As the western peaks were unveiled by purelight of day, two tanned figures dressed in shorts and t-shirts, walked beneath the drowsy sway of the coconut palms, heading toward the sea. The two young men, one with dark hair and the other blonde, crossed the grounds of the Rinzai Zen temple. Though neither were confessed members of any denomination, this structurally intricate, eye-pleasing edifice offered an almost tangible air of higher consciousness, the essence of the East in their minds, which made them feel light and sage, like two young bodhisattvas on a spiritual sojourn. They met each morning, not through a sense of need, but because, like morning coffee, this pilgrimage was part of the morning ritual.
They had met this way since Morgan’s father had brought his family to the island in an attempt to escape the war-like turbulence of early 1970’s America. They came together to exchange stories or “talk story” and sometimes they would speculate about or marvel at the sea and what lay beyond; what sights, scents or sounds might be found in places like Cyprus, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. They preferred to consider the warm lands of the world because, like their parents, they were drawn to the comfortable climes, sunny places where life’s necessities could be kept to a minimum.
Their conversation came in a natural flow, with the ease of a mountain stream, and would rise and fall like the ocean swells which appeared consistently on the shallow reefs beyond the early-rising Japanese fishermen as they strung line and laid their nets in the ever-present sea. The boys did not readily acknowledge the fishermen but only focused on them between thoughts, using their deliberate and precise movements the way a musician makes use of a metronome or as one might gaze at a flickering candle flame, in profound meditation. On that particular day and within one of those particular moments, Morgan leaned forward and spoke deliberately:
“Man, I can almost see the outriggers and grass huts and beautiful brown girls bathing in the sea. What must it have been like here two hundred years ago, or even a hundred? How it would have been to be Conrad, Jack London or Melville?”
As he spoke, the morning sun shot warm light into the womb-like Iao Valley to the west; striking an ancient cinder cone known as the “Needle,” a verdant and “mystical” megalith rising from the middle of the valley. The local people believed it reflected light and energy into the world. And with that, the valley began to grow humid and sultry. The force of the sun encouraged the static air to gravitate skyward, like incense smoke, toward the volcanic, jagged, greenlife covered peaks. The warm, moist body accumulated quietly, first as a fine mist and then, as the morning progressed toward noon, it transformed itself into a great, grey, life-giving mass of water-laden clouds which eventually fell as a gentle rain, completing the necessary cycle and offered a watery infusion to the valley, its river, and finally, to the ocean. Each, in turn, breathed the sigh of vitality.
Miko replied with a simple “yeah” and pictured himself sitting there in the days before the missionaries and whalers. He saw himself as a young native boy preparing for a day of spearfishing or perhaps a trek to the leeward side of the island to collect Sandalwood for trade with the merchant ships. And then his eyes, at one moment fixed on the fisherman, rose above their heads and he focused again on the sea.
It surged without crashing and seemed to breathe, pushing and pulling at the sugary sand just as gentle, knowing hands caress the skin. And this, coupled with the charming industry with which the fishermen went about their morning, served to free the stream of conversation for several hours until it seemed, the rest of the world, or perhaps just the island, was waking up to the new day.
“Miko, when do you know you’re a man?”