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hang loose and mahalo
hard thoughts on kauai
by dan gonzalez

Any good Buddhist will tell you that this life is nothing but a stopover in a hellish physical world of pollution. And the more pollution one encounters, the more immoral one's soul was in the past life, so suck it up, make the best, and try to cleanse your karma to avoid being reincarnated as something hideous, I don't know, perhaps a river rat in Manhattan. I guess those poor birds we see coated in oil after a tanker leaks were some serious assholes in their past lives.

Be that as it may, the one thing I love about people in general, and throughout history in specific, is that we've come up with one religion after another just to explain all this chaotically undefinable phenomena we call life.

Anyway, and somewhat along those lines, the first thing that comes to mind when setting foot on Kauai is, oddly enough, pollution. Or rather, the lack of it. This is an interesting turn, considering that Buddhism plays no small part here, where the population descended from Asians and Polynesians, and Buddhist shrines are as visible as any Tiki totems. What sticks out, though, is how polluted the rest of the world must really be in comparison.

It's not that my home state of Ohio is polluted. Compared to the storehouse of human excrement that is the Greater New York area, or the terminal fart-cloud that we call L.A., Ohio is an unpolluted paradise. But from the moment one steps off a plane on Kauai, this little overlooked Hawaiian island 200 miles west of Oahu, one gets an overwhelming sense of clean. Cleanliness and wild chickens, that is.

You see, back in '93, a hurricane blew away a huge amount of the island's chicken coops without killing the majority of the chickens. Due to eons of genetic isolation, there is no natural predator of chickens or chicken eggs on Kauai. So they've been runnin' the place ever since. Viva la revolution, I say.

That's right, birds that can't even fly more than 10 yards at a clip own the joint. Says a lot about how laid back the people are, doesn't it? But why worry? The chickens were meant to be free, brah'.

And, as it turns out, the wild Kauain chickens are indeed harmless. Unfortunately, the roosters are not. These cocks - by every literal and vernacular definition of that word - have unshorn talons, feral-looking beaks, and think they own the sidewalks and other walkways by which their harems of impregnated hens nest.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather fight a gator - whose back you can jump on and whose mouth you can secure with 2 lbs. of pressure - than I would the whirling dervish that is a helplessly horny cock - with 2-inch talons and which can hover 10" above the ground in short bursts - during mating season when said foul creature has the most to lose. Suffice to say, the best thing to do is kick them, unless, of course, you're wearing flip-flops. In that case, just run.

But I digress, the funny thing is, I saw a thousand wild chickens but no birdshit. Even Hawaiian chickens don't intentionally pollute.

This singularly 'Hawaiian' lack of pollution is especially visbible at night. At night, nestled in between some dunes, the backdrop of sky is blacker than anything I have ever seen - there are no big towns to lend light pollution - but lit up with more stars than you could ever see in the continental 48 states. 10,000 stars or more, and the brightness of the faintest is magnified to such a degree that identification of even basic constellations is beyond an ordinary star-gazer.

Amongst the throng, I did manage to find the Little Dipper - albeit hanging oddly in a thoroughly unfamiliar sky - but I could not successfully trace it toward Polaris and thus Orion, the only constellation I can ever find and without which, for no good reason, I feel isolated and alone whenever the stars are my only blanket.


By day, the waters of the Pacific that bathe Kauai are turqoise in color, such a clean, clear version of salt water that you can open your eyes underneath without the pain of the typical PH imbalance. And because Kauai is small and fairly under-developed, from anywhere you can drive a short distance to a completely isolated beach, or to the head of a sublime back-country hiking path: complete seclusion within a stones' throw. But on the way, you will see a Subway, a McDonalds, and even the obvious bane of all those wild chickens: a KFC. (Must have been one of Colonel Sanders' better investments!)

As of yet, there are no Walmarts, and no big-box of any kind. But the handfuls of franchises in the bigger towns, like Lihue with it's burgeoning population of 5,674, present an ominous turn. The price for preventing big-box is paid in the fact that everything is more expensive on Kauai than it is on the big-box islands: a box of Triscuits is over $5, a gallon of gas $4! This to Ohio's $2.25 and $1.89/gallon! It is obviously worth it for Kauai's sake.

After all, no sane person wants another Maui, better have the unimaginative corporate golfers and Sam's Club subservients go there and leave the spirit of Kauai alone. But even a haole can sense the change that's coming: How long before the bright-lights of big-box retail cloud out the brightness of the numberless stars of a true Kauai night? Why must one slumber on a secluded beach in a faraway, innaccesible cove to finally appreciate with reason something that untold hundreds of supposedly primitive - yet in obvious retrospect, more sophisticated - souls observed and celebrated with spirit alone?

The spirit of Kauai, from this humble haole's perspective, is defined from the two most common phrases heard: 'Hang loose' and 'Mahalo'. The first means 'take everything easy', and the second means 'my gratefulness'. Perhaps its the seamless blend of Buddha and Tiki, of nature and man, of the spiritual and the physical. Mental machinations mean nothing, it's how do you feel, and how do you feel? In a word, balance.

In my hotel room, next to the requisite bible that one finds in any historic Western mission of old, I was suprised to find the "Path of the Buddha" as well as the history of the native Hawaiians. I couldn't help but think that the West is the intrusion here, because the natives are restful, and see no conflict between the Buddhism that came with the non-aggressive Japanese, and the animistic religions of the natives. Make no mistake, had we not nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent souls therein, Hawaii would be nothing like it is now. Hirohito knew no Buddhist path, nor did he respect any of the Polynesian faith that he crushed back then. But that is over, and unlike any of the various French or English colonies (which conquered instead of melded with the primitives), in this case the melding of civilization (represented by the Asian East) and the primitive (represented by native Hawaii) has been sublime and complete.

It may be the easy-going nature of the island itself - which rewards all hikers with easy-to-reach fruit, which provides seafood to the laziest of spear-fisherman, and which produces spring-water from miriad waterfalls sourced from the rainy highlands of the scorched volcanic peaks above - that foments the serene, secret wisdom of the natives. Or perhaps it is the spirit of two ancestors, the seafarers of old Tahiti, and the wanderers of old Japan, that are so kindred that the West is just naturally marked out.

Or perhaps, the west, with our big-box retail, and corporate dreams, should learn the trure meaning of the two most singular Hawaiian phrases above, and perhaps the secret of how the two work together: While literally translated as 'Take everything easy', and 'Thank you', when combined - as perhaps true Hawaiians see them - the two as one might just mean "Leave well enough alone, and be grateful."


Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

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tracey kelley
5.16.05 @ 11:07a

Such a nice transport of thought and place on this chilly spring morning in Iowa.

I would like to adapt the Buddist way of hanging loose and being grateful, but I'm feeling rather upstartish right now.

dathan wood
5.16.05 @ 1:02p

Yep, that’s one of christianity’s biggest flaws, it’s the only religion where no one was smart enough to build in a “respect the earth” clause. What was Jesus thinking?

tim lockwood
5.17.05 @ 12:46a

Christianity has a "respect the earth" clause, but it's in two parts. Therefore, each part is taken separately and either misunderstood or (happening more frequently these days with lotsa Christian tenets) ignored as not important.

The first part was found in the book of Genesis when God basically handed Adam and Eve the world. He said for them to take the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it. The second part comes hundreds of pages later when we are instructed to be faithful stewards of that which we are given.

In those rare instances when these two parts are ever considered together, most people look at it as, "It's my planet to rule over, so I'll rip all the valuable stuff out of her, then go sell it all and get rich like God told me to."

In reality, what God was clearly saying was, "Okay, here's a really nice planet - made it myself. It's got all kinds of cool stuff like blue skies and trees and eagles and whatnot, and I'm giving it to you kids to live in and decorate the way you like it. Remember, it's huge and it's self-sustaining to a point, but it's finite. And I'm not going to make you another if you trash this one. I'm going to hold you accountable for everything I give you, including your home, so act wisely."

stacy smith
5.17.05 @ 8:01a

Nicely done! Although I don't share your feelings of being alone when under a blanket of stars. I find the balls of gas calming and interesting to watch.

One of the best moments in my lifetime was gazing up to the skies in the wee hours of the morning only to find a cresent moon with Jupiter looking as though it was attached at the moon's lower half by a string.

As for the rest of it, humans are what humans do.

People don't know the value of something until it's gone. Sure we have Earth Day and Arbor Day, but what good is that when golf courses and condos are being built in every nook and cranny 365 days a year.

After the dust clears and the perfectly manicured lawn is sprayed on, people complain about the wildlife that now raids their trash cans or eats their pets in some places. Living amongst coyotes is not a bad thing, they need to be respected and understood just like any other animal.

There isn't any money to be had in star gazing and enjoying wildlife/nature for all that it is and all that it brings. One cannot stick such moments in a box and sell it.

For that I am thankful as it's one thing that will never be found on a metal shelf with a cheap price tag at Wal-Mart.

tracey kelley
5.17.05 @ 10:11a

In reality, what God was clearly saying was, "Okay, here's a really nice planet - made it myself. It's got all kinds of cool stuff like blue skies and trees and eagles and whatnot, and I'm giving it to you kids to live in and decorate the way you like it."

Heh. I love this.

stephen cook
5.19.05 @ 10:55p

Hey Danno, (if I may)
I spent about 13 years in Ohio before I came back to New York a year ago. If you would visit me in upstate New York you would find a paradise that exeeds Ohio Brah'. Don't get me wrong, but everyone in general here recycles. Didn't see too much of that in Ohio. Great state and nicer people but you have to remember the huge chunk on the map that is not NYC, Still luv ya dude. Oh, drinks are on me...

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