Jim and Pono were talking quietly as they walked back downhill behind the others. Miriam watched them all leave the forest, and she was confused.
She jogged down to Jim and Pono and interrupted their conversation.
“Um, what about the safety meeting?” she asked.
Pono looked back at the trees confused, he smiled at her, “That was it.”
“oh,” she said quietly. “Should I know anything… ? I’ve never been on one of these boats.”
Pono nodded, “Oh yeah, I was just getting to that. You’ll start inside the canoe, the seat right behind the mast. Number three. Once we’re out there,” he nodded to the open ocean, “you’ll climb out on the tramp with Jim. He’ll teach you how to sheet.”
Pono pointed at a mesh bag tied to the trampoline, “There’s lifejackets here if you like one. The main thing is just don’t fall off the boat. Hold on tight. If you fall overboard you might just have to swim with the wind back to shore. It can be challenging to stop and turn the canoe around when the trades are like this.”
He saw her nodding, her eyes glued on the bag of lifejackets, and he quickly loosened the string and pulled one out for her. Miriam put on the lifejacket and tied it tight. She hadn’t been this stoned in months, maybe years.
Pono walked to the rest of his crew and assigned positions. Nakoa’s boat was being pushed down to the water’s edge. Miriam wished she had her camera. The first boat hit the water and the crew slid on-board, the wind filled the one triangular sail and the boat was pulled fast from shore. She watched Nakoa place his paddle against the side of the canoe and lean into it. He was flexing, leaning forward, speaking confidently under his breath and Miriam had to snap to attention and run to her own boat as the crew began pushing their canoe down into the sea.
They shot out from the beach and Miriam heard both Jim and Pono hoot with the speed. Pono sang a gruff, musical chant in Hawaiian and Miriam felt chicken skin come on strong. Yesterday she had been brought to shore here in a small canoe, and today she was flying out to sea in one. It felt good to her in a way she could only guess was tied to her family’s blood. She thought of her grandfather, who had been a huge part of her daily life until she was seven. He had been a large Hawaiian who had spent the majority of his life in Hilo. He would take her to the ocean to fish, and occasionally they would go out on a friend’s boat. Miriam hadn’t thought about it in years, but she had a clear image now of watching canoes slide by her while she fished from a tiny anchored boat, and the paddlers calling out hello to her grandpa and his buddy, and tiny Miriam feeling so cool to be out there surrounded by the sea.
In no time at all they were outside the breaking waves that ringed Kahana Bay, and Pono yelled for Miriam to climb out on the tramp. Once she was there, the boat turned north, and the speed increased. The canoe heeled over. Miriam leaned back and held on tight. She watched Jim pull in the sheet line and then let it out with every gust. Pono was watching Jim close, watching the sail, watching the swells, and holding the boat expertly on course. Soon they were abreast of Nakoa and the two canoes raced up the coast towards the North Shore.
When they turned the corner at the big hotel, they aimed almost straight downwind and their pace increased even more. The forty-foot canoes began riding with the speed of the ocean swells. The crews cheered each time their steersmen hooked them into a steep one, and the boats surfed their way west, downhill, on tall open ocean swells.
Jim gave Miriam a quick lesson on what he was doing and handed over the sheet line to her. She pulled hard on the thin rope and felt the whole boat pull in a new direction. She eased up on it, let the rope slide through her hands and felt the canoe drop back onto its original line. The power was exhilarating and Jim and Pono both laughed watching her face light up with the experience.
As the church at Waimea came into view Jim talked into her ear and pointed out the surrounds. They came in close to the land and the wind slacked a bit. The water flattened out. Before they turned into the bay Pono asked Miriam to climb back down into the canoe and grab a paddle. As she stepped her legs carefully across the three foot gap and slid her body across, she looked down into the clear blue and let out a gasp. Everyone followed her eyes and saw the large gray green shape, half the length of the canoe, swimming along easily underneath them.
Miriam sat down carefully. She found the wooden paddle at her feet and pulled it out from the boat. She looked down and saw that the huge shark was still there, majestic, peaceful. Miriam looked up at Jim. He was staring across at her with a serious and knowing look. He smiled softly and raised his eyebrows. She smiled back at him, glanced down at the beast in the clear blue, and then looked ahead.
Pono told everyone to watch their heads, they had cleared the point at Waimea. Luckily no swell was running. The boom swung over their heads and the boat jibed as he aimed them for the low point in the beach that marked the river. Pono yelled for everyone to paddle hard, and they pushed into the wind that funneled out from the valley. It was the first time Miriam had ever been to Waimea Bay. It was the most beautiful beach she had ever seen.
The two sailing canoes hit the steep sand within minutes of each other, and dozens of beach-goers came in close and watched.
It appeared, to Miriam, that many of these people were friends of her crew, and after a minute of rest, a dozen of the beach-goers joined in and helped slide the canoes up and over the sand, and down into to the still water of the river.
Jim told Miriam they could walk from here. She took off her lifejacket. She had been the only one to wear one. The girl who had been sitting behind Miriam took the lifejacket from her and stuffed it into the mesh bag where it had come from. Miriam asked if she could get the camera from her backpack. Jim nodded to Pono, and in seconds the black garbage bag was pulled from the front of the canoe and untied. Miriam reached in, happy to see that everything was dry. She pulled out her camera and zipped the backpack shut. Pono re-tied the plastic bag, placed it carefully back in the canoe, and said, “Goodbye. That was fun. See you two at dinner tonight.”
The two colorful sailing canoes pushed away and paddled lazily up the flat water of the river. Miriam snapped away with her camera and captured the striking image that in three month’s time would grace the cover of the last National Geographic ever printed.
Jim and Miriam turned and faced the ocean. It was almost noon.
She stood there and so naturally, she leaned against him and looked across the awesome bay. Something whispered in her chest that she might never return to New York.
Jim was lost in his own thoughts as the two of them walked silently down the beach and sat together in the warm sand.
“Those two,” Jim began, “Pono and Nakoa, they’ve become my closest friends in the last four years.” Jim looked at Miriam and she leaned against him and smiled, listening.
“There’s a couple others. Phil Osgood and Aunty Kuʻulei, who you met yesterday. A small group of us worked hard together to make the school what it is today. There’s been a sequence of events, and we’ve ridden it well, kind of like how those canoes work so well in a windy ocean…
“Four years ago…” Jim’s voice faltered, he’d never explained this to anyone, “right after the Lake Wilson dam, up in Wahiawa, gave out… I swam in here,” he pointed to the middle of the bay, “I swam in and walked up into Waimea Valley, and there were hundreds of people, families who had lost their homes in the flood. And I slipped into the crowd and became part of this family.”
When Jim swam back to Oahu, his mind was different. During his years living out on the high seas he had evolved. He said simple goodbyes, shook hands with the others, thanked Captain Caine, and jumped from the sailboat.
He floated there with a grin, waved and threw a shaka, and started pushing towards shore.
Sid Lee, after a run of chaotic behavior, had jumped ship two years earlier. Taiurani had decideded that he would retire from the sailboat soon as well. He planned to head back to Rapa Nui soon. Their group was done, it was time for a new crew to take over.
Jim watched the little sailboat that had been his home for a decade slide away into the afternoon sun, and he turned his attention to the green island sitting patiently in front of him. He swam the mile confidently from the dark blue in towards the clear shallows. He swam back to Oahu with pride and strength. He had an inner calm and confidence. He aimed for that beautiful bright sand of Waimea Bay and he looked up at the hills above. The river cut back into the green mountains, and he stared into the steep valley that he planned to call his home in the coming years. He remembered the last time he had swam back to Oahu, the day he had ended his old life. And he enjoyed this symbolic beginning of his new existence. Returning alone to his island, ready to put down his roots. He was a new man.
Jim had no passport. No possessions. He swam to shore in an old t-shirt and a pair of trusty surf shorts.
In the ten years Jim had been away he had circled the globe seven times and gone ashore on hundreds of distant lands. He spoke four languages now. He understood the world differently than most. He understood humans, small struggling communities, and the powers that be. He had come to know island societies that lived simply. Villages he had visited where people lived with calm friendliness and generosity. Where people lived with respect for themselves and others. He had come to know that communities could be based on happiness and love. He knew in his gut that such living was possible here in his home. In those years of travel he had gained problem-solving intuitions that only grow in those who survive violent storms, shipwrecks, and pirate raids. He knew that he could accomplish anything.
Jim had developed the skills and insight that only come to those who have connected spiritually and psychologically with wise ancestors.
The sailboat had been in the Marquesas for the previous three months. They were living the good life. Slowly cruising north through eight islands. They were in an ancient world, but it was so close to modern Hawaii… and Jim realized, half way up the island chain, that it was time. He was done with the sailor’s life, and his gut was pulling him to return home. His years spent in the South Pacific had built a foundation that was hard to explain. He had connected with his roots back hundreds of generations. And he felt a new responsibility that put force behind his actions.
Jim had decided to take the name Kāmakamaka. The name had come to him in a series of long strange nights. His fluid dreams, especially while there, in the Marquesas, had become vivid and instructional. Like an intensive learning. He had held still and listened, amazed. Jim’s mind was open and outside knowledge poured in like liquid. He assumed there was a powerful ancestor, probably from his mom’s side, the Polynesian side, watching down on him. An ancestor sitting above, watching Hawaii, watching the whole thing unfold, getting involved, and whispering into Jim’s ear. Choosing a player to set in motion.
Jim knew a scattering of his family tree on his mother’s side. One great grandpa from Korea. Two Great Grandmothers full Hawaiian. One great grandpa Portuguese. On his father’s side, the side he had never met, he just knew haole, European descent, nothing more. Just the Hudson name. And Jim was done with that.
In the months leading up to his return he had received a clear view of the coming years in Hawaii. He had seen into the future and witnessed the challenges, the dam break, this hurricane, even the flare, and he understood what needed to be done in preparation. Jim was affected by an outside intervention, and he respected it as a protective force hoping to help and defend the innocents. The premonitions he was shown could save the islands and their people from real disaster.
He knew what would happen in the years ahead and he decided it was his responsibility to return to Oahu and set himself solidly into the puzzle. The captain of the sailboat smiled knowingly when Jim asked if he could be dropped off on the North Shore of Oahu. The captain devised a plan for Jim to receive his funds in two months’ time.
Jim Kamakamaka slipped easily into the growing ohana in Waimea Valley. The school, which had begun a year earlier as a pilot program, quickly evolved into something like a Kibbutz. It was a growing community of people working together for a better life.
School became a term that had no reference to age.
The greater North Shore community was proud to have a ground breaking educational program in their midst. Hundreds of high school aged kids were pulled from the two nearest public schools and happily enrolled in Halau Mua. The school had space to work; the valley and everything in it was theirs to use. But in that first year it was challenging to find adequate funding for the dream that was taking shape.
Jim had slid into the ranks of the hundreds of new workers. He volunteered his every waking hour to the school, asked for nothing in return save basic food and a dry place to sleep, and he soon proved himself a tireless worker. He earned the respect of the larger group and was invited to sit in on the nightly meetings held by the founders and leaders of Halau Mua.
When Phil Osgood showed up one day and asked for Jim, a few eyebrows were raised. In two months this was the first outside personality they had heard or seen connected to Jim Kamakamaka. Osgood was an eccentric professor at the Mormon University in Laie, and after sitting in that first night at a school meeting, the old professor asked if he would be allowed to get involved and help at the Halau. The next evening he brought his extensive resume, told the board that he would work for free, and showed pure enthusiasm to be part of something so bold.
He also brought an old army duffle with $650,000 cash for Jim Kamakamaka. It was Jim’s earnings from ten years’ work on the sailboat.
A week later, after deep meditation and calm contemplation, Jim walked to the school’s office with the green duffel bag. He gathered five important administrators whom he trusted, and sat down with them in a conference room.
Jim laid out the information he had.
He calmly told the group what he knew of the years ahead. He described the oil blockade of the Red Sea, the financial meltdown in Europe, the stock market trials, a hurricane that would destroy the only road up the Eastside. He told them that night, three and a half years before Miriam’s arrival, of a young wahine journalist of Hawaiian decent who would come and write articles about the school for The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic.
The group listened in a strange, trance-like silence. They didn’t ask how he knew, but they listened silently, and each of the people sitting in the room understood in their bowels that they believed the words that they heard.
Jim Kamakamaka introduced the idea that night of beginning work on a second campus in Kahana Valley. He told them that building up the strength of their agriculture, their ability for real food production, would be critical in the coming decade. He unzipped his bag and told the silent group that he would like to start purchasing fruit trees, specifically Ulu, Samoan Coconut and Avocado. Whatever they could get their hands on. He wanted to invest all the money he had into the school. He told them that more funding would soon follow. There would be abundance and prosperity. They held great opportunity in their hands, and great responsibility. He had seen the future.
Out take from Chapter 5 of The High Line