Margotlog: Hawaii, Dreaming
After more years in snow country than I care to count, I’m not surprised that, mid-February, green rises at the back of my mind like an ancient ship coming over the horizon. In fact, I’ve never approached Hawaii by ship, only by air. Then huge cloud castles plant themselves over the islands, and from the airplane window, the shadow of our tiny plane, reflected on billowing white, promises that we’ve left all grounded white behind.
Lihue airport, on Kauai, the most north-western of the Hawaiian islands, greets with open arms–scarcely a wall to be found. In open-air, we exit the plane to waiting areas fringed with hibiscus and flowering trees. The air is moist and dark, for we almost always arrive in the evening after changing planes in Honolulu. Just as the smell of wet earth used to greet me in Charleston, the first sign of home, so stepping off the plane in Lihue is a gift to the cold-starved nostrils. Finally we can breathe deeply and sweetly again.
We’ve stayed several times in Honolulu, in high-rise hotels not far from bikini beaches and a huge mall almost as imposing as the Mall of America. Once we ventured as far south as possible to the leeward side of the “big island,” where bed bugs bit Fran our first night. We had arrived again in the dark; the hotel, a huge monster on the water, barely remembered us. Stuck in a room with filthy windows and scum on the woodwork, we should have been warned. But Fran was exhausted. Slipping between the sheets, he drifted off, scratching as he went. Still awake, I looked over at his sleeping form. There crawling across the sheets were flat, almost translucent bugs. I high-tailed it off that bed, tried to rouse him, couldn’t, and spent the rest of the night draped over a few chairs. The hotel management wasn’t nearly so contrite as they should have been, but eventually capitulated and moved us upstairs to a very clean room with a view of the Kona harbor. No wonder we keep returning to Kauai.
What is there not to love about this beautiful, rather lazy island? Here is my list of favorite locations and events:
* the eucalyptus canopy descending toward Poipu. Even in the dark, the huge trunks and interlaced branches create a tunnel of leafy splendor
* chickens everywhere, or as history dubs them: “Red Jungle Fowl.” One of the immigrants attached to the Polynesian settlement centuries ago, the Polynesian rooster struts with incredible aplomb, its iridescent dark green tail feathers shaking like a pompom from its reddish arched back; and a huge red comb crowning its head . The hens and chicks scuttle across the highway. Cars stop. It’s the Hawaiian version of “Make Way for Ducklings.” Visiting Spouting Horn, where a jet of spray is forced through a hole in the volcanic rock, we patrol the parking lot and find five chicken nests scattered under the shrubbery. The little “peeps” are beautifully and almost universally mottled cream, soft orange and white. Of course I have to crumble saltines left over from lunch to watch them race over and greedily peck, peck, while Mama Hen keeps watch. Just as there are chickens galore, so too cats.
* sunsets. Staying as we do in the southern Poipu area, the sun sets to our right across a placid or roiling ocean. We don’t have far to walk to the shore from a little cabin rented from Ellie, a transplant from California. Splendid rays pierce thin clouds and shed a persimmon and pink glow over the waves. “Red sails in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sails at night, sailors delight.” This ditty from childhood proves relatively true: we bask in the glow which like all tropical sunsets ends quickly. Then there are stars.
* history. I have more interest and tolerance for historical minutia than Fran; he has a better memory. We visit the history museum in Lihue each time we come to Kauai. Our first time, a retired geography teacher led a tour. Thin, gentle and Chinese-Hawaiian, he recounted his family’s story as part of the Hawaiian pageant–they had arrived to work the Dole pineapple fields. Later strolling about Poipu after pizza at a favorite almost-outdoor restaurant, we located the little town’s version of a history site: outdoor sheds open on one side, where we traced various enterprises from Chinese barber shop to sugar-cane processing plant to missionary settlement whose original church from the 1850s still holds services. A huge monkeypod tree leaned its enormous branches over a stream: the site of an early mill and company store for quasi-indentured Chinese workers.
My own research placed an early silk-growing plantation nearby where Libby and James Jackson Jarves, the subjects of my on-going novel (right now called Fire Around the Moon) were exiled from Honolulu in the late 1830s. They built a straw hut, she furnished it with packing boxes, a cast-off sofa and pots and pans borrowed from various missionary families. After the birth of their first child, a son named Horatio, the couple took a tour of the island and spent considerable time with former Queen Deborah Kapule, whose checkered history included having the higher royalty in Honolulu “steal” two of her husbands, reduce her to prison, and eventually reinstate her on Kauai as a check against revolt from other, disaffected royalty. The Jarves silk plantation failed spectacularly–drought, cold, and leaf-eating spiders killed the mulberry trees. Thousands of cocoons, with no leaves to eat, had to be destroyed. It was the beginning of genteel poverty for the Jarveses.
The list of Kauai’s charms could go on: birds from huge albatross to tiny indigenous honey creepers, hard to find because they live high in the mountains and feed off scrubby ohia trees. Waterfalls and canyons to rival the Grand Canyon. Vistas out to sea that include sometimes whales. Beautiful Hanalea Valley, where “Puff, the Magic Dragon” hangs out, green as green can be. That’s the green that still beckons across the ocean. I’ll go again. But not this year.