Paradise and death. My father used to watch a tv series, “Death in Paradise.”
All I recall about it is the volume. My hearing is no longer good, but even
by my standards, this was loud.
When you snorkel off Kauai, those two words come together again, death and
paradise. Dip your head below the surface of the ocean and you’ll find people
have been careless with their feet and their sunscreen. Both can kill coral.
There are signs of rebirth though, and the fish are as wonderful as ever. As
for the clouds, mountains, trees, my goodness what a world you find over the
On a cliff top we found a spot to scatter Marty’s ashes. It was not far from
where they filmed much of South Pacific, so when the rain came to wash that man
right out of the grass, all seemed right.
It was thus with memories in my head that I floated like an animal early in
evolutionary history, an animal maybe whether to stick with what it knows or to
risk exploring land. That ancient liminal moment was on my mind. I wondered
if dying was in any way similar.
Into my thoughts a chicken’s voice intruded.
“Whaaaaaaat? You go * in* water?”
“ I do. We are gods of both land and water. Also we have tubes that allow us
“With wings. Came in one to Hawaii.”
“Hawaii? Have you met my cousin?”
“What does she look like? There was a brownish chicken on the beach just over
there, with five kids following her around. Chicks.”
“Yes, that’ll be her.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many wild chickens there are on Kauai.
My sense of time has been strangely affected. While I was writing this, the
others returned from a walk. They went to inspect—I kid you not—the ruins of a
Club Med. They recommended the experience, so I later confirmed that the views
are spectacular, but wandering the ancient ruins of a Club Med? Surely no one
was alive back in nineteen sixty something when this was conceived?
While they were away, I continued the floating theme by cracking Thomas Parrish
on the history of the submarine. The first paragraph, like other books I’ve
read this year, cites Alfred Thayer Mahan, who seems to be having a moment at
present. “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History” was published in 1890. I
told Mimo that I believe this is one of the few famous texts Jeeves never
quotes. She asked if I was referring to the cat.
A tale of Albert and the chickens. The wild chicken population of Kauai has
changed since we last visited. My impression is that they are not only present
in greater numbers but their presence is harder to avoid. Where we stayed,
near Princeville, a rooster started crowing a little after three in the
morning. Absent a supply of hand grenades, my only recourse was earplugs,
which fortunately I had to hand. Princeville is a lovely spot, named by a
Scot, in honor of Prince Albert. The Hawaiian one. Queen Victoria was his
godmother. Like many royals, Albert had a more formal appellation. Because I
like names I’ll cite it in full: Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa a
Kamehameha, affectionately known as Ka Haku O Hawai’i, the Lord of Hawaii. ( I
hope my one finger typing reproduced that correctly. )
In 1858 Albert was the first child to be born to a reigning Hawaiian monarch
since 1839. Incestuous marriages may be to blame. Albert was also the last
child ever to be born from a reigning Hawaiian monarch. Poor fellow died at age
Infant death reminded me that one thing my wife and I have in common is that
her father and mine were “replacement” kids, babies conceived after parents had
accommodated the nearly unimaginable grief of losing a young child.
Mimo had a question, “ Do gods dress up as chickens?”
“The aesthetic advantages would be considerable.”
Me, “You don’t think us handsome?”
“Up to a point. When might I expect to see a god dressed as a chicken.”
“And why would they do this.”
“Have you seen someone dressed as a chicken?”
“Leonardo da Vinci.”
“Are you sure.”
“No. That’s why I asked.”
Mimo, “Why are you wearing blood?”
“I’ll tell you the story. In fact I’ll tell you three stories: the one about
the gecko, the one about the pine, and then there’s the blood on the knee.”
The Gecko Story
Shortly after the car started K., who was driving, said there was a gecko on
the hood. I said he should pull over and I’d try to save it. Part one of the
plan worked— I used my cap to get the gecko moving. Then it ran across the cap,
up my arm and into a Long John Silver parrot position on my shoulder. My
immediate concern was that it might go for the darkness inside my shirt, so I
asked for help. K. pointed his phone at me and tried for a video. The gecko
took fright and ran onto my back. I spun round and asked again for help. By
this time L. had emerged from the back seat, and the gecko had gone to ground.
I wonder what its chances might be so far from home territory, with egrets in
the vicinity. When we arrived back at the condo after food shopping, I half
expected to see Uncle Ron gecko and the heavies, ready to ask what we’d done
with their nephew. Fortunately the next day was Tuesday, which I’m reliably
informed is the Gecko Sunday. I hope the prodigal returned, like Captain Cook
did at first, with tales of adventure. But he may have ended up like Captain
The Pine Story
Hawaii has a lot of Norfolk pines. They come from an island named Norfolk, in
the vicinity of New Caledonia, which also supplied pines to Hawaii. The vector
was a Yorkshireman the world knows as Captain Cook. His reputation, like that
of Captain Bligh, is not currently where it was at the end of the nineteenth
century when Mahan was writing his book. Cook pines come from New Caledonia
and are distinguished from Norfolk pines by their trunk’s straight growth and
So Cook and his men distributed the pines ( and I suppose I should mention that
one, or possibly both, are not “proper” pines, no idea why) all around the
Pacific with the idea that sailors would have a ready supply of spars and masts
. Now you need to need to know that the Norfolk pine grows twisty and weak in
Hawaii, and the Cook pine straight and strong.
So Cook arrives on the Big Island during days dedicated to celebration of Lono—
a god—and is welcomed, possibly in some confusion of identity that suggested
his power (mana) was Lono - derived. He departs, breaks a soar, possibly
because someone mistook Norfolk for Cook pine, returns, and is killed on the
Wouldn’t it be ironic if he died because his men couldn’t properly identify a
The Knee Story
I try to keep Hawaii’s wounds on the left side of my body. On one trip a while
back, I scrambled up some lava, stood on a huge rock (and by huge I do mean
huge) found that the rock had an astonishing ability to wobble. I fell off.
My early lessons in judo rolls protected my head, but my shin was cut to the
bone by the lava’s sharp edges. Not good.
Lacking blood supply, the wound took a long time to heal. But heal it did.
Last week I slipped in front of the fish shop, which is to say I slipped on a
minor muddy slope. The cause was worn shoes. You know that thought, “I’ll take
my old tennis shoes with me and leave them there. Return home lighter.“ As if
Hawaii needs worn tennis shoes in its dump.
The mud had lava in it, so more cuts and more blood. This is what Mimo
My knee will heal in good time, and grief will fade. When someone had a cut or
a scratch, my great grandmother used to prescribe rubbing with seaweed or a dip
in the the cold, cold sea. On the West Coast of Scotland there weren’t many
other choices. I’m very lucky to have the alternative balm of Hawaii.
Back to the rain tomorrow.
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