Ellen van Spyk has an MFA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has taught throughout the UH system. She was an assistant professor of art at UH Hilo. Her interest in Hawaiian imagery began when she lived on Molokai's east end during the early 1970s. Her interpretation of Hawaiian culture and landscapes can be found in many permanent collections including the state foundation on culture and the arts. She writes and works in the painting and sculptural media.
THIS IS A GREAT BR FISHING AND WISHING 100 ENTRY
The Wilds of Olomana
There are mountains to climb in every life: tough questions to ask.
Sometimes the answer is to let go of the question.
They don't attack at random, but stalk specific victims, lurking just out of sight. They hang back and observe from a not too close not too far base, using strategy learned from previous hunts. They attack when the light is low. They like their victims young and alone. They are the facts, the predatory elephants that follow me everywhere; my burden.
As I hike Olomana, they watch. Olomana, a mountain whose three peaks I have glimpsed many times while driving down the hairpin curves of the Pali. It juts like a broken rib from the flat map of the windward side, a dark mysterious silhouette rising dangerously from the placid flank of the island, a graphic reminder that something terrible has happened!
I had come to the mountain early, anticipating a six hour hike. The sun was still low as I walked among the gray, wrinkled trees and I sensed the elephants filtering through shadows nearby. I couldn't see them, but felt their presence in the falling rocks, snapping branches and smells tossing on the wind. They pressed close for several hours until the trail steepened and narrowed beyond the limits of their ponderous forms.
I climbed alone. There was no other hiker to see the mountain, perpendicular and green, struck like a basalt adze through the haze drifting 1,600 feet below. Erosive time had shattered its blade into three summits, each retaining keen sharpness and together forming an edge resolute as destiny.
After several hours' progress, I finally passed the first crest and like a tightrope walker, arms wide for balance, proceeded to the second, each step a careful balancing act. Vertigo swept my breath away. I sat on a pinnacle, one hand holding the earth, the other reaching up to unclasp my mind, to spill out the fragile creature I have sheltered and carried so carefully to this height. It spreads its wings and I see the beauty and complexity of delicate patterns, the interlocking colors and shapes of its impossible design. I savor its presence, wings pulsing softly with fragile airy grace, and then I let it go. It tumbles into the abyss of sky and is gone.
I sit and wonder, “What shall I put in its place?” There is no anxiety. It is just a peaceful thought. I pause to feel the remote Pali at my back, to view the tranquil Kailua and Enchanted Lakes landscape below, the shining blue sea beyond. But the solitude, the height, the muted rhythms of life in the far distance slowly begin to terrify me. I shiver and do not dare challenge the third peak. I am fearful of an ending, the end of the trail. I have come so far alone, one step in front of the other, testing and climbing, teetering on a thin edge. I decide that where I am is enough. I do not long to reach the final destination. It is in sight.
Decision made, I turn and begin to pick my way down the mountain. Far down slope, near elephant territory, I brace myself for the familiar crush. I know elephants are about, but can't see them yet. The fog has gone like a curtain pulled aside to reveal mid-day when I glance toward the sky, and there above my shoulders, fluttering all around, is a procession of dancing elephants. They are much smaller than before, light as air, actually, and gaily painted with symbols of mystic design. They are all attached to bubbles, circles like rings in a circus tent, and round like luminous balls.
I thrilled to see the elephant finery and their dances seemed sprung from my youth when visits to Grandma meant the circus had come, a day full of promise, surprises and choice. The town filled with wild beasts and strangers, games of chance, side shows with marvels to view, noise, confusion, and tickets for admission. I know just what to do with elephants now! I tie on silk slippers with pliable soles, don my tiara and slip into my own star-spangled Wonder Woman suit. Bring on the parade!