I wish for any of you reading this to give me feedback on this post. I have been trying to write my story for quite some time now, and have been unable to decide on how to begin it. I know full well that a story has to grab you from page one, and that the first chapter sets the stage for what is to come. This was my idea on how to introduce you to my travels, please let me know if I should continue in this vein or sally forth into something more interesting. Mahalo.
On a dry salty stretch of road where heat waves dance a parody of the ocean’s movement, my sandals say flip and flop to the ceaseless wind. Desiccated rattling of brown thirsty grass is littered with the random leavings of humanity passing it by. Cardinals forage among this sad bounty for brightly colored bottle caps and colorful plastic in which to adorn their nests.
On an island of loops and whorls this roadway runs straight in contradiction to the soft curves of countryside. Genetically modified corn fields march alongside in orderly rows, innocuous and unassuming yet yet quietly sinister. An army of technology forming ranks, preparing to march to war upon our future. The birds are neither left nor right wing about the matter however, seeing only their breakfast amidst the bright fluttering ribbons intended to dissuade their appetites.
A tethered horse watches placidly my passing with a mild curiosity, also caring nothing for the grandiose visions of man. Unaware that he is framed in shame with a backdrop of missile range towers, he knickers appreciation for my proffered slice of apple. An organic apple, that blushes a slightly darker shade of red when it emerges into these surroundings of pesticides and fertilizer.
Occasionally a chicken crosses the road, just to get to the other side. Waddling that peculiar gait of domesticated fowl, dry wind blowing about her feathers into one ridiculous bad hair day, clacking and muttering to nobody in particular. The sight makes me hungry as my stomach rumbles with emptiness and imagines back yard BBQ’s with tater salad. I ignore it’s plaintive grumbles, knowing well the heightened state of awareness it offers as my brain kicks into high gear. I will fill it with rice when this road ends.
I have an Aloha thumb stretched out to the passing traffic, bearing the island spirit into this white man’s land of law and order. As if I fly a flag from this apposable appendage that brought both the atomic bomb and sculpture, I proudly show my colors to the gas guzzling beasts roaring past the white shoulder line.
Nobody stops, it’s that time of day when people have better things to do than pause a few moments to extend a simple kindness. Of course you can’t blame them really, I’m sure I look like an axe murderer with my colorful sarong and my white tank top. I mean, the flower in my hair is a dead giveaway. Anyone attired so on a secluded back road on a bright May afternoon is sure to be a psychopath. I smile at them and show my teeth, canines and all.
I remember a song I sang many years ago, in a very different place where the white haired mountains gazed down with stony faces and the wind was chill. I begin to sing it softly to myself, but soon I am changing the words:
“How many roads must a man walk down, before his toes meet the sand?
And how many minds must one man have, before he can love understand?
How many eyes must one man have, just to see the beauty of sky?
And how many stars will it take till he knows, the peace of a simple sigh…?”
I am no longer facing the blank windshields of approaching motorized worker bees, but I am still waving a white flag from the end of my thumb nail. Flip-flop flip-flop to the beat of my own tune, knowing that inconvenience is only a matter of perception.
Wind bourn clouds of dusted sand blow across the pavement from nearby beaches where locals are eating Poke with toothpicks and tourists are getting a sunburn. I am walking neither path, I am on my way to where the concrete ends and the shore is not smothered by the sound of portable radios. Where Harbor Seals sun themselves without smelling of coconut tanning lotion and the Sea Turtles go body surfing without brightly colored speedos. I know that A car will not pick me up but the RIGHT one will, so my roaming eyes find something else to occupy my hungry brain and I stroll along unhurried.
My gaze finds the red and black folds of the canyon in the distance. The mountains of my home town are ancient and wise, having known the passage of glaciers, flood and drought. Holy men and woman from countless civilizations had come seeking wisdom at their feet. Some returned with the knowledge of willow bark and pine sap, while others fell prey to the unknown Gods of bears and frostbite. Those hills had felt the tread of buffalo, the peaks had known the path of goats, and the forest sang the song of rutting moose. The black earth was deep, cradling the roots of evergreen trees and silver mines. Birds were fierce and taloned, with a horizon sharp like the stone blade of a Skycomish indian.
Here on this roadway with 2,000 miles between me and that childhood the land is young. Shaped by Pele, volcanic folds bearing the memory of the violence of fire rise abruptly from the arms of the sea. Shifting and shuddering with growing pains, the island cuts it’s baby teeth on hurricane winds.
Lively and playful, the laughing bird at dawn sees the humor of a passing rain shower. Scarlet cardinals splash in warm puddles, like toddlers enjoying the spring. Mockingbirds seek to impress the sunset, chickens gossip around every park bench, while geckos chatter across the boughs of prickly keawe. Dragonflies zoom amidst the graceful passage of numerous colorful butterflies and banyan trees squat like Buddha in a forest of flowering lichens. Unearthly curtain of vine adorn eucalyptus groves with blooms of yellow, pink, white, purple and red, making the jungle sparkle like a well-dressed lady.
I contemplate the difference in the land I feel beneath the sandals that have never known a snow storm, as I gaze at the cliffs in the shimmering heat. There is a song for this moment as well, there is a song for EVERY moment.
“Now I’m on my feet again
Better things are bound to happen
All my dues surely must be paid
Many miles and many tears
Times were hard but now they’re changin’
You should know that I’m not afraid…”
Up ahead I spy a bit of shade cast by a rowan tree and veer off the pavement for a little siesta. This shadowy oasis is shared by yet another equine trimmer of roadside grass, who is spooked by my unexpected arrival on her blind side. She bares the tan hide and dark stripes on her hocks that mark her as an old breed descended from the first horse. I respect her for this, as well as her space, and sit down gratefully at a polite distance. Seeing her agitation I seek to calm her, and knowing that everyone enjoys a good story I begin telling her of my previous pondering in a measured tone.
Few people know of the insatiable curiosity of a horse and the old Native trick of winning their affections. They react to eye contact and body language, as do most herd animals. Whether you are squaring your shoulders or presenting a side view, whether you are tensed or relaxed, swift in your movement or soft. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, broadside to those eyes wide with alarm, I bow my head and speak quietly the words of my heart.
Nervousness turns quickly to curiosity as she wonders what I am about. This position is non-threatening, the sounds I make are soothing, and she flares her nostrils to scent my wind. Ears swiveling on the fluctuations of tone, she steps forward to investigate this fascinating visiter to her roadside refuge. Just to be sure she approaches from behind, where my deadly opposable thumbs cannot do her any harm. She knows this is the weapon of man.
Having sated her curiosity on the taste of my braided hair and the smell of my sweaty tank top, she was satisfied that I had no smell of the hunter. With a soft snort that tickles the back of my neck, she states her approval.
As she goes back to the business of foraging and I go back to the business of rolling a cigarette, life carries on around us.
A white egret walks by with a lean gracefulness, occasionally pausing for a beetle in the grass. A hen emerges from the brush with three small chicks and makes a dangerous dash through traffic, because the centipedes are always plumper on the other side. A fight erupts between two sparrows in the rowan branches because the male does not agree that one should wait on the proper time for breeding, and from the buzzing line of exhaust spewing adventurers who passed by too quickly to notice all of this, a Ford Ranger pulls over to the side of the road.
A friendly face bearing the sun-kissed hue of the island leans out the passenger window.
“Hey sis, you okay?”
I smile and reply as my legs unfold beneath me and I rise in a fluid movement that does not disturb the watchful mare. “I don’t know if I’m okay, but I’m certainly not in trouble. Are you going to Polihale?”
A silly question considering that the road only led to one place and the last structure was a good three miles back, but it is after all a matter of form.
He smiles, “Yes, hop in.” And his thumb points toward the bed of the truck. As I step up on the tire and plant myself amidst the cooler, tackle boxes, and fishing poles he talks a bit of story.
“We are going out to see sunset, best place on the island, always good. Hot day to be so far out, you should wear a hat. You walk all the way from town?”
“Shoots girl, you have good legs. I’m too old for sweating around, I just sit in the shade.” Laugh. “Cold beer in the cooler, go ahead n’ have one.” He says kindly.
“That would be wonderful, mahalo, I think even the cactus is wilting out there.” I say.
More laughing, he agrees, and the rusted ranger slides back on the asphalt serpent. Reggae music drifts on the wind from smokey speakers and the wind cools me as it blows across my sweaty shoulder blades. That beer was more refreshing than a Coors had any right to be, and I smiled to myself as the wheels carried me along. Walk seven miles with your thumb in the air, stop for a smoke and get a ride. Funny old world, aint it? That’s just how it works sometimes.
Now here I am, and as the truck bounces onto the gravel road spewing dust and island radio to the four winds you may be thinking, where am I going? What am I doing here, what is my name? Why was I hitchhiking a dusty hot stretch of road on an as yet unidentified island with a flower in my hair and a wandering mind? Who am I and what kind of story do I have to tell? Will I give you wisdom or epiphany, anger or disgust?
To answer these questions (and perhaps to give a few new ones) I would have to go back a bit further. We must go together, you and I, to the place where all the little pieces of the puzzle begin to form a picture. We are all an accumulation of memories and events, thoughts and dreams. I did not spring from the red tropical soil at the age of 25 with my thumb in the air and whimsical pondering, I have a past as dark and dangerous as route 66, and I would like to take you there.
Bear with me as I struggle and yearn. Laugh with me at the twisted sence of humor that life throws around so lightly, and cry with me when the broken pieces are bleeding and raw. Witness my exodus from reality, where I take wing into the grey area of metaphor where nothing is as it seems and words hide other words beneath them.
Fear not my fellow traveler, my narrative will hold your hand in comfort, and I will not allow you to be lost in my confusion. We will start at the beginning, which is rather boring, and we will fast-forward to all the good parts so that you do not get annoyed with me.
We will conquer my demons together, you and I.
It begins on a dark and stormy night in Texas, the year 1986…