WAR TIMES, Kathleen's recent novel (Tor, May 2007, ISBN 13:
978-0-765-31355-3) is set, partially, in the Pacific (Honolulu and Oahu, the Big
Island, and Midway) during the early sixties. Her father was then inspecting
the setups for the new IBM system, the DEW line, which were also used by the
newly-formed NASA. It has starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, and
Booklist. Peter Straub says "IN WAR TIMES is a novel of great historical reach
-- from the Battle of the Bulge to the Kennedy assassination and beyond -- and
profound ambition, expressed with an unmistakable ease of execution and a
master's sureness of touch. Kathleen Goonan has come through to the kind of
control that makes every startling fresh development, and this novel bristles
with astonishing moments of development, seem inevitable. Not only does Goonan
know that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie changed the world, she understands
that every vision of the future conceals a deep yearning for one's own specific
past. That's real wisdom."
Getting To Kalalau
Kathleen Ann Goonan
At six a.m. on a dazzling Kauai morning, my husband and I stood impatiently in Captain Zodiac's storefront in the one-horse town of Hanalei, hoping that the drop-off boat to Kalalau would run.
We were on our way to one of the most remote, and most beautiful, beaches in the Pacific. There are no roads to Kalalau. It's smack in the middle of a thirty-mile run of vertical sea cliffs, and devilishly hard to get to. The average person has two choices.
You can book passage with Captain Zodiac, the only tour company which has a permit to drop off passengers at Kalalau, part of the Na Pali Coast State Park.
Or you can hike the grueling 10.8 mile Kalalau Trail, which deserves every decimal point of its Sierra Club rating: nine in difficulty on a scale of ten. The coast is completely unnegotiable by foot beyond Kalalau; some would even say that parts of the existing trail are questionable in regards to negotiability and safety.
There is another alternative: according to stories we'd heard, there was once a woman who regularly towed her two children from Kalalau to Hanalei on a surfboard over the open sea when she needed to pick up some supplies. But we weren't exactly in her league.
I had gambled by making reservations on the first day of the drop-off season, which runs from May 15th through September 15th. The rest of the year, landing conditions are unreliable, particularly during the winter, when forty-foot waves are common. Captain Zodiac's had been careful to caution us that a landing still could not be guaranteed so early in the year. And sure enough, the boat didn't run. Now it was the morning of the 16th.
As the attendant consulted someone by phone, the shop filled with tourists festooned with sunglasses and glistening with sunscreen, ready for the various tours Captain Zodiac offers. Amid giant photos of whales, rainbows, and sea caves, we waited with heavy-laden packs, clutching our camping permits (the company checks them before dropping you off), hoping to bypass the trail. What's so special about this place? After all, we were ready to fork out $100.00 apiece, round trip, to get there.
Kalalau, not too far from the Bali Hai of South Pacific, is tropical wilderness at its best, the stuff of which dreams are made.
Hiking in, you can see it two miles away, like a mirage, a mile-long strip of golden sand backed by sheer cliffs. At the far end, a waterfall drops in a silver ribbon from an upper tier, and ends in a rocky pool great for bathing. The sea is a dazzling shade of aquamarine where the deep blue Pacific runs aground with the soothing hush of surf; behind this beach a deep, magnificent valley opens.
No hotels; if you peer closely, you might discern a few tents scattered among the palms. Sun-browned people wait out the heat of the noon hour in hammocks strung among gnarled koa trees, or explore the cool, lush Kalalau Valley in search of ancient village Hawaiian sites.
"Surf's still too high," the woman at the desk told us at 6:15 after talking on the phone. "We won't land at Kalalau today." Captain Zodiac, who took his name from the trademarked glorified rubber dinghies he uses to ply the coast, thereby forced us to a difficult decision. "Let's just hike," I said to my husband when we got back in the car.
He groaned, remembering better than I the rigors of the trail from a previous trip.
"We have our packs," I said. "We have enough food. I don't want to wait around another day."
"We can just stay at the bed and breakfast another night," he said hopefully.
Our hostess had told us, "I've had people stay here for a week waiting for the surf to go down so they could get to Kalalau." I reminded him that our time was more limited.
Because of this, half an hour later we were toiling up the first leg of the trail.
The reward for the initial steep ascent was a view of Ke'e bay, a thousand feet below, adjacent to land once owned by Elizabeth Taylor's brother. He was denied a building permit, and in revenge, he opened his land to general invasion by hippies. It became known as Taylor's Camp, acres of forest and beach strewn with treehouses, lacking sanitation systems and other niceties. The state had the last laugh when they condemned it and added it to the park system.
The love scene in The Thorn Birds was filmed at Ke'e Beach. (If you go to Kauai, plan to get used to references to movies. It seems that one was filmed every half-mile or so.) The shore is crowded with tall breeze-tossed coconut palms, and shades of green and blue water reveal sharp delineations in depth due to coral ledges. Tiny sunbathers and swimmers, crowded into the bay's graceful swirl, complete the picture.
Ahead of us was the famed Na Pali Coast, the hardships of the trail masked by beauty.
In Hawaiian, pali means cliff. A series of silvery grey promontories echo up the coast, beckoning with the promise of rainbows and otherworldly plants. The trail, the footpath of ancient Hawaiians, winds in and out of deep valleys, verdant amphitheaters where streams sluice down sheer mountainsides for thousands of feet, descending from the clouds which often shroud the steep summits.
Four thousand foot high cliffs form the inland curves of these valleys, the largest of which are about a mile wide and two miles deep. On the topo map, contour lines blend into a uniform brown where the rims of the valleys drop two thousand feet in three-quarters of a mile, while three and four hundred foot waterfalls plunge to pools you've visited in your imagination, surrounded by flowers which perfume the air. From the trail, we caught glimpses of perfect crescents of sand in tiny bays far below, inaccessible at the foot of hundred-foot drops.
As we continued, we were painfully reminded of how poorly maintained the trail is. The first two miles, the distance of the popular day hike to Hanakapiai Beach, were dangerously muddy and slick. We arrived sweating at the beach, after passing a yellow post about 100 feet above sea level which read "Tidal Wave Marker".
Looking at the clear, inviting sea, we reluctantly recalled that "SWIMMING NOT RECOMMENDED" was stamped on our permits in red, and that we also signed a statement agreeing to use Good Judgment. Presumably, we might encounter situations in which Bad Judgment could prevail. The relatively calm surf is actually riddled with rip tides and powerful currents. As Warren Duffy states in his book, Kauai's Incredible North Shore, "If you happen to get caught (in the currents), be prepared to backstroke your way to Tahiti."
A pole draped with rope and a lifesaver, with the sobering sign "This lifesaving equipment was donated by family and friends of Dr. Ulf Tahleson, a strong swimmer, who drowned at Hanakapiai in March 1979", made us think this might be one of those situations where Using Good Judgment meant being satisfied with our dip in the stream we had just crossed.
However, we were happy to see that sharks were banned from the environs. That is what was meant by the picture of a shark covered by the universal "no" symbol, a circle with a slash through it. Isn't it?
At any rate, we saw some swimmers. Possibly, they had signed no agreement to Use Good Judgment. We wondered if this indemnified the State of Hawaii against injuries resulting from the truly terrible upkeep of the trail, and pushed on. After gaining another thousand feet, we were at last in wilderness. The day hikers remained at Hanakapiai, and the valley of the Hoolulu Stream opened before us, the image of Paradise.
Dense clouds from the wettest place on Earth tumbled over the sheer walls of the valley in swirling, slow-moving tendrils. White terns, their elegant long tails giving the scene the aspect of a Chinese painting, glided through crystal air.
As the trail headed inland, the vistas became hidden by hala trees, ti, and wild bananas. We crossed tiny streams surrounded by myriad varieties of ferns on water-shined rocks. Verbena, red ginger, and hibiscus dotted the jungle-like landscape.
In Hawaii, each fold of land encloses a complete environment. Some tropical plants are so sensitive to each nuance of temperature, rainfall, and light that a few are endemic to just one particular valley or point. By afternoon we walked the edge of naked cliffs which yielded nothing more substantial than acres of beach naupaka. Its low, bright green succulent leaves spilled brilliantly over black lava rock, punctuated by white flowers and marble-sized white fruit. Short, steep, ocean-fronted valleys hid verdant mini-grottoes in shadowing folds of cliffs, where streams dropped from pool to pool amid the fantastic lacings of guava forests.
Some portions of the trail don't even deserve the dignity of that title. Only inches wide, etched in sheer cliffs, they will bring out a fear of heights in the most confident and well-balanced soul.
Never very well-balanced to begin with, I crawled in an undignified, but fairly safe fashion across several of these intervals, while surf pounded sharp-looking lava several hundred vertical feet below.
When you reach Red Hill (you'll know it when you see it), you're almost there. The fantastic Tolkeinesque peaks of the Kalalau Valley lie far below, and the glimmering Shangri-la where blue sea meets golden sand is like a vision of heaven.
Our appreciation of this tranquil scene was interrupted by a series of tiny explosions and the acrid smell of fireworks. Startled, we rounded a bend and came face to face with a swarthy Rambo-type individual clad in camouflage pants and army boots. He had a string of tiny explosives in his hand.
"These scare the goats," he told us. "They eat everything, ruin the trail."
A herd of about fifteen goats comfortably grazed comfortably in a brilliant green meadow one tier below us. They didn't appear to be terribly frightened.
"You got a permit to camp?" he asked. It seemed he was a park employee, carrying out his duties. We produced our permit.
"Why doesn't the State take better care of the trail?" I complained. "Put up some steel ropes or something?" He looked at us as if we were crazy haoles (white people). Of course, we were.
"You want to spoil the natural beauty?" he asked with disgust. He abruptly left to continue his mission, leaving us to contemplate the best way to descend Red Hill.
It didn't take much thought. We used the seat of our pants. And then it was but a blessedly short stroll, after crossing a roaring stream, along the shingled seaside to the beach. We had arrived.
Now we faced a difficult choice. Should we camp on the beach, in the forest, or in the meadow? Decisions, decisions.
Kalalau is big. There's room for all kinds. One party arrived in style: using their own boat, they brought everything but the kitchen sink. The sound of their boom box was swallowed by surf; their ice chest hid forbidden alcoholic pleasures and gourmet chow. These hedonists shared Kalalau with a weathered man who closely resembled Popeye, who regularly kayaked up the coast with his dog, bringing nothing but a pot in which to boil taro and a poncho to shield him from the occasional shower.
We set up our tent near the cave where Dr. Bernard Wheatly, who spurned civilization, lived for ten years. As the beach became better-known and more populated (the story goes that he directed visitors not to walk on the beach as it disturbed the pattern of the waves on the sand) he finally left. Though illegal, the ambiance of the beach invites nudity, and one nude man, a chef from California, occupied Dr. Wheatley's cave. Sitting on a camp stool, he lamented leaving lemons behind. "I don't know how I forgot them," he said. "I can't cook without them."
Such is life.
Up the valley, one can find the cave from which another legendary character from Kalalau, Koolau the Leper, killed two law enforcement agents as they tried to arrest him and take him to a leper colony. After that, it was understandably difficult to find someone willing to try and bring Koolau to justice, so he was left to die in peace.
Kalalau is still a refuge for those too ravaged by the world to face it any longer. After a refreshing swim in the stream we wandered among the tents and talked with a twenty-six-year-old former welder who more or less lives at Kalalau. Squatters are periodically cleared out by the state, but one hears tales of tomato plants cleverly scattered through the Kalalau Valley to avoid the appearance of a garden, of an Eden of orange, lemon, mango, and papaya trees somewhere, and of a ghostlike, kindly man named Tom who lived there for years and mysteriously reappears to hikers.
As evening drew near we snacked on nuts and the ex-welder told us tall tales, including the story of the aforementioned Amazonian who once, he assured us, raced a shark all the way from Hanalei to Kalalau. No doubt, she was towing her children at the time on their surfboard, rope in teeth, knife in hand. Suddenly, he rose.
"Excuse me," he said. "I have something important to do."
He reached into his tent and pulled out a flute. Walking out on the beach, where a few strollers were silhouetted here and there against the ever-changing sky, he sat crosslegged and began to play.
To the accompaniment of haunting flute music, the rim of the sun met the rim of the Pacific ocean with a quiet, perfect infusion of orange into the upper reaches of crystal blue. The surf grew quiet; the breeze stilled. Day changed swiftly to night, dense with stars, at Kalalau.
The next morning, we joined a small crowd to await the arrival of the Zodiac Boats. Darned if we were going to walk back!
Soon after sunrise, the puffy little grey boats arrived, one large one and two small ones.
The two small ones circled nervously, and, just as nervously, the shore entourage waited. The surf did seem high, even though it was early in the morning, the calmest time of day. Many campers had been there several days longer than planned, since the boats had not been landing. The shorebreak was steep, rising in staccato turquoise-tipped waves which pounced with a resounding thump on the steep beach.
Suddenly, the little boats zoomed like kamikazes to the shore and flew up onto the hard sand. As they did so, the crew leaped out and dragged the boats away from the surf.
Rapidly, the crew unloaded crates, garbage-bagged packs for those who'd paid to have them boated in while they hiked in ease and comfort, and several paying passengers. They encouraged anyone who could to swim out about fifty yards to the large boat. In complicated shifts, the rest of us were ferried out to the larger boat, and soon all was ready for our swift return.
The Na Pali coast was stunning in the strong morning light, its cliffs half in shadow, waterfalls ribboning straight into the ocean. For a moment, we saw into the bay beyond Kalalau, where King Kong was filmed. Once accessible by land, it is now impossible to walk to because of a landslide; people have drowned trying to swim around the point to get there.
The scenes of our own difficult trek unreeled swiftly, like a movie in reverse, from a different vantage point.
For instance, on our return ride over the bounding seas, our Captain (But not the famed Captain Zodiac himself, we were disappointed to learn) pointed out our treacherous cliff interlude amid laughter from the passengers: "There's crawler's ledge".
I recalled that at one point, as I practiced Good Judgment with my excellent Indiana Jones (parts of which were, of course, filmed on the Na Pali Coast) impression of an adventurer creeping across a treacherous cliff face, a boat such as this had happened along. Listening with the small portion of my attention not absorbed by trying to survive, I had been amused to hear one heckler yell, "Jump!"
This boat had no such heartless wretches--or perhaps their true nature didn't surface because the ledges were empty at this hour of the morning.
Since it was fairly calm, the captain took us through several sea caves and lava arches en route before depositing us at their private beach near Hanalei.
There are two ways to get to Kalalau. Who is to say which is best?
If you are good shape, have strong boots, a well-honed sense of balance, and a desire to hike one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, get your permit and initiate yourself into the club of those who have hiked the arduous, yet rewarding trail.
Sun-warmed guavas with a salt tang on their yellow skins are there for the picking, pink and sweet within. Wild goats frolic and cavort in their amazingly dexterous fashion; tropical flowers are abundant. The blue Pacific is your companion, along with waterfalls and ponds in which to plunge and erase the rigors of the trail.
Or take a spin down the coast by boat, in ease.
Whichever you choose, plan to become a part of stunning tropical wilderness. Nestle into a dune at night and watch shooting stars streak across the velvet black sky as the sound of surf soothes you into dreams.
But it might be hard to tell when that happens. At Kalalau, even when you're awake, it will seem as if you must be dreaming.
If you are interested in Hawaiian history and enjoy Kathleen's writing check out THE BONES OF TIME a unique science fiction novel based on the life of Princess Kaiulani.
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Originally published in the Washington
Post and San Francisco Examiner
Copyright © 1987 Kathleen Ann Goonan All Rights Reserved.