Hawaii has its own particular spirit – mana that is decisive in its acceptance or rejection of anything or anyone trying to take root here.
It is written in Michener’s Hawaii:
“Nothing, nothing that ever existed on this island reached it easily. The rocks themselves were forced up fiery chimneys through miles of ocean. They burst in horrible agony onto the surface of the earth. The lichens that arrived came borne by storms. The birds limped in on deadened wings. Insects came only when accompanied by hurricanes, and even trees arrived in the dark belly of some wandering bird, or precariously perched upon the feathers of a thigh.
Timelessly, relentlessly, in storm and hunger and hurricane the island was given life, and this life was sustained only by constant new volcanic eruptions that spewed forth new lava that could be broken down into life-sustaining soil. In violence the island lived, and in violence a great beauty was born.”
It only makes sense that such an unforgiving land that took tens of millions of years for any living thing to reach would need some mystical selection process. Ancient Polynesian seafarers stole off under unfathomable starry skies in outrigger canoes. They introduced plants, animals, and customs from far off lands. The islands embraced some, and rejected others. Today people come easily. Quickly and without working for it, they feel some sort of peace, some fated connection to the place, and, whether they know it or not, the islands either accept or reject them.
It remains to be seen whether or not Maui will accept me. All I know is that I stand back in awe of it.
Along the northeastern shore of Maui, there’s a road that winds 50 miles or so through dense jungle and cliffside seascapes, past waterfalls, heiau, and hand-painted coconut stands to the side of the island that’s even simpler and more timeless than the rest. We spent last weekend there. The journey was about enjoying the drive, seeing friends, exposing Micah to his first overnight camping trip. But it was also a sort of communion with the aina.
Hawaii is not a place to get too sucked into routine or to stay too long away from sunshine or sea. It means you are becoming too far removed from whatever that mana is that brought you here in the first place. It’s everywhere, but it’s easiest to find in the most surreal of places – where the trees have leaves the size of kites or where volcanic eruptions have left the land looking more like Mars than Earth. Just as you’d visit a chiropractor to realign your spine, it’s helpful to make regular visits to Hana or any other powerful corner of the island – away from commerce and responsibility – to realign the soul.
Or maybe I’m making this all too dependent on Hawaii. Now that I think of it, this “soul realignment” could be necessary for anyone anywhere. It just so happens that some parts of Hawaii offer a very efficient place to do it. But no matter where you are, it’s beneficial from time to time to reacquaint yourself with whatever it is that realigns your soul, and in my case it’s getting away from the familiar and into someplace that smells of earth and suntanned skin. From an early age, when other kids knew they wanted to be a lawyer or an actress, I wasn’t quite sure what profession I wanted, but I knew I wanted to see the world. And not just backpack around Europe or do Semester at Sea, but get absolutely, devastatingly lost. I fancied myself Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, but my seven years would be a lifetime. Some “mana” was pulling me in not one direction, but in every direction.
When it was just me – without a baby or house or real, grown-up job – I could scratch this itch easily. Though he’s added an incredible amount of joy to our lives, he’s also burdened us with the hundred-things list we need to ask ourselves every time we leave the house: will he be warm? or cool? will it interfere with his sleep? and if so for how long will that interfere with our sanity? what time will it end? will I be able to set him down? what will we do if he’s not having it? what would someone who knows what they’re doing do? did I bring the bib, the wipes, the freaking ergobaby (it’s not important you know what that is). For someone who thrives on wind-in-my-hair freedom, Micah can be a bit of a buzz-kill.
But I wonder to what extent the boundaries are in our mind. We often fear the unfamiliar, or think anything different from the way your own parents did it or the crazy ladies on babycenter.com do it or your friends do it is impossible. A baby comes and you feel this extreme sense of responsibility that brings this illogical fear of doing even the tiniest thing wrong. You’re told not to even give him a drop of formula much less have an adventure. You can’t put a baby in the middle of Seven Years in Tibet! But what if you did? The 2010 documentary Babies shows babies in their first year being raised around the world, and they all – whether they’re strapped to the back of motorbikes or playing in the dirt with goats or in their fancy marvel-of-engineering contraptions – they all make it through the year. Kids grow up healthy and happy all over the world with lifestyles of all different kinds. I’ve met some exceptionally wise and interesting people who’ve grown up on the road.
A larger family doesn’t have to slow down your adventures, and in fact, perhaps could be added incentive to live life to the fullest. Yes, it’s not just about you anymore, and that’s it exactly – it’s not just about you anymore. If you’re zapping all the adventure out of life, it’s not just yours affected. So maybe the full moon party in Koh Phangan isn’t in the cards anytime soon, but why not a jungle trek? Is there some rule that small children should stay sheltered in their child-proof houses? Micah gets bored out of his mind in our house. He’s already outgrown our house. (Granted it’s a studio – even the geckos have outgrown our house.)
In fact, one of the most beautiful things about babies is how every small thing – a blade of grass, the breeze, a revving engine – is wondrous. It’s simply amazing to see the world unfold before new life.
That urge I feel to go, go, go, and explore every little corner doesn’t have to be suppressed. Micah can handle it. Chances are he’s got the travel gene too, so why not nurture it now? I have this fantasy. Take a year off to hit the road. We’d divide the year in thirds. I’d get four months, David would get four, and Micah would get four. We’d each write down a place, keeping it secret from each other. Then we’d spend the year in those places, each of us carried along to where the others take us, a family on a great adventure together.