I now, with my wife, live in Hawaii. On the day I arrived we went swimming at a nearby beach and paddled our way from the shore. One local—belly down on his surf board—called out to us, “Aloha, welcome to Paradise,” as he slid by in the Kalapaki Bay.
Paradise is a strange reality when it’s also called home. Costa Rica was paradise, as was Mexico, and Panama. Kauai is paradise, too, even when my morning routine begins with smashing cock roaches and Cane Spiders, the sound like snapped celery. I regard it as the cost of living under palm trees and papayas with the scent of sea salt in the breeze.
Besides the bugs we have wild chickens who loiter and run free. They are plentiful because Hurricane Iwa in ’82 set many of them free. I often hear that phrase: “Because of the Hurricane….” Dogs run wild, too. They’ll chase the chickens and bite their necks and whip their bodies like squeaky toys. I guess their owners think there’s only so far they can go.
We live on German Hill. This isn’t written down on any map, but is how the locals refer to it. In 1881, a group of Germans came to the island, to this specific hill to settle and work the sugar plantation below it. They built a church from the second deck of the ship.
The church was destroyed. Because of the hurricane. They rebuilt it. An exact replica. The floor like the deck, the ceiling like its hull. Thus the liturgy becomes an actual working and a journey. We move somewhere in the process. Drift across oceans.
My wife and I jog through the old plantation fields that stretch for miles toward the mountains. Through rows of fruit trees and clay fields. Red dirt soft as sand stains our sweaty legs. We run down one trail and smell shit. We stop and find a hog in a cage so small it can’t turn around to look at us. We bend beneath another gate and end at a fenced pasture with a pale white horse who trots to us and neighs and whinnies as if it expected us all along. Dark rain clouds hover in the distance, but never reach our sun baked necks.
We cut through a neighbor’s backyard to the main road. The dogs hear us and give chase. My wife plants her feet and points her finger. Her words firm. I run.
I think, “He’s not so fast.” It nips at my high flung heels.
I tell my wife I was leading the dogs away from her.
She smiles and says nothing. We are on an island now and these stories are isolated, too. They are as free as the chickens and the dogs and horses and hogs. They can only go so far. My wife says, “We can’t share this experience.”
We explore as much of the island as we can. The North Shore is one place we like to hike. With many side trails to lush valleys and waterfalls. This is where I can understand the life of something isolated, like an island, or a man, and how it connects to everything and everyone else. What is means to be in a small cage in the middle of a big and empty space and where its source of life might be hidden and how to trek the dangers of its blessings.
It is strange that one can use Aloha for both hello and goodbye. As if coming and going were the same action. As if being together and being apart held a similar quality. Aloha, which is also love, whether together or separated by oceans, we still have this.
I say, Goodbye, my friends. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.
I say, Welcome to Paradise.
And I’m using the same word.