Day One: Determined to save the only life you could save

Right now I’m sitting, wet bum in the volcanic sand, watching the waves and the clouds roll in.  I’m alone except for the sand crabs.  They range in size from teeny-tiny to about six inches.  They dig holes in the sand and then venture in and out of them.  If you startle them, they sprint to the foamy surf seeming to wash away forever.  As I sit still on the sand, a few little ones that are buried beneath me throw sand up out of their hole which brushes my thigh, and it feels a little intrusive but I’m pretty sure I’m the intruder.  There are cascades of lacy water stretching down verdant cliffs in every direction.  And while I did get a little moment of glorious sunshine this morning, it seems that is coming to an end.  

One of the best things about traveling to Hawaii is the time difference.  I am in bed by 8:30pm and awake by 5am with a couple luxurious, pre-dawn hours to plan my day and make breakfast.  I pack up my backpack with a couple of protein bars, bottle of water, rain jacket and laptop.  I walk down the street to the edge of Waipio Valley.  The morning has a stillness and aliveness that I crave.  

As I descend the steep, wet, paved road that leads into the valley, I consider the experience of sunrise in the rainforest.  Under the blanket of wide-ranging moisture, dawn creeps into being so imperceptibly one must pause to notice.  The first slight suggestion comes from the birds, who begin to call and chatter as they wake, prompted only by their own restedness.  The daylight comes later.  There is no visible sunrise beneath the clouds, so quietly the night sky moves along the gradient from ink to charcoal to silver and the once absent light now shouts, “Surprise! Here I am!”  Or in the words of my sweet R, “It’s morning time!”

Dawn reveals a valley that is consumed with life: tangles of vines, mounds of deep green dotted with purple flowers, heavy limbs stretching outward and upward.  I hear the haunting call of a cardinal, the signature chirp of the coqui frog.  Other birds and creatures, that I can’t name, stir as I walk along the saturated road.  Everything is wet.  Absolutely everything.  This place is rich in the elements of life: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, almost like someone has been plotting its existence.

My mind has been popping in and out of vacation mode. I think this is natural.  It takes a while to adjust.  That’s why it is a good decision to spend the first part of today Mary Oliver-ing through Waipio Valley.  “Mary Oliver-ing? What do you mean?” you might be asking.  Mary Oliver was a splendid poet who spent her days wandering the natural landscape of Cape Cod, transforming it into words on a page.  

As I meander through the valley, I consider each thing I encounter.  Some are external.  After I navigate my way around a mud puddle, whose diameter reaches both edges of the road, I encounter a young horse.  She looks at me with curiosity and gives a loud whinny.  We walk along together for a stretch until she turns back to find her mother.  I notice the noise of each waterfall, how it is projected into certain areas of the valley depending on the formation of the cliffs around it.  

Some of these things are internal.  At one point, I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I can be here doing this at this moment.  I cry as I walk (thankfully alone) down the muddy road. I feel thankful that my son is with people who love him.  I feel thankful that my job allows me this freedom.  I feel thankful for the shoulders of my family and my ancestors on whom I stand.  

I think about healing.  I think about my shattered state and, as I observe the world around me, I feel something shift inside me, like a piece being put in place.   

When I reach the end of the county road, I turn back and walk toward the sea.  I notice that thoughts come up like, “Mom would love this place.  She would love all of the birds and the plants.”  I consider that thought.  Thoughts like this come up when I’m solo traveling.  I know my mom would love those things but what I really want to know is if I love them.  I do.  And with that simple shift, I realize that even if I was the only one to ever lay eyes on this place, to hear the birds and the water, to converse with the horses, that would be enough.  I am enough.  

I arrive at the expanse of black sand that stretches between rocky cliffs, interrupted, midway, by a river of murky, fresh water.  My initial inclination is to cross the river so I can walk the entirety of the beach.  I attempt it near its collision with the ocean waves but realize it is too deep and rushing to risk with my laptop in my pack.  I walk back to a log and sit down to observe.  A man is in the water on a surf board.  He is visible intermittently as the waves rise and fall.  It seems like such a simple decision, to cross or not to cross, but I’m not sure what I want.  Do I think I should walk the whole beach because I should?  Or do I really want to do it? 

Three people walk by, outfitted in techie gear with large backpacks and hiking boots.  They walk upstream and speak with a couple who are camped there.  I watch the first man walk out into the river.  The water comes up to just below his waist at its deepest.  The other two backpackers follow.  I watch them change back into their hiking boots and trek off into the jungle.  I sit a while longer.  Then it becomes clear; I know what I want.  I change into my swimsuit and walk into the river, in the same spot as the backpackers, with my pack over my head.  The most important question of today: what do I want?