My companion turns his head to me, as though only now has he seen me. Last night I flew in from Honolulu, the plane shuttering as we descended through the cloud bank, then steady in the calm air, clusters of lights below, and I was pulled forward as we landed and braked. Kona.
My driver seemed as unsure as me as she turned down a single lane road in the dark to Gingerhill Farm, high above the town, turning to our right and left, so we only saw walls of foliage until everything opened before us. I listened to the sounds of chirping – “coqui frogs,” she said, “an invasive species.”
I walked along the porch, following the directions Zack had texted me, pushed open a screen door, found the bed, and disappeared into sleep, believing I was alone, but in the morning discovered I was sharing the room with a gold dust gecko, resting so still I thought he was just a rubber toy, until he looked at me, as though I was an intruder in his space.
“Geckos are not from here,” says Zack as he serves me breakfast on the lanai. A feral cat follows him, walking an arc around me, just out of my reach.
“How much of this is planted?” I ask, pointing to the foliage surrounding us.
“All of it,” he says. “We planted it all. Cleared out what was here and planted this.”
A Japanese woman in her early eighties joins us. Mayumi Oda, Zack’s mother. They speak in Japanese. His father, who lives in California, met his mother when he lived in Japan. His wife, Iris, from Brazil appears, and he switches to Portuguese. They excuse themselves and I sit with Mayumi. I ask about the farm, which she bought twenty years ago.”
“So much work,” she says. “Hard to keep up with.” I look at the jungle of trees and fruits and vines. Among the leaves are geckos hunting. At night the coqui will wake and sing for mates.
Mayumi walks me to her painting studio. Resting on an enormous harvest table is a near-done thanka (a traditional Tibetan painting of a bodhisattva). I mention this and she acknowledges the tradition, but says, “I do it in my own style,” and I notice her breaks from the form.
The next three days, I rise at dawn and meditate with Zack, Iris, and Mayumi, sitting in her living room, facing the Pacific below, watching the sun rise and listening as the coqui slowly quiet themselves. One day I have a private yoga class with Iris. I think my poses are perfectly mirroring hers, but several times she she breaks her poses to step over me and firmly push my body to the right position. Another day, with a teacher and Mayumi, I awkwardly move through the slow-motion-martial-arts moves of Tai Chi. On my last day, I have a cooking class with the farm’s Filipino chef and Zack guides me through the farm, the goats and 500 pound pig greeting him, not knowing the day will come when he must end their lives.
In my time alone, I return to Joko Beck’s “Everyday Zen” and her talk, “Relationships Don’t Work.” After noting that every moment of our lives is in relationships, she says she wants to talk about our illusion that relationships will work.
“See, they don’t. They simply don’t work. There never was a relationship that worked. You may say, ‘Well, why are we doing all this practice if that’s true?’ It’s the fact that we want something to work that makes our relationships so unsatisfactory.”
Alani picks me up to drive me to the airport. She lets me sit with her in the front. She is in her late sixties, a large Hawaiian woman, laughing as she talks. She is telling about a tourist she picked up who propositioned her. “You crazy?!?” she says.
She tells me about her husband. They met in their twenties. He is from Mexico, was in the Marine Corps, and asked her to marry him three times. The first two times, she said no, but then, she explains to me, pointing to the sky, “He said I was here to save him. So I married him.”
I ask what happened.
“It didn’t work,” she says.
After some silence, she says, “If we had less aloha spirit, there would be less haloes.” I nod, thinking not just about the foreigners (including me), but the plants, the coqui, the geckos. “But that is the old way. And I teach it to my kids.”
At the airport, I want to hug her. She remains in her seat. Smiles. “Aloha, Chris.” And then I am on the plane, rumbling down the runway, breaking into the air, arcing right, back to Honolulu, into the clouds, thinking about the garden of my own life, and wondering what is the best practice for tending to it.