I grew up where everything was limited but the sky. The warm days eventually turned colder, and soon the sun would rise to barely warm the brittle winter days. Each season had its place and time, and each one faded (or exploded) into the next. The harvest was planted, cared for, and brought in, the trees went from bare to green to orange and gold.
And the old things were always made new again.
A field that lies bare in the winter becomes a different place in the spring, when the snow has melted into the rich dark dirt and tiny pale green promises of life are sprouting up.
We grew up without much money, and I grew up a descendant of the Puritan tradition, which meant that necessities beat frivolities every time, and there is not much that is a necessity.
None of these are negatives. The predictability of the changing seasons and the making do with what we had meant a stable life, and the delayed gratification of something worked for made it mean more when we got it. Living in a world that was always making itself new again, whether that was with the help of the farmer across the street, my mother in her garden, or just the changing seasons is a beautiful and hopeful world in which to live. It means that however cold, however dead things look, there is always the promise of change in a few months time. It implants a willingness to embrace the seasons, both of the weather and in life, because things cannot last forever. Hope may be easier to come by in a place where there will always be another fragile spring that will always lead to a heavy and established summer.
But (and there is always a but, isn’t there?) it turns out that there are places that don’t need to make themselves new again and again, there are places that don’t have to hoard their resources.
There is nothing stingy about Hawaii. Not in the sunshine that continues all year round, not in the green jungles that cover everything from the edges of the beaches to the mountain tops. The water constantly washes the sand, the once endangered turtles swarm some beaches, and some days the blue of the water is so clear and calm that it is hard to tell when the water ends and the sky begins.
Living here, especially living here in the winter months, has been a lesson in abundance. The trees never lose their leaves, the fruit and vegetables grow all year long. The rain always falls enough on our windward side of the island so that few things rarely die, and off to the east the humpback whales gather by Makapuu Point, straining the plentiful plankton through their giant baleen mouths.
There is a stark and minimalist beauty in the Midwestern winters. The black lace of bare branches against a grey sky, the space of an empty field that stretches farther then the horizon. It is a restful and haunting beauty of a job well done, of a harvest in, of warm spaces around kitchen tables while the wind whips the snow outside. And then the beauty of that first tree bud, that first pale green shoot of grass, has always been enough to almost break my heart. It is a beauty of overcoming, of starting again anew, of coldness turning into warmth, of a hope. Even though it unfurls through ground still cold, it trusts the sun will be outside to warm it.
Hawaii is different.
Hawaii’s beauty is constant, never ending. I do not have to look for it when the calendar hits March. I do not have to wait for it through months that, while they have their own beauty, keep people inside and in the darkness.
Here, the problem becomes taking it for granted; this constant wealth. The sidewalks become littered with fallen blooms several months of every year, the diamond sparkling waves last all year long.
If there’s anything that life teaches us it is that there are always limits. Limits to time, money, and energy; there are limits to the length a pale green sprout can last if the weather turns cold again. If we do not exercise self control and patience and hard, nurturing work, we just don’t make it in this life. And for those of us who live or have lived in families who have needed or believed in rationing things, (which is probably all of us because I don’t think I know any millionaires) Hawaii can be freeing, liberating, and a place to breathe.
A place where I can take in all the green I can and there is still more around the corner, and a place where if I wanted to, I could swim forever. Some places don’t have the same limits as others, like Akaka Falls, on the Hilo side of the Big Island, halfway up the east coast.
The deep jungles surrounded it; vines swinging above the path, streams below us, and birds flitting from every branch. The waterfalls are so abundant here on the east side of the island that the 15 minute trail actually brought us around to two different waterfalls, giant and pounding through the cliffs.
The second waterfall was clear and close, 200 feet of pounding clear water against a bright green background. Here, there is always more than enough, and why this place should have abundance when somewhere else has none is not a question for me to answer. Why this place should never know a cold wind, a season where the flowers don’t fall when others experience shortfalls regularly is not a part of a fair world, nor does it seem like anything that should happen.
If there was any answer to it, it would be that these places make us realize what is both missing and what is gained in other places. Because there is always something gained, and there are some things of which I cannot let go. The first time one year old Lincoln saw a picture of fall, the bright colors stretching out across the trees, and he exclaimed, “Mama! Fire!”
And I miss that, the fiery prelude to the deep soft dimness of the winter, and the way the world can be made new again with each additional snowfall, each additional season.
But still, I’ve had more than one person tell me that they have not, and I will not, be able to leave Hawaii behind me, that it will be a place I will miss forever. And they’re probably right. But I’m grateful for the lesson: there are places, and there are people, and there are loves, where there is always enough, where there is no end.
The world is hard. But there are always places of abundance.