper and fitting them into a stout box. Then I saw that there were several large pieces yet to be put away but the box was almost full. I had to stop my packing to go find another box, which I did, and then finished the job completely before I began to unpack my things. My room was just to the right of the altar. It was the same room I had stayed in before, so all my things seemed to slip into place easily on their own.
By now other people were arriving who also had rooms in this building, so I went around helping them get moved in. When I helped one girl make up her bed I realized that I had forgotten my own sheets. I had left them in the dryer. There was nothing to do but get along without them.
I left the main building to go to another part of the campus and here I noticed that the sidewalk was flooded. There was quite a slope to the area so I figured the water should be easily draining off unless it was dammed up somewhere farther ahead. I went sloshing though the huge puddle to see what the problem was. It seemed that the roots of a large tree were somehow holding back the water. I decided I needed an ax to chop out the tangle of roots that I could not really see in the murky water. Off to my left was a brand new cement and glass building where I went to see if could borrow an ax. I went inside and it seemed this was some sort of a security building. No one paid any attention to me because they were all upset because, according to their surveillance system, someone had just breached their security and had gotten within their gates. How to let them know their problem was me who wanted an ax?
Now to go take a shower while Heidi is out chasing moonbeams at 6:30. I can see from the window what the noise was that crashed through all my sleep. Such big waves are coming ashore from a cloudy sky.
When I saw the many clouds were forming our day, I ran out to shoot the moon and ended up focusing on the threatening clouds holding back the sun until I ran out of film. Back inside before Heidi quit, I got my shower. I feel so good with clean hair, clean clothes and teeth. But my sunburn still burns with the intensity of all lava that I have never seen. I feel a bit sick. It is probably a combination of hunger, nerves about leaving and the reaction to the sunburn. At the tops of my arms and shoulders are big blisters.
As I sit here at the table I can see that the waves are coming very high onto the beach. People have made a dike of sand to protect the driveway that runs between the beach and some properties in under the palms. Again and again, a huge wave will crest the dike to fill the road with water. I wonder how the people I watched last night feel about this. Perhaps they have been here long enough to understand the limits of the sea. But the sea seems a very different being this dark morning. It is menacing and filled with intent. A dog barks and the sun tries to burn a hole in the clouds. So many birds are calling as well as someone's rooster that seems to be living to our left in the bamboo and Naupaka (Scaevola Goodencea). See, I have so much leisure I can take the time to look the plant up in my book of Hawai'ian flowers for its proper name.
It seems people are living out there in these thickets. Yesterday I came upon a tiny camping place that seemed rather permanent and now I am seeing people straggle in to the restrooms who have the look that they have slept hereabouts. Even more I see these men – the eternal boys they are, even as their bellies grow fat and their gray beards long and thin. As I write I see them coming to the restrooms for their deposit of morning solids. They shower in the open by the beach. Some drop their pants for the ritual; others just stick their heads under the small stream of water. One old man, looking as if he was born in India, wore a sarong that he wore for his shower and then took it off, wrung out the water and put it back on. A small group of the guys are gathering out of the wind in a shelter house where they are passing the bottle around.
I have been surprised by the weather here – how alike the daytime and nighttime temperatures are. When the sun sets the wind dies so that the dark is still and mild. When the sun shines hot a strong wind will blow but it is not a cooled wind, just more of the warm humid air of gentleness. One wonders what effect this has on the people. Surely their peaceful, loving nature comes from the example of the peace of living such gentle, well cared for days. Then why did they have such a violent religion? Perhaps to explain those panic-filled events of lava flows, earthquake, tidal waves and hurricane winds which must have seemed even more frightening after days of soft sameness. These acts of nature must have seemed even more devastating when the day to day atmosphere is so very peaceful and calm – even when the waves slip over the dike.
Heidi came back full of excitement about having photographed several sea turtles with the 4 x 5. Especially one that had just come up out of the water seemed to be the gift she had been looking for for Ashley. With the view from the cab of the RV I had been able to see her approach so the water was already boiling for breakfast. One more packet of cocoa. One more day.
Under the overcast skies we drove into the lushness of Na'alehu, the southern-most town in the USA. Heidi was nervous about trying to get the coconut frond bowl I had bought through the Department of Agriculture. She let me know she did not want to have any trouble with that inspection. I told her that Iwa said plant material was okay as long as there was no earth with it; hat it was a nematode in the soil that caused the problem. Heidi had bought me some bird-of-paradise seeds (funny looking black seeds with a bright orange fringe on one side like a chicken's coxcomb) that were clearly marked with a red rubber stamp that they had been approved for export. Yet nothing I said seemed to comfort her, so it was decided that we find the post office here to get more boxes. She too, had things she wanted to ship to lighten her load so we did this job together. This 'getting ready to go home' made me nervous when I really just wanted to enjoy our last full day.
Heidi had gotten a message by phone from her friend Larry that his Uncle Bill was waiting on her to check in with him so she made the call. We both felt like weeping as she would say: "So, you can see the cone of Pu'u O'o from your bedroom window?", "You had someone lined up to take me to the top of Mauna Loa?", "You know people who grow that?". It was so tempting to just chuck all our plans for leaving, to back the calendar up a few days, to go again through that time.
We had expected that the drive through the district of Kau would be boring, but we were fascinated by the lava flows (some less than 100 years old) and the immense greenery between them. This one good road is placed high upon the flanks of the mountain (so the way is shorter) and there is no connecting coastal road. So as we zoom along at about 1,000 we can only look down the gravel roads to see tiny towns or places they are hiding. I wished we had time to go down to explore these little places. But we, like most of the tourists, evidently, just keep on keeping on. We saw the turnoff to Ho'okena, the beach where we have a permit to stay tonight. We had somehow planned to stop there, to case the place before driving farther north to the Place of Refuge, our next stop. But, again from the road, we could see there were several miles of a winding gravel road down to the spot on the coast that seemed a tiny town, so we elected to drive on to the Painted Church first. We missed the tiny, hidden turnoff to the church so proceeded on to the Place of Refuge. This place, the home of one of the kings, got its name from the temple that was built on a tongue of lava that stuck out into the sea. The ancient Hawai'ians were ruled by a complicated system of taboos that mostly brought death if the kapu was broken. Here, as in Catholic churches, if the guilty could manage to get to the temple, the priests would protect him, absolve him of his crime, and he would be permitted to live and return to his community. The federal government had taken over this place, rebuilt some of the buildings and now maintained it as a park. This meant that the parking lot was huge, Heidi was happy and we could now enjoy our lunch. All that food we bought the first night is holding fairly well. We are now into eating up the bits and ends of everything which makes our already unbalanced diets slip into the weird. For desert we had peanut butter spread on slices of salami.
As we ate we noticed (watched) people arrive and before we finished eating some of them had returned to their cars. Was there so little to see? For a twenty-minute walk under palm trees, which we could see high over the entrance building, I surely would not need sun screen cream or a shirt. It was very hot and muggy and the skies were partly overcast. We were eager to get on with our next adventure and hoped the indirect light would only make the photographs better.
I loved seeing the primitive thatched buildings, even if they had used nylon rope to tie them together instead of coconut twine. The place was truly splendid. The ground was covered with white sand that seemed to tolerate not one blade of grass or weed. The smooth sand was patterned only with the shifting shadows of the palm trees that were old and very tall. The lava had formed a natural little harbor that had been improved in the old way – with walls of stones stacked so carefully they did not need mortar. The crystal clear waters (thanks to the white coral sand) let the life of the sea blend in with the land in a harmonious manner so like every other thing here. This was a perfect example of the idyllic South Sea Island fantasy and I was ready to toss away my life and move in. Unable to do that, I clicked off photographs as greedily as if I meant to take this place home with me just as it was.
When Heidi found a turtle on the white sand, she took off with my camera. I was delighted to see how eager she was to gather some of this life for herself and sat back in the shadow of a tree just soaking up every little fiber of experience. I could have spent a whole day of the rest of my life right here.
Somehow, instead of staying on the nicely marked (with white stones) paths we were pulled out over the lava at the edge of the village. When we saw a pair of Moorish Idols with their long white over-the-head antenna fins who seemed to wish to be wherever we were, there was no stopping the attempts to see and photograph more of the tide line. Other people, seeing us intently bending over a bit of plain black lava, began to wander off the paths to join us. They would give a quick look at our treasures and scurry back on to the park path. But Heidi was so intent with her discoveries she brushed off my observation that a ranger had came out to check on us by following us at a discrete distance! I was delighted she had learned to follow her instincts, without doing harm, even if it was not completely correct. The area is considered sacred to the Hawai'ians and there had been a big red and white sign at the entrance warning that nothing could be left lying on the beach, no shoes, no towels, no sunbathing. Because the beaches belong to everyone, a property owner cannot deny access to the shoreline but they (the park system) could put other restrictions on the use of the land above the waterline.
The place certainly seemed holy to us. There was so much to see and find. We walked farther and farther out over the lava. We were both wearing sandals, because of the heat, and Heidi went slowly with her head bent over the water so there was no hurry. I took extra time placing each foot securely into the next step. I did not want the vacation to end on a stretcher or in a cast.
The sky was partly overcast, but now and then the sun would come out with its full power. This made the turtles swimming in the clear, shallow water even more enticing and worthy of another piece of film. Suddenly I could feel the heat rising in my blistered neck and shoulders. I felt really, really tired so I decided to head for the shade where I could wait for Heidi in total happiness. The closest trees were on the far side of the temple platform so I began walking in that direction. Closer up I saw that the platform was at lest 12 feet high and casting several feet of shadow. I squatted down, feeling the heat on the backs of my legs, and rested. Ah, a place of refuge it was. Feeling better, I began to walk over the lava as close to the wall as I could to keep in the shade. In the very middle of the sea side of the temple I could see up ahead on my unmade path a large stone. As I came closer I saw the great boulder had been 'dressed' (chipped into a form). The sides were squared and the stone was about as long and as wide as a large human. When I was able to stand over the stone, I saw that to the north side was a hollowed out depression that would perfectly fit a head. And there was another bowl-shaped hollow below where the heart would lie. The narrowness of the slab seemed to say how easy it was to tie someone down here. I could almost see the blood flowing from a still-beating heart into that bowl. A bit frightened by my thoughts I looked up and out to sea. There was that strange area where I had found arm-thick holes drilled into the lava. Before I had the feeling they were intentional and wondered what their purpose had been. Now I clearly saw a wooden porch of shade built to protect the king and his priests while they watched sharks come into the picturesque little bay to eat the victims of the morning's sacrifice.
So even though they called this a Place of Refuge, it was still an active temple that demanded its share of human flesh. No wonder none of the park's sparkling paths came out here. I was not eager to be here any longer. Deeply shaken by my discovery, I headed for the smooth sand pathway. Just as I got on it, I met a couple going the other direction. For some dumb reason, I said to them (they had not spoken to me but only cast a glance around the base of the temple platform), "No human sacrifices today so it is rather boring." I took about six more steps on the level hard-packed sand, stumbled over absolutely nothing and fell.
People seemed to come from all over to converge on me to see if I was hurt. Their quick and concerned attention made me even more uncomfortable so I just sat there saying I was okay, okay okay over and over as if saying this would make me okay. I wanted to wait until they left until I could assess if there was any damage, but several of them insisted that they make sure I was okay. And I was. The cane faired the worst. The top had broken my fall and was fatally cracked off. I had scraped much of the skin off my one knee and my left palm but the bones held me up and carried me over behind a big stone where I could hide while I poured some water over the wounds to wash the sand out. I felt I had desecrated a national park when I saw the circle of bloody water on the white sand.
behind this altar stone
I fall to the ground
Taking care of myself quieted me and I was glad to see Heidi was still engrossed in the seashore so I settled in to take this chance of enjoying the place.
the shade of the palms
a cool breeze
a cool breeze
the sound of shadow
under the palms
Finding that the haiku were not very inspired, I began reading the brochure to find out where I was. Ah, this stone was the true place of refuge! It was here King Kamehameha's wife, the seventeen year-old Queen Ka'ahumanu fled when the King went on a rampage over her denial to give in to his lust. She had sought out the largest rock on the grounds under which to hide and here she had lain until her little dog, which had followed her, barked until she was discovered. Still, she refused to come out of her hiding place until intercession by Captain George Vancouver, a friend of the king whose ship was anchored just offshore.
under the stone
where the angry queen hid
my bloody knee
pain when history
how much they give
to the breeze
People would come by and not be able to see me sitting behind the huge stone. Thus, they would make comments to each other, reading from the brochure and ad-libbing their own contemporary stories. As they would walk around the stone, I would lay my hat over my knee, pretend to be writing haiku as if I never heard a word they said.
how long she stares
at Ka'ahumanu's stone
After getting all the rest I needed, Heidi came up to say she wanted to get out the 4 x 5 so we ambled back through the rest of the park. When I found a man still making a canoe, dressed (or undressed) to play the part, I forgot all my aches and twinges. Whatever they pay him to stand there wearing only a red loincloth while chipping away at a log to make a bailer bucket was well worth it to me. Seeing him grounded me, connected me, and healed me. All my fantasies were true.
Back in the RV I was glad to open all the windows, lie down on the couch and read the new book I had gotten on Hawai'ian handicrafts at the ranger's desk. Whatever the RV cost us in money or nerves, it was earning my gratitude in those quiet hours. The broken knob on my stick got my gratitude for its breaking my fall and injuring nothing in my hand. Thanksgiving would sweep over me every time I glanced at it leaning (crookedly) in the corner.
Exhilarated from her experiences, Heidi returned with enough energy for the next adventure so we quickly buzzed off to find the Painted Church. We expected such an attraction to have a big road leading to it, but again we were winding and swerving down a narrow residential street. I could feel Heidi tensing up to navigate a tiny parking lot but to our surprise and relief the lot, though steeply sloped, was huge and empty. We wandered around all by ourselves. The inside of the church impressed us but did not inspire us. Down in the garden by the cemetery we found two plaster? cement? statues of Mary? worshipping Mary?. Rather ordinary Italian concepts but what was Hawai'ian were the many shell and flower lei that hung around the neck and hands of the statues. Heidi saw the many textures in the shell lei as a must for her camera so I wandered off admiring the opulent flowers in the garden while she worked her sunset shot. The kneeling figure had turned golden in the last rays of a sun that came out just before setting and she was thrilled.
While Heidi 'took' her photographs I went back into the church to slip a larger bill into the donations box. Only that morning, while packing up had I found a hidden roll of bills. We would now have enough money to enjoy going home. In the chapel I met a woman from Hilo who was showing her mother (from Colorado) the sights. They seemed as glad I was for someone to talk to so we sat in the pews gossiping and comparing notes as if we had always known each other. From the Hilo woman I learned the joys and the difficulties of living in paradise. She was so grounded and well balanced I felt that if I had lived here I would have experienced things exactly as she did and feel about them as she did. It was almost as if I did not have to actually live here because she had done it for me.
When Heidi found me she was tired from two photographing sessions back to back, so she was eager to get to our campsite for the night with the last bit of light. The turnoff to the campground was not far down the road but we could see the 1,000 feet below and ahead of us the curvy (and again one-lane wide) road. The curves meant we could not see who was coming up from below so we went around each curve with the RV pressed to the bushes (hardly trees in the Serengeti landscape) on the right side. After meeting a couple of males in truly junky cars (who lives down here and drives such cars?) we were even more cautious. We took the whole way in first gear because of the slow speed and the steepness of the grade. Lying along the road was a white plastic water pipe. It looked as if it had been installed by a couple of drunken teenagers. We were fairly certain this would be our water supply down on the shore and that it would not be much to want.
As the road got even steeper we entered a jungle of the smallest and most primitive homes. There was either electricity or phone service because the lines drooped and draped in criss-crossing webs over the road. Just as we came in sight of the end of the road and the abrupt beginning of the water, I screamed. Heidi slammed on the brakes. We had gone under a wire hanging so low I could hear it brushing the top of the RV. Committed we could only let the van creep forward hoping the wire could not catch on the protuberance of the air-conditioner (which we had never turned on) as Heidi pulled the wheel as hard as she could to the left. This left us barely able to swing around to enter a very cramped walled wharf. As she eased the RV into a slot we could see the water high on the other side of the wall. Now we were the only ones in this tiny space. To our left was a building and beyond that we could see another RV parked. The place was idyllic in the last bit of golden sun and everything in us wanted to stay. Still, we felt that either we should be on the other side of that wooden building next to the other RV or if we stayed in here one more car arrived it could shut us in. The scrape with the wires had frightened both of us and the idea of going around in this village to find the way into the other, slightly larger parking area, was more than either Heidi or I thought we could handle. With the engine still running we debated where to go. There were no more campgrounds before Kona. I suggested we go park in Harper's lot, but even as I said the words we both had memories of a chain-link fence that would surely be locked up. We knew there was another campground south at Miloli'i, but the road down there was even longer and for all we knew, there could be other narrow places similar to this one. All I could think of suggesting was that we go into Kona or Kailua as some maps listed it, and try to find a place to either park the RV or we stay in a motel.
It was Heidi's idea was that we drive back up to the Samuel Spencer Beach, the place where we had spent our first two nights. We felt that was safe because we had actually met the security guard there, talked to him and liked him. I was shocked, though, that Heidi was willing to drive 40 miles for that kind of safety, but as I thought of this new child I had gotten acquainted with in this week, so I knew how important safety was to her, I was glad. If she was willing to drive the distance I would gladly accept her decision, but still I offered her the chance to stay in Kona which I hoped she would accept.
We met no one going back up the road, thank goodness because it was now dark. We were neither one totally happy with our plans so we discussed them all over again as we wound around the tight curves. The lonely road to the campground soon poured us back out on the Belt Road where it seemed everyone was! There was a continuous stream of cars coming out of Kona in the evening rush hour. This part of Kona is very mountainous, so we were either climbing or descending a thousand feet at a time. From the crests of the hills we could see the river of headlights stretching out to infinity. Behind us cars would turn into a tail of lights whipping us to go faster. The road was built on the edges of the slope so it had no pullouts or passing lanes. The only time we could get off the road was if we saw a shop or a store with a parking lot lighted enough for us to see where we were going. Staring in the bright lights of oncoming cars while searching the darkness for a pull-off to the right soon gave Heidi a roaring headache. Once when the RV shuddered to a stop in a pot-holed studded intersection, we counted 15 cars passing us. Again we thought of trying to contact Harpers to see if someone would let us into their lot for the night. Somehow Heidi held the memory of Spencer Beach as so sublime she wanted only to get there so her determination kicked in and held us on a steady course. The traffic out of Kona had been so horrific I wondered, as we came closer to the lighted hillside, what it would be like to drive through the city itself. To our relief, there was a fast detour around the traffic (or everyone had left this section of the road already as it was now after seven pm). North of Kona the landscape stops being mountainous to tame down as a flat plane bare of little else than the lava flows. Here were the wide road shoulders we had needed so desperately before. Here where there was virtually no traffic in either direction. The longer Heidi drove, the hungrier she got. All I could think of was pulling into the familiarity of Spencer Park and hearing the engine go silent. All she could think of was a hot meal in a good restaurant. We both felt Waikoloa was too far out of our way to drive just for food so she set her sights on Kawaihea. I knew this was practically only a stone's throw from the park and therefore truly not out of our way. But the idea of going into a public place, waiting for food, and having to eat in front of strangers was not something I could look forward to. Yet I was grateful for her good driving and I was happier here north of Kona than I had been two hours ago. Still, my heart sank as she sailed past the park entrance toward the tiny lights of Kawaihea. I saw dinner taking more than two hours because of some hold-up. Thus we would pull into the park entrance just after they had locked the gates for the night and be on the road the rest of the night.
In Kawaihea was my salvation. Traffic was in a huge jam because, it seemed something under the street had broken. Crews were swarming all over, emergency lights, cops, were everywhere and in between this mess were all the guests from the fancy hotels to the south who had come out for an evening on the town among the locals. Fortunately we knew the huge parking lot of the wharf and surprised the cop directing traffic by turning into that dark alley. By the time she got the RV headed in the other direction Heidi had given up her dream of a hot meal and doggedly drove back to the park. My spirits rose up into a smile as we pulled into 'our old spot'. Heidi was busy checking out those two vans in the corner with guys sitting outside in lawn chairs. The vans we thought we had seen here before, but only parked in the area marked 'security'. As we let down the blinds and peeked out again, we could see someone had taken the security guard's parking place and so we hoped that was he who was having company up by the toilets. We easily decided to use our own facilities and not go walking out among these strangers.
I offered to get dinner while Heidi rested. I was feeling pretty perky by now and felt I could do anything she needed. But it seems the groceries were eaten down to one can of tomato soup and she felt too sick with her headache to face that, especially with the idea of mine that I float tuna bits (which we also had) in it. When I found out I would not be 'cooking' this evening, I sat down at the table with a bottle of water and a can of nuts. She joined me and we made it a meal as we waited on the truck noises the RV left in our ears to recede. We fell into bed without noting the time.
Next day - FRIDAY JANUARY 12.
Hawai'i with Heidi Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.