There is a sliver of beach on Oahu’s North Shore where I have spent most of my time for the past month. The waves break close to shore here and in many places they break over a sharp, unyielding bottom that protects this place from too much human encroachment – nature’s barbed wire for the unwelcome. Coral reefs are plentiful near this beach– some thriving, some struggling, and some that have been plummeted to pieces by storms and the North Shore’s infamous winter breakers.
There are no surfers here this time of year. During the summer this sliver of beach is used only by local residents or occasional visitors who have spent decades snorkeling or spear-fishing here, and who remember when – over a decade ago — a rogue wave came ashore after midnight and destroyed most of the little house where I am living. The owner was home that night and survived a barrage of liquid hammers and broken glass (along with his wife who had been sleeping). It is said he never slept in his beloved house again after it was rebuilt. It’s not my place to speculate whether the sea also shattered his heart that night, but the memory of how it changed him still haunts the residents who’ve told me his story in a respectful whisper.
Memories of yesterdays and oral histories that are passed down seem to coexist with the present in Hawaii – perhaps because Hawaii embodies life’s evolution and commands respect for where it has been. Re-telling embellishes some stories to the point where they stop being believed, but there is a thread of truth that runs through them that tempts people to retell them long after their accuracy can be ascertained.
Honu, the Hawaiian name for the green sea turtles that belong to and frequent the ocean here, often show themselves when the tide is in and there are no swimmers in the water. There is usually one that arrives to join me each time I sit on a certain rock near the wave break, and less commonly a second one will join it. A few days ago, the scarred sea turtle approached me and kept me company for several hours until the sunlight disappeared, the wind turned colder, and I had to leave. It swam back and forth in front of me, about 7 feet from where I sat at the nearest point, disappearing for minutes at a time and then re-surfacing directly in front of me from where it alternated watching me and the sea beyond the reef break. I felt an affinity to it for some reason, much the same way as I have always felt an affinity towards vulnerable birds and animals that seem to seek me out. There seems to be an understanding among vulnerable creatures that allows us to sometimes take comfort in each other’s company – bridging, briefly at least, the distance between one another. It has the power to calm the spirit; it is the difference between independence and isolation.
It’s said that the honu that watch me daily when I sit on that sliver of beach belong to the same ancient species of sea turtles that once watched dinosaurs appear and then disappear into extinction. Honu are now an endangered species themselves and as they keep me company in this secluded place, I sense that we share that in common.
Photo Credit: Keith Levit (123RF License)