I woke in the dead of night, cold and confused, barely aware of the 2 a.m. alarm that I set before falling asleep on the couch in my work clothes. The dehydrator’s whirring white-noise almost completely drowned out the synthesized “Marimba” sound coming from my iPhone. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, my skin registered the early morning chill that was just beginning to roll down from the mountaintop to our perch on the hillside above Hilo town.
Then I remembered the alarm’s purpose. I rose from my sleep, killed the alarm, and carefully tip-toed around living room obstacles: a coffee table covered with all manner of potential noisemakers, boxes of candy-making materials against the wall, and whatever land mines had been distributed around the floor by two very nocturnal house cats.
The kitchen posed even greater threats to the night’s quiet. A large assortment of pots, pans, trays, sifters and strainers covered the counters and stove-top. Emergent islands of steel, bamboo and plastic—all covered in syrup or dusted with sugar—piled in the sink. The adjacent drying rack overflowing with clean ones tenuously balanced like a game of Jenga about to end. Stray utensils and other kitchen accoutrements in unexpected places. All vied for the role of crash instigator while I navigated by moonlight that filtered in through the house’s big picture-windows, along with the cold air.
I found the dehydrator switch and turned it off. The whirring immediately stopped and I listened for other noises of the night, but there was nothing. Only me and my potential for calamity. With measured movements, I lifted the lid and set it atop the machine, then sampled a piece of warm lilikoi coconut candy, the last batch from a frenzied week of behind-the-scenes work for Hawaiian Candyman.
After replacing the lid, I returned to my little nest in the corner by the sofa and emptied the dry-bag containing my sleeping kit. I traded my cotton tee-shirt for a hoodie of Merino wool, but opted to stay in the warmth of my blue jeans. Into a cotton sleep sack I slipped, then inside a sleeping bag. I pulled the hood over my head and stuffed a cotton sarong around my skin at the sleeping bag’s opening, and drifted back to slumber for a couple hours while the candy cooled.
I was roused again, at 4:30 a.m., by David and Sharon’s commotion. We still had to shake and bag the lilikoi candy from the dehydrator, pour bottles of ginger-coconut syrup, and finish packing the car for the Saturday market in Waimea. “What size pants do you wear?” asked David. “Uh, 32-inch waist,” I replied curiously. “Can I borrow your jeans for market?” was his next question.
It took a few seconds to register, even as I said “OK” and retrieved surf trunks and a pair of lightweight hiking pants from my bag. Chilly as mornings can be here just above Hilo, the elevation and breeze in Waimea make it downright cold during the prolonged dawn before the sun finally breaks over the Kohala foothills and big Mauna Kea. Presumably, David was out of clean pants. (Climbing coconut trees and foraging in jungles really does a number on them.) Mine were somewhat more presentable, so I swapped warm jeans for layers of cold polyester, and we got to work. By 5:30, David and Sharon were on the road to the Waimea Town Market, her Subaru fully loaded with tent, tables and products that include a variety of dried fruits, coconut candies and syrups, and about 70 young coconuts for drinking.
For lack of room in the car, and in need of time to myself, I stay back most Saturdays, taking advantage of the early start and quiet time to gather my wits and scribble recollections from the previous week’s perpetual motion. I sit at a picture window and type while the sky comes to life, often in spectacular fashion. These mountains that rise 40,000 feet above the earth’s crust (from the ocean floor) are weathermakers, but they also channel the energies of atmospheric and oceanic conditions of the vast Pacific basin, where they stand alone in the middle, 2400 miles from the nearest continent. Sometimes it looks and feels like a different planet.
Hawaii is overwhelming in its beauty and complexity, and here I am, trying to make sense of these circumstances. I have never felt more certain that words and photographs are inadequate for conveying the qualities of light and scale of scenery. On rare occasions when I’ve glimpsed Mauna Kea in her full splendor from the ocean’s edge, my brain processes the image as if through a fish-eye lens. The Earth’s curvature is more pronounced and the mountain vertically compressed, so it appears like an integral part of the infinite horizon rather than a massive interruption of it.
Welcome (or welcome back) to my gap-year adventures. I’ve been on the Big Island of Hawaii for two months without posting a word to this blog, so I have lots of catching up to do. But first, now that the sun is sufficiently up, it’s time to make a proper breakfast and go check the surf. Aloha, my far-away friends and family.