Today, I returned to my desk after a weekend writing retreat in Hanalei on Kauai's North Shore. The environmental philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore shared inspiration and tips on writing nature essays. Here, with Kathy's tutelage, is one essay I wrote from the retreat. She called this form, combining prose and poetry, a haibun.
The morning’s cool ocean breeze rushes through my hair. Grass prickles my toes. Leaves bounce along the ground. A shama thrush sings. Palm fronds clatter. The ocean drums a beat on the shoreline. I make my way to the beach at Hanalei. Children's squeals echo on waves of sound and draw me closer. I follow the tentacles of beach morning glory vines and find a woman, wrapped in a towel, napping. A man jogs the tideline. I step onto the sand, its coolness surprises me. I look down.
Polygons. Octagons. Hexagons.
Puzzle pieces made of sand.
I remember my training as a volunteer to monitor and protect Hawaiian monk seals. Seals are easily mistaken for rocks and logs. These geometric molds in the sand come from trucks. What if a seal has hauled out on the beach?
The sun slips from behind thinning cloud cover and pulls my head up. Mountains reveal their pleats. A helicopter drones up the valley for Mt. Waialeale. Colored umbrellas dot the beach fronting Black Pot Beach Park. A man jogs by carrying a surfboard under his arm. A couple dressed in sunscreen walk, hand in hand, toward retirement. And I meander my way through soft ironwood trees at the back of the beach.
Rectangles. Squares. Triangles.
Reflections on threads of silk.
A sticky spider web spanning limb to limb arrests me. I note its geometry made of air, and I wonder what it means, this repetition of design presented to me today and if I am supposed to draw some meaning or lesson from it.
A dog's bark makes me turn my head. He races up and down the insistent shoreline with a mother's eye on a little girl who rides a wave on a surfboard that is longer than she is tall. Lines of white water ribbon for the shore. Other surfers paddle for the break beyond the mouth of the Hanalei River. A kayak plies wind-chopped waves. A wave races for land.
Mosaics. Kaleidoscopes. Fractals.
Glass that is water.
It rises, curls, trembles and fractures into shapes and patterns that could be tire tracks or even spider webs. I regret not carrying my camera to capture nature's art, however fleeting and however slim the chance of capturing its beauty--and whatever lesson I am supposed to glean today.
I sit on a log. A sparrow lands on the wood that has been weathered by the sea next to me.
Diamonds. Triangles. Arrows.
Feathers interlaced on wings.
Flecks the size of pepper flakes sprinkle the alien bird’s chest. A yellow bill pecks, eyes dart; it hops to the ground, picks up a grain, drops it, flits back to the log and cleans one side of its bill, then the other, on the grey wood. If only my psychic abilities were more evolved, I could sift loose today's meaning, if there is one, in the sands at my feet.
Back in the yard, headed to the house, a wintering kolea, golden plover, skips along, pausing to snatch an insect hidden in the grass. A green picnic table sits lonely. I lean against a tree to clean the sand off my feet.
Fractured lichen turning to sage.
Woven beribboned branches.
Forked teepee roots.
Maybe I am thinking too much about this writing exercise, this nature essay thing. Meaning. Schmeaning.
This much I know: This is winter in Hanalei.