The best thing about the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is that when the humidity lies heavy on Kailua, and the sun burns up Kaneohe, here on the foot of the mountains it is cooler. And the giant trees provide shade for almost the whole gardens, so when Lincoln complains constantly at home that he needs sunglasses, it is never a problem here.
Where I grew up, in Nebraska, cooler air would come from big storms that would cover the sky, or in the fall, the shade would come with the shorter days and threat of snow.
There we had golden oceans of corn, and their husks made their own kind of waves, bowing and straightening in the wind. They made dry, rustling rhythms instead of the water splatting upon the sand. But both respond to the same air.
There were irises that would have to fight their way through the frozen ground, but then emerge with a deceptive gentle grace, as if they had not tunneled and worked their way through ground as hard as rock. Here, the lobster claw heleconia has an opposite problem; the ground never freezes, the warmth never ceases, and the jungle is so deep and tall that the plants have to grow quickly to the sun or die. But they stretch, reach, and follow that same sun.
In Nebraska, there were deer, with their gentle grace and abounding simplicity that would get them hit by cars every night. Free and light, but heavy enough to dent a car, hurt a passenger, and hurt themselves. Here, my neighbor tells me stories of nearly getting run down by the wild jungle pigs, and the same untroubled artlessness attends them both.
In Nebraska, if a leaf rustled, we’d say it was just a squirrel. Here it is a mongoose that also uses the trees as its hiding place.
“I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.”
Here, I worry about things I have never had to worry about before. Like getting enough sleep, finding clean pajamas every night and making sure that the monkey doesn’t get left behind in the jungle.
But it not just the place of life I am in, this busy life with small children that brings its predictable and unending changes. It is the physical place too; that I have to worry about cockroaches and not drowning, and getting run down by pigs.
The joy of staying in one place is you get to measure your changes by the constancy around you. It is a deep look inside yourself, because when you change but other things stay the same, it is more measurable, more personal. When you are the only variable, the change is quantifiable. I know this, because I stayed still for the first 20 years of my life. You know your changes when you stop going to a certain place, or stop enjoying a specific hobby. These things are harder to see when they are masked by new surroundings. We do not measure correctly against a standard that is always moving, after all, and this explains the strangeness that always accompanies coming back. You realize that you have changed, that these things that you once knew and loved, you now no longer do.
But when I move as often as I have in the last few years, I learn that I am a different person in each place; that both my physical places and my life situations have changed; that nothing stays the same. It is an adapting, re-creating, and becoming new every few years.
And when everything feels upside down and there is no firm place to stand, and nothing solid to grasp, I remember: it is the same sun, the same water, the same air we breathe.
The trees change, the sun rises and turns the world, and myself and my worries are different place by place.
And I am not yet done with my changes.