We were on an eight-mile, round trip hike to Hanakapiai Falls—a rugged hike if not a long one. We had to cross the river at least three times in each direction, slogging through mud, over trails that disappeared, traipsing along slippery rocks, having to use our hands in numerous places to hoist ourselves up or down. Despite that, it seemed like everybody and their mothers were out and about, especially in the first two miles. It was crazy: folks with white shirts and shoes, parents (I guess) with kids, including those young enough to be held or carried in frontpacks or backpacks. It seemed rather nutty and ill-conceived. During the second two miles we saw far fewer folks, but they still seemed a bit nuts. There were youngsters and oldsters, some in sandals, and one guy with a huge camera banging around. Others we saw slip on rocks and crash on their backsides or hips, or simply fall in the river.
About two and a half miles in, where we were having trouble finding the trail, I was looking around to see what I could up ahead. And there about ten feet off the ground was a wild boar, quite dead, in a tree. That gave both of us a bit of a pause. Now we were hiking to a waterfall, which means we were hiking in a canyon, in Kauai, where it rains a lot in places—like the one we were in. I supposed that the boar had been caught in a flash flood about a month earlier when we had read it had rained thirty-six inches in three days. The boar certainly smelled like it had been dead awhile.
An interesting thing about hiking in canyon areas where it rains, is that it doesn’t have to rain where you are for there to be lots of danger. If it is raining at the top of the canyon or above and beyond the waterfall, one can still get caught in a flashflood. And when we could glimpse the top of the canyon, there were clearly rain clouds.
A bit later we came upon a fellow returning from the falls. We talked for a bit, including about the boar in the tree. He, like us, thought that sight was rather sobering. It’s a beautiful area on a beautiful day and if one gets into the muddiness and the adventure it’s a wonderful experience. But the danger of flashfloods as represented by that boar is something that adds sobriety to the day. This was not a carefree excursion—which of course is actually an added plus.
It’s not so funny when we venture out just as happy and carefree as if we had good sense. And I’m not talking just about adventures in our environs—this is also about interpersonal relationships. Actually interpersonal relationships are a lot better if we notice the dangers, though most folks seem to think noticing such dangers can impede relationships. I tend to think it makes us better prepared. But, like the folks who didn’t even notice the dead boar in the tree (they missed it for some reason—I mean even if one didn’t look up, there was that smell!), and to whom we brought it up, it was as though the day was then ruined.
Awareness is not our enemy. It is true that we cannot be aware of everything—we have both selective attention and inattention. And at times we can be overwhelmed with information to the point we are immobilized—too much light can be just as blinding as too much dark. But there is a difference between the unknowable and ignorance. Pitfalls and deadfalls and dead boars in a tree are full of information that is not inherently overwhelming, even if it is information that dings our Barney-the-Dinosaur-ness. Naïve innocence transformed into smart innocence seems to be our caterpillar-to-butterfly journey. Did the dead-boar-in-the-tree alter our day? Absolutely! Was it about the tragedy of the boar’s demise or the worry about our own—something we don’t want to enter consciousness on a day meant to be worry-free?
I like the dead boars in trees, though I differentiate between their deadness and how they got that way. The former is clear, the latter, not so much. The boar was dead as we all will be one day. I humbly submit such a death is not completely a tragedy—it is also about living and living well. It is about thriving and not just surviving.
Maybe it’s just my own naïveté, but I think I hear some ancestors smiling somewhere. And perhaps the manner of my own death will not be a tragedy, something that seems to have such a human spin. But the real point of this musing is about our living relationships. They can be full of lightness and heart and clear, carefree days and they can be quite the opposite. It’s a figure/ground life—two faces looking at each other or a vase, an old lady or a young lady. Or it’s a life of parables: the early bird gets the worm and the second mouse gets the cheese; absence makes the heart grow fonder and when the cat’s away, the mice will play. And so on and so on.
Here’s to our Kauais, our Hanakapiai Falls, our beautiful days, our rainy ones, the birds singing, the wild boars dead in trees or lurking about full of life. Our joy, individual and together, is directly related to the degree of our attention. On an intermediate level, we can be frightened out of our minds and it may seem like childhood innocence, if indeed there is that place, is our refuge. But a refuge today can be the deadfall of tomorrow. So, knowing that does not mean hunkering down like a mouse in a hole (no offense to mice), it may mean we have a choice about how to view our life, death, and relationships.
I think I’ll go see my siblings today and my ladyfriend later. I’ve emailed my adult children, I’ve mowed the lawn and watered some plants. I’ve graded some papers, I’ve done some writing. The sun is out after some rain earlier in the week. It’s a wonderful day and my mind feels it.