Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Confessions of a Dime Store Recluse

This is me  -  self portrait from the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, October 9, 2012

When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail both ways in 2012 my trail name was 'Seeks It'.  As I proceeded through that ten month Odyssey/Pilgrimage many people I met on the trail asked me 'What is it that you seek?' Others would ask 'Have you found it?'

It's taken two years.  The second anniversary of the completion of my 4368.4-mile sojourn comes up on November 3rd.  But now, on the threshold of my 67th year, I know precisely what I was seeking.  And I know that I found it.

The self portrait above contains no human being.  Yet it is a better picture of who I am than almost any other picture I could show.  It is the timeless in me, the selfless.  This is what nature - my nature - has called me to seek since I was a child.

It is delicate.  It only whispers--quieter than the wind.  It is so shy and so reticent--so easily overwhelmed by the chaos of human entanglements--that it only comes forth for me when the wind has stilled and civilization has retreated to a box in the closet of my mind.

And that is why I need to be a recluse - at least every so often.

Ahhh, yes.  Of course I know we humans are social animals.  I crave companionship as we all do.  While on the trail I felt as though I was able to regulate my surroundings so that I could get just about the right mix of solitude and human comfort.  A little of the latter goes a long way for me.  Too much, and I'm seeking to retreat deeper into the woods.  Too little and ...

... well, have I ever really had too little?  The world these days seems so utterly saturated with human influences.  Even on a still summer morning while sitting alone watching the sun rise from a ragged mountain top, the twittering of birds in the underbrush is usually accompanied by the throaty moan of a jetliner high in the stratosphere, doggedly devouring the dreary miles between Hither and Yon.  No, I'm not entirely sure that I have ever experienced too little connection with my fellow man.

And that is why I am a recluse - at least by comparison to most.


So as I write this reflection of past experience, I'm projecting it into the future.  I'm too old to waste time doing things that burden me needlessly, especially when so much that I love is left to live for.

I want to 'hike my own hike' as they say in Appalachian Trail parlance, sharing experiences along life's trail via social media (through my freely offered writing, mainly on this blog) where others who might appreciate my ramblings can do so free of charge, anonymously, and without overt judgment, where those who find me tedious are free to ignore me without appearing rude, and where I can share myself without undue entanglement in the rigors of self-promotion, without the bane of unmet expectations, and without stumbling into the shadowed pits of narcissism.

If you meet me in person along life's trail, I'd prefer it to be 'out there' - under the open sky - sharing nature's sanctuary, with civilization no closer to us than the stratosphere, or in a box in the closet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hiking Moloka'i

Mokapu Island and Moloka'i's rugged north shore as seen from the Kalaupapa peninsula

Moloka'i (pronounced MO-lo-kah'-ee with a glottal stop--shut off all air output through your throat-- between the last two syllables) is one of the least visited and one of the most purely Hawaiian of the Hawai'i Island Chain.  I spent a week here in 1986 and several more days in 2009.  The memories are indelible.  And the best of them were experienced on foot, in places automobiles can't go.

On both visits I hiked the rambling undeveloped beaches of Kephui Beach and Papohaku Beach Park on the western end of the island, with views of Oahu just across the Kaiwi Channel:

Looking SW from Kephui Beach at sunset
Kephui Beach, looking N to the three lonely coconut palms
Sunset over Oahu, seen from Kephui Beach, western Moloka'i

And on both visits I walked the famous mule trail, which switches back and forth down a 1500 foot cliff to the inaccessible Leper Colony, home of the recently Sainted Father Damien, on the Kalaupapa Peninsula.  The trail starts at Pala'au State Park, famous for its sacred phallic rock, a place of pilgrimage for barren women, accessible via a quarter mile foot-only trail ...

... as well as the overlook to the Kalaupapa Peninsula and Awahua Beach:

The 2.9 mile trail does indeed descend the precipitous cliff you see in the foreground above and then follows alongside Awahua Beach, ending at the leper colony at Kalaupapa, the town in the forefront of the peninsula.  Here's a helicopter shot of the steep part of the trail taken from a post card followed by my own shot of the route of the trail, taken from the harbor area:

Most people travel this trail by mule, but I've done it four times now on foot -- twice down and twice up.

At the bottom, both times, I joined a tour of the leper colony where Father Damien served and ministered to the ill, eventually catching the disease himself and perishing.  He was canonized on October 11, 2009, just a month after these photos were taken:

Father Damien's grave beside St. Philomena Church in Kalawao
Panorama of Moloka'i's north shore with Okala Island at center
Father Damien mosaic beside St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa
Pristine Awahua Beach at the bottom of the 2.9 mile trail, accessible only by foot or mule
I won't extend this post into the other sights and cultural experiences on Moloka'i beyond pointing out my hands-down most authentic Island dining experience - If you stop at only one restaurant on Moloka'i, make it the Kualapu'u Cookhouse - a quaint little spot out in the country where locals gather for music every weekday evening, where the food is Island style with heaping portions, and the service is as laid back as you could hope for:

One of the books I found most helpful to understanding the natural beauty of Molokai was this one, chock full of color photos on every page, written by Ph.D. biological researchers who have scoured the island end to end.  My review is below:

Majestic Molokai: A Nature Lover's GuideMajestic Molokai: A Nature Lover's Guide by Cameron Kepler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a coffee table book in the guise of an ordinary trade paperback. It is full of color photos on every page and text written by scientists who have spent a great deal of time doing wildlife surveys on Molokai and other Pacific Islands. They cover the Island end to end, with heavy emphasis on nature, though the culture and people are also featured. It's a fine insider's look at this most Hawaiian of the Hawaiian Islands.

I have spent nearly two weeks on Molokai on two separate trips twenty years apart, and bought this book on the first of these trips. My first hand experience dovetails with the experiences portrayed by the authors in pictures and text. Although the book is dated (nearly a quarter century old now), and therefore does not discuss some of the more recent issues such as the Molokai Ranch water rights and wind farm issues. But as a guide to the island's enduring culture and natural beauty, it's pretty much timeless. If you're thinking of visiting 'The Friendly Isle', especially if you're going to do some exploring, I'd recommend you pick up this book to help with your planning.

View all my reviews