Jay Meehan: Magical realism off Kauai
We’ve spent what seems like eons gazing at the exposed jewel that is Kauai. It sparkles, of course, way beyond the any word in the dictionary – Webster, Urban, or otherwise.
It’s more like an evolved volcanic lexicon that goes unspoken, igneous to its core and shaped by the elemental forces of time. We are smitten and therefore, and oftentimes, jaded well beyond the point of comfort zone. We know little of where the rugs under which we have not yet peeked currently lay.
But that is changing. Over the past weekend, the oldest part of the inhabited Hawaiian chain welcomed us to gaze upon its lowest underpinnings, that of the confluence of sea level and the magic realism of erosion.
Following decades filled with gazing down from the isle’s heights to its valleys and shorelines below, poking around by boat under the exposed tip of the iceberg, as it were, is flat-out revelatory. And the Nā Pali, adorning the westernmost side and aptly named “Many Cliffs,” is where the glories abound.
Depending on which section of this storied coastline one wishes to date, the Nā Pali ranges from 4.44 to 5.72 million years old and was formed as part of the Waimea Canyon Volcanic Series of Eruptions. Which, in turn, is part of the great shield volcano of Kauai that rises 17,000 feet from the ocean floor to top out at the summit of Mt. Waialeale, often referred to as the “wettest spot on earth.”
With a necessary quorum of Kauaian Ohana gathered with us visiting Haoles at my sister’s house for a celebratory feast upon the once again completely restored 15-by-4-foot, deeply-grained Koa table the previous evening, a closer inspection of the Nā Pali itself received the go-ahead.
Phone-tagging the following morning got four of us aboard a tour boat and before you could say “Double the grog ration,” we were quartering the recently arrived and quite welcome trade winds out of Hanalei Bay. Out past Lumahai Beach and “Tunnels” we rounded the postcard spires of Bali Hai with the Nā Pali laid out before us. Stunned but grateful we were!
And so the serious poking around began. Into one cave opening and out another. Some lending themselves to various lava-tube tidal rivers and volcanic rooms large enough to circumnavigate small islands that broke the surface. The twin 225 horsepower outboards reacting subtlely to oceanic ebb and flow and the Captains nudges made it all a dance of sorts.
With the beach at Hanakapiai appearing out of the blue, so to speak, much sooner than a previous hike along the now-closed Kalalau Trail would have foretold, we were forced to adjust distance and time scales accordingly.
And when we stopped just yards offshore from the massive Kalalau Valley that we have stared down into from various overlooks for nearly 40 years, it went unrecognized by your humble scribe. Perspective and presentation are everything. Un-weathered memory-lobes probably wouldn’t have hurt much either.
The grand arch at the end of the “Honapu” finger that had imposed itself on us so mightily from the trail back during the Spring of ‘80 took on a whole different profile when viewed from its own level. Not less grand, certainly. Just less like the helicopter shots from King Kong or Jurassic Park and more integrated into its own surroundings.
Into and out of the cave mouths and the intricate wonders therein will most probably assert themselves on itineraries of the future to the Garden Isle. It’s rather cool to come face-to-face with ignorance and then proceed to counter it with real-life experience. Who’da thunkit?
The smooth reflective surfaces of the sharply eroded obsidian-like igneous rock on the exposed underside of Kauai alter perception as if they have been flaked into spearpoints or arrow heads by ancestral Puebloans of the American southwest. It is a glass house, after all.
The debriefing by all involved followed a proper freshwater de-salting procedure and took place over decadent amounts of ahi, mahi-mahi, filet mignon, and prime rib. Someone’s got to do it. Some days require benedictions equal to their coefficients of sacredness. This was one.
The following day was spent congratulating ourselves on a finely instructive outing. A close inspection inside the Nā Pali coast of Kauai has a way of insinuating itself into recall while, at the same time, punctuating all natural history accoutrements from the past. Not that we won’t require additional work in that area.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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