On my last trip to Hookena beach, the dolphins came out. My nephew and I floated in the bay on a stand up paddle board as the naia circled around us, jumping and spinning every few minutes. It was a mercifully cloudy afternoon, the keiki riding little waves into the shore on their boogie boards, the water dark and soft. As I packed up my truck, black sand filled my slippers and stuck to my skin. The showers there are actually warm, exposed metal pipes run all the way down to the beach from the highway, so I set off to scrub down. A man holding a little child was standing near the shower, I smiled at them and the man raised his eyebrows and turned around stiffly. This afternoon may have summed up my eight years living in Hawaii.
In 2006 my fiance and I arrived in Kona, like so many before us, to live the dream of island life. We imagined living here for a couple years, then taking off for some other exotic local. But everything happened so easily, and time moved on so fast. Jobs fell in our laps, we got married, bought a house, started a business. Five years tops, we said, enough time to flip the house and save some money. It’s only that in Hawaii, it doesn’t work like that.
I’ve come to believe, after seeing it happen to myself and many, many others, that Hawaii either likes you or it doesn’t. It either calls you, or sends you away. Without ever wanting it or expecting it, Hawaii grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Until now that is. I got so dug into this place, sand got in my ears. And now just like that, I’m getting the boot.
My enmeshment began with a third grader with autism. This little boy taught me about tolerance and the size of the human heart, he hooked me into becoming a teacher. Once there, my desire to contribute to this island grew exponentially. As I learned more and more about Hawaiian culture, giving back became a larger part of my life here. I became involved in a culture-based teacher education program and volunteering in environmental conservation. My eyes were opened.
The first couple years here, I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I wanted to find every secret beach and hidden waterfall. Then I learned about ike honua, a sense of place. We all have it, coming from somewhere, I mean no one can love moss and waking up to rain as much as this Oregon girl, but in Hawaii, a sense of place has a greater significance. To have a sense of place is not only to understand where you come from, but to be connected inextricably to that place through the land. Along with this comes an intrinsic respect for the land that in Hawaii, only people of the land can truly understand. Children are taught to respect and understand the land from birth and are not encouraged to travel until they can represent where they come from. These ideals conflicted with my need to find every hidden waterfall because in Hawaii, there are places that are not meant to be seen by all. I came to understand that if I was meant to see or be in a certain place, that I’d be called there and permitted to enter.
It’s my belief that life was relatively easy here because I was called for some reason, to do some work on myself. My passport sits unstamped in the eight years I’ve lived here, it just wasn’t in the stars for me to leave, however ready I felt.
Last summer I stood on the highest peak of the island of Kahoolawe, working as a youth conservation corps team leader, the wind whipping in circles around us. I prayed for release from the islands, surely I’d done my part, learned to give instead of take. And an answer came back, in the sunshine on the ocean, that I was done, it was time to go. As I said, that was last summer. When the islands tell you to go, you ought to. Some might describe my life this year as a series of misfortunes, I know it as my permission to leave.
How blessed I’ve been to live here, to see places in Hawaii that not many have seen. And while time has whirled past faster than light, this gratitude for my home is larger than ever. Hawaii, I’ll miss your people, places, and your magic.
And I’m proud to say I’m leaving Hawaii unbitten by a centipede. So there.