I didn't want to go to Hawai'i.
I'm not much for the sun and the beach. The beautiful people who usually inhabit the beach often make me acutely aware of my pale flabbiness, a situation of which I am already aware and need no reminding. I dislike the way sand gets into everything: hair, ears, nose, between the toes. Sand seems to have a special ability to work its way into the bits and parts of your anatomy where you least want to have sand. I wasn't sure what I would be doing for a week in Kaua'i.
Let me back up for a moment. My sister-in-law was getting married and she decided that the best place for it would be in Hawai'i, specifically on Tunnels Beach on Kaua'i's northern coast. My wife and her sister are really close so there was very little discussion about whether she would go. But I thought I could weasel out of it on very reasonable grounds: the plane ticket would cost too much; I would fall behind with my dissertation; someone would need to watch the dogs; I had no interest in the tropics. I ended up going anyway, even though the plane ticket did cost too much and I did fall behind on the dissertation and we had to pay someone to watch the dogs.
Sitting on the beach was just not my idea of fun. I mean, when I was a kid, I travelled pretty widely with my family. My parents were big believers in the summer road trip and we drove everywhere. We drove all over the Pacific Northwest and up and down the west coast, camping and seeing stuff. I visited the Redwoods and Crater Lake and the Olympic Rainforest and the Oregon coast. Mount Rainier National Park was my back yard and I hiked and climbed all over the smaller peaks and valleys. We drove to the family farm in Iowa every summer and along the way we'd stop in Yellowstone, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug (the capital of American road trip kitsch), ending at my grandparents' beautiful farm tucked in a valley near the Mississippi River. We tried different routes some years: one year we headed south through California, stopped for a couple days at Disneyland, trekked across Death Valley, visited the pueblos at Mesa Verde, looked at the Four Corners (there's really not much else to do there), and gaped at the mind-erasing vastness of the Grand Canyon. From the farm we'd take side trips up to the Wisconsin Dells or to Chicago. Once or twice we drove back to Washington by way of Missouri, taking in the Ozarks and driving across the empty expanse of Kansas into Colorado, skirting the edge of the Rockies and stopping in the Grand Tetons. We took trips to British Columbia, riding the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island and having high tea at the Empress Hotel. When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to Barcelona, Spain, for the 1992 Summer Olympics and when I was a sophomore in college, Mom and Dad took the whole family to London for the ten days after Christmas.
Travelling has been a priority for my wife and I: since we've been married, we've gone to London and New York and Washington, D.C. and we've taken multiple road trips to Southern California, Las Vegas, British Columbia, and western Montana. The point -- if there is one -- is that I've travelled and all my travels had convinced me that I had no desire to go to Hawai'i. It seemed overpriced and cliched. It seemed . . . boring?
Nonetheless, we went. A friend of mine scored us a great deal on a convertible rental car and for once, our horrible timeshare ownership worked in our favor: we were going to stay in a condo at a lovely resort in Princeville. I still didn't really want to go. When I was a kid, bouncing around the backseat of my parents' Ford Tempo as we meandered across the American West, I had always thought it would be cool to visit every state in the country some day. So as I finalized our plans for Kauai'i, this childhood goal seemed to be the best reason for going to Hawai'i: I could mark one more state off my list (only 23 more to go!).
Our flight took us from Dallas / Fort Worth to Phoenix to Honolulu to Lihue. Seriously. We were going to do this twelve hour marathon with a three month old baby, a three year old toddler, ourselves, and all of our stuff. And we really have never learned how to travel light. Somehow we managed with our sanities intact and found ourselves, finally, in our rental car at the Lihue airport on Kauai'i. It was dark, everyone was exhausted, and we just wanted to get to the condo. We drove north on the Kuhio Highway and soon the lights of Lihue faded behind us. Or more accurately, the darkness enveloped our car, erasing the man-made lights of Lihue as if they had never existed. I knew this kind of darkness because I grew up so far out in the Cascade foothills. I understood the way darkness is different when it is completely natural: not so much the absence of light, but the presence of night. I couldn't hear them, but I could imagine the night sounds of the island: insects, night birds, rustling leaves, and the faint surge of the surf on the beaches and rocks. Perhaps, I thought, this may be ok.
We arrived at the condo and unloaded all of our stuff as quickly as possible. The girls barely stirred and my wife and I fell asleep almost as soon as we hit the bed. I woke up a few hours later and went out to get a drink of water. I took my glass and stepped out onto the lanai on the back of the condo. The lanai faced the ocean (so I had read on the condo website) and there were no manmade lights on this side of the building. The landscape was indistinguishable from the inky black sky. There was no moon, but there were thousands of stars, burning fiercely in the night sky. I couldn't see the ocean, but I could hear the surf and I felt something in the night air, something primal and ancient and more real than any night sky I could remember.
This may be ok.