The Jungles of Waimanu

bamboo

Five years on the Big Island, so deep in these valleys.

His campsite empty now, simple and clean. The trails leading off to the stream, to his plants, to his bathroom, all smooth and manicured. The wall of reddish rock standing tall behind his flat tent clearing, a good dry cave hidden in the bushes there. Collin had wrapped his tent and his cooking pots, his tarps and his water jugs, and stuffed them deep into the cave. They should be safe there for as long as he might be away. His memories seemed strange. That he might have grown up in a regular home. A big house. Too much electricity and wasted water. Over eating. So much garbage each week. It seemed foreign and wrong to think that his childhood had been normal. And that normal was so wasteful. It seemed wrong to him that his parents could have raised their kids in that false environment. Collin stood there, staring at his empty campsite, his home. He was tall and slim. A tiny backpack all he needed. Barefoot. His legs excited to cover miles today. He let his eyes play over everything. Now just a simple clearing with clues, a cold fire pit, some rockwork, those smooth flat spaces, the clean trails, and the solid earth that been lived on, a contrast to the soft forest floor of moss and leaves, ferns and trees. Sunlight warm and lovely filtered down through the canopy.

He had loved this home, but it was time to go.

Collin had moved to the Big Island at eighteen. He picked UH Hilo because Uncle Bo had gone there. It seemed like a natural transition after high school. He never had a long-term plan. He was living in the present. Collin had rented a room on his parents’ dime, all smiles and college pride. He used an old bicycle to get to classes. In his first month there, in the blink of an eye, he had been enchanted by a beautiful girl.

She had introduced herself as Ku’u. Ku’u Lehua. They had been two of seven students in a small Hawaiian Studies class. For both of them, it was their favorite class. Collin and Ku’u sat across the circle from each other in that classroom, and they had agreed strongly on each of the topics their teacher raised. They had seen eye to eye from the beginning. Ku’u would give him these beautiful smiles across the classroom. Glowing and warm. They were teenagers convinced that they were on top of everything in their world. Ku’u had been raised in Hilo. She had a nice car and a job. She invited him to join her on weekend adventures. She showed Collin the best of her island. And Collin was easily swept into the magic of the Big Island. He loved the cold rivers and the vast lava flows. He loved staring up into the mountains and seeing snow. He loved that his guide was a beautiful, happy, strong, proud girl.

They would sit together, their shoulders wrapped in a shared blanket and watch the night sky. He told her, in soft tones, about the best of his home on Maui. He told her of hunting alone in his mountains. He told her of his time working alongside his family on Kaho’olawe.  She listened closely and kissed his closed eyes. Collin and Ku’u fell easily into love.

As their first year of college ended and summer began, they headed off together for a long weekend camping trip in Waipio.

That camping trip had gone wrong.

Collin knew now that they hadn’t been ready for life together outside of college. They had been too young.

Collin had gone on the camping trip with his girlfriend hoping for peace and quiet. His lovely Ku’u wanted to use the time down in Waipio Valley for intense discussions and plans.

Ku’u had told Collin of her dreams. She said that she wanted to finish her degree on Oahu. Perhaps aim for Law School, find a career. She talked of the possibility of spending time in California or New York, perhaps a master’s degree, or an important job. She whispered in his ear that she wanted three children, a dog, a home. She talked and talked, revising her plans, focusing her dreams. Always placing Collin alongside her, whether it was UH Manoa or Manhattan.

She had asked for his dreams and aspirations in return. To compare notes. To collaborate. Collin’s mumbled answers didn’t line up. He wasn’t prepared for the conversation and he tried to weasel out. He shrugged and went pouty. He stared into the campfire and went silent. She talked gently to him. She tried to inspire him to create his own future. Collin barked at her. He told her to mind her own business. He told her to leave him alone. He snapped at her like a cornered animal. Ku’u couldn’t believe it. She was taken aback. She expected more from him.

Collin had smeared memories of the argument that erupted. He remembered that they had both been yelling. She had knocked over some stones that he had carefully balanced. She had tossed supplies off into the woods. She had gone overboard.

Then she left. She turned her back on Collin, flipped him the bird, and walked from the valley alone. The rest of the day went by in silence. Collin sat there angry and hurt. He felt hollow. He felt wronged. He missed her, and wished that he might be able to go back and do it different. He prayed that she would come back.

He sat there by the cold dead fire for hours. She didn’t return. His self-pity turned to disgust. And his wish for Ku’u to come back to him, turned to hard stone. Collin decided that he would stay there in the woods. She had abandoned him there. She had driven back to Hilo. And so be it. He would stay there in the valley.

That evening Collin packed up his camp and moved deeper into the mountains. Days later, hungry and out of food, moving even deeper into the valleys, he stumbled into a tall, overgrown patch of marijuana. He dropped his bags and was taken by the power of the sight in front of him. He knew right away that the field had been abandoned, forgotten, and Collin felt completely right and natural as he found a safe spot for his gear, filled his canteen at the nearby stream, and started to carefully clear away the jungle that was taking over this farm. His farm. He was amazed to find banana, kalo, an ulu tree, two mature avocado trees. He found a hillside covered in sweet potato. He found a lovely spot to set up his tent, his home. And then time blurred. Happy, quiet weeks turned to peaceful, meditative months. Seasons shifted and then shifted again. Collin was alone. Going back to UH Hilo held a bitter taste in his mouth. From his perch in Waimanu he saw society as flawed. His parents and siblings were flawed. His old life was a lie.

Collin would walk back down to Waipio a handful of times each year. He would find a connection. He would sell his crop. He would walk down there to the ocean, every few months, on clear mornings, and make friends with the campers. Listen to their stories of the world. Trade his buds for supplies. Give some away. Trade some for cash.

Collin would swim at the beach and then happily move back into the mountains, alone, with a small bundle. Satisfied. He was different now, hardened and content, perhaps only slightly bitter at the world.

And then, like a revelation, with a summer harvest finished, his dry cave full of sticky flowers, three or four years spent back in that valley, Collin realized that it was his duty, his calling, to return to Kaho’olawe. It was his new mission, to go back to the lonely island, and to live there.

When he made this decision, out of the blue really, Collin became happier than normal. He smiled. His life had meaning and purpose again. He felt strong and proud that he had lived so well on his own. He was a self sufficient adult. He had graduated from his own University. He cleaned up his camp, said a silent good-bye to the upper valley that he had called home for so long, and began a comfortable walk back towards civilization. He slept that night on the beach at Waipio. The next morning, as the sun slowly climbed up, Collin climbed up, and they met, sweating on the paved road south of the valley. He sat up there in hot, dry grass looking down across the black asphalt. The parked cars. The tourists. He had just traded a ten pound duffle bag full of semi-dry buds for a wad of money. He felt a little sick. A little bit anxious, but he was done.

Collin didn’t want to live on the Big Island anymore. He needed to get off the island and keep moving towards his destination. Deep in his head a voice said that he would come back. His campsite, his home, would be there. He had buried a tin with a gallon zip lock full of seeds. He had a high mountain grove of males and females that would prosper up there, on their own, forever.

He knew that if he needed to, he could always return to Waimanu.

Collin was weathered and leathery. His hair was long and tangled. His beard was long and already had streaks of gray. He looked fifty but he was only 24. Up on the road, with its yellow paint, tourist cars and street signs, Collin wished he had a pair of scissors. He was self conscious. It was a strange and foreign emotion for someone who spent months alone. His body was lean and ropy, almost skeletal. His spine and his ribs, his hips and his elbows protruded. He was different from the humans in normal society.

Collin sat there in the sun with his tiny backpack of supplies, the pair of tattered shorts he was wearing and that was all.

He had the cash in his pocket and it would be enough. It would be more than enough.

Collin walked for an hour down the hot road with his thumb out, hitching for a ride. That’s a long time to hitch on a beautiful day along the Hamakua Coastline. Usually people are good at picking up strangers. Cars zipped by him not feeling like the barefoot, dark, long-haired, homeless looking man would be great company. He was smiling and content. He looked wild.

Eventually, a raised pickup truck with some big bruddahs who weren’t afraid of anyone or anything pulled over and pointed thumbs towards the truck’s bed. The huge guy who was sitting shotgun stuck his bald head out the window, smiled, and said, “Hilo”. Not a question.

Collin nodded and smiled, gave a thumbs up and then shot a pinky out to make a shaka, and climbed into the back of the truck. He wasn’t exactly sure how his travels would pan out. But his plan was to make it, eventually to Makena on the South facing side of Maui. He was going to get a little boat, a canoe maybe… He was going to pile up some good supplies, food, water… and cross the channel to Kaho’olawe and set up camp.

Collin hadn’t checked in with anyone. He had no idea what was going on on Kaho’olawe. He hadn’t checked in with society in years. He figured that things hadn’t changed… things were probably going at their same slow, pace.

Probably the old base camp at Honokanai’a, on the west end of the island was still the only place where people stayed. Collin let his memory of the old army buildings fall away and a more cherished image materialized in his head of steep gullies and protected beaches, and his desire was to go and find a little cove to call his own. He knew that sweet drinking water would be his biggest issue. He knew that surviving would be different than his life back in Waimanu.

“KoheMalamaLama,” Collin said into the wind. He looked out at the Horizon. He yearned to see other islands. His childhood had always held islands on the Horizon. Always Molokai. Usually Lanai. And sometimes, during certain trips and occasions, he could stare south at Kaho’olawe.

A smile was firm on Collin’s face when the pickup truck pulled into a gas station in Town. Collin climbed down stiffly. He handed the driver two twenties folded in half. “Thanks, have a good one,” he said. He smiled and headed off on foot. He figured he should buy a shirt and some slippers… and a pair of scissors.

That night, sleeping down by the ocean with the strange feeling of his face and head a lot lighter, his hair and beard trimmed short, Collin wrapped his brain around taking an airplane versus a boat to get to Maui. He preferred to travel by boat… but he wasn’t sure how much work it would be for him to cross to Kona side and look around, and maybe never connect with a captain.

Collin had stared at his old driver’s license, and it seemed fine. He figured the old ID and a pocket full of cash should be enough to get him on a flight.

The next morning, with a clean shirt, and a somewhat cleaner look, Collin hitchhiked to the Hilo Airport. He paid a hundred dollars cash for a twenty minute plane ride.

He was feeling great as he sat at the gate. It was an entertaining culture shock for him to leave the mountains and be back in normal society, watching all the different types of people. Standing in line to board the plane. Finding a seat and saying a polite, “Hello,” to the old aunty sitting two seats away at the window. He wondered if anyone might guess that he had been in the jungle for so long.

There was a magazine in the seat pocket.

Before the airplane began moving Collin was flipping through it. The images were eye candy. Beautiful women. Beautiful Beaches. He imagined himself in his little cove. He wondered how long it would take him to set up. He imagined a dwelling in the cool shade of a steep gully. Perhaps he would find a stream… who knew… Collin wondered dreamily if he would be able to paddle north to Maui and convince some bright-eyed girl to accompany him back to his new home. Somehow he understood that it would be easy.

The magazine had no mention of Kaho’olawe. No surprise. Collin put it back where he had found it, and looked sideways, across the aisle and through the window as the plane wheeled out to the runway, paused for a moment, and then throttled up, pushed to full speed, and floated up into the wind.

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