Taiurani was at rest in the shade, a book about Mexican bullfighters in his lap, his mind rolling over and over the choices on the table. He knew that to leave school was most likely to never return. To give up on the University was to cancel everything he had worked for up to that point.
He was weighing these thoughts, his fingers playing with turning the next page, when something in the periphery pulled his eyes up to the dancing leaves and thorns above him.
Something had caught his attention, and Thomas blinked his eyes looking across the bright afternoon. Heat was curling the air over the blistering sand. The ocean was calm and glassy. A bright, clear blue. Everything was a glare.
There were a couple of other humans scattered over the long beach. Thomas squinted out at them and then back to the dark rocks standing beside his little camping spot.
Taiurani wasn’t sure what had called his attention. He felt exhausted and blinded by the brightness of the day. He closed his eyes, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled… and fell into a light afternoon sleep.
When he woke, it was night. The beach was dark and the sun had set long ago.
Tom felt comfortable, though his mind was still rolling strangely from whatever had called him earlier. He didn’t bother with a flashlight. He let his hand slide carefully across his supplies. He drank half a bottle of water, felt inside of his backpack for the little roll of toilet paper, and pulled himself out from the low branches.
Barefoot, he walked south on the sand for a minute, then stopped and looked up into the night sky. The quietness of Molokai reminded him of home. With both hands he dug down into the warm sand. He dropped his shorts and squatted over the hole. He squeezed out his lunch and breakfast, grinned and enjoyed the freedom of the dark beach. He finished up, covered the hole, and walked slowly down towards the water.
Tom looked out to the black sea and the stars. The city lights shining up from Oahu couldn’t hold his attention. He stared above him into the night. The stars were almost as bright here as from Tahai.
Tahai, his childhood home, where the modern buildings of Rapa Nui ended and the ancient pathways began. Old stone foundations, beautifully built temples, the ocean calm there, the Moai standing tall…
From the Molokai beach staring across the channel at Oahu, Thomas felt a cool wind blow down from the hills and push out over the dark ocean. Tom looked up the beach from where he had walked and noticed a campfire in the rocks with shadows sitting around the dancing flames. The fire was nestled in the boulders just downhill, 50 or 60 feet from where he’d set up his camp.
Taiurani closed his eyes. He was strong and content. He stretched his arms and legs, and walked slowly back to his tent. In the darkness he riffled through his supplies, found a bag of snacks and grabbed his bottle of water.
Taiurani glanced down to the campfire so near to him in the rocks. He decided not to approach the people sitting still around the glow.
He drank from the bottle, stretched out on his sleeping bag and watched the stars move slowly down in the west. He couldn’t see Oahu from his spot in the boulders, but a hazy dome of light from the city pushed up high in the sky, and the stars slowly descending towards that horizon faded away in the haze. Tom knew he had to return to classes on Monday morning, and the idea of sitting through long cold lectures and working late on boring papers weighed on him.
He knew he would finish the three weeks left. Finish off strong. But after that… he liked this freedom. It felt right to step away from school. In his gut he knew he couldn’t do another semester. He made the decision to cancel his class registrations, request a deferment from the office, and tell Professor Osgood he wanted to go on the sailboat. He needed to get out on the ocean.
Taiurani woke up cold at first light. He pulled on a thin jacket and walked down to the rocks. There were no people sleeping there, no signs that anyone had been there, and after climbing around the boulders for a few minutes, Tom realized he couldn’t find any traces of the campfire he’d seen.
He shrugged it off, confused, and climbed down from the boulders into the soft sand. He took off his jacket and shirt and walked down into the cold, clear ocean.
His brown feet sank into the sand. He walked slowly until the water was above his knees. The ocean pushed softly up the beach and slid quietly back down past him.
Thomas turned around and faced the dry trees and the steep hill of red clay and grass. He dug his feet deeper into the white sand, and let his mind relax and open. The sensation that covered Tom was a powerful recognition. It grabbed his shoulders, shook him, and filled him with a pulsing energy. A dancing wave of power surged up through him.
There were no words involved, but his brain shuddered with a realization that the little cove, the land, was communicating with him… it was trying to catch his attention. The morning was calm, but Tom was startled and shocked by the sensation. He froze, taking in all the details around him, his shoulders began to ache and he felt a syrupy dizziness. The recognition rolling across his brain seemed almost sinister and he was taken aback. Time slowed down.
Tom gulped at the vast image unfurling in his mind. The vision was clear, and Tom was a bit frightened by the whole thing.
The land was conscious. She was an animal. This island that his feet were sinking into was enveloping him in a barrage of dreamlike visuals.
Thomas was a flea standing on the thick skin of a giant slow-moving beast. No blood inside, just porous rock, fresh water, veins of minerals, lava tubes of air… The animal was moving along the sea floor. This bit sticking up from the ocean was just a tip, the dry scabby hump of an enormous sea-camel.
She drank the rain-water. She felt the warmth of the sun, and listened to the voices in the wind. The clouds skimmed across her hills and the two communicated silently.
This beast, the island of Molokai, was moving very slowly northwest. Moving with her family in a single file line. It was alive. It was huge. Moving in a different type of time. Thousands of years to a human’s day. A million years for a couple feet of content migration.
The image was of the tiny boy standing there, just a speck. The rock animal moving so slowly… it was a giant beast crawling across the bottom of the sea. Down there in the black depths it was focused on the path ahead. Thomas spending the weekend there meant almost nothing to the rock. It had just recently noticed the roads and wells. Painful irrigation tunnels. It had just noticed a hundred years of human development. The itch was barely perceptible so far. She had just taken note of two thousand years of human infestation.
The island needed to communicate. It needed to connect with a human and give warning.
Molokai had just woken up. The other islands in this single file migration hadn’t noticed anything yet.
Thomas was silent. He understood what was being said to him. He registered the thoughts that were being pushed into his brain. He took everything in. The island was not happy. It was giving him this because it was angry and defensive. It was scared. The feeling of an alien energy pulsing up into him almost made Tom gag.
He acknowledged the island as a being, pulled his awareness away from the thickness of the creature’s mind, and dove out into deeper water. With his feet free of the sand the connection faded. Tom was shivering. He was shaking out of control. It had been too much, too intense.
Swimming away from the shore, out into the deeper ocean, his mind was alone again. He was relieved. His balance returned. He floated there in the water for a minute, kicking softly. Thomas Taiurani got himself centered and then swam strongly back to the shallows. He rode a tiny wave up onto sand and walked quickly up the beach.
With each step, his feet sinking into the soft sand, he felt the island’s awareness creeping back into his head like a toxin. He pushed it away, almost panicking from the feeling.
When he made it to his camp and stuck his bare feet into the rubber slippers, and disconnected his flesh from the earth, Tom’s mind cleared, and his body was able to relax. The experience had frightened him.
Taiurani had a forgotten image reforming in his head, an old memory of animals overwhelmed by something.
He remembered a corral of horses an uncle kept on the south side of Rapa Nui. He remembered, as a twelve year old, walking through the corral and seeing something in the quivering beasts. The eyes of those horses had been wild with fright… almost insane with panic. That same feeling was building up deep inside of him.
It was time to go.
Thomas shoved his blanket and clothes and book into his bag. He looked over his campsite, just sand and red dirt now. He picked up the almost empty water bottle, and exhaled. He blinked his eyes clear and stepped away from the shade. He left the beach and walked uphill. He crossed the dry golf course and took a path through the Kiawe to the narrow asphalt road.
Tom walked north, his thumb poking up with every passing car.
The sun warmed the earth as he hitch hiked east toward the island’s small airport.
As soon as he had left the cove Thomas felt better. The wind in his face and the fresh air brought a little calm to his mind. The experience had been unnerving, and he was happy to leave. He felt empowered by the insight. He felt something like a residue of the lightning strike… the power of the image still buzzing inside of him. It had affected him. It had changed his brain, shifted his understanding of the land and his place in the world.
Tom knew that a door had been opened for him. The insight he had gained was powerful.
For Taiurani the experience was spiritual. There was a power under him greater than man. The push into his brain influenced the plans that had already been brewing in the back of his head. The image deeply affected how he veiwed the island of his birth. Rapa Nui, sitting solitary thousands of miles south-east. He refocused on his ancestors and gods, on the stories that had been told to him as a child, and on the goals of his future life.
His brain was a rolling raft in a thundering sea.
He was confident that another year in university held nothing of value for him. He was done with that.
A red, shiny car pulled over after passing his relaxed thumb, his steady hike up the hill. An old couple, tourists checking out the west side of the island looked up at him with friendly smiles. Thomas was relieved to jump in the cool car and move as far as he could from the beach. With every mile put between him and the strange cove, his mind relaxed.
The experience with his feet buried in the sand had reminded him of the ghosts of his family. And like a strong smell, the experience had taken him back to faded memories of his childhood. The power he had felt made him understand a strange whispered paranoia that was barely recognizable in the old men and women of Hanga Roa.
-out take from Chapter 2 of The High Line