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Photo Essay from the Big Island

People on the Lost Coast were posting photos of the snow and rain on Facebook. I got cold just looking at ’em. The thought of going back right now with our one little propane heater, the un-insulated yurt, outhouse (in pouring rain, it’s beyond my sense of adventure), and well, the 700 round feet of being contained during bad weather in the yurt itself doesn’t fill me with as much unabashed glee as say, this does:

Lovely, warm water.

Soft sand.

Sun.

Happy, device-free children.

I get so sick of devices; they drive me crazy and yet I don’t know what to do without them when we have sucktastic weather at home.

I love the kids just playing in the water.

I’ve gotta say: I don’t think there is anything besides the ocean/swimming/the beach in which EVERYONE in my family is happy and content just hanging out, being together, not whining or complaining or wanting to do something else.

You know?

I love the crisp, cold air of the Lost Coast (in any season except summer) and I love the humidity that I was raised in, growing up in Fiji, Hawaii, Japan and to a lesser extent, Taiwan. I love moist, hot air. I know, I know, that probably makes me a freak, but I really do.

My skin always feels better, my hair definitely looks better. And somehow I always feel this sense of excitement with humidity, like something awesome is about to happen.

like some shave ice!

living the good life.

My mom has rented a place in Waimea, and let us crash her pad. We’re so grateful!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Big Island, Waimea is the colder part. It’s super green and lush, with cows, horses, cowboys and ranches.

From this playground in Waimea, we could see snow on the tips of Mauna Loa in the back. It’s the quintessential Big Island ad – ‘the island where you can go skiing and surfing in the same day!

Mikey couldn’t get over the enormous changes in the weather on the island, within just 20 minutes or so of driving.

I found myself getting all proud of my island, in that way that you get proud of the cool features of anywhere you’ve lived before. ‘Yeah, the Big Island has everything except tundra!

I appreciate this place now in a way that I never did when I was a teenager, coming here from Fiji.

I hated it. I loathed it. I was pissed off about living in Hawaii and I couldn’t wait to leave.

Oh yeah. I mean, it’s sort of understandable. I had friends in Fiji, I went to a really good school. My brother Dana and I had a great little business baking pumpkin bread and we made money, had autonomy to do things and bikes to get around (as well as a great bus system in Suva). In Fiji, I was still white (definitely a minority), but I had been there so long, it wasn’t a big deal.

In Hawaii, I was also a minority, WHITE and it was huge. Groups of kids felt segregated by race in school.

Dana and I couldn’t make money the way we did in Fiji (until Dana turned 15, the legal age to work, and he got a regular job for himself and also a newspaper job, which he gave to me – I did the work, but in his name, and he gave me the money).

Everything was way too far away to bike everywhere (it seemed), it seemed like everyone was at the mall (ugh) and there wasn’t a public transportation system.

I HATED IT.

But now… I’m 43. Things in my life have changed.

I look at things differently and appreciate things that didn’t matter so much to me before. Like beaches.

Big Island Photo Essay

and great weather in early March!

Heck, it’s great weather here most of the time.

I appreciate being able to spend time with my mom

And watch Micah drink in tropical gorgeousness and have fun with photos

I’m a mom now. It’s different. I’m a wife and a daughter. I’ll always also be a sister, to my brother who has moved on.

My world is different than it was when I was a teenager, and in that, Hawaii is a wonderful place to be.

Well

I’m writing almost as much about this one week we spent in Hawai’i as I did for a month in Vietnam!

But there’s a point. It’s not just the intense feeling of being back home. The memories. Bear with me here.

My mom was playing on the Kona-side of the island with Micah and Mack while Moxie, Mikey and I went around the rest of the island.

After Honoka’a, Laupahoehoe and Hilo, we mosied down to Kalapana.

 

Kalapana represents a pivotal place in my life.

Back when I was 14 years old, it was the largest black sand beach on the Big Island. It was awesome.

There was going to be a party at Kalapana and I wanted to go, badly enough that I lied to my (really strict) parents and told them I was spending the night at a friend’s house. Well, long story short, I got busted and Mom and Dad drove up to Kalpana at like, 2 in the morning and drove me home.


Yep.

Well, Rotary had been offering me a scholarship to go and study in Japan for a year. I had been on the fence about it until then; after I got caught at the party, there didn’t seem to be much choice: off to Japan it was for me.

In retrospect – with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight vision – I think it was a massive miscommunication between my parents and I. I was positive they wanted me to go because I kept getting into trouble. But I think now that they thought I wanted to go or something along those lines.

A sliding door

That was a sliding door moment for me. Remember that movie, “Sliding Doors”? It was basically about these two scenarios – what happens when a girl misses her train, because she doesn’t get through the train’s sliding doors in time – and what happens in the other scenario, when she actually makes it through the doors and has a whole different story trajectory.

Kalapana was my sliding door.

Not long after the party, Kilauea started erupting in the direction of Kalapana and wiped out the beach, created long stretches of new land. All hardened lava at this point.

Ka'u

I was getting this massive gut feeling to go to Ka’u.

Ka’u now is where the best coffee is grown. It’s a sleepy district on the southern part of the Big Island, full of farms.

So we went down and checked out a coffee farm (which also grew macadamia nuts), then headed over to the black sand beach close by.

Moxie being Moxie, insisted on swimming some. The waves were high, so we said, sure, hang out in the tide pool! And of course I got my camera out.

She is so ridiculously cute, isn't she?!!

Moxie frolicked in the water after that, and I was talking with Mikey, just relaxing. When it seemed clear that Moxie was done, we called her over and we were walking back over the lava rocks to the beach. Thinking this was a rock in the water, I almost stepped on him:

Yeah. A huge, wild green sea turtle just hanging out in the tide pools.

Honestly, it felt like we had seen a unicorn or something.

It was that magical.

I started wondering how much land cost there – and I was stunned that we can actually afford to buy. It’s a fraction of what land costs on the Lost Coast.

What else? Smooth roads. Two major airports nearby. A tourist industry close by. Which means that our original idea of having a training center that was by and for disability – along with a farm-to-table type of agricultural enterprise – might be pretty easy to implement there.

WHOAH.

Right?! I mean this is huge. But it’s not, not really. We are not thinking of moving tomorrow or anything, but we are definitely interested in a slow move over there. We want to start by figuring out where to buy land. Build connections and figure out what the need is in the farming and disability communities.

We very much want to remain on the Lost Coast. We belong here in a way that we have never felt before, and we love it deeply, dearly.

But Hawai’i also calls and is also a place we can belong. In the long term, over a slow move, it seems like a very good place to transition to. We can start a business, Mikey can go back to school if he wants to (I can too!). It’s easy. It makes sense. At this point in my life, I love things that are easy and make sense to me.

So, we’ll see.

Hilo

Rainbow in Hilo

Hilo was my home base for 7 years.

Now, that doesn’t mean I lived there consistently for 7 years, because I didn’t. I went back and forth from Japan and Taiwan to Hilo, leaving for the last time when I was 20 years old, to go and teach second grade in Macau.

I feel like I spent most of my time in Hilo just trying to get out of it. I hated it. I moved there from Fiji, and my life in Fiji had been pretty darn sweet. My brother Dana and I made good money with our pumpkin bread business, I had friends, I felt cool, I could ride my bike or take the bus anywhere. I had a life and the wherewithal to do things.

But in Hilo. My parents were broke and Dana and I couldn’t get jobs at first because we were too young (that thing about ‘minimum age’ to work in the United States!). So we were broke too. And couldn’t get around, on account of the lack of public transport and how spread out everything was, so it felt impossible to bike ride everywhere. Not that we really had anywhere to go.

I felt uncool. My freckly-ultra-whiteness hadn’t meant all that much in Fiji because my friends were used to me, but in Hilo, I glowed like a ghost. I couldn’t hear squat, but I was loathe to admit it and I spent most of my time trying to ‘pass’ as non-deaf. Given Hawai’i and marijuana, most people thought I was just stoned all the time because I missed out on conversations and went around with a kind of goofy smile all the time (the, “hi! I can’t hear anything you are saying, but I come in friendliness and peace” smile).

I went to two different high schools in Hilo, then when I was in Japan as a Rotary Exchange Student when I was 15, I took the SAT, a year of correspondence school work on top of my Japanese high school work, and was finished with high school. I entered the University of Hawai’i at Hilo when I was 16. I left after a year, took off for Taiwan to live with Dana for 6 months, then back to Japan for another year. I returned to Hilo when I was 18, Dana returned too – we both knuckled down and graduated in no time, then we both hightailed it back to Asia.

This is my daughter

23 years ago when I lived there, I never would have believed anyone who might have told me that I’d be crying intense tears there, 23 years later.

I never would have believed that my daughter playing on the monkey bar with my husband would fundamentally move me, bringing back so many memories of my (now-adult) niece playing on the same bars.

I never would have believed how happy I would be, or could be, to be in that spot again.

 

This was at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. I spent hours on these very tables, studying, chain smoking, and slogging down pints of heavily-sweetened and highly-creamed coffee.

This was in the cafeteria.

I worked there throughout my time in college – either in the little “snack shack” where I sold spam musubi, or in the deli, where I crafted kick-ass sandwiches for the sporty people who came by.

Nothing looks like it has changed much. Even the chairs look the same.

digging local kombucha!
Ramen, local-style. Bliss.

And we went to Rainbow Falls, up Waianuenue Avenue.

We lived there when we first arrived from Fiji.

A Hawaiian girl living across the street from us had a huge crush on Dana, and I suspect, friended me in order to get closer to him.

Whatever, we had a good time. She took us to the Falls, and to paths leading far above them to swim.

You have to walk through the Banyons to get above the Falls.

As I stood there, I was flooded with memories of us all playing there. Liana, Dana and I. She and I dared Dana to climb those trees and he did, laughing the whole time.

He always did shit like that. Wild, golden boy. My beautiful brother.

I was so happy to be there, in this place that was drenched with joyous memories.

And I was so fucking angry that he’s gone.

These plants made me smile that day.

Mikey and Moxie had walked ahead and I was wandering around, kind of blinded by my tears of mixed happiness and rage. And longing.

I looked down and saw these – heart shaped green leaves – and felt a sliver, a smidgen of relief.

Which was all that I could ask for.

Mikey got sick on the way over to Hawai’i. He said it was the air conditioner on the plane ride over, and who knows? Maybe it was!

As his ever-loving (and always watchful) wife though, I think it was just that time of year. It’s like, his body is set to ‘go-go-GO’ and then all of the sudden when it has a chance to rest, it just explodes into a cascade of unwellness. Happens every year, right around this time.

This time though, we were in Hawai’i! I knew what to do – I got him a bottle of Noni Juice and had fun watching him drink it. Noni Juice, tastes like how I imagine old shoe leather gone mildewy, then liquified would. Yum!

 

Mack was curious about it when he saw the bottle and heard the word, “juice” – so we gave him some!

Mikey and I went for a walk before the kids were up. Thanks, Mom! Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

We were trying to find the petroglyphs, and it was kind of funny, because we walked way the hell out there over a bunch of lava before Mikey said, “you know, I think we are going the wrong way.” Sure enough, we were.

Here’s the petroglyphs:

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Very cool.

Know what else was cool?!

macadadamia nut stand

Honor-system macadamia nut stand!

And when Mikey went to get a bag of the fresh, zip lock-bagged mac nuts, he noticed that the key for their money box was also in the basket.

The “Organic Coconut Water” place was also awesome. We went in, and instead of a glass of coconut water, we were served the real deal.

We all hung out in under the corrugated plastic roof while the guy cut open our coconuts and Mikey scooped the soft, white, quivering flesh into more ziplock bags , to enjoy on the road. The guy whose shop it was left immediately after the last coconut had been split open, leaving us in his shop alone with his cat.

We drove further up the coast to Hawi, where my Mom and Dad used to live. They both taught at the school in Kapa’au.

It’s beautiful up there. Really lovely. Lush and jungle-y and fierce, interspersed with landscape that could come straight from the Lost Coast: misty fields with cows, sheep and goats. We even saw little pigs.

It was one of those days with rain and wind. It bothered us all not at all, as it was warm and the wild feeling when warm wind arises is kind of exhilarating.

I wanted to climb down, but doing that in flip-flops wouldn’t be sensible.

I know it sounds like a dream, your mom turning to you in conversation over breakfast, “hey, do you want to go to Hawai’i?” Hmm, yeah, how about you twist my arm a little and get me to accompany you to paradise?!

on-the-plane to hawaii

Only it sort of isn’t so simple in a way. You see, my family and I moved to Hawai’i from Fiji when I was 13 (almost 14). I went back and forth from Hawai’i to Japan and Taiwan for years, leaving for the last time when I was 20 years old to teach elementary school in Macau.

Hawai’i was my home base for 7 years, it was where my parents lived. It was from Hawai’i that I graduated from high school and university.

But moving to Hawai’i as a deaf, awkward white kid from Fiji really sucked.

It was challenging on a level that makes me perpetually happy that I’m not that young anymore – wrinkles, weight gain, sun spots and all the rest of the aging baggage – hold nothing on the misery of being a young teenage nerdy, poor, minority (oh my God! I just realized why I love “Everybody Hates Chris”!).

Anyway.

Back to my story. Where was I? Oh right, my mom was asking me if I’d like to go back to Hawai’i.

When she asked if I’d like to go, it was very clear to me that I did want to go back. For the first time in 23 years, I honestly wanted to go back.

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But it was only after we stepped off the plane in Kona on the Big Island that it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: holy cow. This is HOME. Part of my heart is here, along with oceans of memories, precious ones of living and working with my brother Dana.

I have friends in Hawai’i. I know to call my elders “auntie” and “uncle”, and I know how to shut louvered windows. I know the layout of the Big Island, there are streets whose names have long since slipped from my mind yet the curve of their way is embedded in me. I know what’s good to order in most restaurants and I know what to expect from a well-made loco moco.

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In fact, after a few meals on the Big Island, Mikey turned to me and said, “I understand your cooking a lot more now.”

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Everything there felt like a big hunk of salve being slathered over my hurting heart.

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I can’t even begin to tell you what a soul-jerk it was to see our kids playing in the same way that I remember Dana and I playing: making stuff out of huge tropical leaves. And swimming.

meriah-nichols-hawaii-2016-4We all went to Hapuna – a beach I used to go to when I was in university. My brother and his small family and I would load up in our tiny car, or I’d go with my best friend Kozaburo. Either way, I spent a fair amount of time at that beach. Great small waves, awesome laid back vibes.

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Our kids boogie boarding? Moxie just jumping in and kicking ass at it? Priceless.

meriah-nichols-hawaii-2016-27meriah-nichols-hawaii-2016-24meriah-nichols-hawaii-2016-28meriah-nichols-hawaii-2016-18Random Down syndrome injection here: why the hell can’t those perinatal specialists say, “your child is going to have Down syndrome. She might be an awesome boogie boarder.”

Huh? Why not? Anyone going to tell me something about Moxie being different from the rest of the crew with Down syndrome? Because if you are, you are WRONG. She’s completely “normal” on the Down syndrome spectrum. Right-smack average.

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So how about we had that to the list, yeah? “Your child is coming with an extra chromosome. She may be an awesome boogie boarder.”

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I like that.

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