Essay from Ann Tinkham

Ode to the Archipelago

It’s becoming a tradition, I suppose. Last year, we exchanged vows wearing nectar-scented plumeria leis. We stood barefoot between onyx lava rocks, water pooling around our ankles; our intimate ceremony officiated by a conch-shell-blowing minister who had survived a shark attack. The ginger glow of the Maui sunset erased our wrinkles long enough to trick the camera lens. Curious onlookers wondered if we were newlyweds or oldyweds renewing our vows. We kissed like it was the first time.

This year, I’ve come to heal: to remember who I was before I squeezed life through a computer screen.

I’m more myself here than anywhere. How inconvenient. An archipelago, 2,500 miles from the continent I call home; exposed peaks of a great undersea mountain range. Life is fragile here and will, one day, return to the sea.

The first thing I do is inhale the moist, oxygen-pumped air, my body craving deep, enriching breaths after 365 days of arid high-altitude breathing. I perch at the edge of land and sea. The rhythmic lull of the Pacific draws me into the primordial ooze, reminding me where I’ve come from and where I’ll return.

Warm droplets of condensed moisture, a spa-like mist, moisten my leathery skin. To my delight, waterfalls debut after downpours. And rainbows arc through liquid sunshine.

My eyes scan the cresting waves for humpback spouts—maritime exhales. My heartbeat quickens when I witness breach splashes, evidence of ancient creatures 11 times our size, filling the depths with their ancient songs. Dolphins spin in pods, out-swimming boats, soaring, playing, dodging; they beckon me to join them.

Sea turtles’ heads pop up and vanish, stone-like in their submerged appearance; magical, prehistoric, majestic up close. While snorkeling, I trail a giant turtle over the peaks and valleys of coral reefs, he the pursued, me the pursuer. My wet-suited body is chilled but buoyant. My breath hastens as I flutter-kick through schools of glistening yellow and black fish and imagine I’m one of them, shifting, drifting with the circular motion of the sea.

On Kauai, carved emerald canyons jut up from the Pacific torrent. Disoriented roosters crow from dusk to dawn and then again after midnight. Below a steep embankment, the sea howls throughout the night; reminding us of the murderous swells that slam against the cliffs and shore. I brace myself in the whipping wind, not wanting to be a casualty of the convergence of wind and waves.

Every morning, I sip on Kona coffee, rich, bold, fruity, and nutty. The luscious brew readies me for island exploration. Sugar-cane sweetened coconut and honey-roasted macadamia nuts ignite my taste buds, summoning me back to the Hana Highway, where locals inhabit treehouses and hike naked in bamboo forests. At dinner, grilled fresh catch of the day dissolves like butter on my palate.

On our last day, we explore a lighthouse perched atop cascading lava cliffs, home to flocking white shorebirds. Weaving through the throngs of floppy-hatted, camera-toting tourists, I’m caught off-guard by my tears. Every part of me resists returning. But I must.

My heart knows something I don’t want to accept. My body may dwell on the mainland, but this archipelago is my home.

 Ann Tinkham is an anti-social butterfly, pop-culturalist, virtual philosopher, ecstatic dancer, political and java junkie, and Kauai-lover. Her fiction has appeared in the Adirondack Review, Word Riot, the Denver Syntax, and others. She writes about pop culture and politics at Poplitix.