“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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