Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grandeur and Kalaupapa Lookout

Last night was the first really clear night since I arrived, and the stars were amazing. I forget, living in the city, what it’s like to see a night sky, filled so full that it’s like one big, black, twinkling ocean, chalk full of stars, planets, constellations. I think I could even see the Milky Way, though it’s been so long, maybe I’m wrong, maybe that’s not what it was at all. The tricky thing here is that it seems the sky is rarely clear because of the way clouds roll in and out constantly. Last night was cloudless, moonless, and brilliantly clear.

The last time I remember seeing a night sky like that was about fifteen years ago at Crater Lake in Oregon. I sat out on the back deck of the lodge that overlooks the lake in an oversized, made-from-tree-branches rocker, watching the sun go down, and then gazing in awe at the sky until long after midnight. Not only were there stars galore, but also some meteor showers happening and it was just so beautiful. My youngest was nine or ten at the time, had not yet hit that magic age where she could no longer have anything to do with me, and spent part of the evening and night sprawled on my lap, watching with me, eventually rocking to sleep.

Crater Lake was also one of the very few times I've been somewhere in nature that absolutely arrested me, and where I felt its grandeur as something palpable, breathtaking and for lack of a better word, spiritual. I know I tend toward the dramatic in my writing, casually tossing around words like incredible, amazing, stunning, staggering. But I just don’t use a word like “grandeur,” because it’s the rare, rare occasion that it fits and is true.

Yesterday it was the only word that fit. On my way into town to trade out one clunker for another clunker and to visit the library for the first time, I took the road that leads to the lookout over the Kalaupapa peninsula, the small, flat piece of land that became home to the "colony," where those with leprosy (now known as Hansen’s Disease) were thrown—literally pushed off the boat in the earliest days and into the surf, to either make it to shore or not—into life-long, heart-wrenching exile. It’s a horrifically tragic and yet strangely inspiring part of this island’s history that I’m sure I’ll be writing more about. It’s a short walk to the lookout through a forest of trees (yes, I’d left the desert and climbed into the woods), the view at the end of the path so unexpected it stopped me in my tracks. I’d seen pictures, but nothing could have prepared me.

Not quite straight down, yet close, in the very near distance, nearly 3,000 feet below lay this small, very flat, beautiful piece of land. Part of it abundantly green, surrounded by the deep blue sea that from up there appeared gentle and serene, a tiny, micro paradise-like spot, with beaches, palms, one road, a small cluster of buildings, a tiny lighthouse at the far, more desolate-looking end. But what’s truly stunning, what creates the grandeur is this very lovely, sweet little piece of land juxtaposed against massive, vertical, 3,000 foot high verdant seas cliffs that it abuts to. (To put a visual to it, it’s like a backward “L.”)

Not only is it mesmerizingly beautiful, but there is a feel about it that seems other-worldly, and therefore difficult to put to words. There are few places I’ve been that elicit this response. Crater Lake, Glacier Point in Yosemite, Haleakala Crater on Maui, where I’ve just had to stop, gaze, wonder, and feel the breath of some kind of greater something upon me. There’s a stillness that is in direct proportion to its power. And I am filled with awe.

This place, without question takes the cake. Maybe it’s knowing the history. Or maybe, the history has infused it with some sort of palpable force of energy. Perhaps the utter, utter isolation of it. Whatever. Between the beauty of the land, the powerful feel of it, and the human history, I was blown away.

I will be returning, probably again and again to this spot. Like church is for so many, it’s a place where I can go and feel the presence of something far bigger, far more powerful, infinitely more enduring. Where my humanness not only pales, but is lost, and my being, my spirit, is flooded with quiet, with awe, with amazement, with peace.

With much aloha, from Moloka’i

(Quick note: pics will have to come later because my camera chose the moment I arrived there to stop working. Big Hmmm. More on that later.)

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