After well over 30 years of no real vacation, but for here and there, family obligations back East and one too brief respite in Hawaii, it all, suddenly, came to an end.
I spent most of 2014 decompressing from one long hard day’s night that began in 1980. (What I was doing is another story.) But in March I jumped out of my self-imposed fish bowl, Homer, and launched myself on an adventure on the big island of Hawaii, reacquainting myself with a piece of property, in a place called Wood Valley, I bought seemingly a lifetime ago.
Profound serenity met me there. I went on a news blackout and surrendered myself to the joy of just being, losing myself to the Milky Way laden night sky, the ever caressing breeze and the magnificence of the ocean just down the road, swimming among sea turtles at the Black Sand Beach and spinner porpoises at Ho‘okena. I’ll tell you, in terms of peak experience, it’s hard to get any better than that.
The loose livestock of the island — the turkeys, chickens goats, pigs and who knows whatever else that roamed around — struck a real affinity in me, reminding me of days over 50 years ago and a place I simply called across the fence, where I and a friend organized ourselves around (what might sound like a bit of an oxymoron but what we reverently bestowed upon ourselves) the loose-livestock club, dedicated to the protection of loose livestock and the preservation of wild abandon.
I may be embellishing a bit more than how we would have described our good old loose livestock club back then, but, at heart, we were pure loose livestock. Just ask our school teachers at the time, if any are still around.
And, man, how that Hawaiian weather brought me back to late spring, early summer in upstate New York to what I once considered the greatest day in the universe: Marion Parsons Day. How could it have slipped away?
Marion Parsons Day was the last day of school held in honor, of course, of Marion Parsons, the first principal of Cherry Road School and whose father, in the mid-1920s (30 years before I popped out onto the time-space fabric of the Syracuse, N.Y., scene) donated or sold to the county his cherry orchard that the school was built on. Marion Parsons first taught in a henhouse on the property before her father took mercy and set things in motion to get her into a real-deal school.
On Marion Parsons Day, the greatest day in the Universe, the barn door of the place, so to speak, swung wide open for a half day of competitive romping on the Cherry Road School grounds before we all went home for summer vacation.
I’ll tell you, the full prospects of the full range of summer resting before me and the ordeal of another school year behind me, of, finally, being able to spend long, lazy summer days across the fence, at places like Mills Hill, Terry Road Woods, Nine Mile Creek, Thirteen Curves and Split Rock Cave was about as close to bliss as I’ve ever come. Close? It was. Truly it was. Did I forget to mention Lost Lake on hot summer days, bass fishing and skinny dipping and nature watching with Karen Sweeney?
But for Marion Parsons Day, places like Mills Hill, Terry Road Woods, Lost Lake resonated in me far more than Cherry Road School ever came close to; sorry, Ms. Parsons. Though I never met the woman, she being in the chronology of things a bit before my time, by the workings of karma, she was instrumental to both my joy and misery. After nearly six long, insufferable years, it, to give credit where credit is due, was from out of her spirit that I actually mastered reading. Because across the fence, out on the range, during my fifth grade summer something unbeknownst to me went to work on my brain. When I hit sixth grade, in the fall, I, suddenly, was reading up a storm and doing verbal math problems that hitherto left me completely blank faced.
God bless Marion Parsons and also my mom, a Spanish mystic Catholic who fervently prayed to Mother Mary for my intellectual deliverance. Believe me, it wasn’t from out of my efforts that fifth grade summer, it was totally from out of the metaphysical realm that something switched on in my brain to everyone’s utter astonishment.
Anyway, heading down Hawaii’s HWY 11 in a Hawaiian classic 1986 Toyota, banana-beater pickup toward Wood Valley, my arm stretched out the window, luxuriating in the wind, looking out over the Pacific Ocean as I was coming down a steep winding hill, it struck me, from out of the magnificent matrix of it all, I was having myself a genuine article Marion Parsons Day moment. I swear, I hadn’t thought about Marion Parsons Day since the spring of 1963 when Cherry Road School, upon my finishing sixth grade, came to an end, with it a mindset of unbridled youth. Now, I was being overwhelmed by that lush, fresh feel, again, of that greatest day in the Universe: yup, Marion Parsons Day.
Ah, the phenomenology of it all: the course of one’s existence.
It — all — would have been enough, right then and there, if I had been struck down by a bolt of lightning. It, truly, would have been enough. I pulled onto the overlook, got out of my banana-beater special, cupped my hands and bellowed out across the Pacific expanse: Dayenu-Dayenu — the refrain in a song Jewish folk sing on Passover, meaning “it would have been sufficient enough,” in celebration of the stages of their deliverance from Egypt.
Right then, a woman came up to me and said something, I believe in Hebrew. I just stared. She then asked me if I were Jewish. I told her no. I was just celebrating Marion Parsons Day and of having been delivered back across the fence after nearly 40 years of crossing across the arduous time-space fabric of Homer, Alaska, on the battlefield of sacred duty called making a living. After a triple bypass and aortic valve replacement, I told her, believe me, it was arduous enough. She just stared.
Well, I knew what I was talking about: the Big Island of Hawaii before me to be experienced in a way I hadn’t experienced anywhere since the good old days of being across the fence. Indeed, I had myself an absolutely beyond words time of my life.
Yup, I came back home — something about sacred duty. I’m a grandpa, you know. Speaking about sacred duty, on getting home, how inspired I was to see the Women in Black still standing vigil.
Anyway, I’ve turned the news back on.
Tim O’Leary is a longtime Homer resident.