Friday, June 14, 2019

There's an "I" in Transcendentalist

Last night I texted our friend down the street to express my condolences over his Golden State Warriors' loss, of game, of Finals, of an Achilles and a knee. He texted back to say he got home after watching the game to find that his neighbor was dead.

This was not the neighbor with emergency orange netting for a gate, two geese and a huge pick-up truck. Or an ancient Chevy station wagon that sits under a tarp. That neighbor has an Amish beard and wears a hard furrow between his eyes. Sold cocaine on Oahu, he'd told our friend, then flew here on a private plane, lives in a friend's renovated shack. He's cut back the ferns, so his landscape is dirt and plastic toys. A trampoline fills much of the backyard, if that is what it is. He's a family man, but he'll kill your cat if he doesn't like you.

"Common name: häpu‘u, häpu‘u pulu, Hawaiian tree fern Habitat Häpu‘u is native to most of the Hawaiian islands. It is one of more than 800 species of tree ferns, descendants of prehistoric vegetation found worldwide in semi-wet to wet forests from sea level to over 5000 ft elevation."

"It [the fern] is a fabulous, mythological form, such as prevailed when the earth and air and water were inhabited by those extinct fossil creatures that we find." (HDT, Journals)  The hapu`u fern is far more rare just two miles down Highway 11; here it fills the middle canopy with light and sound shadow. The hapu`u grows slowly, is endangered by development. Fiddleheads cluster together, like members of a standing committee who've fallen silent, pulu like ostrich feathers. Or like sea horses, stranded in the rain forest.

Perverse transcendentalist, our survivalist neighbor. American transcendentalism at the end of a gun or a threat.

Transcendentalism requires a container: Thoreau's cabin, Dickinson's attic room. This guy's shack, covered with NO TRESPASSING signs, a self-constructed cell. He wants his language to act; KEEP OUT is as literal as you get. Trump says Nancy Pelosi is a fascist. Now there's a poetic ruen of the word.

The ferns turn sunlight inside out, as if lit from below. The rain forest seems an inversion in the daylight, but clouds return it to mist and no-shadow. There is no doubling when the sky is clouded over, only singularity, if you can see it. A weed whacker screams through the forest from Haunani Road (I think), cutting holes in bird song. Bryant contrived a cone out of a plastic cutting board, installing it around wires that lead to the roof. The space between the tin roof and the plastic ceiling is a regular rat highway, he says. Puts chicken wire over holes in the kitchen (a banana was partially eaten the other night). I fail to feel an appropriate disgust, though I hardly want to share my space with rodents. Some evenings, a neighborhood cat leaps on the roof, all cement paws, paces up and back and then is gone.

In the forest there is so much you cannot see. It's a good place for those of us who favor our ears, whose sense of space is the distance between a patch of wind, an `apanane's song, and the now diminishing weed whacker (just elevated in decibels and pitch, alas). As if a museum were to provide obstacles to seeing art, asking the viewer to piece together each image through the sounds of conversation and echoes of feet. Thoreau hated museums, their fixity, their isolation. I found a Monet cathedral in the back of a museum in Belgrade. I wanted to ask, "What are you doing here?" It might have asked me the same.

I pull out a brochure at the Arts Center that advertises a "Captain Cook dinner cruise." Inside, we read about how little we know of the man. We read that he died in Kealakekua Bay, that he was a discoverer. And then we see photos of Duke Kahanomoku, with the phrase "History is fun!" attached. Captain Cook did die here, but we're not told why or how. I tell the predictable cannibal joke, and my "cousin" doesn't get it. She invited us to family dinner for father's day.

Bryant taps the wooden end of a broomstick against the ceiling. He heard a rat in there somewhere. Draws the broomstick across the crenellated ceiling. Outside, the sky is cerulean through gaps in the hapu`u and `ohia. Drone of engine and trill of cricket. The roof talks, even when it's not prompted by bird or rat. I'm unsure of its language of gesture. But now I hear the guard goose calling down the loop. Honking time.

Just past the dead man's house, someone put up an American flag. I think it a symbol, until from my bike I see flags all over the Village. The road in front of his house turns into a huge puddle when it rains. Beside the puddle, a hapu`u fern leans out over the water, its fronds erect in the early morning light.

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