Just a Fluke

She walks ahead of me down the boat ramp barefoot, her dog George by her side. “These damn rocks aren’t always here,” she calls back to me, pointing out yet another consequence of Tropical Storm Iselle two weeks ago.


The Pohoiki Bay parking lot has been cleared of the lava rocks and rubble that washed ashore, but not the boat ramp, which is also the access for surfers and us swimmers. One of the very few such places in Puna, whose coast is mainly 20 foot lava cliffs.

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It’s 8:30am and I am walking directly into the Pacific Ocean for the first time since moving to Hawaii almost five months ago. NeNe (Nay-Nay), a friend from the community farm we stayed at for two months when we first arrived, invited me when we saw each other at a farmer’s market. “Are you a good swimmer?” she’d asked. NeNe means goose and is the official bird of Hawaii, plus my new swimming buddy reminds me of Momma Goose back in Washington — knowledgeable, generous with her knowledge, she loves to dance, and she gets right to the point.

“Yes, I am,” I say. I am a good swimmer, having grown up with a community swimming pool in Texas (I was on the Afton Village Swim Team)

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and vacations to rivers with treacherous and wonderful rapids. But even His Majesty warned me about swimming in the ocean, how exhausting it is. The Bearded One doesn’t enjoy swimming as much as I do. I would like to start swimming regularly.

“It’s perfect!” NeNe sings out and George swims nearby, his black poodle nostrils snorting.

The Bearded One and I go to the ocean every night now. It’s a mile walk, which I don’t want, so the Bearded One leaves and I follow in the truck 15 minutes later, park and then we walk the trail along the cliffs and drive home together.

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I love the ocean. Most every place on Earth has something remarkable about it, something beautiful, something that defines it as a place. Here it is the Pacific Ocean. You breathe the salty air day in and day out, taste it on your tongue. You feel the trade winds, the sultry doldrums, the fierce hurricanes.


There are no boats to see, no other land. Puffy, colorful clouds layer out to the horizon for 30 miles, pinks and purples and orange, so that across the entire 180 degrees you can detect the curvature of the Earth.

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We live on a speck of volcanic mountain sticking up out of these vast waters. It’s a good thing I can swim.

I sink down into the blue-green saltwater, a warm spot, then a cool spot, then a cooler spot. All kinds of forces swirl. The surface rises up around me and I ride the swell. I dog paddle. I sidestroke. Progress is slow. Surfers paddle by on their boards. My spine relaxes, I take a breath and go under.

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Two days ago the Bearded One and I saw a humpback whale fluke. The tail. Out of that vast view, standing on the cliffs, the two of us were looking at the same spot at the same time and saw the enormous tail flip out of the water a hundred yards out.

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And months early. A super-rare sighting right now. The earliest whales are said to come in September, most in October and November. “It’s an amazing fluke,” said the Bearded One, and we laughed.

NeNe and I tread water and keep an eye on George. We swim out to the boat breakwater and back. We talk a bit, but mainly we let the water wash through us. And then we are tired. There is an outdoor shower by the ramp, and I rinse off in my twenty-five-year-old black one-piece swimsuit with skirt.

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NeNe and I chat for a bit, declare our intent to do this again soon, and say goodbye. I drive onto the Red Road and the route His Majesty ran last week in his epic trek to our house.

When I get home, the Bearded One is working on the post-storm cleanup, cutting up fallen trees and pruning others. He’s creating a playground for kids and someday grandkids — spots for swings and zip lines and he just now got an idea for the 20 foot long cedar tree skeleton, once he lops off the leaves and twigs and thin branches. A jungle gym. He gestures grandly as I approach for a look, grins and just says, “Moby Dick.”

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24 responses to “Just a Fluke

  1. I wanna go next time!!! You, me, Nene. George & Rufus.

  2. Oh I love walking on the beach after stormy weather looking for what the ocean has thrown up onto the shore :). BO looks like he’s making Cthulu !

  3. I continue to be in awe of the incredible spot where you live. It sounds wonderful to be within walking distance/easy drive of the ocean.

    • Aloha Sheryl! I keep thinking about your grandmother’s trip to Niagara Falls and how mindboggling that sight is (I agree). I feel that way when I see the ocean, too. And yes, being able to walk to the ocean! Easily. I can walk to it fine, I just don’t like the mile walk back, too. I’m hoping to get a bicycle before too long.

  4. I wonder if we stood at our respective edges of the Pacific Ocean at the same time……. Only I am not about to put any bit of me into that water just yet – it is frigid! Puppy is quite keen to take it on though and I suspect come summer time I may well find myself paddling – at least up to my ankles 🙂

    Isn’t it the most wonderful thing when you can see the curve of the earth – it quite takes my breath away. I love that you are at home by the sea – for me it is the only thing missing. I want to look out my window again and see nothing but miles of blue/green ocean and sky. Still, it’s only a half hour walk away. And a whale fluke! What a most successful week!

    You are sounding more settled, more in the swing of things – becoming acclimated. It takes time. When I was living in the UK I was told it would take me three years to feel settled. I wonder if that is true for everywhere?

    BO sounds as if he is making the property his own – putting down roots, building for the future and creatively re-purposing the detritus of the storm. Wonderful man!! Love to you both from the other end of the Pacific xoxo

    • Aloha Pauline! I think about seeing my Australian and New Zealand friends to the south, too. The water in Puget Sound in Washington is freezing, too. I lived there 35 years and don’t think I ever got above my ankles wet. Waterfront property in Hawaii is so expensive. Way beyond us. Even where we live, which isn’t particularly resorty. I still can’t believe how close we do live, though. I can walk the mile fine, I just don’t like to have to walk back, too, after walking the beach. We’re thinking about getting bicycles soon.

      I am feeling more acclimated. I does take time, and I keep remembering that, as I’m not a fully acclimated person yet. Getting our solar hooked up will help! 🙂 And yes, the B.O. is a wonderful man. I love how you describe his efforts, too. Love to you, Siddy and Orlandoxxoo

  5. What a wonderful world 🙂 I’m glad you have a new swim buddy. You sound like you’re “home”. I love it. Congrats on the whale sighting! I love making useful things out of damage, smart thinking on the tree. I have never seen a whale. One day! Mahalo! Hugs from Texas!

  6. I have been thinking a lot about snorkeling lately. We haven’t been to Hawaii since the summer before Megan was born but I have never forgotten the feeling of being in the ocean. And the snorkeling! A magical world under the surface of the water. That whale you saw might have been in Juneau this summer! Love you and happy for you.

    • Aloha Betty! I have a snorkel mask. Maybe I’ll take it next week. Good idea. 🙂 I was just reading about how these humpbacks migrate from Alaska! Talk about transitions. Hope you and Gary have a terrific school year. Love you, too. xxoo

  7. Mmmmm, swimming in tropical ocean waters. I just bought my first bathing suit in about 20 years, with a skirt(!), for our December trip to Oahu. Can’t wait.

  8. Thanks for sharing your ocean with us! On the west coast of BC it was rarely warm enough to swim; mostly in places with long sandy beaches that stretched way out and warmed up in the sun at low tide. I love the sound of your sea . . .

  9. You guys are great. Your story, Bearded’s illustrations. Always – this one especially – I’m taken through a full range of emotions and body chills. Magic.

  10. Christine Widman

    A very dreamy watery sea story. Ethereal.
    And a very different kind of water approach than my beach walks on Oahu. Where I would sit and watch the water and the sky and my love – a snorkeling fish. While we lived in Hawaii, he was in the ocean as much as on land.
    I have to admit though – I felt an immediate sliver of fear at the great “boat launch walk into the ocean” drawing. I am not the water nymph that you feel within. I am a terra firma girl.
    Last year I ran and hiked 609 miles….something about “my feet on the ground” (kudos to Van Morrison) is what grounds me. My brain relaxes.
    Summer here with 3 digit degree temps, I swim in our pool. And I swim a lot! But after many days of swimming, I have to walk on the land.
    There is an extraordinary “indie” movie…Off The Map…about a husband, wife, daughter living off the grid in New Mexico…about the land and the curvature of the earth and an artist painting that curvature for the young daughter to feel the sea. A unique story which – every time I watch it – moves me beyond words.
    Very like your blog today.
    Mahalo, water girl.

    • Aloha Christine! Bearded exaggerated that ramp shamelessly! I should have protested when I first saw it, but he would have argued about his sensibilities and rights and reminded me that he is the artistic director AND editor ‘n cheep. So it’s best I didn’t. 🙂 You are so light on your feet! Terra firma, yes, but not too firma. Love you, mainland mermaid. xxoo

  11. Christine Widman

    Don’t mess with a genius. 🙂
    The Bearded One’s drawings are sheer joy with unique sensitivity, romantic (the utter aaahhh of you both watching the curvature of the earth), and often lolololololol humor….which the boat launch was…
    actually…yet for me…I even called out to Den who was at his computer in the office with me – I suddenly froze and was afraid to read on!
    When I think about it – the power of that line drawing to hit my fear button instantly – WOW! – it’s amazing.
    Your blog with his drawings and the photos continue our vivid life communication every week.

  12. Cthulhu is a massive great sea creature…most fitting for Hawaii methinks ;). I love this post! I love how the sea is flowing through you now. You can’t help but be imbued in a place when you touch the water. We women need that water…that centering like we need the moon. I can’t live without water somewhere close. I start to dry out and am not the woman I should be without it. Walking that mile is good for you Ms Christi. Maybe you need a George of your own to reintroduce you to the delights of nature when you are forced into it at the end of a lead ;). I love that you are making friends and swim dates. That you are stretching out into your new life. Putting out your own Cthulhu tentacles (but hopefully with much less disastrous consequences! 😉 ) and that the ever present scent of the sea is now deep inside you. We are made of water and salt. The balance is SO important that without it we can’t live. Jungle gyms and grand-kids eh Ms Christi? Methinks the B.O. is a clucky granddad in the making 😉 HUGE hugs from Sunny Sidmouth and a great big Aloha to you both 🙂

    • Aloha Fran! Today the B.O. told me that the kids and grandkids will have a whale of a good time on Moby Dick, so methinks you might be right. 🙂 I love to walk, and I walk a mile a day, but much more than that consistently and my hip aches. So I watch it. Plus, the B.O. likes the ride home from the beach. 🙂 But I aim to get a bike and then the mile will be a breeze. 🙂 HUGE hugs back to ya! xxoo

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