I went to the Continental U.S. over the holidays and returned to Hawai’i, to my home on the slopes of Hualalai on Moku o Keawe, with Covid. For ten days I didn’t leave my sanctuary, sleeping and reading and allowing the virus to move through me. While I wasn’t pleased to be its host, I didn’t resist it. I was actually glad to lie in bed and recalled the luxury of all those Block Island winters where I scraped by on my summers savings and random little jobs, the days when all I did for the entire winter was read, write, go for walks, watch birds and deer, make soup, go to the library, the post office, with an occasional stop at the pub for some mischief and good cheer.
One of my last winters there I walked to work on a trail that began just off my backyard. My friend Paul gave me a job clearing and burning brush. It was hard work, but I loved jumping over the stone wall every morning to get on the trail, and since that winter was one of the coldest I remember on the island, hauling brush kept me warm, and the fire, where Paul and I mused on all sorts of literary and esoteric topics, was a true delight. There’s something about connections forged around a fire that are different from other bonds. Although Paul and I live far away and don't talk much, those fires united us in a winter dreamscape that seemed outside of time because it probably was. Our talk was of timeless wisdom and I believe we are still out there somewhere talking on a winter day that won’t end until we do. After that, I’m sure we’ll meet again at some other fire.
Most of that winter I hiked through snow to get to work. One day I came face to face with a deer at a bend that didn’t run away. We watched each other for what seemed an eternity and I knew I had achieved something I’d long sought, an inner calmness that didn’t cause animals to run from me. This was the winter I lived alone in my friend’s parents’ giant empty house high on a hill with the North End of the island unrolling before me like a magic carpet. I lived all by myself with no wifi, a flip phone and a computer with a broken disk drive and no sound so I couldn’t even rent DVDS from the library. I read and listened to the classical station, the only station that came in on the radio. I looked out the windows, took walks, and collected images that I tried to weave into coherent poems-mute swans gliding with spectral grace on the island’s interior ponds, deer in the hollow below the house chewing the bark of ancient apple trees whose branches touched the frozen ground, the primal groan of ice right before it cracked driving deeper into the rock hard soil where turtles and salamanders slept on undisturbed by the water’s agony; and incredibly, one day when I walked out onto the ice, a bass looking up at me standing right above it through the two-way mirror.
I remember how its lips moved, kissing the water, the directness of its eye contact, and of how I was the one who walked away, back to the fire where Paul was artfully slinging slashed branches onto the blaze. I had walked on water, stood on top of a fish and we both lived to tell the tale. I never finished one poem that winter, which at the time frustrated me, but I was lucky to have a wise guide, a real elder named Fran Quinn who didn’t push me into writing anything fake. “The images are having their way with you,” he told me. “This story is not complete.”
I have never dreamed so deep.
That long stretch of Block Island winters came to an end many years ago. The years since have been busy. Technology has become embedded in my life. Living in a house without at least a smartphone would be difficult for me, which pains me to say. I feel my brain has grown more distracted and that more often than I’d like, I am technology’s tool, instead of using technology as a means to communicate with people like you reading this essay. I’ve checked my phone for no reason a couple of times while writing this.
However, I have finished more than a few poems. Published a third book, Breaking Up with the Moon, have a new book coming out in the near future, and have been writing a weekly essay on this Substack for almost a year. I also moved to the Yucatán and became an aquatic bodyworker. I fell in love with a village and lived in a little house there with a puppy named Princesa to whom I gave my whole heart. I sang around a few fires. I went to massage school on Kauai and rewired my entire nervous system and started making decent money for the first time in my life, no small feat in middle age.
Then there was a pandemic and I moved to the Big Island where I discovered Moku o Keawe, the island within the island. I found another home here, not so much because I chose it, but because the place claimed me. The choice was to accept that invitation or say, no thank you. I chose the fire, the expansion into something larger instead of playing it safe, and I can tell you, breaking up with Block Island was every bit as painful as ending a relationship with a human partner. There were time I sobbed in my car from the pain of knowing I wasn't going to live there anymore, at least not the way I had, married to the land, rooted and settled into that quiet life, the luxury of those long winters where I walked on the beach and sat next to sleeping seals, found swan wings hanging in wind-stunted brambles, was gifted with a buck’s antlers in February right outside my back door, learned to hear stones speak the secret language of ocean waves.
Sometimes I wonder why I traded it for my current hustle. Money is needed to pay rent, drive a car, etc., all the things of modern life, but I don’t regret my choice. I carry the stillness of the deer in me, the awe of recognizing the other and knowing the other recognizes me. Everything is a two-way mirror. It is my choice to access what the bass showed me. Seen this way, the demands of modern life become a gift. They let me know when I am centered, and when I’m not, they show me it’s time to make corrections.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because the sensations Covid has generated in me remind me of those Block Island winter reveries. I’ve been experiencing an intense heaviness in my head and my thoughts are much slower. I think it’s called brain fog and is considered a bad thing, but I noticed upon returning to work this past week that I wasn’t looking at the clock during my massage sessions. Time had melted the way it does when I’m in a good writing flow. I enjoyed the sessions more than usual and afterwards was less physically and energetically exhausted. Yes, I’ve made a few mistakes texting clients and dealing with the online booking system. My brain is not currently wired for multitasking. I am focused.
Yesterday the image of a turtle appeared in my mind’s eye, what some might call a daydream. It was a green turtle, I think, or a hawksbill, the two kinds of turtles that swim in Hawaiian waters, as opposed to the snappers and shiny-shelled painted turtles of my other home island. I saw it moving its head from side to side, languid, almost as if its neck was still undulating to aquatic rhythms, though the turtle was up in the air, not underwater. Its eyelids slowly closed and opened, a gesture nothing like blinking. I got the sense the turtle, in opening and closing its eye with such deliberate and conscious motion, was showing me how to move between worlds, that it could be as easy as that, letting a veil drop on the physical to move inward where the physical is born. The slowness of the transition felt like a call to return to a more natural pace.
And now, reader, I’ll ask you to return with me to the opening line of this essay. “I went to the Continental U.S.” Those of you unfamiliar with Hawaiian colonial politics may have wondered at that, but when I was chided by a local for referring to the American continent as “the mainland” I got it. Referring to my homeland as the mainland can be seen as consenting to the illegal occupation of Hawai’i, instead of a sovereign nation that happens to be a land mass small enough to be called an island instead of a continent.
The mainland should be one’s “main” land, where one actually lives and loves, where one enters into relationships with the land as family. To not refer to your home place as your mainland, makes it an appendage to someone else’s body and is a willing act or surrendering one’s sovereignty. Magnify that with the compounded losses of the world’s colonial occupations, it’s easy to see why so many of us don’t feel at home where we live and don't respect the rights of others who do still feel that way.
On Block Island, however, the situation was a little different. The indigenous Manisses long wiped out by plagues, theft, slavery, and outright murder, almost everyone I knew there was a colonizer, except for one woman who was a descendant of the Manisses tribe and still lives in an old house on the corner of the town’s main crossroads. Some of my friends were descendants of the actual Europeans who settled the land, infected and exploited the natives, stripped the forests, plowed the fields and consigned the indigenous peoples’ mythology and stories to oblivion.
I came to see my time there as a quest to hear those stories again, if not from the Manisses or their descendants, but from the actual rocks, remaining trees, birds, fish and animals of the island. I did do some research about Narragansett stories since the Manisses were considered to be a branch of that tribe, and discovered one that explained how humans came to build wigwams by observing muskrats build little domed huts pondside, and I told this story out loud on a hill overlooking a harbor so the place could know someone wanted to come home to the old ways, but I was always haunted by their loss.
What I saw happening as I became part of Block Island society, however, was perhaps even more powerful than my telling of that one story. The people of Block Island, many whose family had been there since 1661, created their own stories about the place. And it wasn’t just the old time locals, too. Everyone on Block Island seemed to be able to tell a story about a particular place, and most places had names that weren’t on maps, they came into usage through oral use. The names may not have been in Algonquin, but Block Island places are storied, and those stories, about all sorts of weathers and natural events, are shared. On Block Island, the oral tradition is alive and well and I trust that love of the land to carry them on into our unknown future for as long as the island stays above sea level and there are people who remember the place. Love is the most powerful motivator.
I went to the American Continent. I got Covid. My brain slowed down. Time has less of a grip on me. I had a vision of a turtle. Is it all coming together for you yet? Let me say it plainly, make the connection explicit instead of inferring and evading for the joy of flowing with language. Another name for the American continent, the original for many of its indigenous inhabitants, is Turtle Island. In Hawai’i, the word for turtle is honu, and Earth is called Honua. Earth is a turtle, slow and extremely patient, so ancient she is unaware there is a divide between dream and reality.
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the woman who fell from the sky? There are many versions of this story told by indigenous North Americans, and if you go back far enough in cultures worldwide, including Mū Hawaiian lore, you’ll hear the same thing. Humans came to Earth from the sky. I’ll share here a brief rendering of the Iroquois version of the story.
At the time of creation, a tree broke and left a hole in the ground. Atahensic, a woman of the Sky People who had found disfavor for breaking an unknown law, either fell or was pushed through the hole into another world where there was no land, only water. Birds carried her down to the water’s surface and a turtle emerged and allowed Sky Woman to land on her back. Carried on the water by the turtle, Atehensic gave birth to twin sons, Hahgwehdiyu and Hahgwehdaetgah. One twin was good, the other evil. Hahgwehdaetgah, the evil twin, killed Sky Woman, now known as Earth woman, by bursting out of her side during birth. The good twin, Hahgwehdiyu, planted a seed into his mother’s corpse that became maize, the sacred food of the people, and the turtle eventually became the ground on which we all live now.
Writing this, I realize my first Covid symptoms actually appeared in the sky. I was on the last leg of my flight over the Pacific when the fever came over me. Not to confuse myself with a deity, I know the danger of that and am committed to living a grounded human life, but I do think there is a mythic dimension to Covid that, if we choose to see it that way and follow its directives, and by that I mean allowing its images to fully penetrate our individual beings in whatever way they appear to us, could allow it to be a conscious tool of transforming our collective consciousness, which, in the way of things, would change the course of our planetary civilization.
For me, it’s the image of a turtle choosing to be absorbed by time, letting go of the ticking clock by not resisting it. I will continue to embrace this new slowness, especially when I feel the pressure of time outside the walls of my dream. When the pressure seems too much, I will close my eyelids so slowly you would never say I blinked and missed something, rather, that I moved inward to the source of all dreams.
Kō aloha la ea
Concentrate on love by way of the light
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Wow, this is epic, love it!
Tropical/volcanic regards from Nicaragua, where I scrape by at the Gates of Hell, the Masaya Volcano.
Iceland, definitely Iceland!
I gotta go to Iceland one more time to chill the hell out!
Iceland the way you have never seen or even imagined, all in the DELUXE Special Limited Edition!
Yes, actually, I am the worst kind at saying no, you do not want to know, lol!
Nato shot down the Chinese balloonery, alien ballooney tunes, and now we will have a ballooney war, good luck with that!
Another nuttin´ burger, tank you, sank you very much, nom nom nom!
My silent screams might be a perfect soundrack to the next Plandemic MAGAphoned!
That is why I must be the good guy, right? Do not try this at home, as Beavis and Butthead would advise!
Being the good guy among so many bad guys really freaks me out, gives me the creeps! And then I testify on the inflated Weaponization of BullSkirt in the Dungeon Subcommittee hot spa meeting .... go figure!
One of my favorite writers. Always connecting. Always weaving. Always expanding. You bless us!