I sat in the cozy Protea Café
awaiting a salad--pear and (go light on the) gorgonzola salad after a morning switch-backing Round Top Drive and hiking Manoa Cliff Trail atop Mt. Tantalus just outside Waikiki. It was another inspiring iPhone and Olloclip photography
outing—an artist’s date, as Julia Cameron would call it--as well as time for contemplation. All in preparation for the Dalai Lama's upcoming talk.
It took a mere 15 minutes to get to Mt. Tantalus from Waikiki. But the psychological distance is much greater than that.
In The Art of Travel
—yes, I’m still reading it—Alain de Botton leaves London for “The Lake District” and the lifelong walking grounds of William Wordsworth. Born in 1770, the poet was a dedicated walker. These walks along the lakeshore and in the mountains inspired many poems dedicated to butterflies, skylarks, daisies, and cuckoos. Ordinary things. Ordinary things in nature.
The writer de Botton continues, “These [poems] were not haphazard articulations of pleasure. Behind them lay a well-developed philosophy of nature, which—infusing all of Wordsworth’s work—made an original and, in the history of Western thought, hugely influential claim about our requirements for happiness and the origins of our unhappiness.” Here’s the part I like. “The poet proposed that nature—which he took to comprise, among other elements, birds, streams, daffodils and sheep—was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.”
Now, I like life in the city. Make that: I like spending time in the city. I love to visit Honolulu from my home on rural Kauai. I like to walk Waikiki Beach. Cruise Kalakaua Avenue. Admire the street performers. And, I admit it: I like to make pit-stops in the Apple store.
That’s one thing. Here’s another: I like to think that I manage stress fairly well. That I don’t harbor the weight of work, marriage, homeownership, imminent tax payments, pet-motherhood, volunteer commitments, and such on my shoulders. I like to think that my psychological health is fairly well off.
I may be wrong about that, as Mr. Wordsworth proved to me when I hit Round Top Drive, one of the most picturesque drives on Oahu, and turned off the A/C. I rolled down my windows to let the fertile scent of nature--that good smell of decomposing matter that permeates forests--infuse my nostrils, and, suddenly, I was breathing deeper, my shoulders were dropping, and I felt some hidden tensions drain from the muscles in my face. The higher I ascended on the mountain, the more green everything became—vines wrapping around trees, moss growing on rocks, ginger, eucalyptus, bamboo and banana encroached and arched over the road. And not even the sounding alarm and digital message on my dashboard reading, “low tire pressure” could invade my new-found state of mind.
But I beg to differ with Mr. Wordsworth on another point. I would amend the last sentence of de Botton’s quote above by deleting the last three words. So, that it reads, “The poet proposed that nature—which he took to comprise, among other elements, birds, streams, daffodils and sheep—was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life.”
Not necessarily life in the city. But life. Period.
Hiking trails, lakes, and wilderness parks are important to everyone, no matter where you live. The incessant string of emails, latest-breaking news in the Trayvon Martin case, a to-do list an arm’s length long, low-tire pressure. These items take up space in our brains and add weight to our lives, and they are not location-specific. So, accessibility to nature is key. Convenience, too.
Manoa Cliff Trail
is part of the nine-mile Honolulu Mauka Trail System
and the larger Na Ala Hele Trail & Access System
Back in the restaurant, smells from the open kitchen wafted my way, tantalizing, and pulled my head out of my book and thoughts of Manoa Cliff Trail. The lone waitress in this triangular-shaped eatery, Charlene, breezed by with a fresh-made—fresh as in I watched the chef roll out the dough—pizza. A margherita with thinly-sliced tomatoes over bubbling parmesan.
There are only five or six two-tops and one community table that seats eight in the entire restaurant, but the teak tables and chairs and the warm-colored walls lend solidity and character to the place. Two businessmen sat at one table behind me. A family of four sat at the long table. Outside the screened window, cars buzzed by on Kalakaua Avenue. But I was still on the narrow Manoa Cliff Trail. The first quarter-mile got my heart racing and breath quickening, but the downhill second quarter mile gave both back.
I made a note on my digital voice recorder, “No cellular service. Even better. And big, tall mahogany trees. Vines. Dappled sunlight. This is a forest. This is peace. This is meditation. This is contemplation. I have found it.” And, then, after a breath and exhalation, “Off we go.” I sounded just like Wordsworth did to his contemporaries when they chided him, even mocked him with parodies, such as:
When I see a cloud,
I think out loud,
How lovely it is,
To see the sky like this
A little further on, I added to my digital voice recorder, “Now, I am up here on Manoa Cliff Trail glimpsing views of the valley. Manoa Falls are a trickle. The birds are going crrrraaaaaazy. Ti plants. All different kind of ferns. Koa. Koa. KOA! Good lord, god blessed, koa. And yet I can still hear a far off bulldozer down in the valley. Passed one couple with binoculars, birding. Passed a second couple. Just passed a lone man weeding a rock face. He was pulling out invasive plants--weeds. He gave me the Latin name. I didn’t recognize it. He gave me the common name. I recognized it. But now, a few feet further on, amidst a mad bamboo forest, I can’t remember it.”
Way at the back of the valley, I reached a gate. A sign explained this was a six-acre area of forest fenced to keep pigs out and allow native species to grow in their native habitat. The fenced area was part of The Manoa Cliff Native Forest Restoration Project, aimed with bringing back the native Hawaiian forest. I saw more koa
trees and o’hi’a
, koki’o ke’oke’o
. I took a business card with the organization’s name
and website address.
I turned around here, about one-and-a-half miles in. On the return trek, it started to sprinkle, and I made this note, “I realize that I am much more observant on the outbound journey. I am much more aware of my surroundings, what I’m seeing, the views, whether the trail is going up or down. I wonder what’s around the next bend. I make note of plants and trees. But on the return trip, since the trail is now familiar to me, my mind goes into a natural state of contemplation and thinking. I am now inside my head, for good or bad. I don’t stop to look around or take pictures. My momentum carries me downhill.”
According to de Botton, “In the autumn of 1790, the poet [Wordsworth] went on a walking tour of the Alps. He travelled from Geneva to the Vale of Chamouni, then crossed the Simplon Pass and descended through the Ravine of Gondo to Lake Maggiore. In a letter to his sister describing what he had seen, he wrote, ‘At this moment when many of these landscapes are floating before my mind, I feel a high enjoyment in reflecting that perhaps scarce a day of my life will pass in which I shall not derive some happiness from these images’."
Wordsworth called these experiences “spots of time.” They were the snapshots of moments that stuck with him. He professed these “spots of time” stick with us throughout our lives and give us the same psychological boost as when we first experienced them.
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue…
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
For me, on my Manoa Cliffs Trail hike, my spot of time took place on a stretch of trail that opened to the sun, offering a sweeping glimpse of the valley and far ridge. Two palm trees caught my eye—so seemingly out of place up here. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and I was stopped in my tracks by the pure and piercing song of two shama thrush. The fervor, the passion, the intensity of their call made me think they must be courting. And, so, I tip-toed on, doing my best not to interrupt their own spot of time.