Dad HAD a little vacation time–which is tantamount to swimming lessons with the Loch Ness Monster–so we’re camping in Kaupo (i.e. da Yagi ‘ohana’s Las Vegas). You wouldn’t believe where we’re staying if I told you, so I won’t bother. Besides, sometimes a locale’s best feature is its secret.
The crunch underfoot divulges how dry it’s been of late, but petrichor is permanent in land like this. Summertime brings strong gusts, and near the pastureland it’s torrential. The wind’s words, to my ears, semantic satiation; and like talking walls, I wish I knew what it’s saying. But I don’t, and so I venture beyond the trail-less treeline where it’s quiet but for the bleat of a baby goats.
Buster, my brother’s pit-boxer, pads effortlessly along wild boars’ desire paths while I must find the long, two-legged way around. She’s a good girl and pauses to point, raising her paw as she turns around to check my progress (or lack thereof). How little she must think of me I can only guess, because snagged and sliced from scalp to toe, I fought the lantana and the lantana won.
There’s not a speck of trash way out here, so I for awhile I’m at a loss as to what to do whilst walking. But, um, greenery is ever-inspiring; and ‘opala-picking or no, I’m always ambling about poking at this or that dead thing and playing the game where I pretend the dirt’s lava and must rock-hop to save my life. Yep. Apparently, my silliness has not waned since circa six-years-old. And fortunately–though somewhat to my chagrin–challenging cliffs break my hubris before my neck.
We arrive at a clearing near a dry stream bed’s banks, and stop to take in the unadulterated air. Buster sups water poured into a wide rock’s divots, and a single, shining, low-lying leaf catches my eye.
“Hello, leaf! I want to see what you see,” I muse aloud. Standing where the leaf is, I find it’s facing a small opening in the canopy where the sun–for just this moment–has aligned just-so. In all the dark forest, only me and the leaf are lit.
Later, we pass a place that gives me pause–the forest’s grown its own theater. The trees create a walled enclave around rocks–the set and props–toppled down from the ridge; and the way one’s hewn looks like the profile of a smiling pua‘a. I applause, imagine prancing thespians in snouted paper mache masks and kapa costumes died with red dirt, acting out a drama that could only be called The Play of Pigs.
Nearby is another tree with branches like a dome, and I tiptoe underneath though I know I shouldn’t. One side of the bark’s been rubbed clean-away; and my intuition tells me that if where I came from was the boars’ home theater, where I am now is certainly the bedroom. Or at least the place for conjugal visits. Goldilocks I am not, and I exit post-haste.
There’s another pile of na pohaku where the tip-top one’s crowned with a trough. It’s exactly torso-sized and I lie in it tentatively. “Hello, rock.” Were it not so roughcast, I would worry that this stone’s sent many heads rolling.
You know, I’ve only ever seen dead cats exploded on the highway or inert after lethal injection–so when it’s brought to my attention that there’s a dead cat on the hillside, I do not want to look. But I do (of course!) and it’s beautiful.
Naturally mummified, it’s curled like a skeletal nautilus; eyes closed as if sleeping and chin perched on crossed paws. “Pretty thing,” I coo and, breaking form, do not poke at it.
While I thought I’d wandered way, way away, somehow, we’ve circled back to base. It’s then I’m ashamed to (finally) notice that right back where I started, there’s a row of kukui nut trees so big, they’re certainly the progenitors of every candlenut on Earth. A mangled one that heads the line has a distended appendage–it alone dwarfing the trunk of any kukui I’ve yet seen–dragging like a mutant pitcher’s Popeye arm. It’s grown to resemble a twisted rope and its shaded bark is burnt black with mold.
Carefully, carefully I creep up to it. “Hello, tree.”
Lighter than my whisper, I reach out and lay my palms on the mercurial coil. Just as I do, BOOM.
A heavy shock courses from my hands through my core. It’s like my heart’s the cavern of a pahu, and the branch is the hand that beats it. The reverberation sends me reeling backward.
If I wasn’t a happy naturalist, I would’ve been off and running to tell my family about the wicked, winding tree and its magic tricks. It takes a second of investigation to see that the wind’s leaned heavy where the arm’s elbow meets the earth, carving a small groove in the ground so that my slightest touch made it bounce like a ball.
The happy naturalist runs to tell her mom about the magic trick.
“Place your hands as light as you can right here,” I instruct. Mom does, the tree responds, and she screams with delight.
But when we try it again, it does not work. Our two tiny touches have broken the delicate balance…
This little piggy’s home again, home again, jiggety jog. I try to think of some ceremonious way to reenter civilization, but wind up at Long’s buying much-needed Venus razor blades and vodka.
Standing in line, the guy behind me sniffs. It’s then I realize I’m stinking of sweat, dry stream beds, kiawe smoke and secrets.■
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