Day 16: another flight. More chewing gum. More crossword puzzles. More in-flight photography.
No mongooses! What a weird transition after so many of them for so long. Instead, there are birds! Birds of many shape and size and color. White egret-looking birds in abundance in particular catch my eye, stunningly beautiful against the greenery. We drop our rolls of film in for development while we have lunch. It's too early to check in to our next VRBO-- It won't be ready until 3 in the afternoon. So we drive a bit along the coastline, stopping at random beaches to look at the surf and the conditions. The water's a bit choppy in most places. Swimming is going to be possible only in protected coves and lagoons.
Our VRBO is beautiful! more space than that resort hotel we stayed in and at a fraction of the price! And decorated with beautiful handmade quilts-- made by the owner herself. It's the perfect inspiration to help me finish Keithr's slacks. He'll even be able to wear them before the end of the trip! He won't have to spend the time putting sunscreen on his legs anymore! :) Finishing them will take another couple of days, but there will still be several days beyond that for him to wear them.
Have I mentioned the discovery of Flat Rate Priority USPS boxes? What a deal!! The first round of souvenirs that I purchased (way back in Oahu on day 4) got put into big huge normal shipping boxes and sent by slow-boat rate. ... I'm still waiting for them to arrive today (April 11) ... makes sense as they were going to take "3-6" weeks, so they're really not even late yet. ... but then the fabric store we stopped at in Hilo (big island) suggested shipping the fabric purchases home in the flat rate boxes. WooHoo! ... of course, now my living room is swamped in flat-rate boxes. But *THEY* all made it home before the Vacation Glamour wore off! .. and (bonus!) are available for me to dig out souvenir gifties for the people I adore in my life! Kukui nut oil for Sherry as a thank you for watching my bunny! Sarongs for Fran, for Tara, for Susan... When the slow-boat boxes show up I'll have the other set of souvenir sarongs, etc. and will get those distributed as well. :)
Day 17: St. Patrick's day. Thinking often of Zann-- hoping she's got support at this one-year-anniversary mark. St. Pat's day is as big a celebration on the Islands as it is anywhere else, but we mostly manage to let it slip by unnoticed. We've opted for a day "at home" at our VRBO. And I've finished Keithr's slacks! Yay!!
Also, I've stopped counting pineapples. .. not pineapples in the visual field (like geckos, white egrets, mongooses, etc) or in the auditory field (like tour helicopters and tree frogs), but pineapples in the stomach. If you estimate one pineapple every two days, you'd be just about accurate. I have a weakness for fresh fruit-- fruit that I can *smell* (not that waxed and coated plasticized fruit at the grocery store, but real farmer's market fresh from the tree/field RIPE fruit) and the pineapples smell heavenly and taste just the same. Is it possible to overdose on pineapples? I may find out if I stay here long enough.
So about those absent mongooses. Turns out the mongooses were intentionally introduced to the islands almost a century ago with the intent that the mongooses would eradicate the problem roof-rats that had stowed away on whaling vessels, naturalized to the islands, and severely damaged local bird populations. On the other islands, the mongooses naturalized quite swiftly and can now be seen in profusion. On Kauai, by counterpoint, the mongooses ran into a rather devastating barrier very early in their stay which prevented them from naturalizing themselves to the island. It seems that a dock worker, realizing (a little quicker than most) what effect importing a diurnal hunter to the islands to eradicate a nocturnal hunter would actually have, kicked the crate of mated mongooses right off the dock and into the water, thus preserving those few of Hawaii's birds that managed to outwit the rats.
On Kauai, it is the chicken (freed from coops by hurricanes Iwa and Iniki) that has naturalized instead.
Day 18: Exploring Kauai's North Coast. Ha'ena beach. Pounding surf--hard waves with a high curl. Hoping for a chance to swim, but all advice (lifeguards, locals, etc) said don't risk it. .. so, reluctantly, I stayed ashore. But I had my camera! Took pictures of the waves and got some beautiful results. Also got my first sunburn. Right arm, neck, side of face. (That's what happens when all my focus is through my camera lens!)
Stopped counting chickens.
Shave Ice!! Oh, the yummy yummy treat that is Shave Ice! (not "shaved", but "shave") ... not a snow-cone (wherein the ice is crushed into small granular bits like sand then topped with syrup), but shaved with a steel blade, creating a fine fluffy texture that holds the syrup in suspension! Oh, so yummy. And on the Islands, they do it extra-special-- the stand I liked best put a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom, the shave ice next (mango and coconut syrups for me, thanks!), and a super-yummy "snow cap" topping of sweetened condensed milk! .. it's no wonder I managed to gain weight despite the increase in activity!
Day 19: All day on a boat. A powerboat sailing excursion up the Na Pali coast. My second sunburn of the trip. Rounded out yesterday's right-side sunburn with some left-side sunburn to match. Rough seas made for an exhilarating trip! Watched spinner dolphins jump and play! watched bottlenose dolphins swim beside the ship! Watched flying fish dart from the water and glide through the air!! Saw whale blows, and even a whale breech! saw sea turtles swimming along the surface for air (oh they are SO cute with their little noses up above the surface!) Saw the Na Pali coast shrouded in mist (the pictures from the boat trip are not as good as the pictures I took from the air on the way in). Saw huge, violent surges of surf crash against the sheer cliffs of Na Pali coastline, splashing the water at least twenty feet up the rocks. Saw miles and miles of beautiful blue ocean. Got splashed by the waves (I mentioned the rough seas, yes?) Ate a mediocre lunch, offered spare Bonine to fellow passengers, polished off several rolls of film (underwater cameras rock!) and finished the journey with a half hour of snorkeling in deep water. Not the most remarkable snorkeling of our stay. Not the most notable experience of our stay, actually. The dolphins were cool, admittedly, as were the turtles and the whales and the flying fish and the coastline. ... but I just *hate* being herded along in a tour group! MooooOOoo!
Day 20: Ke'e beach-- North shore, west until the road stops. Right where civilization ends and the untamed cliffs of Na Pali begin, there is a sheltered lagoon ringed by a coral reef. The lagoon is perhaps as big as a house, with the coral reef all the way around except for one gateway the size of a doorway just where the Na Pali cliffs start. This gateway is open to the sandy floor 20 foot or so below and threads its way through a maze of coral reef obstacles. The lagoon itself draws an amazing variety of fish (humuhumunukunukuapuaa!) and during my swim I was treated to the brilliant colors of parrot fish, trigger fish, needle fish... more fishes than I can name! and sea urchins, sea slugs, coral of many variety... Ke'e quickly became my favorite place to swim and I learned its underwater terrain as thoroughly as the grounds of my VRBO. On one of our swims I even found a flounder! all cuddled up in the sand with only its bulging eyeballs moving this way and that as I swam above it!! SO cool!!
The other neat thing about Ke'e is that the sea turtles are known to frolic just outside that gateway I mentioned. During the summer when the seas are calm, it is possible to swim through the gateway and watch them. (leaving a required minimum distance between you and the turtles as they are a protected species!) This quest is unadvised during the winter months-- surf gets high, currents can be unpredictable, and every year people drown-- tourists and locals alike-- from the fickle sea conditions.
But I'm a good swimmer, and foolhardy to boot. ... and I was lucky that afternoon, arriving at the lagoon at just the right time in just the right conditions, and the turtles were right there.. just at the mouth of the lagoon, playing in the breaking waves. I cannot begin to describe how much of my soul was healed that day.. how much of my faith in goodness existing was restored by watching the turtles swim and float and frolic. More than anything else, I remember that moment. .. and then the turtles seemed to tire of my presence and I swam back into the lagoon to watch the fishes again.
Day 20: From here on it all blurs. .. some days we were out at Ke'e. Some days we drove down to Lihue to put the film in for processing. Some days we must have stayed at home? ... I don't recall now. I waited too long to get it written up-- the flu, the Norwescon.. -- Hawaii is becoming a fading dream, hard to hold on to. ... but we walked through galleries, looked at artwork, wandered the beaches, swam in lagoons, ate pineapples and shave ice, picked up postcards (even though I'd left my address book at home and most of the recipients will need to wait until postcards and address book occupy the same desktop before they get their note from Hawaii!), took apart and re-sewed the slacks (ah, my dear husband... I do love him!), shot pictures with my camera, counted geckos, tried to ignore chickens (the crowing really is quite annoying!), scratched mosquito bites, and ruminated on the ever-approaching moment that we'd have to pack up again and return home.
Day 21 and 22 were much the same. Chickens, geckos, shave ice, pineapple, mosquito bites, afternoon swims, photography, sewing.
Day 22: BABY gecko!! now that was a highlight... we were sitting up late (I finishing Keith's slacks again, he reading), and suddenly there was a teensy tiny little baby gecko on the arm of my chair! Now, most geckos that we'd seen were about 3 to 4 inches long. This gecko wouldn't be able to reach the far side of a quarter if he stretched himself out flat! BABY GECKO!!!
The islands are a pretty special place. There is a phenomenon known as "Island Time"... wherein no one is ever "late" because time has no meaning outside of the immediate surroundings and activities. It's not a universal phenomenon because there are airline schedules to keep and tourists to molify and the Outside World to interact with... but when you don't have anywhere to be anytime soon and you don't have anyone you're disappointing by not showing up, well.. Island Time creeps into your soul if you let it.
For almost two hours we watched that baby gecko negotiate his way around the room, creeping in and out of tiny corners, jumping from furniture to window ledge, hiding, reappearing, investigating. .. and it was a better show than most Hollywood blockbusters I can bring to mind.
I thought of Zann a lot that day... lizards in the leaves.. geckos in the furniture.
And for the rest of our stay, I checked shoes before slipping them on, checked surfaces before setting things down, and said a little prayer for the baby gecko's safety everytime I sat down on the couch. :)
Day 23: We packed our things and cleaned the VRBO yesterday. Today we return the rented snorkel gear and try to pretend we're excited about going home again. But first, one last swim at Ke'e.
..it almost was.
Note: The warning signs are there for a reason. Believe them.
Note: The locals know what they are talking about.
Note: The best swimmers/athletes/etc die. --Because the best swimmers/athletes/mountain climbers, etc take bigger risks.
Note: The person who takes the biggest risks should not be the person carrying the car keys.
Note: bare feet are not the same as swim fins.
Note: If you think you know a person/place/phenomenon inside and out, can predict its every nature, whim, and outcome, you are deluded. You simply have not met the circumstances under which that person/place/phenomenon behaves differently. It is impossible even to know *yourself* that thoroughly. ... still, the illusion of knowing gives us a belief in safety, the ability to move forward, to trust, to act.
Note: conditions change.
So here I am again at Ke'e, at the lagoon, hoping against hope to see turtles again. Yesterday I came in the morning.. just after sunrise (hey, turtles are important like that!).. at this time of the month that coincided with low tide. If there were turtles, they were too far out beyond the gateway, and the surf was too rough to risk going past to look for them. Earlier in our visit, three weeks ago, sunrise would have brought high tides. My sunrise swim was a bit of a disappointment-- too early even for the reef fishes. This time it's evening. High tide. almost sunset. The water is warm (about 73 degrees F!), the people are packing up to go home, the lagoon has one or two other swimmers paddling about. I can see the currents. Tiny airbubbles suspended at all levels tell me where the currents are. I know this lagoon. I familiarize myself with the current conditions, what's new at the moment.. what fish are about, how are they acting.. there are bits of flotsam in the water today-- tendrils that look like they might have been part of a jellyfish once. Store that information. Might be important later. The fishes are further in today, not hanging out at the far reaches. They're acting normal-- eating this and that, going about their business, ignoring me. There's a little ridge of the reef sticking out of the water. I haven't seen it at high tide before-- always before there's been enough surface to walk across (Heaven Forbid!! that's death to the reef!! .. but people do it anyway. Some unknowing, some uncaring) out to the far ridge. .. today parts of it are submerged. Take note of that. Might be important later. I wonder briefly what the exact time the high tide will crest. No way to know right now.. should have googled it earlier, I guess. I realize that if I became a resident.. naturalized here myself, became "local" (is that possible for a transplant?) ... that I would Know these things. They would become part of my essential knowledge. As clear and obvious and ever-present as whether it will rain today, or whether the wind is blowing. For now all I can do is watch the water, pay attention to the currents, the fishes, the wind, the waves. It all looks pretty good. Maybe I'll be able to see another turtle today? who knows. The turtle-spotting isn't all that important, really... it's just the whim of a goal I've set for this swim. I could be counting sea urchins or humuhumunukunukuapuaa instead and the goal would be just as valid.
Goals are a way of extending oneself. Some goals are maleable, subject to discard when they don't suit the purpose. Others are not. Some change from one tier of importance to another--usually after a major life challenge. ... If I set myself a goal to knit a pair of socks, I'm not just after a pair of socks! I could buy a pair of socks at Target for far less investment. The pair of socks is the goal I've defined, but the progress toward that goal is where growth can occur. Is this the opportunity to try cabling or lace? is this the time to add beads to my knitting? to reach an in-depth understanding of gauge and its effects on the finished garment? ... at the end, I have a pair of socks... or perhaps I don't. .. but I have more than that-- I have everything I brought to bear along the way. Every technique I learned for the occasion, every discovery about myself--how do I manage time, what takes precedence in importance over this pair of socks, and what gets pushed aside to make room for it, etc. ... today the goal is seeing turtles. It's an unlikely goal, but along the way I'll see more fishes, more reef, more of how the ocean works.
So after a quick swim throughout the lagoon, checking fish populations at various reef edges, I swim toward the gateway. I know this terrain. I am glad for that. It feels like home-- familiar, comfortable... and far enough out that I am away from the casual swimmers. A moment of solitude. I am in my element. I have been swimming in the ocean since at least I was 6... no... before that. I have been swimming in pools since before I could walk. .. almost before I could crawl. Water is my home. I have swum my way out of undertows, riptides, and fierce currents too many times to count. I have been pounded by big waves before, swept by their power against the ocean floor until my bathingsuit weighed 10 pounds more from the sand it was carrying and my mouth was filled with sand too. I have been pushed off of sharp rocks by a sudden surge of a wave and know what it feels like to be ripped to shreds trying to get back out again. The ocean is my friend. I respect it. It may kill me some day.
The wave curls outside the gateway are maybe 3 to 5 feet in height.. the larger ones not all that common. The curls are breaking just outside the gateway, so there is hope that they won't be too much of a hinderance. On one of my previous swims they were breaking right at the gateway, and that made conditions far too choppy, far to jumbled, far too cloudy with bubbles.. visibility was low that day, and in the gateway the wave break caused up-and-down currents that just made threading my way through the reef too risky. Today it might be possible.
The gateway, from all my assembled experience, being the only entry-and-exit point for the water to-and-from the lagoon, has a circular flow. At one level the water will be flowing in, and at a different level the water will be flowing out. Whether the in-flow is at surface or at bottom depends upon whether the tide is flowing in or out. ... or at least, that's my rudimentary understanding of it, and it suffices. Conditions of the moment follow this prediction. At the surface there is a current inward. 8 foot down or so the current pulls outward. It's a moderate current.. not terribly strong.. I wouldn't suggest Keith swim out here-- he's not as familiar with the ocean as I. He didn't used to swim in competition. But it's not bad. My brother might be fine with it. ... but my brother is not the risk-taker that I am, so he probably would opt-out, happy with counting humuhumunukunukuapuaa in the heart of the lagoon. He doesn't enjoy the choppy surf the way that I do-- being tossed around by the waves as if I were weightless. That rocking feeling stays in your soul-- at night, after a good swim, I feel the waves rock me to sleep still. The inner ear keeps an echo of the motion, I think.
It's lightly misty today. The shore is beautiful, and there is a rainbow in the gentle rain. The cliffs of Na Pali look like a fairytale world. Here at the gateway I find my breath catch at their beauty-- nearly sunset, the light low, shining through the mist, lighting up the patches of green vegetation and dark black rock.. I'm treading water here at the breakline, just at the mouth of the gateway, just at the point where the outer edge of the coral reef ends and the start of the high sheer cliffs begin. The break of the waves has made the gateway water too cloudy with bubbles and I know that I won't have the visibility to see turtles today, even if they were here, so that goal has dissipated.. but this new experience of the Na Pali cliffs in mist and sunlight have captured me, and I am delighted! ..and rewarded for my risk-taking. I snap a picture with my waterproof travel camera, knowing there is no hope for the photograph to capture even a fraction of the moment.
If there's one thing you learn in life it's this: Conditions Change. Sometimes you have warning and time to prepare. Other times you don't. Sometimes you understand why. Other times you don't. Sometimes you never will.
It's especially that way with people. One moment they're a reliable friend... the next they've turned you aside, done you harm, forgotten you, or just ... Changed. ... Conditions Change. And you find out that under these new conditions they cannot be your friend. Never could. They were your friend only because that condition was never present. That aspect was never tested. Conditions Change.
And sometimes it's that way with environments. A winding road that's a pleasure to drive in a light soft mist on an overcast day becomes a significant danger in a downpour. Coconuts that get just heavy enough suddenly fall in a huge bunch, crushing whatever's beneath. A docile pet, when it's injured, is just as dangerous as a feral beast. Approach with caution. Conditions change.
For me the moment was sudden and unexpected. What had been a gentle, moderate current leading inward was suddenly sucking me outward and briskly! It was the change of a heartbeat. If I'd been any further out, I don't think I would have stood a chance. ... In part I felt the shift because I was exactly where I was. .. if I had been out farther, I might not have felt the shift in time to take action. If I had been out farther, there would have been more distance to cover, more water to fight against, more barriers in my way. I was lucky. Let me start with that! I was lucky. The gods of the sea and the islands were favoring me that day. ... and also, I was prepared. I knew the risks.. or at least I knew that there were risks. I knew the fickle nature of the sea.. though not in this location. I knew my own prowess as a swimmer.. though it has been years since I swam in competition, and since then my knee has been injured... I was lucky. I was not completely un-prepared, but I was definitely far beyond my comfort zone and almost beyond my capacity to survive.
I don't know how to tell you what it felt like... if you've ever been in a comparable situation-- caught in a current that's headed for a waterfall, swept up in an avalanche, sucked up by a vaccuum cleaner... perhaps even echoes of that G-force feeling some sudden-acceleration amusement park rides generate... if you've ever been in a comparable situation, you'll be able to imagine, you'll be able to empathize. If you haven't-- I don't think it's something I can put into words.
The ocean was pulling me outward, seaward. The ocean was bigger. The ocean would win.
A human being is not meant to swim... sure, we can swim, but we're not designed for it. We claw with tiny hands and kick with tiny feet to propel our mass through the water. Fish use their abdominal muscles! Just think if I could swim with my shoulder mass, my abs, my back!! ... Sure my shoulders are engaged, powering the tiny little claws at the ends of my awkward, cartwheeling arms.. and sure my glutes are engaged, driving the levers at the ends of which are my tiny little feet... but they don't act on the water directly. And that's a loss. So much muscle mass! .. and no way to put it to good use in the water. A dolphin my size would have no trouble.
Try this: turn on a garden hose to full blast, now put your finger into the stream and press toward the nozzle. Feel the resistance. ... or try it with a fire hose if you have one handy.. walk into the stream. Feel the resistance. ... Now realize that in both those situations, you have friction and stability on your side. Your finger is attached to your arm, is attached to your body.
The worst that happens in the garden hose stream is that your finger is knocked to the side, out of the stream. The worst that happens in the fire hose scenario is that you're knocked to the ground, skin up your knees. bumps and bruises.
In the ocean current, you go where the ocean takes you. The ocean will win. You don't have friction on your side when you're swimming. The best you can do is make use of the currents!
And let me add, just now, that 40 extra pounds of fat, while adding a voluptuous curvaceousness to a womanly frame, is incredibly buoyant!
Drop a cork and a quarter on your driveway or sidewalk. Now spray with the garden hose. Which moves faster? Which is more at the mercy of the water current? That's Right!! The cork that floats. My extra weight, so ponderous on land, becomes an equally unpleasant impairment to movement in the water! The ocean is going to win.
In the moment of change, of course, I swam toward shore. Swam directly against the current.. not because it's the right thing to do (It's NOT! .. swim to the side, break out of the current!) ... but because swimming to the side was not a real option. Coral reef to the left/east (coral cuts tend to get very infected very easily), Na Pali cliffs to the right/west. Probably a mile swim to the east before the next sandy shore with an unknown terrain between. 44 miles or so of high Na Pali cliffs to the west and then southward, with almost no opportunity to come ashore, and high, pounding surf against the sheer rocks in the interim. .. First choice= back into the lagoon. .. but swimming against the current isn't working. Swimming for my life, with all the strength and reserve that I've got, I'm losing ground. Slowly, but steadily.
I dive for a lower level, hoping to find the sweet spot that travels inward... but at every level the water is coursing outward. .. and the strength of the current is increasing.
Conditions have changed.
It is nearly sunset. Sunset and Sunrise are the worst times to swim.. the predators hunt at dawn and dusk in the low light. The predators hunt in churned up waters. The predators hunt at the mouths of channels where helpless prey are swept by the currents out to deep water. The predators are out there.
The floating bits of might-be-jellyfish suddenly seem infused with significance!
Point of fact: I've never seen a shark in open water in all the times and places that I have swum.
Point of fact: Most sharks that are near the reefs are fairly docile and don't tend to like to attack humans.
Point of fact: if I'm going to meet a shark in open water, it's going to be today, under these conditions!
Sharks attack things that flail, just like cats attack things that run. Flailing signifies injury or helplessness to a shark.. easy prey, less likelihood that the creature can cause significant harm to the shark in return. ... so if I don't make it back into the lagoon, I'll need to stop swimming so hard! Long, easy strokes, strong solid kicks ... not this quick flutter of kick and claw! .. but right now I need the speed more than the endurance, and right now the break of the waves is in my favor, hiding my frenetic activity from the targeting predators.
So perhaps I wouldn't have died if the ocean had won...
I know enough about currents that had my attempts to go lagoonward not succeeded, I would have headed oceanward-- beyond the bottleneck of the gateway the current will disperse, lose strength. .. if I'm lucky enough not to encounter a shark on the way... and that seems relatively likely, then out to sea I might be able to swim eastward, find my way back a mile or two.. or five? who knows.. find my way back to Tunnels beach or Ha'ena.... unknown underwater terrain, but at least there's a sandy shore, so if I get that far, I'd be alright. ... or if the current stays strong, I'll be swept westward and south, past the long stretch of high cliffs of Na Pali. Coming ashore on that stretch, as I mentioned before, would be too high a risk. If I got swept Na Pali side, I'd be stuck waiting for rescue. ... and since it's nearly sunset, that would mean either a special rescue helicopter, or waiting for the next morning and hopefully hailing one of the Zodiac rafts that run the tour groups up and down the shore. (Just what I need--another guided tour. ugh!) ... no flotation but my 40 extra pounds of chub! ;) ... It'd be a matter of treading water all night long, and trying to keep far enough out that I don't get swept into the cliffs. If I were pounded by the surf into the rocks of Na Pali, I'd be hurting. More likely, concussed--and concussed would almost certainly result in drowning, no matter how good a swimmer you are! ... at least the water is warm and hypothermia wouldn't be my first concern. .. but it's also an almost moonless night, so judging the currents and the wave crash and the proximity of the cliffs or reefs would be tricky at best!
...or perhaps I would have.
The threats were real enough to be a significant motivator. I swam for my life. I swam hard, and with all my skill and all my energy and all my reserves and all my knowledge.
And the ocean was going to win.
With this realization, I abandoned my attempt to swim directly into the current, and I aimed instead for the edge of the coral reef.
The coral reef is a fragile community. A reef is made up of numerous living creatures--polyps--each too fragile to withstand the curious touch of a human hand or a careless kick of a fin. Coral reefs are poisoned by sunscreen. Coral reefs are poisoned by cigarette butts, damaged by litter and debris.. Coral reefs are precious.
And my only hope for re-entry into the lagoon was by grabbing on to the coral reef. It's a tragedy that haunts me... that thousands of little coral polyps, minding their own business, living their own lives, were put to death because I took a risk and got caught in a current. A hundred thousand blessings on those coral creatures! I cannot thank them enough for being there, for being my salvation.
This time I swam toward the shore, but slightly westward, casting myself ashore upon the coral reef just at the edge of the cliffs. It was a risky move, to be sure! If I timed it wrong, I'd get torn up pretty badly. If I timed it REALLY wrong, I could get a limb lodged and broken, or I could get thrown to hard and concussed against the rocks.
But I found a handhold, crouched on the edge of the reef, moved as little as possible (to minimize my damage to the reef) and clung like a limpet while I caught my breath and slowed my heart. I let 4 or 5 waves crash around me as I clung there, getting my bearings, evaluating the conditions I find myself in, making my best guess as to how I can proceed.
There is one other fellow in the water nearby.. a seasoned swimmer-- I noticed him earlier. And at the moment I have his full attention. He is maybe 30 feet away, on the other side of the gateway, just inside the reef. He is shouting toward me, asking me if I am alright. I nod, give him the thumbs up. I'm still too out of breath to yell back, but I flash a smile. A moment ago I was most distinctly Not Alright. .. in another moment I'll brave Not Alright again in my beach-ward progress. ... but for just this moment, clinging to the reef, I have air and I have rest and I am uninjured. For just this moment I am Alright.
When I've caught enough breath, I dive forward off the reef, launching myself into the current again for a forward push of maybe 6 feet-- 3 feet covered by the dive, another 3 foot swim against the current before I start to lose ground again and fasten myself to another stretch of the reef. In each of these grabs I am fully aware that I am taking risks. As I reach for a fingerhold, I pray that there be no sea urchins ensconced in the divots, that I meet with rock and reef instead of sea slug! that my timing in the waves be accurate.. not too close to the surge that might tumble me against the rocks or crack my skull or twist my fingers or wrists, not too close to the ebb that might suck me right off the rock before I can fasten my grip, that might drag me belly-first against exposed reef and urchin spines.
It takes three of these forward surges before the ocean stops pulling me outward faster than I can swim. At the end of the third surge, the other swimmer has reached my position, is swimming beside me. He has fins. I'm jealous!! ... what a difference it makes to have fins! Every time I swam this lagoon in the past week I had fins on. Today my feet were bare. Tiny little feet not suited for power swimming! .... but then, if I'd had fins on, I wouldn't have been able to crouch on the reef either, had the need arisen. ... In the moment of need, we make do with what we have.
The ocean still pulls seaward, even though I'm perhaps 20 feet further into the lagoon than I had been when the current first changed. .. Just minutes ago this space right here was gentle water with an inward flow. Now it's a brisk outflow, and I don't have time to rest yet. I no longer need to cling to the reef to keep my position, but I still have to swim hard and constantly to make any progress. At some point I notice that my knee, my left knee, my healing-from-injury knee, is doing remarkably well. A prayer and a blessing for that!
We swim, side by side, beachward. He is evaluating my progress, my condition. He is there if I should start to flag or start to fail, but he lets me swim, unassisted except by his presence. .. and presence is sometimes Everything. A spotter. A strong lead in one's peripheral. If you've spent much time in athletic pursuit of any kind, you know the value of someone who is just There, inspiring you to greatness simply by taking the journey with you. It's not limited to athletics.. I've met the phenomenon in artistic endeavor, in business endeavor, in schoolwork... Today it is a fellow swimmer who pushes me to excel simply by swimming alongside.
As we swim against the current, we talk. He says he was certain I was being pulled out to sea. I acknowledge. I was. Now I'm not. Now I'm okay. He says it's a dangerous current right there, on Kauai's North Shore, in the winter... that summertime maybe it's okay, when the seas are calm.. but never in the winter. I nod. I've learned that now. I mention that I used to swim competitively, that I had become familiar with the lagoon, that I was caught up in my revelry of being able to do Something, ANYTHING physical again after my injury. He nods. "I can tell you're a good swimmer," he agrees, "most people would be panicked by what you went through." It's not that the panic isn't there... it's just submerged. I won't let it show until I'm safely back on shore again. Panic in the water will kill you faster than sharks or exposure or injury. Panic blinds your timing. And in the waves, timing is everything.
Turns out he used to be a lifeguard. He's familiar with the North Shore conditions. He's seen people pulled out to sea before. ... He's pretty sure I wouldn't have died. I think he's of the opinion that so long as I had mastery over panic, the rest would take care of itself. Odds are in his favor. But in that moment, I didn't question the validity of my life-or-death struggle. I had made a choice, and my choice was to live-- to swim back to shore, to go on. Three weeks previous, I might have made a different choice-- might have surrendered to the current and let Fates decide whether I made it home or not. ... But the turtles had swum beside me. The geckos had chirruped me to sleep. I'd thought about Mia while I was swimming amongst the turtles, about Zann while I watched the geckos, about Jewel and Carrie and Laura and Paula and so many other wonderful internet friends who'd buoyed me through this past year.. And now, this day before leaving the islands, I find I've recovered enough to go on.
Halfway back to shore again my swimmer parts ways with me. He heads all the way in to shore, leaves me to frolic some more in the heart of the lagoon. He's confident now that I won't be caught up by the same current, confident that I won't be needing further help.
I made no mistake in all of it. To say that I did would be to imply that I overlooked some crucial bit of knowledge. I didn't. I made myself aware of all cautions, and I made constant evaluations of the terrain and conditions. I was not arrogant-- I never thought the cautions did not apply to me. I paid attention, and I reacted appropriately and instantly as conditions changed. I made no mistake, yet I almost paid dearly nonetheless.
I was missing one crucial piece of information in my evaluations, and as I swum in the lagoon after returning from the gateway, my observations revealed that piece to me. I felt a cross-current now where none had been earlier, where none had been in any of my prior swims.
The tide was still rising as I reached the gateway, as I gazed at the Na Pali coastline and took its picture. As long as the tip of the reef was still above water in many places, the gateway had its circular current, in at one level, out at another. .. but when the tide rose over the reef, the water began to come in over the reef and outward only at the gateway. It's a piece of information I'll never forget! And if you swim, I suggest you don't either.
Ashore again, the soft misting rain turning into real drops. A final shave ice at my favorite stand, then home to sleep before tomorrow's early morning flight. Our last day on Kauai at an end. Our last day on the Islands tomorrow on Oahu.
And as I curl up, contented, beneath the handmade quilt at my VRBO, I get one last glimpse of Baby Gecko.
Day 24: early flight to Honolulu, last day on the islands. Tomorrow we fly to the mainland, the day after that we fly home. One last circuit of the flea market for sarongs. One last visit to the fabric store for quilting fabrics. One last walk on the beach at Waikiki.
Day 25: one last breakfast buffet at Dukes Canoe Club on Waikiki. Drop postcards in the mail. Drop rolls of film into the mail. Long flight across the water. Spend the night in San Francisco.
Day 26: another airplane-- San Francisco to Seattle. ... At some point on this leg of the journey my handwoven palm leaf basket disappears. I am sad. Bits of my dream are fading. The question now becomes how to keep that spirit alive so far away from the Islands. How to live life with Aloha... and to surround myself with people who also live and share and dream with Aloha. ... If I can't live my life on the islands, then I need to find that Island Spirit here.
Addendum: I mentioned my joy at finding flat rate postal boxes! I must add a caveat: Do Not expect a 3-day priority envelope to arrive in 3 days if you purchased the postage at an Automated Postal Center a week prior on a different island! It will take at least a week in transit if you confuse the system in such a way!