Grey skies had hovered over our tiny island, a speck of land centered in the largest ocean in the world, for three days. The rain had been sporadic and isolated, but when the spigot was turned on, it came down hard, really big, fat raindrops. In the last hour, thunder had even started to grumble over the mountain across the street from our house.
But I didn’t mind a little cloud cover to protect from a sizzling sun. And I didn’t entirely believe the thunder would follow us around the island to Anini, a protected lagoon of water inside a reef, chosen because no nearby streams and rivers emptied here to sully the sea with muddy runoff. Besides, there was the old island adage, “If you don’t like the weather, drive 10 minutes down the road.”
To be sure, we drove 15 minutes, making the northeast bend in the road that usually accompanied a change in weather as the dynamics of wind and mountains shifted enough to sometimes leave a demarcation of the scientific phenomenon of orographic lift visible on the road: wet this side; dry that side.
Only this time, the adage failed us. The orographic effect was in full bloom. There was no demarcation.
Just as we’d dragged our kayaks off our truck and pulled them to the water’s edge. Just as I stood in knee-deep water. Just as I was about to hop into my kayak and head out for an afternoon paddle, thunder rolled down off the mountains behind us, across the valley, and rumbled over our heads. Then, a light mist turned into big, fat raindrops. And a streak—small, but still a streak—of lightening flashed—ever so quickly, but still a flash.
But the skies were blue out over the ocean.
“It won’t last,” I said. “Let’s wait it out under this tree,” I said. It was a giant kamani with a thick, canopy of leaves that surely extended from one zip code to another.
“Let’s play dominos,” Susan said. Susan was forever trying to get us to play games.
Charlie retrieved the dominos from their car. Eric got our cooler of snacks.
When the crocheted canopy failed to stop the big, fat raindrops from landing on our dominos and noses and in our snack of hummus, Susan asked, “Do you want to go back to your house?”
Now, I love my house. My husband built it for us. He situated it so it faces a beautiful and mythic mountain which enamors me every single day. But when the rains came a few days ago, so did the muddy, doggy footprints on our hardwood floors. And there had been no winds, so even sitting on the sofa watching TV was like sitting in a sweat lodge.
So, we retreated for a real pavilion this time, outfitted with a roof, picnic table, and electrical outlets, in case I’d needed to charge my iPhone, say. It was also outfitted with Mike.
“Mind if we join you?” Eric asked.
“Not if you don’t mind the 70s music,” Mike said. He had his phone plugged into the outlet. The Rolling Stones’ Best of Burden rolled out from its surprisingly good tiny speakers. On a close look, wrinkles fanned out from Mike’s eyes. His long hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Mike’s dad moved him to Hawaii in the 1970s, where Mike grew up surfing and working as a beach boy on Waikiki Beach in front of the Outrigger Reef hotel.
“You know, the far-end of Waikiki,” he said.
“Right by Ft. DeRussey,” I said.
I think I discerned Mike’s eyes grow a little rounder and his head cock to the side. I didn’t tell him I’d recently left a J-O-B with Outrigger Hotels and Resorts and knew exactly where Outrigger Reef sat on the beach. How the finger jetty (or “groin) was the best place to watch sunrises and sunsets. How there was some good snorkeling off Ft. DeRussey.
Mike moved to Kauai when rent in Waikiki exceeded his willingness to cough up the cash. “I’m not going to pay someone else’s mortgage for him,” he said.
“Do you live nearby?” Eric asked.
“Around the corner,” Mike said. “I’ve got a great spot in the trees when I’m not working.”
And, like Waikiki, apparently, when rents rose on Kauai, Mike moved again, this time to the beach. “Beachfront living,” he said. “Sunrises and sunsets over the ocean every day. Can’t beat it.” He pointed to a shower head sticking out of the ground near the county park’s bathrooms. “Showers get a little chilly in winter, but it’s a good life. There used to be no shame to live manuela,” he said. That is, live a houseless lifestyle.
Toward the end of the afternoon, the skies didn’t exactly clear up, but the rain had returned to a mist, and the thunder abated. Or maybe we’d grown used to the thunder’s low grumble and no longer heard it. We debated shoving off—either in our cars or on our kayaks.
“But they’re right there,” I may have whined. Our kayaks still sat at the ocean’s edge.
“My friend Leo,” Mike said. “You know Leo?”
“McCarthy?” I asked. When you live on a small island, even strangers expect to have friends in common.
“I ran into him once in Kapaa. He was riding his motorcycle to Waimea in a torrential downpour,” Mike continued. ‘Leo, it’s raining,’ I said, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, ‘There will never again be a day like this.'”
And with that, we went for our kayaks.
Here, John Keawe performs “Manuela Boy” on slack key guitar.