In 2011, my daughter Kelli gave me a book, “Waking Up In Eden: In Pursuit of An Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island.” It was written by Lucinda Fleeson, a journalist who leaves the big city behind and moves to Kauai and works at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
I recall reading Fleeson’s book and thinking it would be nice to do that, leave the place you know well, what you are comfortable with, the people you know so well, and move to an island where you know no one. See what you can do. How you adapt. I didn’t actually think I would ever do it, as we had lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for 20 years. I had visited Kauai, but did not feel a desire to move there. But it wasn’t long (April 2013) when I would also move to Kauai to work as the editor of The Garden Island.
Fleeson’s 2009 book, while certainly not the reason I moved to Kauai, provided motivation and inspiration. She is a clean, engaging writer who portrayed this island well, its beauty, its mysteries and its challenges. She covers history, culture, traditions, from the view of a newcomer, and learning to be respectful of that culture and those traditions.
But more telling is what she learns about the native plants in Hawaii, that they are dying. She shares her tale of meeting people trying “to save the endangered flora and scientists studying plant evolution and ecology, and we’re offered a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a botanical garden on a mission to reverse the devastation of a natural paradise.”
Fleeson is a gifted writer. She recounts well her journey into areas of Kauai few of us will ever visit. She also recognizes that, via the coconut wireless, her actions are shared around the island. Hers is a transformation in a way, from the big-city reporter to that of a someone making discoveries about herself, with the help of many people, on one of the world’s most beautiful islands. When she leaves, as she writes, she leaves a different person. A better person.
Some of her closing words are perfect:
“Throughout my stay on Kauai I had felt I was on a parallel journey with so many other travelers who enter a strange land, meet guides and foes, then return, much wiser, to the wider world. I’d never aspire to the extremes undertaken by Isabella Bird, nor her decades of rootlessness. But I did aim for her free-legged air and her break from societal and self-imposed boundaries. For Robert and John Allerton, Hawaii was their final destination and retreat. For Isabella and me, it was a beginning.
“Waking Up In Eden” is a fine book that does well in highlighting life in a tropical paradise. It’s not eden. But it’s close.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.