creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Turquoise Ring

On Sunday I go to Waimea—Kamuela—to Ka'ai's wedding and the powwow, both unlooked for.

I drive across Highway 270, the back road, which runs from here to there through high, astonishingly green pastureland lavish of horses and cows (ka'aus, I write), traversed by luring little tracks, infrequently interrupted by gates. Some are staid and parallel, some willfully erring—climbing to rounded green water tanks or plummeting on the right to the far blue ocean. Fence posts sprout luxuriantly as living plants, and blue morning glories swarm improbably over stands of prickly pear cactus. After a stretch of the pine I call the rain pine, because its needles seem a driven silver shower— ironwood, Australian Ironwood Pine, the road comes into the open again, comes out upon the three old blue volcanoes, dead ahead.

Always before we've been going through Waimea, probably to make up for my father's interminable time immobilized there. We'd drive from the dry high desert on the north of the upcountry ranch town to the lush wet farmland on the south, usually on our way to Hilo, or to get malasadas—warm sugared Portuguese doughnuts—at Tex Drive-In in Honokaa, further down the road. (Definitely worth driving halfway across the island for.)

My father would point out Kamuela's old liquor store as we passed, a well-weathered building with lots of character, which he told us the Marines took over for a bar and café, where they could eat eggs and an occasional chicken. It's in his war novel, and part of family legend. I don't go that far today; only as far as the green church in the block of churches. I see little chickens turning on spits along the road in town as they do south of Kona in Kealakekua, enveloped in a thick fragrant cloud of smoke. The Sunday afternoon chickens, roasting. My town is different from his, but holds that other inside it.

White tents soar up from the baseball field. In the clearing at their center are the Indian dances. Right away I covet the feathers pluming from the backs of the dancers. I'm overtaken by desire that is more than I can bear—to be so fine, so beautiful, so sure. Like fine angels (Saint Mich', on his Paris bridge), like the feathered shafts of arrows. These men are foreign, avian. And yet like brothers. I feel belonging and bereft, both. I walk among them enraptured, and they never see me. I walk among them sorrowing for the places they go without me. Back to their tribes. Into the pure heart of the dance. Spanning rivers.

Inside the tents they're selling things. I love the sage bundles, wrapped in red or blue thread. Sage to purify. I love the old silver, the black-veined nuggets of turquoise. Like chunks of raw pigment, of resin—pungent, resonant. I love the wheat-head weave of the smallest baskets, meant to hold things, but perfect in themselves. I would have loved one of the Indian tacos, spicy meat and pinto beans in fry bread, puffed and golden, if I weren't already overfull from the wedding lunch in the basement of the green church up the road. The bride and groom stand with arms around each other watching the dancing from the edge of one of the tents, no longer wearing the long, open-ended, ceremonial leaf leis, but still visibly within their grace.

I think of Flagstaff, Arizona; the turquoise on my grandparents' beautiful gnarly hands. I remember how safe and loved I always felt with them, there, remember sitting in pajamas in a circle of lamplight golden as a halo. How gentle they seemed to me, but how strong. Like these people here who have made me feel included now, in their family day, letting me belong. Allowing me in.

The way to my grandparents, the way home, was straight through the heart of Indian country—between Zuni and Hopi, Navajo and Apache—passing the reservations, the pueblos. Santo Domingo, Cochiti, San Felipe, Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, Canoncito, Isleta, Jicarilla Apache, Laguna, Acoma, Ramah Navajo, Zuni. The Navajo Nation, extending into three states. No wonder I feel I belong to them, their wildlands and settlements have gone singing through me, like the lonely trains in the night.

I remember too (but oddly secondarily) of the deer dance I went to one Christmas afternoon at the Tesuque or Pojoaque pueblo, in oblique winter sunshine, one Christmas we hadn't come to Hawaii—the dancers with their pine branch antlers, their leggings, coming through the crusted old snow—but so many other opportunities I never took, to learn what was around me. The odd dichotomy of taking too much for granted, and always wanting to be elsewhere. (Longing instead of belonging?) Funny how it comes together here, this afternoon, as if something in me has all of a sudden healed. In a real and wonderful sense, I am of these people—Hawaiians, mainland tribes, earth dwellers; these are my ways—the way, that the Tao is said to be. I, too, come back to the island to learn the old ways. as I instinctively used the Navajo night chant (also Way) in the Hawaiian ceremony for my father at the Place of Refuge, along with the canoe sail petroglyph. Everything coming together.

I buy an antique turquoise ring from the Indians, unsure of its provenance. For me, it will have come from Waimea or Kamuela—that is all that matters. Its history is what I choose to give it, like the two French settlers in North Kohala. It is instead of the blue stone in a Paris window which I never bought. Round instead of square, a greeny turquoise with rust the dried-blood color of red Hawaiian earth, when you get those unexpected glimpses of rich fields through partings of undergrowth that startle you suddenly along the road in the green heart of the jungle—like a mongoose running across it; an immensely rich color I love. The red too of the mesas in northern Arizona, between Santa Fe and Flagstaff; the canyons of my childhood. My own old heirloom ring, that I have come back for, that they have kept for me until I was ready to have it, not be careless of it.

It will remind me of so much, coming together. The lessons of our shared parents and grandparents, of wind, water, and earth. Cultivation. The journey of discovery that moves equally backwards, that stays in one place and comes to learn every mood, shade, injury to the land and living things under one's care, within one's ken. There is this personal history that accumulates, that accompanies the other. Right progress needs to include some looping-back motion; it is inclusion itself. Prayer finding its direction. Joining the dance.

—Christie, from Island of Spirits and Kings (written in North Kohala, Hawai'i, September 2001)

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