Sea Kayaking Na Pali Redux – Rolling With the Tao

by Nancy Soares on October 14, 2013

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
-Lao Tzu, “Tao Te Ching”

My experience on the Na Pali expedition was an exercise in how to roll when things don’t go as planned.

Na Pali in benign mode

Na Pali in benign mode

I had misgivings as soon as I arrived on Kauai and discovered 26 people signed up for the trip. Mark and Sasha did a great job as organizers but I had anticipated 16 paddlers tops which still seemed like way too many because I’m used to small maneuverable Tsunami-style groups. For me, things already weren’t going as planned.

Surf on Na Pali

Surf on Na Pali

We camped at Ha’ena Beach. All night wind and rain pounded our tents and the surf pounded the shore. Next day conditions were great for surfing and kite boarding but not so good for a trip down Na Pali in fully laden scuppers with 26 paddlers of vastly different levels of experience. Big swells, unusually rough conditions for June that only happen every five years or so, were predicted for several days. We’d have to wait to launch. Things continued not to go as planned.

Camping at the lo'i

Camping at the lo’i

After Ha’ena we needed a different place to stay for another three nights. The weather pinned us down that long. Fortunately, Mark had a friend on the island. Presley Wann manages a State-owned lo’i, the site of an ancient Hawaiian community. The locals have formed a committee (www.facebook.com/HMoMakana) to restore the lo’i to its traditional purpose – taro farming. They’re slowly clearing the land all the way to the sea and rebuilding the ancient walls exactly as they were originally laid out. We moved our gear to the new campsite and settled in to wait. This was not what any of us had planned.

Ancient walls waiting to be restored to their original function

Ancient walls waiting to be restored to their original function

We kept busy. I found myself looking at the taro patches. The taro enchanted me. The crickets sang, the wind sighed through the palms, and the taro leaves danced. The lo’i was like a little Eden. The cliff below which the lo’i lay was called “Makana” which means “gift” in Hawaiian. Here the ‘aina, “the land that feeds”, gave me a gift.

Makana

Makana

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
-William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

One evening, I was watching the taro turn gold in the sunlight. A heart-shaped leaf dipped in the wind. Its pointed tip just touched the surface of the surrounding water, creating concentric wavelets that multiplied and spread, shining in the light. It was one of those crystal moments when the universe slides into place and you feel like you could never be disappointed or unhappy again. Time stopped and a sense of great clarity descended. Suddenly everything I thought I needed to do was irrelevant and I lost all desire to paddle this trip.

It may look mundane, but this taro is magical!

It may look mundane, but this taro is magical!

In years past I’ve hiked the Kalalau trail three times, kayaked down the entire Na Pali coast and once I even swam down to the first pocket beach with Eric and his brother John when Eric and I were on our honeymoon. When I saw the faded green Kayak Kauai building again I found myself choking up. Thinking about how Micco, the owner, had guided Eric and me down Na Pali was emotional. Taking this trip with a lot of strangers (of 26 people I only knew five) was not what I needed just then.

Taro farming at Limahuli Botanical Garden

Taro farming at Limahuli Botanical Garden

The Hawaiians believe that taro is sentient. I do too because it told me very clearly to Go Home. At that crystal moment the trip was over for me. I’ve been running around ever since Eric died but suddenly the restless agitation vanished. I knew that just like the taro I have a place where I can grow and dance and put down roots and benefit my community. That place is home.

Maya before she caught "the bug"

Maya before she caught “the bug”

Meanwhile, Tsunami Ranger daughter Maya King got sick. She couldn’t paddle so Melinda her mom planned to stay behind with her. Although I was sorry for Maya, this was an opening for me. I asked Melinda if it was okay for me to hang with them. She said yes, so I told Mark and Sasha I was going to stay behind too. Not what any of us had planned but it was all good.

There are so many gifts
Still unopened from your birthday.
There are so many hand-crafted presents
That have been sent to you by God.
-Hafiz

Culture shock!!!

Culture shock!!!

Our companions eventually launched and made their way down the coast while Melinda, Maya, and I dragged our smelly wet selves and our gear to a hotel and began to repair the damage of five days and four nights of rain, wind, salt water and mosquitos. At Presley’s advice, the next day I drove up to Kalalau lookout.

Looking down at Kalalau Valley from 5,148'

Looking down at Kalalau Valley from 5,148′

Rolling along in a rented SUV, listening to reggae on Island Radio and eating musubi, for the first time on the trip I felt solid. When I got to the top of the mountain I looked down on Kalalau Valley where our group was camping. I had no regrets. Then I plunged into the the Alakai swamp, one of the wettest spots on earth, for a big hike.

3.5 miles in to the Alakai Swamp

3.5 miles in to the Alakai Swamp

That night Presley invited us to his house for a barbecue. Some cousins were in town from Oahu and the family was getting together. Colleen, Presley’s wife, made a delicious chicken curry. We had great conversations and met a grandson, two daughters, a fiancée plus cousins and uncles. Aloha prevailed. Not what we had planned but it was wonderful.

Presley gives us the lowdown on the lo'i

Presley gives us the lowdown on the lo’i

It’s hard to believe I ended up kayaking only one day on this trip. That was certainly not the plan but I still think the trip turned out great. I had the privilege of staying at the lo’i and spending time with people intimately connected to the land. I hung with Melinda and Maya, something I don’t often get to do. I hiked in the swamp, and did some productive thinking there. I went to Presley’s house for dinner and enjoyed Hawaiian ohana. And I had an epiphany triggered by taro. What’s not to like? I am reminded of something sea kayaker Justine Curgenven wrote about her aborted attempt to paddle around Isla Grande, Tierra Del Fuego: “Being stranded on land so much meant that we met and spent time with many wonderful people and were shown great kindness.” (Sea Kayaker Magazine, Dec. 2011.) There’s something to be said for Plan B.

Tom and Annie Hashimoto, caretakers of the lo'i

Tom and Annie Hashimoto, caretakers of the lo’i

I could have been disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way I planned. Instead, I let the little nudges from the universe guide me so while everyone else paddled Na Pali I had my own unique experience and it was amazing. So next time you get pinned down by weather or something frustrates your efforts to do what you think you ought to be doing don’t fret. Maybe your path is already laid at your feet. Maybe another adventure is right there waiting. Look for the signs. Roll with the Tao. There are so many gifts still unopened from your birthday…

Many thanks to Mark and Sasha and Melinda and Maya for understanding and rolling with me.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Summer Lull October 14, 2013 at 7:59 am

Nancy, I love this story and that you listened to your “being” and knew what to do for yourself. It does sound like a pivotal moment in time for you!! And like a wonderful time too!!

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Nancy Soares October 14, 2013 at 9:09 am

Hey Summer, thanks for reading and commenting! It was really funny – I had this odd sense of discomfort the whole time I was there and it was making me a little crazy and then boom! All of a sudden everything fell into place. Unfortunately I still had a busy summer ahead of me but I took the whole month of July off and stayed home. Now my adventures for the year are over I’ve committed to staying home for the next 2 months, maybe longer, to focus on yoga, martial arts, and my mom (it’ll be her first holiday season without my dad in 73 years!) Next year is going to be much more measured…

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Nan October 14, 2013 at 9:11 am

Nancy, oh so interesting and exciting,all rolled into one. You are so wise and take things in stride when needed. You could have fought the things that happened but instead you learned from them and had a excellent adventure out of it all. I am back at winterspring and learning things more strongly than before. Miss a ll of you. Please continue to send me your adventures as I also gain from them. You are such a strong and sensitive person. Love and god bless.nan

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Nancy Soares October 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

Hi Nan! I’m glad you enjoyed my adventure story. It was a toughie, but I have learned not to struggle. I’m glad to hear you’re back at Winterspring. I have thought of going back as well. I did do 2 sessions last fall and I can’t recommend them enough. For those of you reading these comments, Winterspring is a local grief support group for those of us who have lost loved ones. The woman who recommended this group to me said that they literally “saved her life”. For me, I learned that as they say, “The only way out is through”. That really resonated with me as a surf kayaker. You can’t fight the waves; they’ll kick your ass. You can only learn how to flow with them.

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Moulton Avery October 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Thanks for a beautiful story, Nancy. I’m a great believer in listening to the wee voice. It’s not easy to back off the plan – listening to your heart showed you the way. Friendship is what makes life worth living.

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Nancy Soares October 17, 2013 at 9:40 am

Hi Moulton, good to hear from you as always. Listening…I think that when Eric died it knocked me so far off my feet that I had to learn how to live in space and it’s so different that listening is the only helpful thing. The quieter I am the more intently I can listen and the more intently I listen the more I learn how to live in this new place. Friendship…interestingly we can’t be friends if we don’t listen to each other, even if we don’t always like what we hear. Your comment packed a lot of punch – I will be making “listen” a mantra. Thanks!

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Tony Moore October 30, 2013 at 9:58 am

Thanks for the article, Nancy…we lose so much when we are not open to unplanned circumstances, and you really went with the flow, and gained a lot from the experiences. Paraphrasing a refrigerator magnet my wife put up, ” Life is not waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain”

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Nancy Soares October 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm

And thank you Tony, for sharing your and your wife’s “fridge philosophy”! I have always been a rain dancer, even when I was a little girl, so I can relate. Incidentally, that reminds me of Gene Kelly singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. What a beautiful image! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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