Sunday, September 15, 2013

Elemental Self, Enigmatic Forefather


Who am I? The elemental question. The question that persists. The one that wakes me; drives me to ask other questions. The question that has me searching now for a grandfather I know little about. How do our forebearers shape who we are anyway? Geneticists tell us that certain traits are inheritable. Could a forebearers’s identity bleed into our DNA, then remember itself, as do genes that determine hair and eye color? Or do disembodied forebearers exist in some ethereal realm where our attention goes, then draws them back? These questions held me as I walked the wide trail to the hot springs.

The rain and cloud cover kept all but the determined out of the forest. There were no other cars parked at the trailhead. Bill and I walked silently into and under the cedars, ponderosas and firs. Water flowed in the streambed and through the canopy. Water droplets in suspension. The earth releasing stored heat. The lines that normally define the boundaries of everyday life blurred. I felt part of, not separate from. As my awareness reached out, energies rushed in. The sharp cry of a pileated woodpecker narrowed my focus and brought me back to myself, the trail, the sky, the trees, the rocks and my camera.

I reached the lower springs before Bill did. There are several pools. Some hotter, some colder and a long, deep one filled with cold, creek water and steaming water that slides off the rock defining the mountain’s slope and an outside curve of Warm Springs Creek. I slid into the deep one and stuck my face into the hot steam near the rock. My hands held me up in the water. My legs bobbed in the top layer of hot water, my hands in the cooler water on the bottom. The steam soothed my eyes and throat. I found it easy to relax into the moment. With my ears submerged I could hear the creek as it rushed by and a deeper throb. Was I hearing the hot water as it gushed rhythmically to the surface? Plunges into the hot water were punctuated by dips in the clear, cold creek water. Stretching from one granite boulder to another, hopping and jumping and sliding into and out of the creek, I made my way upstream. Moss undulating in an eddy, a lichen encrusted rock, a bright berry; like a magpie my eye was easily captured by shiny objects. I’d pull out my camera and play in the light. A layer of clouds cloaked the sun, yet the ambient temperature was warm. It reminded me of the climate on the Big Island of Hawai’I. I’d spent 4 months of last winter on the island and it was in my yurt around two o’clock in the morning that I met Teodorico.

I need natural spaces, free flowing water, old growth plants and heat. When these conditions are met I feel free and able to slip into and out of everyday consciousness and primordial being. I’d brought along J. Krishnamurti’s On Nature and the Environment . I’d read a couple chapters the night before.

“Love is as real, as strong, as death. It has nothing to do with imagination, or sentiment, or romanticism, and naturally it has nothing to do with power, position, prestige. It is as still as the waters of the sea and as powerful as the sea; it is like the running waters of a rich river flowing endlessly, without a beginning or an end.”

Maybe my reading the book before falling asleep last night set the stage for what happened. Even now I’m not sure where I was when I first met Teodorico. Was I awake or asleep, but then, does it really matter? Our first meeting was on the Big I in the middle of the Pacific ocean; this time a rustic cabin on the edge of one of earth’s last wild forests.

My four month sojourn on Hawai’I is in one sense over, yet in another exists in an individual and collective memory. My hosts in Hawai’I had a library of books on Hawaiian culture and mythology. I learned how ancient Hawaiians understood themselves within the context of their lives, their living space and the lives and living spaces of their ancestors. They understood themselves to be connected to the web of life and by extension to past and future lives and spaces. They could tap into their collective memory when they needed to, or at times these “understandings” came unexpectedly.

The slender branches of a giant albizia tree swayed overhead. The shadows the branches cast dappled the grass. Several zebra doves flushed and darted into the dense forest behind the yurt. I’d finished my four hours of work and I sat on my yoga mat on the deck facing southeast. Sitting here after work had become a routine. It defined the end of focused work and the beginning of free play, a time to satisfy my curiosity. A time when I opened my attention as wide as it would go. It was joyful. I think plants, animals, rocks, life…I think they love our awareness. The dogs would come over uninvited when I‘d decided to leave and explore. These afternoon explorations became routine for them too.

I find solace in nature. Living spaces comfort and heal. I enjoy climbing on the polished bark of guava trees. Guava trees grow horizontal limbs. Sometimes these long branches hold up shallow rooted trees that the winds have toppled and these other trees continue to grow, cradled by the guava. The cluster of branches invite stretching and hanging. Body awareness is a key component to spatial and mental perception. Body movement activates flow and this flow opens our senses and heightens understanding. My heightened awareness after this hike introduced me to much more than wild pig trails, lava tubes and Japanese white-eyes.

I had eaten dinner, walked back to my yurt and lit the kerosene lamp. It was my habit to read until I got sleepy. It could have been Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I was reading. I read this book while staying in Puna.

“It seems to me that I am trying to tell you a dream-making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, the commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams… No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence-that which makes its truth, its meaning-its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream, alone…”

I fell asleep when it got dark at around 6:30. I slept soundly until two in the morning, then I woke, read and worked crossword puzzles. One part of me wants to say that I fell back to sleep; another that I fell into an altered state. A state of being I can’t explain. That’s how it felt anyway and that’s how I remember it. I lay on the stone floor of a vast cathedral. I was looking up at a mosaic filled series of arches and domes. It was as if the individual tiles were backlit with a golden light. As I lay there transfixed by the kaleidoscopic images, they morphed and slowly the image of a man, a king, emerged. Suddenly, as if amplified, a voice, deep and resonant, identified itself:


My body reacted involuntarily. I raised up in bed and was fully awake. I lay there for some time wondering what had happened. In the readings I’d done on Hawaiian culture and mythology, I had learned that Hawaiians believe we have “aumakua”, ancestral spirit guides. We can reconnect under the right circumstances and I had reconnected. I sensed too that being in Hawai’I and spending time getting to know its flora, fauna, geography and culture had contributed to my reconnecting with my “aumakua”. I felt awed and thankful. It was as if the spirit(s) of Hawai’I were recognizing and honoring my presence.

The following day I searched Teodorico online and what I found excited me. Theodoric the Great was the most famous of the Ostrogoth kings. His Italian name is Teodorico. The Goths were Swedes who left Gotland, the southernmost region of Sweden, and who first settled in what is now Poland. With the disintegration of the Roman Empire, German tribes migrated to fill power vacuums left as Rome imploded. The Goths moved yet again and settled near the Black Sea and eventually settled in what is now Austria along the Danube, south and east of the present city of Vienna, on the banks of the Neusiedler See near the Roman city of Carnuntum.  Teodorico was born just after the death of Attila, the Hun, and he eventually became the leader of the Ostrogoths, or eastern Goths. The Visigoths, the western Goths, allied themselves with Rome, while the Ostrogoths, under Theodoric’s leadership, allied themselves with Constantinople. Theodoric spent 30 years as a captive in Constantinople per the stipulations of a treaty his father signed with Leo, the then leader of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Captivity taught Theodoric the importance of tolerance. He eventually moved his people to Northern Italy, where he then became ruler of the entire Italian pennisula, and his 33 year reign bears witness to the importance he placed on racial harmony and how this emphasis on tolerance maintained peace between the Italians and Germans. He chose Ravenna to be his capital and he died there in 526. Ravenna’s basilica, the Basilica of San Vitale, offers the best preserved example of Byzantine mosaic art outside Constantinople. In my dream I saw these mosaics and I heard and saw Theodoric.

Night was falling. The cedar cabin we’d rented stood sheltered in the shadows of old growth cedars. An outside light accentuated the darkness of the surrounding forest and gilded the horizontal logs and hanging branches, swooping low and wide towards the ground. A reading light lit the cabin’s interior. I was reading J. Krishnamurti. I’d stopped to consider what I’d just read:

“I don’t know if you have discovered your relationship with nature. There is no “right” relationship, there is only the understanding of relationship. Right relationship implies the mere acceptance of a formula, as does right thought. Right thought and right thinking are two different things. Right thought is merely conforming to what is right, what is respectable, whereas right thinking is movement; it is the product of understanding, and understanding is constantly undergoing modification, change. Similarly, there is a difference between right relationship, and understanding our relationship with nature. What is your relationship with nature, (nature being the rivers, the trees, the swift-flying birds, the fish in the water, the minerals under the earth, the waterfalls and shallow pools)? What is your relationship to them? Most of us are not aware of that relationship. We never look at a tree, or if we do, it is with a view to using that tree, either to sit in its shade, or to cut it down for lumber. In other words, we look at trees with utilitarian purpose; we never look at a tree without projecting ourselves and utilizing it for our own convenience. We treat the earth and its products in the same way. There is no love of earth, there is only usage of earth. If one really loved the earth, there would be frugality in using the things of the earth. That is, if we were to understand our relationship with the earth, we should be very careful in the use we made of the things of the earth.”

It happened again. There I was in that unfamiliar state of being nowhere and somewhere simultaneously. I was sitting in a natural setting around a campfire with strangers. One person in the group seemed to be a teacher and the others were gathered around listening to what he said. I too was listening. I wasn’t impressed with what the teacher was saying and then abruptly he turned towards me and asked me to speak.

Be-leave or Be-come.

That’s what I said…and then I was flying, flying over a river at dawn. The forest was emerald green and the water glistened gold. I was losing altitude and I imagined just how cold the water must be. I fought to keep myself airborn and as I neared the water’s surface I could see my reflection, then I plunged into the water. To my surprise it was warm.

Was the teacher in the dream Teodorico, my “aumakua” helping me digest Krishnamurti and understanding my evolving awareness? J. Krishnamurti defines love as being a force that leads to right understanding, an understanding that like all things, changes, yet an understanding that ultimately results in more self and situational awareness. The next day, as Bill and I made our way back to the hot springs, I began thinking of a great, great grandfather I knew very little about and one I‘d given little thought to for a long time. Christian Dellin.

To be continued…

Monday, August 19, 2013

This is a short autobiography attached to an application I'm tendering for a two year garden apprenticeship. Wish me luck!


A Personal Odyssey of Local Discovery

I was born and raised in Challis, Idaho. Challis lies in the middle of a vast series of mountain ranges and is bordered to the north and west by the Idaho Batholith, a land that was once called the Idaho Primitive Area and later became the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in honor of Frank Church, who fought hard to make the Central Idaho Wilderness Act a reality. I tentatively explored the dry hills near town as a boy and took my first plane ride into the Flying “B” along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River to visit family at five. The wide-open spaces around home called out to me, but then there was school, work and all the distractions of modern life and exploring these natural spaces in earnest never occurred. After high school I enrolled at the University of Idaho where I studied political science. In 1980 I applied for and was accepted to work as a legislative intern for Senator James McClure. Little did I know that this legislative opportunity would lead me closer and not farther away from home and the natural spaces that define it.

My first impression of Washington D.C. was an olfactory one; the Capitol building smelled like paper money. The place was a hive of activity. Like an ant pile underground corridors connected monolithic structures. Miniature trains transported people to and fro and there where elevators, some reserved only for the congressmen and women, to lift them upwards and downwards. I gave tours of the Capitol building to visiting VIP’s. I enjoyed learning the history, appreciating the artwork and sharing it. I shied away from and found no joy in dredging up “political facts” to share with the senator’s constituents. It was an election year, perhaps one of the most pivotal in US history. Senator Frank Church lost his bid for re-election and Ronald Reagan was elected president. The tide turned red. I heard former Idaho governor Cecil Andrus describe at a Frank Church Wilderness Symposium how the work that was done to create the Central Idaho Wilderness Act, (Andrus at the time was serving as President Carter’s Secretary of the Interior), continued right up to the last minute before Reagan was sworn in as the new president. Andrus and others knew if the act wasn’t signed into law it might never be.

I went to Washington in 1980 knowing very little about Idaho politics in general and even less about the specifics of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act, but I “knew” the land that was to become the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. Many of my family had worked and lived within the boundaries of what became the “Church”. My great grandparents, Will & Mae Sullivan worked as the Little Creek guards in the 1940’s. A great, great uncle, Ted Dellen, died trying to cross the Middle Fork during spring run-off in the early 1900’s. His body was recovered and is buried just downstream from the mouth of Survey Creek on the Middle Fork. My great uncle Bill Sullivan Jr. managed the Flying “B” Ranch in the 1960’s. My relatives had stories to tell and I was all ears. I made these stories my own and I took this generational sense of place with me to Washington.

Senator McClure let me take his place at the Central Idaho Wilderness Act conference committee. A conference committee is a committee of the Congress appointed by the House of Representatives and Senate to resolve disagreements on a particular bill. Conference committees can be extremely contentious and this one was no exception. I did not understand sitting in this small room amid obviously impassioned men and women why they were fighting so hard to pass or not to pass legislation on land that seemed so far removed from their stories. These politicians did not share stories of places that had become integral parts of their lives and that motivated them to set aside similar places to inspire others, instead they offered facts and figures to make claims for or against more or less land to be included in the act. I didn’t understand. They were using their heads instead of their hearts to conserve land.

I left Washington disillusioned. I went there wanting to become a politician and I returned not knowing where to go, what to do or who to become. I drifted for a number of years. I explored the river bottom that meanders through Round Valley. I walked the dry hills of home and I traveled to Italy and other parts of Europe in search of self. I returned to the University of Idaho in 1988 to further my education and in 1988 I began my first season working for the Challis National Forest at Indian Creek on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area.

As I look back at my life’s course it seems destiny played a hand in my working in the “Church”; that I was destined to realize what benefit open, undeveloped land offers and to share this understanding with others. Perhaps when I attended that conference committee in 1980 I vowed to understand the passion behind the legislation?

I enjoyed my new job at Indian Creek. I enjoyed relative solitude early spring and late fall. Solitude gave me time to explore and discover the land around me and the quiet necessary to begin listening to and turning off the internal dialogue. I had no tv, radio or computer. As my appreciation for the Middle Fork’s wild land grew, so did my appreciation of the works of poets and writers who shared their relationship with wild places, Gary Snyder in particular.

“Lay down these words

Before your mind like rocks.

Placed solid, by hands

In choice of place, set

Before the body of the mind

In space and time:…”

…taken from Snyder’s poem Riprap

I’m a social animal; I love interacting with others and my job at Indian Creek brought me into contact with people from all over the US and world. I felt impelled to share my understanding of what a trip down the Middle Fork could offer and overtime developed a “break the bubble” talk to convey my newfound sense of place. Most of the people who came to visit the “Church” did so unaware of the opportunity a Middle Fork float trip had to offer. For many, a trip down the Middle Fork was “the thing to do”. They brought a bubble of the outside world with them and floated down the river encased within and not venturing out. It was an invisible bubble to be sure, but it insulated them from the greater, untrammeled wildness without. We are social animals who enjoy each other’s company, who tend to stay within the “safe” confines of folk , fire and the familiar. I recommended the river recreationists break the bubble to explore the area alone. I urged the boaters to be aware of the greater impact they had on the “Church” by traveling there by plane and with outfitters who cater to their every need. I encouraged them to take the experience they gained from a trip through the “Church” back with them to the places they call home. I urged them to appreciate the natural processes occurring where they spend most of their time. As an urban species we crave the wide-open spaces of the wilds. We are unconsciously drawn to them and when we are unaware of the consequences of our need for breathing space and how we choose to visit these last remaining refuges; we can love them to death. If we jump start the process of reconnecting with the green, viable ecosystems still remaining and take the experience back home and start appreciating the wildness where we live, then we can make more livable the spaces we inhabit and reduce our need for those wild areas we’ve set aside. Visiting an apparently wild place like the “Church” requires that we walk within its confines as a deer or cougar does, with attention and skill, to do otherwise increases the impact we have on the land and de-values the experience.

“I don’t know.”

I still remember the deliberate, careful and considerate way Vincent Ponzo responded to a question put to him by a boater. Vincent worked with me at Indian Creek as an American Indian interpreter. Shoshone was his first language. It was through Vincent that I gained my first experience of a living/breathing Native American culture, the Shoshone-Bannock culture. It was difficult at times to relate to him and his way of communicating, but the more I tried the better able I became. I had become proficient at knowing the names of the birds, trees, ungulates, fish and flowers people would see as they traveled down river. I had done my best to educate the visitors in the traditional Western European way, but here was a local understanding thousands of years deep; an understanding gained from living and experiencing a place, not one based on learning words and repeating them. Many people refused to take the time to adapt themselves to Vincent and his way. They wanted to “know” the Middle Fork in the way they had become accustomed to know places. Vincent taught me the significance of not knowing. There is real value in approaching life in the spirit of “not knowing”. Not knowing opens us to heightened awareness and guides us to a keener sense of being: the water, the trees, the flowers, the water flowing, the sky…


I left Indian Creek in 2006 with a deep sense of place. It remains and sustains. Is it true that “in wilderness is our salvation”, or are these last remaining wild places just playgrounds? Maybe another, broader conference committee needs convened, wherein indigenous people from all places meet to consider a world wildness act-a courageous act of exploring the deepest possible relationship we can have with apparently wild places and those, less apparently wild places we call home.

Since leaving Indian Creek and my work with the US Forest Service, I have taken the advice I gave to the boaters to heart and I am transforming the place I call home-making it more life sustaining. These past five years I have gardened. My maternal grandfather was an avid gardener and his example quickened a latent desire of my own to someday also become one. Several, long-time friends, who share a mutual love of gardening equally inspired me to someday work the soil and their examples still resonate in the work I do. If I were to define the type of gardening I do, then I would most probably call it biodynamic perma-culture. I mulch extensively using leaves collected by the city workers in the fall. I use biodynamic preparations in our compost piles and garden. I allow plants to go to seed and then I allow some of the volunteers to grow. The volunteers have a certain vitality. It is as if they adapt to our particular biosphere. Their presence also give the garden a wild aspect that delights and enables me to see that I am a co-creator. The forces that are in play in the garden are also forces that are in play within me. Birds, reptiles, insects and mammals of all shapes and sizes seek refuge in our garden. I tend the garden and the garden tends me. I no longer feel the need to escape to a more apparently wild place to recharge. I can stay at home and do the same.

Every spring wins me over and the spring of 2006 was no exception. I went looking for shed antlers like I did most springs at Indian Creek. I loved walking the steep hills, narrow creek bottoms full of willow, hawthorn, dogwood and service berry. The tree covered north slopes were damp, steep and full of surprises: buried elk carcasses, nesting raptors, bears, cougars and early evening…the hermit thrush’s flute-like serenade. I had found many elk and mule deer antlers over the years, but this year I found a full-curled Rocky Mountain ram’s head. I’d come full circle. I knew when I found the ram’s head that my decision to leave Indian Creek was a good one. Life was calling and it was time to venture on. At the time I didn’t know that I was being called to garden and to practice what I was preaching, but here I am.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves,

like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you

because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,

Live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke





Friday, March 1, 2013

Naked Men's Volleyball (Sorry No Photos)

Every Saturday the usual suspects show up at the Isle of You to play volleyball.  I use the term "volleyball" loosely though, since any similarity to the official game and the one played at Isle of You is...well...different.

Being different isn't always a positive thing.  We all remember our formative days at school, where any difference: wearing eye-glasses, being "fat", too tall, too short, too shy, being Mexican, being gay, not wearing the "in" clothes, not playing sports, etc., could make life miserable.  Most of us adapted to the harsh living conditions public school systems provided by blending-in.   The volleyball game played at Isle of You stands as a tribute to all the "different" ones out there who weren't able or willing to blend-in, and to all those, who blended-in until increased self-esteem, age, college and or combination of these factors. or others, resulted in the realization that I'm ok; you're okay.

On the black cinder court at Isle of You, (read I love You), it's okay to kick the ball over the net to avoid diving for the ball on a black cinder court when you're not wearing clothes.  There is a first aid kit on hand, however, if someone does dive.  It's also okay to wear clothes on every Saturday of the month except the first Saturday.  On that day everyone must be naked.  It's not as scary as it sounds.  In fact, it's liberating, especially when it's 80 degrees and humid.  The players are mostly gay, but the occasional hetero male braves the elements and joins the game.'s okay to be straight.  One such hetero-sexually challenged individual and recent arrival to the Isle of You neighborhood was drawn to the game by the laughter he heard coming from the Isle of You property, (It is okay when playing the game to laugh at yourself, at others, or just because the breeze just tickled you somewhere the sun doesn't usually shine.)

As agressive primates, we are 99.99999% related to chimps you know, we are compelled to compete and the competition can, and usually does, take on a decidely destructive turn.  At Isle of You Naked Volleyball, however, the primates play less like the agressive chimp and more like the fun-loving bonobo.  Haven't heard of the bonobos?  The men of naked volleyball have devised a set of rules for volleyball that any self-respecting, fun-loving, bonobo would find difficult to understand.  After a while you give up trying to understand and accept and before you know it everything seems just as it should be.

If one team outscores the other team by nine points, then the "nine inch" rule applies and the lower score team serves until they make a point.  If you're new to naked volleyball the "princess" rule applies, (for a month), and you have three chances on your serve to hit the ball over the net.  Once you make a point during one of your times up to serve, however, the rule no longer applies.  See what I mean.  The rules go on and on and on and they're so confusing.   If one team pulls 13 points ahead of the other team, then the frontlines switch.  Sometimes this results in the lower score team catching up and sometimes winning, sometimes not.  Winning(?) it turns out, "the winning" doesn't result in much.  When you find yourself off the court and back into your usual routine, you realize it was playing the game that counted, not the result.  If a team gets too far ahead of the other, then each time the lower score team makes a point, they can then Tulverize the higher score team by subtracting a point from their tally.  This usually results in a longer game being played.  Another interesting rule involves a ball being hit over the net, but out of bounds and back onto the court after ricocheting off of a chair, roof, dog, cat, etc.  If a ball does that, then it counts, unless you remember the rule and kick the ball back over the net to the "other side".  Do you get the picture?  Finally,  there's the "Big Girl" rule.   When the teams are tied and a ball is in play and one of your team members calls "Big Girl", before actually hitting the ball, (but not always), then the ball can be hit any number of times before making it over the net and into/onto the other side's court.  When you follow this logic, you quickly(?) realize the volley could go on forever.  It doesn't.

Alas, as all good things, Saturday volleyball comes to an end.  The earth turns away from the sun and  the players unwillingly accept the lack of light and retreat to the comfort of the cooler and beer and other favored intoxicants.   We are in Puna, you know.  And for me, stay at the Isle of You has come to an end, and so too my Saturday afternoons playing Naked Men's Volleyball.
What hasn't come to an end though, is my better understanding of the game of volleyball,  my love for the Isle of You, Kelly and Normand, the hosts,  and all the rest of you who make the game what it is.  Here's to playing more like a Bonobo and less like a Chimp!  Aloha and Mahalo!!!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kalani Ecstatic Dance

The Light Fantastic

I have something to write about. The word ecstatic trips me. Ec-static, not normal, it’s not business as usual. Weird.

In the otherwise dense vegetation of Puna, Kamapua’a’s home, there thrives a venue for ecstatic dance, Kalapani. Kamapua’a, Pele’s opposite and lover, god of vegetation, damp, dark places; the one who brings the rain and who is sometimes portrayed as an eight-eyed boar. It is in Kamapua’a’s domain that I am tripping the light fantastic. Those of you who know me, know I’ve always liked to express myself through dance. A friend in Kalispell, Montana has often tried to get me to attend the ecstatic dances that occur there, but not until two weeks ago did I dispell my reservations and let myself go here. I’m glad I did.

I give thanks to Hi’iaka, Pele’s favorite sister, and the spirit she bestows upon those compelled to kick up their heels, cut a rug, do a jig. Hi’iaka is said to be Hawaii’s only native goddess. Pele carried her from Tahiti as an egg, keeping her warm under her armpit. Each week a different DJ mixes music in a long, well ventilated, screened-in,structure, open to a rugged coast, a boundary between opposites: Pele, fire goddess, Na-maka-o-Kaha’I, Pele’s older sister and goddess of the sea. It is believed that water is more powerful than fire?! It’s as if the opposing sisters make peace for two hours on Sunday mornings though to let Hi’iaka’s spirit move through us to the beat of tribal/techno drums at Kalapani.

Powerful beats hold ethereal, fairy tunes down to earth. Hip undulating, Latin rhythms bring the bull fighters and gypsy flamenco dancers into the light. Techno-futuristic, disjointed sound bytes challenge my sense of rhythm, coaxing me to invent a move that lets the sounds flow through my arms, my feet, my legs, my fingers, toes, torso, and head. I transform from a person listening to the music into the music. Sweat pours down my face, my arms, chest and back and I’m not alone. Pools of sweat are visible on the wooden floor. Dancers writhe on hands and knees as they mop up their sweat with towels. We’ve been asked before dancing to mop up our sweat for safety’s sake. Young and old, thin and corpulent flow with the music. Some dancers move gracefully through the crowd, chanting, mimicking primates and birds. Talking is disallowed. We are there to express ourselves through our bodies; to respond through our limbs not our lips.

Ancient Hawaiian wisdom teaches that it is our duty to find our source of “mana”, to cultivate it and use it to increase our awareness and co-create a world of harmony, well-being and aloha. We create the Gods we worship and their spirits respond to the intention and attention we give them. The “mana”/personal energy we give them strengthens them.

At the end of each dance session, Joel, the organizer, calls us into a tight circle. Our toes touch as we sit huddled together. Spontaneous chants break loose, as do laughter and animal calls. I feel and allow a belly laugh to animate my spirit and the spirits of everybody present.

The “aina”, the land, is alive and well here in Puna and I intend to respect and nurture it. I am grateful to be here and I extend a heartfelt thanks to all those who make Kalapani ecstatic dance what it is. Mahalo!