It’s 2am. My body feels exfoliated from the elements, slightly tight from exertion. I’m sitting outside on the deck of my next AirBnB in Kona. It’s quiet, nestled into the city surrounded by apartments and houses, except for the gentle white noise of the AC. I got about four hours of sleep before I became restless. Sometimes this happens after a particularly stimulating day. On a night when I should sleep like a rock, I’m awakened by my mind’s useless stirring. If I were at home I might be thinking about bills or whether I remembered to lock my car. This used to cascade into anxiety about the lost sleep, and it still can, but I’ve learned that feedback loop well enough to internally shrug it off. I’ve learned that lost sleep is just lost sleep. Tonight, I peel out of bed to write, since I might as well use the time in my favor and sometimes the emptying of my mind eases it to sleep. Let me take you back to yesterday.
I wake up late—like 7am late. It feels great to sleep in a bit but part of me laments sleeping through my last jungle sunrise. I’m moving down to Kona today. I hustle to get breakfast and pack all my things into the rental car. Cass and I start walking down the steep pavement at about 8am. It feels different than the first time, when I came down here alone. Everything, while still damp, is less saturated after a few days of sunshine mixed with light rain. We chatter on pleasantly. I hear the song of a cardinal, something I committed to heart memory while living in Omaha. We find the bright fellow perched on a bare tree, jutting up out of the greenery. We reach the bottom of the hill and into the back of the valley. Cass is appropriately impressed by the beauty and quiet. We admire the spiders, enormous leaves, delicate flowers and lacy waterfalls as we walk.
When we arrive at the beach, I’m warm enough to wade into the ocean. The surf is big again today. There are three surfers out taking turns getting barreled. We ford the river with a plan to hike up the other side of the valley. A man is sitting back behind the tree line playing a drum. He waves to me and calls out. I think he said my name. I wave back and then tell Cass I’m going to go say hello. As I get closer, I realize it’s Jeremiah, the only person in Wapio that knows my name. He looks different than when I met him a couple of days ago. His long, bleached out hair is pulled back and he is wearing glasses. He greets me with a hug and invites me to drum. Cass joins us and we take turns drumming on the rectangular wooden box, called a cajón. Jeremiah offers us some leaves from a branch he has brought with him. “They are really good salad greens and the flowers are a little spicy.” Jeremiah is the caretaker for a property in Waipio. He has two passions, from what I can tell, though he wouldn’t distill it down this way (I know because I asked him)—plants and surfing.
He offers to show us the trail up the east side of the valley but asks to stop at his home on the way so he can drop off his drum. He shows us through the property. It’s a cleared section of grass surrounding three small buildings and one large one. The buildings are all quite open with screens to keep the bugs out and beds draped with mosquito nets. The large building in the center of the lot has hundreds of brightly colored fishing lures tacked to the beams that cross the ceiling. A tower of black lava rock, marked with several carved faces protrudes from the yard; it’s a smoker. Jeremiah tells us the names of several of the plants on the property. He hands me a rough looking cylindrical root and calls it a potato. “Just peel it and boil it. It’s like mashed potatoes already with the butter and sour cream.” It looks entirely inedible but I stick it in my pack. I think I will actually cook it and try it.
We cross the remainder of the valley and just as we reach the base of the eastern wall, Jeremiah lets out a massive hoop-holler-yell. Cass and I are startled but the noise just keeps going and going. His eyes are fixed on a wave that is coming in, “It just keeps peeling and peeling!” he exclaims. The overhead wave is a smooth wall of blue that is curling with precision to the open left. Jeremiah looks like he might cry. He’s clearly stoned, but I also wonder, maybe this is what leaning into joy looks like.
The trail is steep and rugged, much like the trail in Pololu Valley, but with less mud. Jeremiah chatters on about various plants. He is a wealth of Wapio plant information. While living in Pāhoa earlier this year, he had to evacuate when a volcanic fissure opened up along the side of his house. He hasn’t returned all these months later because he was devastated to leave behind his 300 plants. He asks Cass and me about our work. I explain what I do and I’m reminded of my friend, a PA who has worked at the Idaho State Hospital for years. When I first started there she told me, “The thing about working in psych is you become way too comfortable with abnormal.”
We pass a few tourists on the trail and at each switchback we’re greeted with incredible vistas of the valley, the sea and the cliffs reaching north. Once at the top, we wander back toward the valley off the trail for a bit. We find a stand of bamboo reaching high into the sky. I have the urge to climb one of the poles. It feels like being a kid again so I jump up there and pull myself up a few feet from the ground. I’m surprised that I can do it.
We drop back into the valley. Jeremiah keeps us in constant commentary about his life and the surroundings. He asks us questions too. He tells us that the glasses and hair-back look gives him some perceived freedom. He experiences anxiety going into town. “I can put on the glasses and pull my hair back and I blend in.” He’s been told by other tourists that he looks like Aquaman but with his hair down and his gnarly beard protruding from his face, I think he’s more of a Surfer Jesus type. He hears something thud on the forest floor. “A Kei apple.” We follow him the base of a very tall tree and look around on the ground. I find a petite, round, yellow fruit. It smells good and seems ripe. It had to have fallen 50 feet because the limbs of the tree are nowhere near the earth. Jeremiah confirms this is a Wi apple. I peel it with my finger nail and bite. The flesh is more like a mango than an apple. It’s tart and delicious.
We walk back to a fresh water spring. If ever there has been a place that looks like the Garden of Eden this is it. It’s a muddy bottomed pool full of cool, clear water coming from a pipe at one end. The spring is surrounded by vegetation that opens on one end to reveal a view of three waterfalls pouring over the opposing verdant cliff. We soak in the spring and refill our bottles from the pipe. This is the drinking water source for this side of the valley. Little brown fish nibble at my back and a prawn walks along the bottom of the pool. It’s strange and surreal. Jeremiah offers to take us to another valley resident’s house for lunch but we are ready for a meal more substantial than “valley grinds” after all this walking.
We retrace our steps back to the beach and across the river, leaving Jeremiah on the eastern bank. He gives a hoop-holler as we reach the other side. In his valley community, each person has their own yell, which gives a way of communicating without cell service. We wave back and return to civilization which looks like a row of Jeeps and pickup trucks parked on the beach.
After climbing the hill out of here two days ago, I vowed I would hitchhike this time. The road gains 800 feet in 0.6 miles. We see a pickup truck coming behind us and I stick out my thumb. It’s already got six Chinese people inside, two in the cab and four in the bed. They make room for Cass and me and we’re off, bumping along the dirt road from the beach. The climb up out of the canyon feels a little euphoric. The Chinese family we are imposing on is completely delighted to be banging around in the back of this truck. One woman starts to sing. They speak to each other in Chinese, then, in English, the other woman apologizes for her sister’s singing but in the same breath starts to sing,
You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy,
When skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.
I join in and help her with some of the English lyrics she doesn’t have completely down and soon all of us are singing. Here we are, six people in the back of a truck, bouncing along a road with an average 25% grade, singing You Are My Sunshine. I can’t help but laugh at my good fortune. I tell the woman that this song is one of my son’s favorites. She says she sang it to her son as a baby too.
When we get back to our rental car we are starving. It’s almost 3pm. We throw down what little provisions we have in the car and get on our way to a real meal. It ends up being ribs and brisket at a roadside stand in Waimea. While we eat we are delighted by our Hawaiian-appearing BBQ pit-master with a guitar and an excellent voice playing Zac Brown Band’s Jolene.
No wonder I can’t sleep tonight! Van Gogh is supposed to have said, “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” Maybe I am way to comfortable with abnormal, but it’s where all the flowers grow!