Like any little kid worth the dirt under her fingernails, I once commanded a fort. By no means was it a fortress, but it did the trick (for a girl). Sawdusty and sun-filled, it was a place to make private recordation of my observations—in pink composition tablets with Little Mermaid-printed pencils—and a place to concoct my intruder-thwarting “poisons,” from ditch weeds I’d mashed into pulp. What else do you do in a fort?
Raw lattice walls let the light in, as did the roof that grew of frail ilima blooms and rattling Chinese Lantern pods. The openness afforded a clear view of oncoming attack from any angle (not that it ever came), and a scenic lookout to the banana and soybean patches that—with great parental pains—sloped down the western end of the dusty lot. I felt I had everything I needed at hand, and naught but family and best friends were allowed entry. Though my pop-top jam jar lid “doorbell” was too clever to abandon (I thought), no one seemed inclined to use it when the door was only a fabric flap.
At that time, I had not long been a Kula kid. Truth be told, I was born in Haiku and our ‘ohana had then only recently made the Upcountry move from Waikapu. From off Honoapiilani, any beach seems spitting distance and trips were regularly made during a time when Redondos could still be bought from the now-no-mo’ Maalaea Store. On weekends, my parents had to all but tie a rope to me so as to ensure their buoyant, brown waterbaby would not plain swim away to a tako’s garden, and so my toddlerdom was spent in the shore break and just beyond.
That all changed when we moved to Kula, midway through Kindergarten. The pastureland became my new undulating expanse, and though it was impossibly dry, it did more than suffice. I learned soil could be as fruitful as the sea, but learned too that to reap of it took the toil of elbows and grease and plenty of water.
So, practical as he is, Dad would siphon the laundry run-off to the banana grove. Over time, it tore a nice foot-wide groove into the dry thirsty auburn earth—a stream of sorts. Rapids white with detergent, it was a worthy spectacle on laundry days, and so I would spend my afternoons “fishing.”
This meant filling balloons (preferably pink, if such things could be helped) only slightly, so that you’d have an itty-bitty fish body that tied off to a tail. Once I’d launch a small school from the ply-board landing off my fort, I’d hastily thump my fat flat feet down toward the bananas, ready to scoop my loot up in a burgundy net—a net that was progressively less-used as I saw more cabbage than coral.
Regardless of where you play, inevitably, interest in such silly games are as quick to shrivel as a worm without wet. Forts are left to ruin and poisons are no longer faux (not to mention, purposefully imbibed). Open doors are locked, sunshine is blocked and composition tablets are filled more with dissection than acceptation.
But such sorrowful things are all good and well because they’re as natural as the cycle of seasons. A little darkness is OK sometimes, if afterward it makes the sunshine brighter and elbow grease seem worthwhile. Soon enough, it all comes round again, when forts become houses, best friends become lovers and families and you still must get creative to catch your dinner.