A novelist friend writes to us as follows from Hawaii, reflecting on this particular moment as so much seems in flux, and we each, in our own way, in our own place, try to get our bearings.

Letter from Hawaii

     Here on the Big Island, as the age of Trump arrives, we are celebrating the Winter solstice season on the slope of the world’s most active volcano, at the very end of the road through jungle and papaya farms and fields of rough black unnavigable lava devastation sixty years old—that is, hiding out as best we can from the sense that Mordor is glowing again: one orchic Trump nomination after another; terrifying, casual tweets encouraging a new atomic arms race by the self-described “very intelligent” incoming commander-in-chief almost with his finger on the button; Syria and Yemen and Iraq nearly destroyed; another strongman in Manila terrorizing his own citizens; Berlin shoppers terrorized and murdered; Standing Rock betrayals delayed for a moment by blizzard. Hiding from them or seeking them, these are the headlines of the day.

     Here, on the most remote island chain in the world, the lava is pouring down again into the deep waters. You can see the steam pluming up into its own cloud cover just beyond the horizon, white during the day and orange-pink at sunset. That molten threat is just miles away and yet seems to us a lesser threat than the other, farther outpourings of violence.

     For better and worse we are a neighborhood of highly sensitive people, perhaps an island-full of them, the kind of people who seek the end of the road as a safe place to settle: displaced natives, poets, dreamers, loners, sexual two-spirits, animal-whisperers, criminals, young parents in tie-dyed dresses and hippie beards, old survivors of old wars, of violent upbringings, of many addictions, of desperations and yearning for a life unburdened. Something about that distant plume of steam is reassuring as it must have been to the Hebrews following their own tower of cloud and fire through desert days and nights. In our neighborhood—a mile-long figure-eight, sloping gently downhill to the cliffs—we are building houses and rock walls in the empty fields, planting fruit trees in the lava-rubble, and weeding where the jungle creeps in overnight. Some of us must leave again after the holidays, to make our money, to re-join those who could not come with us. Meanwhile, as ever during a retreat, there is a list to make of what can be taken back to the mainland for ballast and balm.
      Before dawn, the throbbing, squealing sex-call of the cocqui frogs (‘f- me! f- me!’) fades to the alto, and the slower but still urgent sex-call of the native doves and their chirpier songbird cousins sound jubilant about the new day. Sixteen years ago, in another century, before the frogs smuggled in on Caribbean imports, nights were still silent here as throughout history they had always been. You could hear distant neighbors coughing, palm fronds clicking in the breeze, the ocean pounding miles away, occasional cars accelerating far off down the road. Night was silent until the day birds began, and old-timers still mourn the change. Newer residents blink at the nostalgia. The Eastern clouds above the horizon are still dark when the faintest wisps above them are already glowing bright, and the sun jumps fast into t