The River Always Provides A Gift

When I cross the iconic Hanalei Bridge and glance over to the river on my right, I feel her immediate embrace, calling me to join her.

This sunny day, I am ready to ply the river, paddle board strapped inside my car. Excited to see what she has to offer, I can’t get on the river soon enough.

I pass the Dolphin Restaurant with its concrete tables and bright blue umbrellas overlooking the river, charming boutiques and eateries in plantation-style buildings and enticing food trucks that line the road into Hanalei. As usual, I will return to them when hunger strikes or when fashion beckons.

I take a right soon after Tahiti Nui Restaurant onto the well-traveled road leading to the bay, where I park to enter the river. In the distance, big-wave surfers on Jet Skis scour my view plane for their next high. Of course, I don’t ever plan to join them. The most I will ride are wavelets that barely make it to shore, the surge under my board just enough to propel me and create a mild thrill. And that’ll do just fine, thank you.

Clutching my board and paddle, I step into the cool river, welcomed underfoot by the soft, ripply-silty bottom. Three local children scream, giggle and splash in the shallow banks. I hop onto the board, the initial skim always surprisingly liberating. Heading up the river, I begin a steady pace.

Unexpectedly, however, a Jet Ski zooms up the narrow waterway to my left, its wake causing me to hug the right bank. Always on the lookout for objects under water that could damage the board, I check the river bottom and spot a large chunk of brown coral coming up beneath me. Suddenly, it moves and big eyes pop out of it … a turtle! It is as startled as I am, and as it comes up to the surface I quickly make a U-turn.

I cut across toward the far left bank, where a young boy stands on a dilapidated makeshift wooden pier throwing a fishing line into the water. Up ahead, a younger boy kayaks down the river working his paddle in a frenzy toward the pier. He is sitting at the far aft of the boat, the fore occupied by a large round-framed net.

I ask if he’s caught any crabs today and he politely answers, “Yes.” I ask if they are Samoan, he again answers, “Yes.” I ask him how many, and he answers impatiently, “Five.” That was one too many questions. I look back and as he nears the pier, I hear an older boy chastising him for causing everyone worry because he’s late.

When you are on this river, time seems to pass by so quickly. Like in the old Japanese children’s tale, Urashima Taro. Taro is a boy who catches a ride on the back of a turtle which takes him to a magnificent undersea world. Time passes so quickly that when he chooses to return to land, he is an old man.

Unlike these boys, however, I don’t have to rush back home or worry about getting old anymore. Instead, I will revel in this bountiful river that provides for so many, from the Nene geese standing guard camouflaged in buffalo grass to the small river turtles in graduating sizes sunbathing on partially submerged driftwood. Further up the river, a bamboo grove provides a cool, secluded spot in which to relinquish the five senses and to meditate.

Ahh, everything is so peaceful and quiet.

That is, until I’m on my way down the river when a pretty young woman approaches me. She too is on a board and asks for paddling tips. I offer her what little I know. Then she asks what makes people living here seem so happy, and how she would like to live here too. I ask her if she wasn’t happy with her life, and she breaks out into tears – she is dealing with an overwhelming personal problem. This powerful river compels me to tell her to focus on love instead of hate, and to help her hold that thought. By the time we return to the river mouth, she is beaming, reflecting the beautiful person she truly is.

Sometimes we just ask curious questions, like how many Samoan crabs. Sometimes we ask more meaningful ones that can better our lives. Whatever the questions, this wondrous river reflects our true nature and invariably answers.