ALOHA, y’all. We are back from a lengthy stay in Hawaii – but no matter how long we stay, it is never quite long enough. It was a working vacation, although thinking up with very brilliant teachers (who happen to be friends) in paradise, hardly qualifies as work. I told our friends our first day of working there that I learn as much or more as I bring to them. And it is so true. The money we made working with the phenomenal teachers at Innovations School we spent taking in the Big Island. Every penny. It was so worth it.
There is something quite different about Hawaii. If you have been there and gotten away from Honolulu and Waikiki Beach – then you know what I mean. There is a gentleness of spirit, true caring, a genuine sincerity and sweetness of the people. Heidi and I have worked closely with teachers there. It is clear. The people look you in the eye. They take you under their wings. And they give and give and give. There are teachers we met when we went to the islands 12 or 13 years ago. When we see them at conferences they give us a box of magnificent chocolates. The presents they gave us on our last day working there this year were incredible. Since I keep my lesson plans and classroom record keeping on a clipboard, the principal gave me hers. Students of Innovations School make it from different Hawaiian woods including koa and coconut tree and milo. It is stunning. It is a gift I will use for a lifetime.
There is a relaxed, laid back spirit there as well. It permeates the islands and daily life. We took a highway to our favorite beach several times. In some places the speed limit on the four lane divided highway is 35 mph. You wonder, Is there construction ahead? Is the road winding? Bumpy? Nope. It would drive many city people from the continental US nuts. They just drive slower. There are no roads over 55 mph. I saw a bumper sticker on a tiny little car that read“Slow Down! This ain’t the mainland!” That’s a metaphor for Hawaii. If you go there – you s-l-o-w down. And it feels right.
One of the most significant parts of our trips is hanging around with sea turtles or honu. We have incredible encounters every year. In Hawaii, the ocean and beaches belong to the people. To everyone. Even the fine beaches at the expensive hotels are required to allow beach access. That is how it should be. Turtles hoist themselves up on the beaches to relax and rest for hours before going back into the ocean to munch mostly on algae that grows on coral or seaweed that floats by. These animals are revered by Hawaiians and only the tourists ever get too close or touch them.
This is our fourth time working with teachers in Hawaii. The first time we went Devin was 5 ½ and Colin was almost 4 years old. In some ways our visits to Hawaii mark our growth, our age, how far we have all come. When we first went I remember staying in Hilo (on the Big Island). Devin was a fine swimmer and a confident risk taker for a five year old. We found a map to some reefs down the road from our hotel. I rented a mask/fins/snorkel combo and Devin had his own mask and fins. His were toys really. The fins were the belt-buckle type made of hard plastic and were not much bigger than his feet. His mask has half full of water every time he came up. But he was so game! We swam in about 20 feet of water and dove down to see amazing fish. He would burst through the surface and describe all of the incredible things he had seen including much I had not seen. He’d empty his mask and dive again, his nut-brown legs scissor-kicking downward.
That summer Colin really learned to swim in Hawaii. He took his first confident jumps into a hotel swimming pool and gamely swam to the side to climb out and do it again. Over and over. He was so proud of himself. We were proud of him too.
This time both boys went scuba diving. Both of them as brown as the Hawaiian soil despite our insistence that they wear sunscreen. The pictures Devin took are breathtaking.
A couple years after going to Hawaii the first time, Devin wrote this poem from his memories.
I see weathered shells with barnacles and shells with tiny and rough sand. I see shrimps in the hole of shells.
I see thrashing waves above the tangerine sun and me. Little fish surround me with their beady eyes watching me.
The dark blue is in front of me. I reminisce the times I saw jellyfish, their tentacles like fluorescent branches.
I herald a couple times from the crashing waves above me. I remember the sandy beach. No bother I can always go there.
I feel I am in a dream. The water feels like silk to me. I pop my head up to feel the fresh air on my face.
I dunk again. I am farther this time. Finally I see a jellyfish. I see it going in and out, in and out. I swim away.
I go to the bottom to find a small brown crab. I admire the texture. It is rough and bumpy. I let it go.
I love the sea. Devin O’Keefe, grade 2
Over the years we have been returning to Hawaii the boys have grown to young men. They venture out on hikes by themselves or together when we are teaching. This year they surprised us by showing up at school at lunchtime, walking the 6 miles from the condo – mostly uphill. Devin reminded me constantly of the directions and chuckled at me when I missed a turn. Colin listened to his iPod when we had the radio on in the car. Before this year Devin commandeered our point-and-shoot camera and took 90% of our pictures. This year he had his own camera and captured the islands and our family like none of us could.
There are taste treats in Hawaii like no place else. The pineapple there is a dark rich yellow-orange and tastes as sweet as anything you have ever eaten. The ripe mangos from the tree in the schoolyard are so juicy that one from anywhere else is just not the same. If you are a coffee drinker and have not had 100% Kona coffee, you are missing a treat. It is the standard by which all others are judged. This time when we were eating out at a little coffee shop for lunch, both boys had coffee. There was a LOT of sugar and cream to be sure, but they acted as if they drank coffee all the time – very nonchalant. Heidi and I looked at each other and smiled. Another act of growing up. Right before our eyes. Somehow I don’t think they’ll make it a habit now that we are home, but when you are in Hawaii…
Every year when we return, we don’t know if we’ll be asked back again. We hope to have our colleagues from Innovations come to see us again here in SC. It just isn’t the same meeting at a conference. While Hawaii is a part of the United States, it is also something very separate, very special. In some ways, it is the very best of the US.