Friday, January 3, 2014

Aloha 'Oe

The problem with me and vacations is that once they're over, they're over, not leaving behind any particular imprint on my mind. It's all too easy to dream that they never happened.

In the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the eponymous character says,
The adventure is over. Everything gets over, and nothing is ever enough. Except the part you carry with you. It's the same as going on a vacation. Some people spend all their time on a vacation taking pictures so that when they get home they can show their friends evidence that they had a good time. They don't pause to let the vacation enter inside of them and take that home.
I took a lot more photos on this vacation than I've done previously (because I have a phone with a good camera now) but it's always been a problem of mine that events don't really sink in. Maybe I just have a bad memory.

At the Volcanoes National Park

Another part of it is that vacations only seem to justify themselves while I'm in the middle of them, having fun. Then, afterward, I just look at all the work I still have to get done and I wish I had my week back--forgetting, of course, that the week I just spent being unproductive was also one I spent happy.

Jumping straight back into the work has its benefits...but, and perhaps it's my senioritis speaking, isn't the point of winter break to take a break?

Another Frankweiler quote:
I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow.

So, then. What part of the vacation have I taken away with me?

A deep, intense hatred of planes. Wait, that was in me already.

The intense briny salt sting that stays in your throat when you're playing amongst the waves. The almost panic-inducing sensation of being undertaken by a wave whose jump you mistimed. Then, making up for both the above, the giddiness of timing a leap perfectly and feeling the ocean buoy you up and set you down again.

Black Triggerfish

Cold and warm currents of water while snorkeling, and the darkness of drops in the reef, and the lovely menace of anemones. Feeling a sudden, inexplicable kinship with a black triggerfish whose top fin's stripe has a jagged edge so that it is lightning blue.

A mess of conflicting feelings: awe and reverence as the hula dancers chant to Pele, and guilt at taking part in the commodification of a culture. Easing those feelings of guilt by being extremely nice to the waiters.

Sitting on the edge of a small boat speeding over the waves, feeling the wind whipping past your face, feeling glorious. Wishing you were Percy Jackson, or yourself in your fantasies, so that you could execute an elegant dive off the side of the boat and drop into the bottomless blue.

Snorkeling again: leaning into the warm currents, wishing you could promenade on the swept sand steps leading around the rocks. Wishing you had the courage to discard your floating noodle and dive deep. As you tread water above the 100-foot chasm, looking down into the opaque blue, feeling giddy again because this is like your dreams except, what's wrong with you, you're not falling.

Looking at the sea caves and wondering who will be looking at them when they become blowspouts, become arches, become eroded away back into the sea.

Feeling suddenly, gloriously happy when you see a manta ray skimming beneath the waves. Your captain, a cool old dude, says, "You usually only see them at night." Lucky. Feeling that same, strange kinship for this fast black animal so at home in the water.

At a coffee farm closed for Christmas, feeling at peace as you look over the long pathway, the wall in the grass, the trees, the buildings. A sense of otherworldliness as more people start to arrive. Smiling a knowing, regretful smile as some of the schlecht pick coffee beans. The ludicrousness, you think, remembering Spirited Away, watching them disturb the trees. A rather silly portent of doom: a lone avocado, rolling on the pavement.

Walking along a Herb Kane exhibit of paintings, reading each description multiple times. Regretting that you stopped drawing. Wanting to dive back into the world of color and composition, form and shape and myth and symbol.

Watching the other kids playing dozens of card games and wondering if you're abstaining because you think it's futile and childish or if it's just because you're afraid to lose.

Waipio Falls
Hiking slowly down into Waipio Valley, feet wedged nearly parallel to the side of the mountain, periodically stopping to rest your legs and to look across at the nearly orthogonal opposite slope, and the glittering ocean. Wishing you were, again, your fantasy you, so that you could spread vast wings and fly across the valley, exultant, with the sun full and bright above and the wind on your face.

Hiking back up, possessed for a mad moment with the desire to sprint the last stretch as if you were a sophomore again.

Eating lunch in a little home-style cooking restaurant, after having had an unexpected and pleasant conversation with a saxophone player who commented on your band t-shirt. Are people usually this nice?

Akaka Falls
Walking through primordial jungle at Akaka Falls, seeing flowers that look like racks of ribs, coconuts on the ground, palm trees clustered menacingly, sheets of greenery with white flowers sparkling like stars.

At the hotel, wandering the Japanese garden exclaiming over the feral cats and crossing the many and varied bridges. Holding your breath as you cross the one of stone, with the greatest arch--you're still thinking of Spirited Away. Wanting to stay by the bodhisattva tree, looking out at the rocks arranged in a lawn not of grass but of interesting-looking plants with flat bright leaves.

Japanese Garden

Sitting in a secluded corner of the lobby writing. There is a story you wrote a few years ago, about an island and a scientific expedition, and the scenery of the day is jostling in your head as you write: of the humid jungle, of the trees all around, of the menacing hush.

A botanical garden with a well-appointed visitor center. Going down in the rain, looking at flesh-colored flowers and singular trees. Wondering, irritatedly, why the adults all seem interested in what you're writing. Have they then never seen a simple black notebook and a simple ballpoint pen? (Wishing, however, that your pen was one that you click, so that you do not have to stand there with the cap in your mouth and your umbrella jammed inconveniently beneath one armpit as you scribble, "trunks covered in a thin layer of moss--the few exposed red roots like entrails.")

Later, taking a turn around the visitor center's museum, looking at the delicately carved grotesqueries in ivory. Japanese fishermen carrying long-armed demons on their backs; moon-faced women with robes pooling like water.

Lava at Volcanoes National Park

At the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, admiring the information center with its maps, its displays. Driving down the path, periodically stopping to run across the hardened lava. Laughing into the cold.

Walking down the long straight road to where lava flowed in 2003--ten years ago, which coincides with the last time you were in Hawaii with a similar group of family friends (Chinese ex-pats all, most working in biotech. It gives you a start to realize you've known these people that long). Wanting to run the whole way.

Field at Volcanoes National Park
Remarking, with vainglory, "The wind is blowing, the trees are bowing--but I am not!"

Wondering why it feels warmer here, by the hardened lava that has spilled across the road. Wondering what it would be like to live here. The sky is glory: a rainbow arching up from the ocean, and the clouds portentous as the sun, a blood orange, sets behind you.

Sunset over Volcanoes National Park

Visiting the lava tubes by night, stepping carefully around the many puddles on the ground. Looking up into the gloom where, inexplicably, the ceiling jumps. Calling out the number of steps whenever you reach a set of stairs, for the people behind you. Thinking how easy it would be to get lost, in the dark, and wander alone, and fall off the side of the mountain, and die. But your phone has 58% battery, and you can light the way back to the rental car.

Lava Tube at VNP

On this, your last night in Hawaii, you feel happy. And if, in the first few days that you're back home, you feel as though the vacation was wasted, know that you are wrong. The memories are not so far below the surface. All you have to do is dive, and there they are, darting in and out of the caverns of your daily worries like a million silver fish.

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