26 August – 7am – on the plane
I pull my gauzy Stevie Nicks sweater off my face to stare at a happy man with a proud orange marker. He is slowly drawing vertical lines on a blank page in his journal. ‘um….whatcha doin?” I ask. His answer is his easy smile. “It’s a flame!” I guess, “No it’s an ISLAND!” He smiles on and on as I play a game, seemingly to myself. He says he likes my hair, tells me he visited Hawaii for the first time only 3 months ago and is now relocating there….
I pick up my Kauai guidebook and read about the Menehune, a legendary race of small people not unlike the Fae. I have never been to Hawaii… I feel its magick now, something lush and untouched is coming my way…
I have found a heaven all my own… I moan into the grass, drag my toes into the sand… the waves are languid, slow and sharp, shadows of palms sway and make way for the afternoon sun on my bare back. My skin smells of sweet and salt, my eyes heavy. The world is a glorious bathtub and it is perfect.
Lihue airport is small. I had intended on waiting for Brady’s flight for 8 hours there but I got restless and jumped on the first bus I saw. It deposited me at a resort on the beach. I spent hours staring at a tree breathing, such an instant reset. Odd birds would visit, squawk, dip over to show their tail feathers and squawk on. Some had bright red heads and dark bodies. Some had faux finish-like textures. Others were of the chicken variety. They roamed around rooster-squeaking even though we are far from dawn. There’s a humid sweetness to the air here. This is a special place…
Dawn in paradise. Roosters screaming, feuding cats, sleepy fellow hostellers, a cool breeze through the dusty window. I met brady last night at the airport with a flower so fragrant that I could not keep it from my nose. It was Plumeria. I put it in my hair to keep it close. We picked up a rental car and found out that the one road to our hostel was a parking lot due to a fatal accident. Then it started raining and we pulled into a Chinese restaurant for dinner where roaches were the size of my hand. I ate a few bites of rice and reminded myself that this is all part of the experience.
“CASABLANCA!” “CASABLANCA!” I scream as I attack him in the sand at the shore’s edge. He’d just been snorkeling for the first time. “Did you see the stripies?!?” He wandered way out by the rocks as I floated above a menagerie of white fish, so translucent that I had to follow them, such soft buoyant scampering undine angels. I thrust out to another spot, my pink hair clouding my mask, more flattened hockey puck fish. If I played dead they came up to me. I craved to swim with another sea turtle and went on a short fruitless search for one, opting instead to lay on frothy churning sand in the shore’s wake blessed out between sea, earth and sky watching brady twist in exploration among the rocks. Afterwards we found a shady spot between palm trees to read and relax, side by side in our afternoon silence. The waves pounded me in such a way that I had to listen. I lay down, closed my eyes and sank beneath the sand, rolling into sleep, content and deep…. Emerging only to find hours gone. I was in such a state, a waking dream and my love was out on the rocks and he was beautiful. He saw me and he smiled….
“our love… is like the flowers… the sun, the sea and the hours…” new order blares out and the sun has just set and all the sky is feathers and silouettes… it’s our anniversary tonight… 4 years together… i bought a new dress today and celebrated by spinning in the streets of kapa’a. we heard jazz playing and saw an old man with an antique saxaphone.
last night it poured rain on our tent at haena beach. the roar of the ocean, the pounding rain, the relentless wind and us awake, listening in the dark curled like cozy cats. at dawn, i slipped out of the tent and into sunshowers. i nearly screamed in ecstacy at the most colorful rainbow i’ve ever seen in my life. there was a wall of trees far up a flat mountain. its roots hanging down like tarzan. the wide deep cave at the base was spooky but i explored anyway. tonight we will strap on headlamps and be spelunkers there… but first we are going to the local fair… i hope to overdose on cotton candy and ride the ferris wheel…
With new sacred friends at Ke’e beach. Caylee dances in the dark to Edan’s guitar, a few hours before we all head out for a daring journey to hike 11 miles into Kalilau Valley. Big rain drops graze my eyelashes and Brady is cooking fish on an open fire.
Yesterday we saw two kids hitchhiking by the side of the road near Kapa’a. “Let’s pick them up!” and so we did. 19 and 20 years old, Wesley and Caylee from Montana. They had been fasting the day before and asked if we could take them to a natural food store for breakfast. Standing there at the entrance was a dreadlocked man with pure eyes, crisp and glowing in a white soft tunic-type shirt. His name was Edan and he’d been in Thailand for a year, returning to Kauai just then, no plans, just pure eyes and a resounding calm. We all sat in a circle and talked easy and something was growing in that short time… We all felt it. Edan smiled and said we should all take a journey together. Kalilau Valley was our destination. We would go for just a few days, the others wanted to stay for a few weeks. We bought food and water, tried to secure kayaks but they fell thru, opting instead to hike it, step by step.
We stopped in to see his friend, Cole to drop off their worldly possessions.
“That there is the prince of Kauai’ Eden said as we left him.
“What makes him a prince?” I asked.
“He is consistent with his love.” He beamed.
Cole warned of treachery on the journey. There had been wildfires, landslides. “It’s like in the movie ‘Cliffhanger’. Sly Stallone baby! Holding onto rocks above the sea!” and he left us with the advice of using two sticks to get through it. “TWO STICKS!” he repeated “BE CAREFUL!” he warned.
I lay in the tent now with his voice echoing in my head. My stomach sinks and surges, butterflies set in… and still Caylee dances in the sand… 5 hiking sticks just appeared for us here on the beach. There are 5 of us. Fate decrees our journey together. We will leave in the morning.
I awoke forever changed. The 5 of us set up camp in 3 tents just inches from the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. We arrived to the 8 mile point between Ke’e and Kalilau at dusk last night exhausted, sunburned and hungry. The last mile of yesterday’s journey involved traversing a rock face straight down and hopping over areas where landslides recently washed out the trail. My extreme fear of heights caused a meltdown. I stood on top of the mountain and looked down at the switchback path straight down with waves churning and crashing just inches from the edge and I sat down paralyzed. When I saw what I had agreed to conquer and when I looked into the eyes of my new friends, I knew I had to do it. Wesley guided me down step by step. Tears fell off my nose and I tried not to look down. I focused only on his toes and fought my fear with every ounce of spirit I had within me. Brady later would tell me how scared he was as well but for that mile all I could do is shuffle and focus, blinded by tears.
A mantra screamed in my head and then out my lips.
“Strength!” I said as I stabbed the hiking stick in my right hand into the gravelly earth.
“Courage!” with my left. Over and over until we reached mile 8. It was the scariest thing I had ever done in my entire life. Scarier than enduring bombs in the Middle East for 2 years, scarier than running from my mother as a girl. Mortality was in my face and I was at the helm.
Dawn lights up the sky. The ocean swells up and down like breath. Birdsong on the cliffs like windchime. We are perched so high above that the waves, so far out there in such vast everythingness that we can see the curvature of the earth, that bowed horizon and the clouds are shaped like dragons with the sun as its eye. Every inch of me is bruised, filthy and hurts. The wind whips my braids into my eyes and I breathe deep. There is still more of the trail to conquer. 2 more miles until we reach the valley. With strength and courage, I mount my pack.
The night before we began the hike, we visited a sacred cave near the trailhead called the ‘blue room’. We held hands in the dark, our chanting echoed off the walls. We anointed ourselves with the water and my butterflies were satiated for a short time.
Edan spoke loudly his gratitude to God there. “MORE LIFE!” he screamed….and I whispered it too…. more life….
I remembered this as I struggled with my fear coming down the mountain… don’t fall, don’t fall, strength and courage, more life…
We’ve reached our destination, the valley, the garden of Eden. Baby goats , blue dragonflies and monarch butterflies greeted us. We hiked another 20 minutes into the jungle and set up camp next to a waterfall. Brady & I passed out and the others went to explore. They left a machete stuck in a tree with wood piled high, the beginnings of a perfect fire for tonight. These are pure nature spirits that we share our journey with. They are resourceful, positive people with adventure and kindness as their guide.
I am out in the world again, at nature’s mercy and direction. I am awake within the two universes of day and night and the creatures within them stir me in a way I tend to deny in the default world. Delicate natural spirals blaze into my skin. I am one big scab, one pulsing proud drop in the ocean of life. I am in one of the most untouched and beautiful places on earth with no certain way home.
I rub pure coconut oil on my skin and lay my head against a rock, a slave to the deafening sound of waterfalls. Jaw bones of a recently sacrified goat lies next to me among fallen seeds, crisp leaves and prehistoric plantlife. I have yet to see a centipede or the spiders that we were told are as big as your hand and jump out at you. I lay down and breathe. I made it. I am safe for now. I squint my eyes to the sun coming at me through the jungle trees and make rainbows.
Stranded on a tropical island eating peanut butter by the thumbful. We waited all day on the beach for a boat back to Ke’e but no one came. As beautiful as Kalilau Valley is, I am done hiking for this trip. I can balance on no more stones in rushing rivers. I can scale no more rock faces straight down to certain death. I want a goddamn pina colada and a break from this episode of ‘survivor pixie.’ The lessons are too many, too strong here.
Today was thankfully a bit more relaxed. We awoke next to a rushing waterfall, made mango pancakes over a campfire and met ‘the mayor’ who offered us food in the kitchen of the sanctuary, a clearing in the jungle for hippies in the know where guitars are always alight and there are pots full of goodness. Cheese and beans and homemade bread were waiting and it was heaven.
We then hiked to the beach where we sat under a tree as rain fell around us; talk of out of body experiences and assurances that a boat will eventually come… It’s amazing the focus of life in the jugle…. A day centers mostly on food. Water is no problem, cup held out to a waterfall and it’s done but food is the energy sustainer and is a main event.
Last night at dusk, Caylee, Wes and Edan giddily appeared from between the trees holding a butterfly net filled with shrimp and figs. They excitedly talked about a man they’d met there called Benji who has lived in the valley for 6 years. “What abundance! Have a fig!” I’d never eaten a fig before, much less in a jungle where it was born. It was delicious but the insides reminded me of things I see on medical tv.
Benji himself soon appeared carrying a wooden basket with flowers and greens.
“Do you have a garden?” I asked and he laughed and looked around like an elf gesturing to the paradise we were standing in.
“I picked these up on my walk over here,” he said.
Dandelions, hibiscus, leaves of citrus trees and other edible flowers. Edan cut up garlic and added spices to a simmering pot of rice. Headlamp strapped to his head, leaning into his cutting board perched between rocks, occasionally shielding himself from campfire smoke. Brady played guitar and Benji told stories about people going crazy in the jungle.
Wide-eyed and riveted I asked, “Like MURDER crazy?!”
“Yes, like murder crazy.”
He talked on and on, more adventure tales as huge frogs jumped around us in the dark. Brady would shine a light on them and we’d watch them breathe deep, pulsing on their leathery sides like slow panic…and they they’d disappear with a hop and a thump. We ate the salad from a bag, leaves and fuzzy earth things that I have never tasted before. I would pull out a surprise salad member only to discover a flower and pop it in my mouth. Coconut oil was passed around, that supreme elixer that we used on our skin, in our salad and for cooking.
We were surprised to hear that Benji knew our friend Greg. Benji was hilarious, especially stoned. He did jungle rap and twisted his booty around like a sit and spin coming up with impressive rhymes about paradise life. He loves music in a way that seems like a need as apparently it’s rare to have music out here.
These wild mountain people have such carefree spirits, no attachments to anything. It’s refreshing to experience it for some time but my world is so different…
The sun is now at its ending for the day. I am fighting a feeling of hopelessness… If a boat doesn’t come tomorrow, I will have to hike back out of here and I simply cannot do it. I will think good rescue thoughts, happy waterfall thoughts. For now, I will gather sticks and make a fire to set wishes alight… my peanut butter is almost gone.
Day two of waiting for a boat. We woke at dawn, packed up our tent and sat side by side with tapestries over our heads and shoulders staring at the open ocean hoping a boat would come. We waited there discouraged for hours throwing pieces of apple to crabs and drawing boats in the sand. When we were hungry we threw a package of Indian food on the sand for a while. The sun warmed it and we ate it under the tree. We saw 3 naked figures running and yelping glee into the sea. “There they are…” we said and we smiled for the first time that day. They sat with us under the tree for some time and then they left.
A white kayak came ashore then and two men jumped out to drag it into a sea cave. Brady approached them asking if they if they would take at least one of us back to Ke’e but they were of the ‘you got yourself into it, now you get yourself out of it’ vibe, which I am prepared to subscribe to if need be. Brady thought it possibly hopeless and went to forage for another kayak near the sanctuary. I sat there kicking rocks all grumpy faerie-like and hungry. I just couldn’t shake the heavies. I looked around me, realizing I was in the garden of eden and yet was unable to fully enjoy it because I was so focused on a sure thing, on returning, on the car parked in a precarious place that the locals might vandalize, to our suitcases which we left at the Marriott for safekeeping, focused on my father that was expecting me back that day.
I was not present. So I stopped kicking things and asked the waterfall what to do. She said to take a walk, to leave my stuff and my burden behind and simply walk… So I walked… Soon I found myself in a circle of people talking philosophy. A Hawaiian native, his German girlfriend, the two kayakers named Hugh and Koa and a new friend, David. We’d all just met and the conversation awakened something in me. I vented my story and they all smiled assuring me that there was a reason I’m here. They mirrored the waterfall and told me to go exploring.
David said he wanted to show me something unreal. A pulse of excitement grew. We walked to a cave where we stopped between two boulders. There were small rocks of descending sizes and then ascending sizes. There was art in the sand. “It starts here,” he said smiling…. And my eyes opened wide. My camera starting clicking for the first time since our arrival to Kalilau. I followed the line of rocks and when I looked up there was this glorious display of cairns and swirlies made of rocks. And a parked kayak that he thought was disrespectful but I thought quite artful. Stalagmites dripped around us as we added to the cairns within the cave. “It’s like Jenga!” I said. And left my offering there. I then felt so happy I jumped a lot and felt back in my game. Brady had been on his own adventures that day too and when we met back up we had much to share and I took him to the cairn caves and we did Casablanca all over the place.
We agreed to give up, to let go. We made quinoa with David and Mike from Switzerland and made love in the cave with stars shining bright. The sea was pounding in front of us, echoing back inside the chamber of the cave and reverberating all around us. We slept on the sand wrapped in each other and awoke at dawn.
This dawn was not one of desperation like the days before but one of colors. Purple and blues came in horizontal lines and the saturated green of the valley lit up with sun before reaching us. I got it. I understood. I had listened to the waterfall.
Koa stood with his arms on his waist eyeing the waves and then walked boldly to me “You ready?” He was going to rescue me. Brady would have to walk back. I beamed, packed my camera in plastic, wrapping it psychic protection ‘Be safe. Make it back.’ Circles and circles and a kiss. I turned to Brady and handed him the small backpack with water and food. ‘Be safe. Make it back.’ Circles and circles and a kiss. I put all our heavy stuff in the back of the kayak, attached only by bungee cords and jumped in.
Koa taught me how to paddle, told me of his bad elbow and that he’d be steering from the back. The waves were shorebreak waves and we had to time it just right to keep from flipping. A rush and a push and we were floating. I paddled strong, leaning forward, scooping the oar in, leaning back pulling and pushing. My arm muscles burned. The ocean sprayed into my eyes. The wind picked up and the waves were choppy. We ducked into a sea cave with a waterfall as the curtain. The freshwater was cold and powerful. It fell on me like a sheet and stayed on me for a timeless moment, forcing me to listen. It was so invigorating that I shouted faerie bellows into the cave and Koa shouted too.
There were two other kayakers in the cave. “You made it out!” they said, having been up at the sanctuary, sorry to say they only had one-seater kayaks. They too where heading back to Ke’e and so we journeyed together. In one cave there was a hole in the roof and a waterfall fell through it. Koa said that at a certain time of the day the sun shines in and it is pure magick. He also said that it’s a blessing to go through a waterfall in a cave. I felt blessed. I sent energy to Brady. I felt him going through mile 8. I heard it’s easier going up than it was going down and his pack was light. I knew he was going to be fine.
Koa and I talked of photography, of marriage, of travel. I told him what I learned and how grateful I was of him taking me back to Ke’e. He waited on the sand while I drove to Hanalei to get us breakfast. I sent a breakfast taco back with him to give to Hugh as I didn’t get to say goodbye. Roosters and chickens were running around the beach. Koa caught two of them, put his hand over their eyes and they went limp. He tied them together by their feet, hung them upside down while we talked and then took them back with him in his boat to cook for dinner that night.
I sat alone on the beach stunned like a school of fish meeting a whale’s tail and poured myself a glass of wine. My eyes were to the trailhead waiting for Brady’s smiling face to emerge. After some time staring at the ocean, my gaze wandered back to the trailhead and there he was looking for me. Like a movie we ran to each other and we were back together and we were safe.
I immediately called my father. He said he was going to wait a day to call the coast guard and was happy to hear we were ok. We snuck into the Marriott and sank into the hot tub. We ate at Duke’s. We walked like honeymooners hip to hip along tiki-lit pathways and slept that night at Anahola.
The next day, our last day on Kauai, we explored the south and west of the island. At sunset we found ourselves at Spouting Horn which is a blow hole on a lava shelf. Guidebooks warn of the sea sucking you in if you stand on the lava shelf but at this point, being superhuman, we stood on the lava shelf anyhow. The sunset was unreal with the powerful geiser shooting up and the colors of the sky. We kissed a lot and set up camp at Koke’e State Park. 4000 feet up a mountain on the west side, it was much colder than the other campgrounds we’d stayed at. We spooned and shivered all night, not sleeping much. It was our last night together for 2 weeks…
We took a red-eye flight that night, landing back into LAX at 5am. I didn’t sleep on the plane despite a sleeping pill, too much swirling in my head. A rush home, 2 hours to pack for 2 weeks of shooting in Seattle, Minneapolis and Detroit and then a rush to Burbank airport for my 10am flight to Portland.
Roger from Circle 23 Photography met me there. He was manic, hilarious and touched with the same photo bug as me. One large iced coffee and it was a photography free for all. I was on the other side of the camera for a change. An odd but fun experience. I laughed at myself a lot, reminding myself to just be a model, to leave the vision to someone else. Roger also had to remind me and I was thankful for the experience. Modeling and receiving direction makes me a better photographer I think. Chris Lang, whose studio we were in and she showed up just in time to help lather me up in black paint. I was covered in it from my waist to my neck. Various poses as Chris threw colored powdered chalk at me. Such fun! And what a learning experience! ☺
I was exhausted and slept dead at Roger and Carolee’s house that night. 3 black kitties almost snuggled me but didn’t. The next morning, I took a 3 hour train to Seattle. I sat next to kind old woman visiting her granddaughter. I always feel like I’m in the 1920’s when I’m on a train like that. Swaying curtains, the sounds, the motion. Patrick, my Robin Hood friend, was waiting for me on the other side. Happy, content, oatmeal-loving, archer, unicorn Patrick. We drove around Seattle lost for a while and then stopped into Whole Foods for picnic supplies. He’d never had quinoa and I was hell bent on adding it to his oatmeal.
As we were about to leave, someone touched my arm. I looked into the eyes of someone that I thought I knew. Nothing else I recognized. I thought at first this person bumped into me by accident and just wanted to say he was sorry… but no he just stood there. His blank face twisted up with a raised eyebrow and a hint of a grin and I knew it was Jesse, an important love of mine from 1999, the most untamed and twisted relationship I had ever experienced. Fire and debauchery and learning and heat and anger all wrapped up in this sacred binding unaccounted for come ending times. Strange what lingers after so much time. He had challenged me in a way that made me run, hurt me in ways unfathomable. I had been so affected by what he unmasked within me and that I made sure my next relationship was nothing like it. And here I am now with a perfect balance of the two that speaks to me in a way that is real in the way Jesse and I never could be. We were dangerous, we were fun, we were important…. but we weren’t real in the way I feel now. The love I have now has such a strong foundation. Friendship, understanding and expression are the elements that propel Brady and I in our happiness which is constant and ascending for years now. We have our fun but the boundaries are clear and sacred.
Looking into Jesse’s eyes, my heart spasmed and stopped, realizing what time does.
“I’m freaking out,” I said to him.
“Me too.” he said.
Silence and staring.
“Should we leave it at that then?”
And we turned around and walked our separate ways.
“Tree. Tree. Tree. Tree.” I craved and Patrick walked me to a tree not understanding. We had our picnic but I couldn’t taste my food.
Later that night I met up with Heidi, my friend of 16 years, who is getting married on Sunday. Her hair is long, her smile wide, her fiancé adorable. They apparently met when they were 12 years old. So powerful to realize we are all just marbles clanging into each other by chance, and again by fate, all for the sake of learning…