Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could spend a few years, even a decade, living in the place of your dreams? Perhaps the places you’ve picked as the most beautiful places on earth? The world is filled with natural wonders—the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Sequoia National Forest, Sleeping Bear Lakeshore, the Smokey Mountains, the Everglades—each unique and inspiring views to behold. The heart is tugged as the eye drinks in the magnificence.
One such place is the north shore of Kauai, Hanalei Bay to be specific. In 2004, my husband and I had the fortune to travel with a group of friends and stay in a lovely house in Hanalei. I’ll never forget that first morning when we went to the beach. The volcanic mountains arose all around us, their steep faces veiled with cascading waterfalls that spidered downward in white streaks. The pacific ocean rolled in front of us in hues of blue such as I’d never seen, at once translucent and vibrant. The sand stretched long and clean, inviting a walk along the waterfront. I was transfixed, moved to tears at the beauty. It felt like Eden, like home, as if I’d waited all my life to see it.
The trip was magical; we took a helicopter ride above the Waimea Canyon, boated on a catamaran along the inaccessible Napali Coast, snorkeled in PoiPu. One of the most memorable experiences, however, came when four of us took a side road to buy hand made leis.
It was a simple sign that caught our attention, set alongside the main highway skirting the coast. We turned and went up a long hill until we found an unassuming home set above the ocean, again with a handmade sign indicating it was the place. An older gentleman was sitting in the shade of his porch, making a fishing net. His wife, a native Hawaiian, and their daughter soon joined us. It was the daughter who made the leis and as we waited for her to complete a special lei made for one of our group who was having a birthday, we got acquainted with our happenstance hosts.
At first, they were standoffish, probably unsure if we were going to put on condescending aires. When it became apparent we were genuinely interested in them, not what we could get from them, they opened up. The man was Portuguese, one of the last of skilled net makers still working the art. We watched as he nimbly wove the stout lines together, aided only by a threader he deftly maneuvered as he created the little squares comprising the net. His patience was unequaled, yet there was a soothing rhythm to his work. It was clear he took pride in his craft and appreciated our awe of his ability.
The man’s wife was a wealth of island history. She had grown up on the island and was distantly related to the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani. We wondered if this was as common claim, yet there was a quiet dignity about her that was compelling and lent it credibility. She had lost two of her fingers working in a poi factory, she explained. Then she went on to talk about Elvis Presley. Blue Hawaii was filmed on Kauai, as were many movies. Extras were needed for the cast and our lady was one of them. Right up to Elvis’s death, he kept in touch with her, sending cards and notes. Her humble dwelling seemed incongruent with her connections.
The daughter never completely warmed up. It seemed she was at battle with herself, starting to let her guard down only to quickly throw it up again. The reason became clear as we talked about the changes the island was undergoing. Haoles, a pejorative term for white people, were gobbling up land at exorbitant prices. Celebrities didn’t care what they paid for their piece of paradise. It was driving up taxes and forcing native Hawaiians off their ancestral land. It was a story we had heard all too often. When we explained that we, too, were faced with similar pressures on our farm, an understanding passed between us.
There were so many things about that trip that left a mark on my soul—the land, the ocean, the people, and the camaraderie with our friends. As we prepared to go home, I found tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to leave. I understood why people who came to visit never left. The island is magical, spiritual.
The places I’ve visited have become a part of me, but when I think of Hanalei, there’s a special tug at my heartstrings. I hope to return.