Sunday, I tweeted, “As a writer, I sometimes get lost. Today, I rode my bike 10 miles into nature, and it was her sounds, smells, and lighting that guided me home.” My writing voice often gets lost when I am separated from nature for extended periods of time. Several years ago, I lived in Wickford, Rhode Island in a 100-year-old cottage on Narragansett Bay. I never wanted for inspiration on the Bay, regardless of the season. It was this way Sunday as I journeyed into nature pedaling my bicycle. As I pedaled, I returned to one of my many journeys into nature when I lived in Hawaii.
I had slept in my recliner again, lulled to sleep by the neighbor’s Japanese chozubachi fountain. In ancient times the stone basin fountains were used by worshippers to rinse their mouths and wash their hands in the act of purifying their minds and bodies before entering a temple or shrine. Sleeping within earshot of my neighbor’s chozubachi had not purified my mind, but I had become acquainted with a newly found peacefulness. There are no sounds as peaceful as the sounds of nature, and I suppose that is why, more nights than not, I purposely slept in my recliner next to the open bay window. As I eavesdropped on the bird-speak outside my window, I considered spending the day reclined, but I opened my eyes to the sudden realization of change. I thought to myself, “Is it possible?” The birds, nearly two weeks before, had abandoned their perches, migrated I determined, gone just as suddenly as the feral trade winds had descended upon Oahu.
It is said that Alaska is the birthplace of the winds, and having spent a year out on the Aleutian Islands I could attest to this. There, the winds send everything at you horizontally. Fortunately, for man and beast, the wind does not always blow in Alaska. Although not seasonal, there are occasional reprieves, and I believe that during the days of reprieve, the winds are busy somewhere else, like on the island of Oahu. The winds had arrived on Oahu two weeks before and had been as familiar to me as the winds of the Aleutian Islands, but on this particular day the wind was gone, the sky was blue, and the birds were back. I considered the beauty outside my window, but it was not enough for me. I wanted to find a way to get within, to experience the wholeness of nature, and so I decided to journey into her.
I had checked the local online weather forecast; the weather channel had called for temperatures high near 80, winds SW 5 to 10 mph, with bright and sunny skies. After checking the weather, I scanned the Honolulu Advertiser’s daily tide tables. The tide tables warned of a west-northwest swell that had arrived and could cause the waves on the north shore to reach heights of 15 feet. I had not been concerned with the possible 15-foot waves on the North Shore. The North Shore would be crawling with tourists, and my pursuit would not allow for tourists on this day. My interest had been in the tidal conditions for the southeastern Oahu coastline, and specifically for Halona Cove. Another area densely populated with tourists; however, I had once glimpsed a private spot below the cliff, on the shoreline, around the bend from the Halona Blow Hole, and I did not expect to find this spot inhabited by anyone, tourists or locals. I looked again at the tide tables; the surf at Halona Cove was supposed to be 1-3 feet.
I packed my backpack, taking my cell phone, my journal, two pens, and my video camera that I put into a ziplock freezer bag to protect it from the inevitable Pacific salt spray. I had considered filling one of my insulated drink containers with water, but I decided that I would stop somewhere to pick up a snack and a bottle of water before I arrived at Halona Cove. Before the day was over, I would regret not taking the drink container with me.
It was almost 10:30 a.m. when I exited Ko-Olina. I glanced over my left shoulder while sliding the tip of my hiking boot beneath the gear lever and up-shifted as I merged onto H-1 and into the flow of traffic. As I settled into my ride, I smiled to myself and considered how much more of Oahu I had experienced since I had bought my Harley. I also thought about how much more I was experiencing at that particular moment, how much more than those traveling in the lanes on either side of me, enclosed and cut off from what I had now become a part of. Enclosed within their vehicles, they reminded me of the tourists that were always found crowding each other at the scenic lookouts fixing their eyes on the magnificence before them, and yet oblivious to the possibilities of becoming a part of the grandeur surrounding them.
The ride was a short ride, and before long the grand pacific was looming before me as I passed Hanauma Bay. I became overwhelmed by the extreme beauty I was passing through, and whispered into the wind, “Breathe Donna, Breathe,” as I continued winding my way along the coastline. I stopped at Sandy Beach, turned around, and started back toward Hanauma Bay, but just before Hanauma Bay I made a U-turn in the road and drove north again. I pulled off on the side of the road, in a space just large enough to accommodate my Harley and the moped that was parked there. I looked across Halona Cove, to the Halona Scenic Lookout, and watched as the tourists, coming and going in busloads, scurried around the lookout snapping pictures of each other. I continued to watch, and I wondered if later when the tourists looked at their photographs if they would see the moment they had been in but had missed their moment due to their busyness. I hoped for their sake that the moments remained hidden and they would never know what they had missed.
My eyes descended into Halona Cove; the cove renowned for the passionate beach scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. I considered the busyness of the cove for a mid-afternoon Wednesday, but the inlet became a memory as I turned toward the ocean and my eyes came to rest on the remnants of a statue. The statue had once been O Jisan, the Japanese God of Protection, but there was little left of it, except for the visible effects of war.
I took my video camera out of my backpack, tucked my backpack under a cliff ledge on the ocean side of O Jisan and walked along the jagged rocky cliff and into each moment that presented itself to me. I was drawn to a section of the cliff that jutted out towards the ocean, but I was also aware of the thinning ledges, erosion of rock and sand, and rock wash-out. I stood contemplating the ledge below the one I was standing on. I wanted to be on that ledge. I sat down, stretched my right leg out and shifted as much of my body weight as was possible onto my extended leg to weight test the ledge. I pushed the video camera against the wall of the ridge so I would not erroneously knock the camera off the ledge and feed it into the ocean as I lowered myself onto the ledge below me. I did not let go of the rim of the ledge above me until I trusted that the ledge I was now standing on would not give way and deliver me into the depths of the ocean.
I lowered myself into a squatting position, keeping my back pressed against the backside of the cliff, and remained in this position while I surveyed the ledge. The ledge was approximately four feet from the backside of the cliff to the edge that extended out over the ocean and was formed of multi-sized and colored rocks and sand. Unlike the slate sturdiness of the ledge above, the rock and sand on this ledge broke lose easily and slid into the ocean due to the slant of the ledge. I considered the slant and decided that it was the result of many years of rain runoff.
Feeling a sense of security, I stood and hoisted myself just enough to reach my video camera and returned to my squatting position on the ledge. To the left of me was the extreme tip of the cliff and I contemplated stomach crawling out to its point to shoot some video, but the increased incline toward the ocean and the uncertainty of the stability of the boulder that had formed from the washout deterred me, so I looked to the right of me.
My eyes charted the ledge of the cliff to the right of where I was perched, and I realized that any movement in this direction would be no less perilous than if I stomach crawled out on the thinning edge to the left of me. I sighed and considered my disappointment. My eyes slipped off the ledge and into the ocean below, and while gazing into the sea, I saw a beam of light reflecting off the cliff to my right. My curiosity became greater than my fear. I moved slowly but deliberately, stretching my legs out behind me in the direction I had contemplated stomach crawling onto just moments before. I pressed my body against the wall of the cliff and pushed myself up on my elbows, stretching my head up to see if I could see the source of the light without moving closer to the ledge. It was the mountains window to the sea or the sea’s window into the mountain, and it was affecting. I turned my body less deliberately and more purposely until I could reach my video camera. I returned to the window to the mountain and captured it through the lens of my camera.
After recording the window to the mountain, I returned to where I had lowered myself from the ledge above, pushed the camera away from the ledge above me and hoisted myself back up onto the ledge. I had one thought on my mind, finding the window to the sea. I walked along the jagged cliff, moving as slowly as I had crawled along the ledge below as I gauged the distance and probable location of the window I was looking for. I lowered myself onto my stomach and peered over the cliff in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the ledge I had been on. I saw my boot trails on the ledge below me that were made as my feet dug into the ledge before propelling my body forward along the ledge and I knew that I was close. I pushed myself back from the cliff ledge, stood, and continued to look for the window. I descended into a small chasm, and there it was – my window to the sea.
After recording the most striking picturesque view my eyes had yet beheld, I returned to the remnants of O Jisan and considered the heat. The forecast had called for temperatures high near 80, but the temperature had risen above 80, and I knew this because my body was now communicating with my brain. I had not stopped for water as I had intended to do and I was thirsty. I looked up and down the road and thought about leaving to go for water, but the sound of the waves washing onto the rock below diverted my attention. I turned away from Kalaniana’ole Highway and walked over to a man-made wall of stone that appeared to have been built as a safety measure to protect the curious from toppling over the side of the cliff and down onto the sharp, abrasive lava stone below, or into the grand pacific if the tide was in. It was the tidal position that influenced my decision to postpone my trip for water.
I wanted to find a way down the jagged cliff to see the lava stone up close, but I also wanted to examine the two tidal pools I saw below me. I had recently read a magazine article by Jean-Michel Cousteau, the eldest son of the late ocean explorer – Jacques Cousteau, on the fate of our tide pools, and seeing the tidal pools below me reminded me of the article and amplified my curiosity. My curiosity would undoubtedly lead me right into trouble one day, but until I met with such a day, I knew that I would continue to go where my curiosity directed. I had been born with an innate sense of curiosity that had accompanied me through life. I believed it was one thing to obtain knowledge through books and scholars, but I had always thought that the experience one gains through self-pursuit and discovery are the most absolute knowledge. I considered some of the most intelligent people I knew, and they too were very curious.
I looked again at the waves breaking over the stone below me and wondered how long I would have on the lava stone beach before the tide rose. I knew that if I did not find a way down the cliff, and soon, it would not matter. I slipped my arms through the straps of my backpack, pulled the waist strap around my stomach and fastened the plastic buckle. I peered over the cliff again and followed it down with my eyes until the cliff met with the lava stone beach. After turning my back to the man-made wall and using my hands to push myself up and onto the ledge into a sitting position, I swung my feet over to the ocean side of the cliff. I lowered myself onto an uncertain mass of rocks that made up the steep and rocky cliff. This was the only way down to the lava stone beach, and I knew it was going to be a slow descent. I was testing the solidness of my fourth or fifth rock mass when some of the sweat that had amassed on my forehead rolled into my left eye.
My eye was tearing from the salty sweat mixture. I leaned my body against the side of the cliff and slipped two fingers under the rim of my sunglasses to rub the sting out of my eye and inadvertently knocked my sunglasses off my face. I watched with my right eye as my glasses fell and hit the lava stone below me. I leaned back into the cliff and continued to rub my stinging left eye. I glanced up to the top of the cliff, and for a moment I considered abandoning my pursuit, but the sun shot a painful beam of light into my eyes, causing my left eye to tear again. My descent had now become more about recovering my sunglasses, for the sake of my eyes, than about exploring the lava stone and tidal pools below me.
Twenty-five minutes later I recovered my glasses and began walking along the lava stone beach. I sensed that I was standing in a place that saw very little, if any, foot traffic, and the idea of being somewhere unknown to others excited me. I removed my backpack and set it up on a ledge to protect it from the waves that had already begun to increase in intensity and were now breaking over rocks that had been dry forty-five minutes earlier. I made a mental note of this but was in no hurry to depart from the moment I had descended into. I stood feet away from where the waves would rise and separate from the body of the ocean just before breaking over a natural barrier reef. I returned to the ledge where I had left my backpack to get my video camera to record the passionate surge of the waves.
Moments after I began recording the wave’s existence, the surge metamorphosed before my eyes and became a wave of violence. I turned the camera off. I had always, before now, considered mythology as I had fairy tales, entertaining, but I was convinced that I had just encountered the spirit of Poseidon, God of the Sea. My heart was pounding, and I was hot. I realized that I was no longer sweating. I looked again at the waves breaking over the barrier reef and imagined the waves breaking over my body, and if only ephemerally, my body was cool. I began looking for the tide pools I had seen from the cliffs above. My interest in the tidal pools had become more than scholarly curiosity, I needed to cool my body, and the tidal pools would provide the safest and least aggressive means to lower my core body temperature.
My mental return to Oahu was suddenly interrupted by a family that was out for a Sunday afternoon bicycle ride. They passed me talking and laughing, pedaling in the opposite direction of me. Realizing how thirsty I had become, I slowed my bike, coming to a stop. After guzzling half of the water in my water bottle, I sat still looking around the marsh on both sides of me. I returned my water bottle to its holder on my bike, sat upright and I smiled, relishing the effects that nature had on my writing mind. I turned my bicycle around and started pedaling back to where I had parked my Jeep. I had another journey ahead of me, and I could not wait to get home to write. My journeying into nature was precisely what I needed to return to my writer self.