The dawn rises with birdsong. The “Free, Free, Free, Free, Free!” of the cardinals are the first notes to lift the morning’s symphony. My banyan tree comes alive with appreciative rustling. It isn’t long before the other birds have whet their reeds and joined in the celebration of morning and, for an hour, as the light changes in the sky from a blue laden with hues of night and spoil to the blushing cheeks of dawn, the mynah, the cardinal, the finch, lead innumerable unknown others – little yellow ones, an iridescent green one whose under-wing feathers look like gasoline on muddied water and others – others in a crescendo that slowly fades to a murmuration that will remain throughout the day.
I’ve been up most of the night, turning myself over and over to find comfort. No longer padded comfortably, my bones grind into my bed-roll, find the small rocks under the tent canvas. If I were complaining, if I had anything to complain about, I’d be the pea-cursed princess, pained and persecuted by the merest morsel of malcontent, but I haven’t gotten real sleep in almost a month, getting along on a few measly hours each evening; I’ve become accustomed to the rock and roll routine although, when the weather permits, I’ll take dark strolls out under the starlight to gaze into the darkness and let my food-fevered brain rest, overwhelming it with the magnificence of a cosmos bigger than the interior canvas of the tent. But, the rain has been falling intermittently through the night and I’m too enervated to move, besides.
I smile at the cardinals. It’s the last day.
Free, free, free, free, free. But not, yet. This trip of mine isn’t over and won’t be until the sun sets. Dawn means the day has just begun but the end is close.
The local community elders have requested to meet me and the crew, to find out what we’ve been up to, to discover for themselves our motivations and purposes, to give their blessings or their harsh opinions. Joining them for a couple of hours of conversation, that began in seriousness and ended in blessings and well-wishes, the crew and I delighted in their stories of Haleakala, of Kahoolawe, of growing up in the islands before statehood and we joined together with their smiles in cigarettes and laughter and relaxed conversation. Parting, they wished us luck and gave us their blessings, ready to return to their community with the message that we were good and sincere people.
Then, back to the tree for a final interview and loading out. Packing the site took some juice out of me, but, afterward, down on the landing, as the sun went down, they put juice back in me: fresh juices from Paia: apple-ginger, carrot-beet-celery, strawberry-pineapple. Tory, our sound tech, brought warm, delicious, exquisite. homemade, broth for me to drink, too, my first nutrition, other than coconut water in forty-nine days, the tastes overwhelming on my palate.
The flavors… indescribable. The joy… unparalleled.
Back at the house on the hill, they sent me to bathe and gave me lotions and unguents, soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. Soaking in the tub for an hour, turning the water knobs with my feet to heat the bath, enjoying the feeling of the moisturizing bubble bath on my skin, I shed the dirt and molt of seven weeks, and after examining my unfamiliar body in the mirror, emerged from the steamy room feeling like I had returned, a triumphant Alexander, a Hannibal, a returning Caesar, a skinny conqueror.
Final weight on the scale… one hundred and fifteen pounds. Sharp scapulas. Prominent ribs.
I’m ready to go home.