So Be It

weird flower night

For reasons I cannot explain, I was drawn into the garden. Perhaps it was the intoxicating smell that wended its way through the window and wound itself around my head. It could have been the sound of fairy chuckles barely audible above the chirps of coqui frogs. My willpower was subdued. I had not choice but to follow my own footsteps out the door. Under the shining stars I leaned forward to fill my lungs with a scent that countless fashion houses had attempted–and failed–to copy.  I peered inside this anomaly of nature and saw tiny white pistils like the teeth of piranhas or sharks yet soft, welcoming, daring me to nudge them with an inquisitive fingertip.

And then I found myself falling…falling…falling. I fell past Alice’s lacy pantaloons, past the White Rabbit’s tufted tail, deeper and deeper into a time and place that does not exist. Down was up. Yesterday was tomorrow. It was neither good nor bad; it just was.

Somewhere around the end of 2016, I had fallen down a similar chasm, dissociated myself from that truth on a fundamental level, the only level left when the impossible becomes possible and the ability to process truth is lost, so I told myself I didn’t have to. All I had to do was keep moving forward. And so I did. One foot in front of the other. Plod from Monday to Tuesday, from January to February, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. I bought a house in Hawaii. We packed. We said good-bye.

As I am slowly emerging from the fog, we are trying to make the transition from being visitors to being locals. So far, it still feels like we are on vacation, staying in a borrowed house, just waiting for the owners to come back and politely ask us to leave. We have not yet accepted that we live here. We will not have to empty the fridge and give back the keys. We will not have to return the car that isn’t rented. We will not have to go back to the airport until any of the hundreds of people who threatened to visit actually do.

In the meantime, we search for our place. We went to a community celebration of Queen Liliuokalani’s 180th birthday in Hilo yesterday. There was a lot of singing and ukulele playing (which I will learn to like…maybe), a taiko drum performance (which is why we went) and a mass hula dance, a showcase of a dozen hula schools which included a lot of cute little girls and one chubby grump of a boy.

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It reminded me–and didn’t–of my own small town childhood. While we had no purple hula dresses or seed bead necklaces or sacred leaf leis, we did have doting families and grave seriousness given to performances that only those families could appreciate. It gave me a wonderful feeling of belonging, realizing that those sentiments are universal.

Feeling buoyed, we went to the Hilo farmers’ market, where a man selling coffee asked if we were visitor or locals because we “had a local look”. I guess you start to look different when you aren’t wondering if one more string of puka shells will fit in your suitcase or whether that jar of honey will survive the gorillas in baggage handling. I smiled and said, “Locals, but only recently.” And he replied, “I’ve been here 10 years now. I still wake up every day and look out the window and think how great it is that I live in paradise.” I do that, every single morning. I wake up earlier than I want to because my subconscious wants to see the rising sun peeking through the trees behind our house, wants to smell the early morning wisps of sea breeze that make it this far upcountry, wants to hear the coqui frogs closing up shop and giving way to birdsong.

I am still in a fog most of the time; they say sometimes it never goes away. Once you’ve been faced with your own mortality, repeatedly, you start to see the world in a different way. Beyond the basic tenets of good manners, I’ve never cared much what other people think. Now I don’t care at all. Always with an awareness of consideration and compassion for others, I must make my way on my own terms. As the wise man said, “None of us are getting out of here alive.” I aim to make the best of life while I can. If that makes me selfish, so be it.

ocean me

Full Circle

3 year old me

In the dusty corners of ancient history, a tow headed little girl lived in a big brick house five miles outside of Berlin, Pennsylvania. As of 2016, the town’s population was 2006. It was a nice place to live. I remember a bank or two, a hardware store, an A&P, lots of churches, the potato chip factory, lots of farmers. There was open space, air to breathe. My mother was the original organic farmer, growing food chemical-free in her garden. We got milk from an udder, not a plastic bottle, learned how to make butter. An old man down the road kept bees and brought us honeycomb. The air was clear and sweet. It was its own version of paradise and a very good place to be a little girl.

But there comes a time to move on. Through the vagaries of time and chance, the little girl found herself living in Tokyo, one of the most densely populated places on the planet.

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If you look at UN statistics, Japan is only #39 on the list of world population densities. But don’t let statistics fool you. Japan may have a measly 335 people per square kilometer (ppsk) but remember that the entire country could fit into the area occupied by California, with maybe a couple of toes sticking off the end of the bed, and 75% of the land is beautiful but uninhabitable mountains. So 127 million souls are crammed into a few ocean side cities. For comparison, the population of the United States is only double that of Japan with a population density is 33 ppsk, mostly in the east and west although a few misguided souls straggled away from wagon trains in the late 19th century and ended up in Montana and Wyoming where they remain to this day, still wondering how they got there.

population map

For the record, and since I know you were wondering, the most populous countries based on population vs. area are Monaco and Macau, but most of the people in those countries are either working in casinos or losing money in them so let’s leave them to it. Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar follow closely on their heels, although perspective there depends on whether you ask the UN or the World Bank. Bahrain (#f6) is way up there, too, which surprises me. I feel like I’m constantly tripping people from China (#80, India is way more crowded at #28) but I’ve never met a single Bahranian, or at least none that admitted it. I have met several Montanans here in Hawaii, though, so I guess a few found their way out.

I had always thought of Berlin as a very small town and myself as something of a clod doodle for being from there, but now I find myself a resident of Pahoa, or to be more precise, I live five miles outside of Pahoa and the population has risen from 945 to 947 as of almost three weeks ago. Pahoa seems to be where many of the people who were at Woodstock ended up. There is organic farming out the wazoo. Honey is made by bees instead of bears. There are yoga classes at the community center, a serenity center, a yoga and meditation sanctuary. The air is clear and sweet.

The little girl, a little damaged but also a little stronger and certainly a little wiser, has learned that paradise is a state of mind, and she doesn’t mind one bit that she finds herself in this state, in every sense.

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