There are moments in our lives we can only reflect upon from a distance. Only in retrospect, after a number of years have passed, can we begin to fully express the notions which we once had the inability to put into words, due to the close proximity of the experience. These chapters of our lives are carved into our paths like stone, meant to challenge us, to change us.
So the story begins.
. . .
She is 18 years young. Eighteen and the island in the South Pacific feels more like a person than a place. It greets her like an old friend, an aloha, after a lifetime of a hui kaua, until we meet again.
She builds a temporary home in sandy white bedsheets, in a studio by the sea that smells of koa wood and kona coffee. In the middle of the night, she is woken from sleep by the sound crashing waves outside her window and the rhythmic patter of rainfall and the howl of trade winds. Sometimes, she worries the waves will wash across the shoreline and into the house. Sometimes, she dreams the waves will sweep her out to sea.
She befriends locals, and together, they climb through lush green rainforests and scale volcanic mountains. They tread barefoot atop lava rock, because ‘only haoles wear slippahs’, so she abandons her sandals on the white shell sands and follows them, barefoot, across the jagged black rocks overlooking the South Pacific. The warm rock cuts her soft feet, until she learns to balance, to navigate the lava rocks with ease.
The days pass as hidden works of art; unassuming and beautiful.
. . .
One morning, when the winter swell begins to build on the north shore and the beaches become crowded with onlookers, she and her friends catch a ride to the quiet east side of the island, following the promise of excellent spearfishing with clear waters and a plethora of fish.
Slowly, she fastened her weight belt over her black bikini bottoms, tying the mesh dive bag to her hip, pulling her fins onto her feet. As she sat at the shoreline, adjusting her mask, a Hawaiian fisherman emerged from the water, dark hair tied in bun, an intricate array of tattoos adorning his arms and chest. In his left hand, he clutched a mesh bag filled with fish, in his right, a Hawaiian sling. She smiled at him, shyly, waving hello. Although her friends had already entered the water, she didn’t want to intrude upon a local beach.
The man gave a warm smile back, and soon they were seated together in the sand, talking story. He explained that, in order to spear a fish, a person must swim like one. Move with the currents, not against them. Slow your heart rate. Imagine you have gills. Give an aura of ‘you are not my prey, you are my equal.’
With a final glance at dry land, she dove into the sea, carrying her Hawaiian sling. Hunting. She preferred to fish with a sling. Spear guns were too heavy, too mechanical. With a Hawaiian sling, one must practice patience.
Inhaling a deep breath of island air, she let the weight belt pull her beneath the surface, 20 feet to the bottom of the sea. There, she held her breath, perfectly still. Fist wrapped carefully around the sling, finger holding the band taut, silently positioned between coral and lava rock. Waiting. Watching.
A minute felt like an hour, as her lungs began to burn. Parting her lips, she took small sips of sea water into her mouth, going through the physical motions of breathing, without engaging in the act. Trying to trick her body into believing it had oxygen, or perhaps even gills- sparing herself a few more precious seconds beneath the surface.
A fish swims several feet away. Her chance at a catch, her opportunity for air.
Releasing the sling, the spear cuts through the water, puncturing the scales, piercing the fish.
For a moment, the fish writhes in pain. A small crimson cloud emerges from the wound.
She pulls the fish close to her, tucking it into her mesh bag. She is anxious to return to shore- worrying the scent of blood in the water will attract a curious tiger shark.
She begins to swim toward the beach, her catch trailing behind her. Climbing over exposed dry reef, she pulls herself onto the sand. Chest heaving, body shaking.
The image of the fish replays in her head. A living creature, swimming through the sea. Vibrant, alive. Moving through currents and reefs, sun sparkling upon its scales, feeling the coolness of the water’s depths.
Until she released the spear.
. . .
They drive along Kamehameha Highway, through jungle on the east side of the island. She sits in the bed of a white Ford pickup truck, a cloud of red dust trailing them for miles. The guys chat about the wind direction and the impending swell, as the sky grows heavy and gray, indicating an impending tropic storm.
Her eyes are transfixed upon the lush green mountains in the distance. They drive past fruit stands teeming with lychee and pineapple, homes adrift with the scent of fresh baked banana bread, kite boarders soaring across the horizon, vast shrimp farms and local beach parks. Jack Johnson sings in between static on the radio, while the words of the local fisherman play in her head like a broken record;
To spear a fish, you must become a fish.
And she understood.
It was never about the hunt.
Only through feeling empathy for the creature one is hunting, does one gain respect for the sacredness of life.
. . .
That evening, they prepare fresh poke from her catch. They talk story around a driftwood bonfire on the beach, and eat pieces of fish from the folds of banana leaves. They climb trees to cut fresh coconuts open with machetes and pour rum into them, and strum reggae songs on the ukulele and swim in the sea beneath a full moon.
. . .
It was on that island in the vastness of the Pacific, she discovered life and love exist in everything.
Life was in the geckos, a Hawaiian symbol of spirits and good luck, that greeted her each morning on the lanai. Life was in the vibrant coral reefs she swam through, and in the stray cats which brushed against her leg as she carried her surfboard down to Ehukai Beach Park. Life was in the dolphins which swam past as she went rock running, carrying boulders beneath the surface at Waimea. Life was in the hidden waterfalls reflecting the colors of the jungle. Life was in the volcanic dirt which painted her skin red and the warm rainfall which fell from the heavy gray sky. Life was in the gentle rustle of the palm trees and the pastel sunset revealing itself like a painting. Life was in keiki playing in the shallows and honu which surfaced alongside her surfboard at Laniakea. In all of these things, she saw the presence of life, and of love.
On that island in the South Pacific, she learned to embrace the sea, and the sky, and the fish, and the earth and the people, and every trail and tribulation. Aloha wau iā ‘oe. To love life, in all of its nuances, just as it is.
Until, once more, she felt the urge to take flight. Another horizon, beckoning. So she packed her bags, promising to someday return.
A hui kaua.
Until we meet again.
. . .
x. Natasha Overin