2:50 a.m. – The alarm goes off as planned. My husband and I force ourselves to rise from bed, dress quickly, grab our sweatshirts and make our way to the Camry. 3 a.m. – We roll as quietly as possible out of the sleeping neighborhood (not an interior light to be seen). The night air hangs damp and heavy; a blanket of cloud cover tops off the Homesteads area. We have Kuamoo Road all to ourselves. Uh oh, low clouds drape the Poliahu Heiau area, swathing the sky. One distant star is visible low to the south, looking past the looming hull of Kapu Mountain. Mist swirls about us as we begin the downward drop to sea level. “What are our chances?” I say, more or less to myself as I retrieve a small flashlight from the console.
“Come what may, considering Hilda’s hovering.” Dee is referring to Hurricane Hilda, now downgraded to the tropical storm category.
I roll down the passenger side window and keep my eyes trained heavenward, for on this morning of mid-August, the new moon will keep things nice and dark during these hours before dawn. We’ll have our best chance to view the Perseid showers, the annual show of “shooting stars,” or meteors, something we haven’t done for years.
The red light at Wailua Bay’s T-intersection stops us. We turn right, only one vehicle following at a distance, headlights piercing the darkness. At the hotel intersection, we wait for a power walker (visitor waking in our tropic time zone?) heading for the path, then make the left off Kuhio Highway toward Lydgate Park. Bump, bump … a few cars are parked here and there along the first row of makai shelters.
“Maybe homeless, or sleepless,” I say, thinking out loud. A van, striped beach towels drying over its wide-open back doors, is parked just past the comfort station and showers.
My husband heads past Morgan’s Pond to the last parking area, away from the lights. He grabs the beach mat, and I add a small umbrella to my carry bundle. The flash light’s LED beam helps keep us from tripping over the boulders dividing asphalt from grass, and we walk past one of our favorite full-moon picnic shelters to take up the watch.
Clouds, yes, I think as Dee spreads the beach mat, but there is a definite window to the sky, and the unswathed heavens are brilliantly studded with summer stars. I recognize Makalii, (the Pleiades) and Orion’s belt. We settle down, feet toward the sand and sea just beyond the naupaka kahakai bushes, heads pillowed on our folded wraps. Ah, we’re rewarded, seeing one streak of light, then another that disappears in a fiery arc behind the dark rectangle of shelter roof. We get up and resettle another yard toward the ocean. Here teases a flicker, there, another one. We wait, our window becoming a shrinking triangular portal edged by converging clouds, but the greater margins now open up becoming shiningly, magically visible.
Lying there in the darkness, sleep is not a threat for us. We are alive and in tune with the sky. I reach for Dee’s warm hand, and start internally singing the first line of a song, “Stars fell on Alabama,” from way back. But this is Hawaii. I try humming the tune changing to more appropriate words. “Stars fell on Lydgate.” No. The rhythm is wrong. “Kauai.” No. I have it: “Stars fell around Wailua.” Whoa! Another streak in the southwest sky, and then fireworks a hand’s breath above the horizon looking straight east.
Clouds gobble up the sky again. I close my eyes. There’s only us, waiting and watching and listening under the sky. I wonder if the reason people like to lie on the beach and listen is that it takes you back to the sounds you heard within the womb. Without vision, hearing dominates. Sea sounds, the roll and whoosh of waves. Whap!
“What was that?” Dee asks, as I surface again.
“A wave, breaking high. Or maybe slamming into that big, old tree trunk that’s wedged into the sandbank. Remember when it first appeared there, floating all the way from Vancouver, or Alaska?”
“Um … Look.”
Here comes the full-on glitter again that makes me think of the navigators on watch aboard the Hokulea, the knowledge they hold of the stars and planets — and tides — for steering the voyaging canoe. I think back on the theory that each of the heiau within the chain of sacred spaces along the Wailua River may reflect a major constellation of the Milky Way, that the one hidden by underbrush across the highway from the hotel behind us is built with dimensions that relate to the great square of Pegasus, part of our sky-view map of stars.
“There,” says Dee, “and there!” bringing me back to the thrill of seeing shooting stars.
By 4:15 a.m., we’re on the road again, satisfied. One, two, up to five cars are heading downhill past us toward Wailua Bay: drivers to early shifts starting to move now (or maybe early fishermen).
Arriving home, we retrace earlier steps like a film run backward, settle back into bed. Our experience of seeing these flashes through the sky — light reflected on swirling meteor dust— adds up to so much more than the cut-and dried explanation of August’s Perseid Showers: “debris from Comet 109 P Swift Tuttle”— the same old debris at the same time each year when our Earth runs into it after going around the sun. I hope to have many more pleasurable chances at the “same old, same old.” My wish extends to all readers who may already have, or will find a favorite sky-viewing place on our island.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer is approaching completion of her second memoir, following up the success of Mem. I, “Jackals’ Wedding.” She continues as principal/owner of TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.