The Enchanted Turtles

We are back from a beautiful few days in Kauai, Hawaii.

There is something about the light and sights of an island paradise that always amaze me. Even the darkness seems to be scented by a different tint of light (could it be that the surrounding oceans make for darker skies and the magical stars spread their light more?)

As Gerald Durrell says about the island of Corfu in his writing:

“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” 

Gerald Durrell, The Corfu Trilogy

One morning, two days into our vacation in the Garden Island, Kauai, we decided to have a slower morning. We had been rushing and ticking sights off our list ever since we arrived. So, that morning, we lolled and strolled nearby. A tourist magnet like Hawaii doesn’t have too many hidden gems, but walking through the streets has gems enough. We strolled to a nearby lagoon or bay with some rough hidden spots. We sat on the rocks watching the waters slosh into the rocks below. There is something surprising every time we stop and still our senses. 

10 minutes into sitting on the rocks and watching the waters below was enough. We spotted 3 large turtles almost all at once. The children and I squealed at the turtles 🐢 swimming and sloshing in the rough waters below. To see a large sea turtle in the ocean is a gift few get, and even fewer appreciate. As for us, we were thrilled. 

The delight and serendipity of a sight like lit the world around us. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the magnificence of the sea turtles coming up, looking around and ducking back in with the waves. 

That afternoon, a helpful lady at the resort told us about a hike in a mahogany forest, and off we went. Through the forest, with the sun light filtering though the green canopy overhead, there was a diversion marked ‘Enchanted Forest’. How could one resist a path marked thus? Off we tread into the enchanted forest then, and enchanted it was. There were clumps of touch-me-nots every few feet, and the quiet of the forest only interspersed with the chittering of the exotic Hawaiian birds was magical.

That evening, as I closed my eyes for the night, the turtles came unbidden to wish me good night – sloshing and rolling in the tumultuous waters of the bay. I clutched the firm  bed, made probably of mahogany wood, and couldn’t help feeling a sense of gratitude for the enchanted turtles and forests that bless our days on Earth.

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Enchanted Air

I read Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle, expecting to read a good memoir about two cultures and two wings one grows as a result of hailing from mixed origins. What instead happened is difficult to describe in words for it was not a reading, it was a feeling. A transformative one. 

It is a children’s book. Each chapter is a small poem that stands in and of itself, but also ties into the whole narrative. There were so many places in the book when I found myself stopping to savor a poem, reading it again, and swirling the feelings it evoked in my mind. Later, I found myself passionately explaining it in far less elegant terms to the husband and children, scurrying to get the book, and fumbling through the pages to find the right poem.

For instance when she writes of ‘The Dancing Plants of Cuba’, she captures the essence of an island: 

In California, all the trees and shrubs

standstill, but on the island, coconut palms

and angel’s trumpet flowers,

love to move around,

dancing.

..

Maybe I will be a scientist someday

studying the dancing plants of Cuba.

Dancing Plants

How can one not love the child then who is later to task by her teacher for inventing dancing plants, as plants are supposed to stay still aren’t they?

Her father’s family escaped from Ukraine, from a communist regime, not knowing whether those left behind survived or not. Her mother immigrated from Cuba.

Two countries

Two families

Two sets of words.

Her paternal grandparents’ recollections are therefore muted, brief and vague. How starkly, concisely, she sums up the human condition for survival? When she asks her Ukrainian-Jewish-American grandma about her childhood, she gets nothing more than ice-skating on a frozen pond. 

Her maternal grandmother, on the other hand, regales her with richly detailed family stories, of many island ancestors, living their lives out on tropical farms.

In the poem, Kinship, she sums it up:

Apparently, the length 

of a grown-up’s

growing up story

is determined

by the difference

between immigration 

and escape.

This memoir is rich with details of her family, and her own dreamy self. 

She takes us along with her on her journey of growing up, and how her personality rows with ‘The Geography of Libraries’.

Spoken stories are no longer enough

To fill my hunger

I crave a constant supply 

Of written ones too.

As she grows, the mistrust between USA and Cuba, grows too. Their family is suspect simply for holding a Cuban passport, a part of her heritage cut off by souring diplomatic relations and the Bay of Pigs invasion. She first writes about the state of reality in the poem, Communications.

Abuelita writes letters in code,

inventing poetic metaphors,

to prevent the island’s censors

from understanding her words.

When she says Tio Dario 

is working hard in the garden,

Mom somehow knows that it means 

he’s been arrested and sent to a prison or forced labor camp.

In Secret Languages we learn

Right wing or left wing tyrants always

try to control communication

They always

fail.

The books ends with the poem, Hope.

It is no wonder that the book has won a string of awards. Looking at the history of the world, its themes are timeless too.

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