Gone to Kalalau: Practicing the Art of Doing Nothing.

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Gone to Kalalau: Practicing the Art of Doing Nothing.

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Jul 03, 2013

Two weeks ago today, I was settled in a hammock strung between two trees overlooking the beach at Kalalau.

Kalalau is a wide valley, protected by cliffs on three sides and opening into a yawning stretch of sand at the ocean's edge. It's located mid-way along Napali Coast State Park on Kauai's northwestern shore and is just far enough away from civilization that there is no wi-fi, no cellular service and no room service. And, yet, it's close enough for tour boats to cruise the coastline, offering magnificent views of the naturally-carved sculptures for which it got its name--Napali translates from Hawaiian to English as "the cliffs." Helicopter tours fly overhead. But to really experience Kalalau, you have to come ashore. That can only be done two ways: 1) By way of an 11-mile hike on a trail that runs like a roller coaster and teeters along the edge of the coastline;  and 2) By kayak. I arrived by kayak.

I once wrote a long feature story about Kalalau for Japan Airlines' (JAL) in-flight magazine. In it, I explained the etymology behind the word, "Kalalau" as "to go astray," or "to wander," or "to gad about."

And after meandering the breadth and width of Kalalau beach and traipsing a network of trails that led to a myriad of waterfall pools deep into Kalalau valley, I can confirm the translations are accurate. 

Kauai is known as The Garden Island. It's quiet. It's casual. It's rural with lots of green spaces between small, one-time plantation towns. And it makes Kalalau seem like Grand Central Station. If Kauai's surf town of Hanalei is too laid-back for you, you won't like Kalalau. Not one bit.

That brings us back to the image of me reclining in a hammock. When you read that, what comes to mind? Vacation? Relaxation? Peace? 

Just as important as what comes to mind is what doesn't: To-do lists. Meeting reminders bleeping from your computer. Words with Friends alerts pinging on your iPhone. Laundry.

"When do you ever just sit and do nothing?" Susan, a fellow kayak-camper, asked me.

"Never," I said, the queen of sneaking peaks at her iPhone during lulls in dinner conversation. Only here in Kalalau I was doing just that: Nothing.

"Even meditating is doing something," Susan said. And she was right. With meditating, there's a goal. With sitting in hammock, there is no objective whatsoever. It doesn't matter if you empty your mind of all thoughts or write the Great American Novel in your head.

But just like meditating, doing nothing takes practice, and what with kayaking, shelling, hiking and having to share the hammock with my husband during our five days on Napali, I certainly didn't get in enough practice time of doing nothing.

Still, I got enough time in the hammock to take a daily nap--naps are an integral part of the Kalalau experience. On one such occasion, I heard, then waited until I saw, a shama thrush sitting on a tree branch, a single ray of light spotlighting its bluish-black back. I studied the crocheted pattern of shadows created by the canopy of trees above me and adjusted my eyesight to notice  gauzy wisps of clouds beyond that, drifting through the sky  like the passengers on the tour boats--distant and removed. And, then, I swear this is true, I heard a leaf twist loose from its tenuous hold on a tree limb and watched it wander--Kalalau-style--to the ground.

Now, you might be thinking, "She's taken leave of her senses," meaning that I've lost touch with reality.

But that's exactly what the practice of doing nothing offers: A return to the senses. A return to seeing and hearing those things around us--right in front of our faces, even. Those things that connect us to the physical world. I believe there is something in us that yearns for this--for time to sit and stare at the sky, to listen to a bird's song, to smell the fragrance of a guava bloom, to taste the sweet-sour of a young mango plucked from the limb, and to learn to appreciate the chilling spring water so cold it numbs your skin.

This is what Kalalau offered me: A chance to turn off automatic pilot, if for a brief few days, and really see. Perchance, even, to see a moonbow on the night the largest moon of the year--the so-called Super Moon--crested the thousand-foot valley wall behind us--and I checked yet another natural phenomenon off my life list.


Michael | Jul 04, 2013 03:29 PM

Hi Kim, "and no room service" What! :) "I heard a leaf twist loose from its tenuous hold on a tree limb and watched it wander--Kalalau-style--to the ground." So poetic.

Susan | Jul 05, 2013 02:09 AM

Chicken skin. Beautiful.

Malia | Jul 05, 2013 10:12 PM

I think my blood pressure went down just reading your beautiful description here... A bunch of my friends are hiking and kayaking in to Kalalau for a bachelorette party in a few weeks. I passed because I'm not a strong hiker or kayaker but you are making me wish that I was joining them. I have been so busy the past few weeks that I think I could truly learn a thing or two trying to get back into the art of doing nothing. The luxury of napping. *sigh*

Sugar | Jul 05, 2013 11:44 PM

I *LOVE* doing nothing!! Hammocks really are the best for that, aren't they?

Kim | Jul 06, 2013 11:29 AM

Thanks, Michael and Susan. And Malia, how many Honolulu Marathons have you run? Hello, you could do it. Excuse me now, I'm going to head to the hammock. But it looks like I may have to kick Sugar out of it!

Toby Neal | Jul 08, 2013 09:10 AM

Fantastic, Kim! Growing up on Kauai, we often paddled surfboards or took rafts down the Na Pali and camped. I have some of my most wonderful memories of that...may have to include some in a future book. Good for you, going unplugged!

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