Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Thing: Underwater

I'm going to confess something horrifying now. I've lived in Hawaii since 2006. That's, what, seven years? And I don't swim.

Not even a little.

I thought, when I packed up my stuff from our dilapidated student apartment in Berkeley and smushed harp, heirloom china, guitars, pottery wheel and a lifetime of books all into a ten by twenty foot container, that I would move to Hawaii and become and ocean person. I imagined myself surfing like a Nordic-Hawaiian queen and frolicking with innocent fishy best friends (I blame a childhood misspent compulsively rewatching Little Mermaid for that one). Surely my suspicious attitude towards water deeper than my bathtub was due to a childhood in landlocked places. Once I had the chance to get to know water better, we'd surely be great friends!

On the big Island, Matt and I went to the beaches every weekend. We'd throw ourselves into the waves, Matt executing graceful dives and swimming out to pet the sharks and kiss the sea turtles (hyperbole. DO NOT PET SHARKS OR KISS SEA TURTLES) but the second I was in water deeper than my eyeballs I'd panic. I thought goggles or a snorkel mask might help. Maybe it was the disorientation of blindness that freaked me out? But the sandy gloaming, with vague shapes floating into view, was too scary for me. My last attempt ended with me clawing at my long suffering husband and hyperventilating into my snorkel. I gave up in humiliation.

Since then I've stuck to the shallow end, giving up on ever being some svelt beach goddess, cutting through the way like a golden tanned seal.

But gosh darn it, I'm tired of being scared of stuff. Of having things that, no thanks, I just can't do. So today, I borrowed my kid's goggles and went galumphing out to sea.

I chose a shallow and rocky corner of the beach. I jumped in quickly, grateful that nobody I knew was standing this side of the beach. I ducked under and floated and spluttered around for a moment, then tried to focus on the alien world around me. The rocks were red-brown and furry with limu. A crescent of shining white mother of pearl caught my eye and I scooped it up from the bottom to show my kids. A school of needlefish, about a foot long each, pointed this way, that way. Beaky little humuhumunukunukuapuaa pecked at the seaweed, a pair japan flag fish rolled with the low waves. I moved out deeper, still shallow enough for me to panic and stand up every time I needed a breath. I relaxed a little, let the waves move here to and fro and looked all around for fish. There were lots, and bigger that I could have imagined if I had stayed above water, on the beach.

So I didn't make any amazing discoveries, or even swim properly for more than a few seconds at a time, but I did something I wasn't comfortable with. And it was fun. Next time I'll bring a snorkel. Still won't go let any sharks though. (BECAUSE DONT PET SHARKS)


I'm a fairly timid person. 

It may seem weird to say that since I spend lots of my time talking in front of people-- even TEENAGE people-- with no trepidation. But that is because I am solely talking about subjects that I know very very well-- reading and writing and learning new ideas-- all that is as easy and reflexive as breathing in an out.

And in years past I've spent quite a lot of time up on stage, performing. Singing and playing instruments, performing in plays and musicals-- I had no fear of stepping out into the spotlight. It wasnt uncomfortable to be at the center of attention.

But because some things-- some fairly big, loud, obvious things-- come easily to me-- people around me-- my audience of peers-- can read me as Brave. Secure. Confident. A comment I hear, when friends stand next to me and peer down at the top of my head, is, "you are shorter than you seem." 

I'm never quite sure what to make of that comment. I think it is code for, "you take up a lot of space in a room." 

But the truth is, I'm a coward. My familiar firm ground is so hard packed beneath my feet that I don't dare put a toe into the murkier waters of things I can't do instinctively. 

This is partly a natural byproduct of the ossification of aging. I'm a dinosaur at 33-- I know what I like, I know what I can do, and I know my strengths. And I have no reason in the world to go anywhere near my weaknesses or blind spots.

But that sounds a lot like being dead. Or like being alive only in a hall of mirrors-- where I grow fatter and fatter on my comfortable competence and fill up more and more space with only images of myself-- concave and convex iterations of sameness. I am boring myself with my safe little world of only-doing-what I'm good at. 

 I don't want that-- I want to feel more alive than that. I don't want to make all of my decision outof prudence or habit or fear.
I am sitting on the ground. My sweatshirt is a little damp between me and the stones. My pony tail is leaving a cold damp spot below my shoulder blades. And I am shivering-- either from nerves or from the ice cold smack of river water. My arms and legs are pricked with goosebumps and red as if I ahave been slapped over and over, up and down my body. I'm all by myself, which is a singular event. I left my friends behind at their picnic-- the kids' laughing and shouting interspersed with the plunk of java plums plopping into the water, flicking up little splash tails as if fat little fish are leaping suddenly. Concentric rings mark the pivot of entry for a moment. 

A yellow-bodied dragonfly is skimming across the water, dicing down and swatting the surface with its tail. 

I came out here with my new-found call to adventure prodding me on. When the others shooed me away with assurances that they'd look after my kids, I intentionally decided to Find Someolace New.

I want to be addicted to unfamiliarity. 

I crossed gates. I went around ramshackle barbed wired fence posts with hand painted No Tresspassing signs. I am invited here, near a friend's house, but still-- the chill of not honoring a barrier? A tiny thrill. 

I passed a garden of green onions carved into a riverbank, and a stand of cacao trees, with the shiny red-brown pods slung across the truck of the tree like grenades on a bandelo.  Then the path dropped off at a rock wall over a culvert. I jumped across the water and followed the ditch. I could hear the river sound getting louder, the rocks chuckling against each over in a small falls. Across a wide low platform of rocks and tall died grass, and then a wide spot in a river. 

I was quite alone, but I still stood there frozen. Do i dare? Am I really willing to push myself to newer braver experiences? Am I able to hush that voice that tells me to be comfortable, be reasonable, to be safe? But what if I am found out?

I counted to ten for myself, and then, feeling panicked, stripped off all of my clothes and waded quickly out into the river. I was laughing and my teeth were chattering immediately-- shivery and giddy inside and out. I ducked under the water and the cold forced the air out of me. I came up gasping and grinning like a mad thing. The mud on the bottom of the river sucked at my sandals and I circles my toes hard into them to keep them from sinking down or floating away.  The water is deep-- I stood on the edge of the drop off and balanced-- not secure enough in my swimming to risk going in over my head. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Glazes, Noodles, and Waterfalls.

When we walked into Kilohana Clayworks, the potter in her apron froze, pointed at RJ and said, "Rosalina! Roslyn! I know you!" 
I was impressed. 
About four years ago, when I was expecting MP, Matt set me up with pottery classes as a birthday present. I spent a great eight weeks or so slinging mud, centering my soul in her spinning vortex that is existence, and trying not to ingest too much heavy metal in the form of glazes.

But I hadn't been back since. I called this morning to see if they had kid crafts today, but the phone went to a fax machine. So we just crossed our fingers and went.

To my utter astonishment, they had the kid crafts all beautifully set up and ready-- we spent a peaceful hour or so very carefully layering on glaze after glaze onto little greenware tiles. Aunty Lynn showed the girls how to make sure the colors never mixed, and how to squeeze every drop of water out of their brushes on a little sponge. The girls went into deep art focus mode. They were distracted only by the occasional appearance of one of the ten feral cats that call the studio home, and once by an enormous black dog with brown meaningful eyebrows and an earnest face.

The nice Potter sisters will fire the girls' creations this week, and mount them on little stained treasure boxes, for a shocking fee. But still. Mini vacation mode.

Then it was time for lunch. We were already in Lihue, and my bossy and irritating guidebook that I am using to respark my love affair with Kauai strongly recommended Hamura Saimin's noodles and shave ice.

It is one of my favorite spots, with homemade noodles, vats of real broth with animal bones melting down to a savory brew, and the most mouth-watering chili pepper water in the world-- but I never go because-- cash only, miniature stools, weird communal seating around hobbit-sized counters, sweltering kitchen air, and a sort of bafflement of-- who do we pay? How do we order? What is happening? Am I allowed to eat here? 

I get perverse pleasure out of watching real live tourists (not just fake tourists like me) come in through the banging screen door, and stand around confused and ignored as the minutes stretch on and no one acknowledges them or takes their order... It's painful. You just have to charge in, sit down, shout out what you like and then wait patiently and catch up with your high school classmates who happen to be there at the same time as you. That's how you do.

Anyway, it was delicious, as always. 

And we tried their shave ice for the first time, and it was perfectly acceptable rainbow shave ice, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom. But what can I say, my heart belongs to jojo's in Waimea.

The last stop was up to Wailua Falls--another place from the guidebook that I have just never had a reason to go see. So I went. I saw. The girls were very disturbed and kept saying, "we've never been on this road before!" MP was scared. That is how small this island. Is-- they didn't know it was possible to be on a road you don't recognize.

It was surreal for me too-- a vast unfamiliar plain stretched out in front of our familiar Mount Waialeale. And at the end of a long empty road, there was a constipated parking lot, with a seedy uncle hawking black pearls out of the bed of his truck. I parked up on the muddy grass between shiny tourist Fords and Chevys, and took the girls to peek over the wall.

Here is the view:

No joke. A 200 foot waterfall. A double rainbow. A giant churning chocolate-milk lake below.

It was hypnotic to watch the waterfalls. I was trying to imagine how I would draw them, but it was dizzying to track the shapes in the water. Arrows, daggers, smoke and then the crush at the bottom. 

The girls complained that it was boring and that they wanted to hike down. But there is no trail-- just a slick bald patch behind a guardrail that leads straight down to certain death. So, sorry, kids. Veto. 

There are lots of things that I'd do if there was some guarantee of survival. Scramble down a cliff face to dive into 30 feet of high pressure silt? Yes! Just somebody show me the piece of paper that says I die peacefully in my bed at a ripe old age, and I'll get right on all that death defying excitement.

Long story short, no sliding down the mountain.

Here, then, is the final reaction from the girls from today's adventure.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Sealodge Beach, Princeville

Here's out first adventure of the new year. Like I rambled about in my last post, my resolution this year is to go to all the places in The Ultimate Kauai Guide Book. 

We headed North--a big and allegedly interesting part of the island that I tend to ignore because the snarl of Kapaa stands between me and It. But, Resolutions. So, North.

The ocean was blue and flat this morning-- through Kapaa, Anahola, Kilauea, and then to Princeville. When we turned at the giant crumbling Poseidon statue rising out of a chipped roundabout, MP, in her three-year-old astuteness, said, "ooh, this looks like Utah!" 

It did. Enormous matching houses, wide swaths of manicured green, shiny SUVs. The only giveaway is the empty horizon that marks sea rather than mountain, and the occasional Nene standing sentinel. 

We followed Kamehameha road to the end and found the Sealodge subdivision, and the path behind building A. The girls were in oversized slippers and swim suits, and I was carrying a heavy grocery bag of beach sundries: towels, water, hats. It soon became evident that we were not properly suited up. The "path" was a slick muddy groove in a shear cliff. Sharp-edged pandanus slipped underneath our feet, and every step sent a puff of Mosquitos up around our legs. RJ and MP are happy to call themselves nature girls and I reminded them like a mantra how much they loved rocks and trees and roots and mud and bees. 

We could see the ocean from the cliff side. It was shallow enough to see the yellow texture of the coral and the slabs of smooth black rock beneath the surface. A perfect spot for turtles, but no apparent sand. Once we were nearly at the bottom, we stopped and sang an oli--"Liuliu." It is a short chant for asking permission to enter a place, like a forest or a garden. We sang, and then listened for a "pane" or answer from nature-- birds calling, a loud wave-- some sort of response from the place itself.

A heavy-flying albatross flew low in front of us, up the cliff face. Good enough for me...

From the bottom of the cliff we made a sharp left and RJ scrambled ahead over craggy black rocks, about fifteen feet above the waves. One last sharp left and a treacherous climb over boulders and slick roots above the surf and a wide open curve of beach was before us. A few other families were already there, snorkeling or sitting in the shady beach.

The girls jumped right in-- the water was perfectly clear and shallow. The sand was oddly large-grained-- individual grains retaining their coral pink or urchin spines. It was soft enough to bury the girls in, and shape into mermaid tails and great white sharks around them. 

Next time we'll need snorkel stuff-- I've never seen so much actual coral that close to a beach. 

The girls got hungry so we scrambled back up the hill and headed to another new-to-us-spot: Duane's Ono Char Burgers. Honestly, I've been reluctant to go there since an ER doctor warned me off, but Burgers, fries and shakes! 
It was very tasty and bountiful and the gastrointestinal distress afterwards can probably be mostly attributed to overheating. Hopefully.

New Adventures, Old Place

I've got a big New Years resolution this year. I'm scared, but optimistic. 

But a little background. 

I've lived in the fiftieth state for almost eight years now. This is an unimaginably long for me to be living in one place. I'm used to a couple of years here, then a major life change, then a few years there... A new degree, a new country, a new kid....So this long stretch of one life in one place has been wearing on me. 

The term is Island Fever.
I got the fever.
I got it bad.

But I realize, looking out of my front door at seventeen waterfalls after a thunderstorm on Waialeale, or being overwhelmed with citrus and star fruit from our farm, that the grass is not greener. The grass is the greenest, right here. Literally. 

But a big part of me doesn't care. I'm over it. I want out. Who even likes green grass, anyway? I'd like some fall colors and winter shadows. 

But that is not going to happen, because, "I'm over it," is not a reason that grown ups can use to quit their lives. 

Instead, I'm applying some marriage counseling to my relationship with Kauai. I saw a video, (I think it was about John Gottman's love lab. I donno, this is a blog. I'm accountable for none of the things.) Anyway. What stuck with me from this clip was that reports of marital satisfaction went up significantly when couples were asked to do completely new things-- like run an obstacle course through hula hoops. Basically novelty increases all those yummy oxitocins that feel like love. None of the problems actually changed, but novelty made the problems less imoortant, in balance.

Since I can't do a remodel or have a baby with Kauai, I'm going to attempt to save my relationship with this place through novelty.


A confession: I have my favorite places on the island. About four of them. That's where I go. The end. 

So I need some help finding New Great Stuff. Here's where I do the equivalent of call Dr. Laura, and consult a guidebook. Not just any guidebook. My arch-nemesis guidebook. So, more like Dr. Phil. "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook" is bossy, rude, entitled and self-indulgent... And also very thorough.

So here's my resolution for 2014. I will work my way around this island. I will splash is waterfalls. I will scramble down cliffs. I will hike through jungles. I will grudgingly sun myself on white sand beaches. 

And I will drag my poor kids around with me.

Wish me luck!