if these walls could speak

Even though I was only on Moloka’i for a week, I quickly learned that the island is full of abandoned pieces of history. Forgotten resorts and hotels, overgrown golf courts. Empty stretches of beach. Even the remnants of a leper colony on the north shore, seen from the top of a high foggy bluff. The island is beautiful, but it’s also full of ghosts.

Towards the end of our stay, we went on a hike that wrapped up around the rocky coastline, first through thick red dirt, then sand and finally up over the ocean cliffs. We were heading towards an abandoned military base that D and his father had discovered a few years prior. We didn’t stay long–just enough for me to burn through a few rolls of film, stumbling over deer bones and dodging hornets and mosquitos.

The place left a strange feeling in my gut, and as we hurried back towards the ocean I kept glancing over my shoulder, like maybe someone was right there. Or like I’d left something behind.

Like I’d been somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.

An abandoned WWII military base on Moloka’i, photographed with a Mamiya C330 // June 2014

the wild ones

On one of our last days on Moloka’i, I was having a strange fit of island blues–missing Los Angeles, my grandfather, my bed, my dog, missing everything in that way you do when you’ve been rootless for weeks on end.

We stopped for macadamia nuts on a nearby farm and I left instead with half a roll of film of the unbearably sweet island cats that were sunning themselves nearby.

Moloka’i, pt. 2

On the second day of the trip, I begin to keep a list of all the animals and wild things that we’re living alongside: turkeys, parrots, doves, robins, some bird with a feathered red head, lizards, skinny black cats, dragonflies, deer, mice, bees, crickets, giant butterflies, roosters, toads, cockroaches, mosquitoes. I’m still adding to the list on our last day.

There’s a peacock that’s been roaming the smooth grass around the condo, sometimes letting out a throaty holler of a call. Every time he comes by he leaves one of his tail feathers. It starts as just one. We pick it up from the grass and place it in a vase inside. But then it’s another, and another. After a week we have an entire handful of these feathers that we bring back to LA for our new home.

Immediately, effortlessly, I settle into a kind of vacation routine. I wake up early. Sit on the back patio with coffee and cereal. I write or read. D paints or sketches. His father does crossword puzzles and then suddenly jumps to his feet, ready for a walk, a swim, some sun. We swim in the morning, then nap, then swim again in the afternoon, right at sunset when the water is pink and gold. We buy groceries from the market and D cooks dinner for all of us while I snack impatiently. We watch bad movies, drink beer, fall asleep early. The World Cup is like a background texture through it all. The TV a dull hum of cheers and boos.

And just as easily as we fell into the routine, we fall right back out of it. Instead of afternoon swims, we go on a hike through thick, red dirt. The trail wraps itself haphazardly around the coast and we climb higher, higher, stumbling over stones and sand. The walk is long and the heat is oppressive but on the way back we stop at a half moon of beach. The water looks cold and perfect and I don’t remember how I get myself there, if I take off my shoes, or just fall right in. I melt into it completely, the salt thick on my tongue and in my nose, burning my eyes, it doesn’t matter. I float with my ears beneath the surface and the whole world becomes nothing but a firey, vibrating hum.

I’m used to the mix of indoor-outdoor life from LA. The bleeding of one space into another. But life on an island takes it to an entirely new level. Birds come into the living room looking for feed. Mice roost in the kitchen and leave traces of themselves across the white floor. I have so much sand in my hair that my scalp has taken on the texture of sandpaper. Sand slips into my clothes, covers the slippery floor of the shower, fills the smooth space between the sheets.

One day we decide to drive along the coast of the island, chasing after a waterfall. The windows are down, the air pushing in hard. My skin is four shades darker, my hair lighter. Everything altered from the sun. Something clicks in my brain suddenly and I scramble for the blank back of an old coupon, scavenged from the floor of the back seat. I pull a pen from my backpack. It comes to me effortlessly–a short list, only seven items long. I write them down as quick as I can catch them, boom, boom, boom. A plan for the next phase of my life falling effortlessly, intuitively into place.

We don’t make it to the waterfall that day. We hike halfway there before a local turns us back and instead we find another spot of ocean, this one thicker, more opaque, like its been churned up by a storm.

We tell ourselves we’ll come back tomorrow, but by the time tomorrow rolls around we’ve been entranced by something new. An utterly transparent spot of ocean. Jewel-like. Pristine. The fish are small and colorful and I swim through them until I get dizzy, until I can’t quite tell what’s real anymore and go rushing back to the surface.

overgrowth

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It was during a hot, mid-morning walk to the beach that we found this place, a series of overgrown tennis courts and debris-laden golf carts, the remnants of a resort abandoned many years earlier. We stood in our swim suits and flip flops, towels draped over our shoulders to protect our reddening skin. D’s father didn’t hesitate, immediately pushing his way inside the maze of vines and rusted chain link fencing.

Much later in the day, just as the sun began to set and the air cooled down, D and I retraced his father’s steps, found the place again, this time equipped with camera and pen and paper and watercolors. I stepped carefully through the weeds and spiders and toppled over appliances, trying to disturb everything as little as possible.

At this point I’d been on the island long enough to intuit the strangeness of its energy–part hostile, part lazy and easygoing, part unrest.

The unrest was what hit me hardest, what stayed with me long after I was back in Los Angeles. A bubbling, angry sort of energy wrapped up within the trappings of paradise.

The remnants of an abandoned golf resort, photographed with my Mamiya C330

Moloka’i, Hawaii // July 2014