I’ve lived in Hawaii my whole life and on Kauai since I was 8, but I’ve never quite understood or gotten “Rock Fever.”
Oh, I did think about what it meant for a while but eventually stopped and stashed it away in a little-used corner of my mind, right next to “Daylight Savings Time,” “Fall Back” and “Spring Forward,” other terms that also meant absolutely nothing to me (There is no DST in Hawaii, thank goodness. The only time we change our clocks is when the batteries die.).
But then, two things happened a few years apart that finally flipped the lightswitch on for me: I saw a somewhat sarcastic definition in an alternate online dictionary site founded by a college freshman and my publisher sent me to work for 10 days at a newspaper in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Aaron Peckham initially intended his “Urban Dictionary” to be a parody of a respected site at Dictionary.com. It started out in 1999 as a satirical online dictionary of slang words and phrases put together by paid and unpaid “crowd-sourced” contributors from the online community.
I soon learned NOT to use Urban Dictionary to look up definitions. Try it and you’ll soon see why.
However, Google quickly brought up this U.D. definition: “Rock Fever” is, “The hemmed-in, claustrophobic, trapped feeling mainlanders get when they spend too much time in Hawaii.”
OUCH was my first reaction, but it was a start and gave me something to think about. Of course, it did nothing to answer the important questions: Was it contagious? And if not, how did you get it? And even more importantly, how did you get rid of it?
Actually, I’m only kidding about the questions. I knew exactly what the definition was based on. Many people visit our state and our island on vacation, fall in love and decide to pack up their belongings and move to paradise. It happens all the time.
They usually fall into three types:
For the first type, it is the right decision. These people stay here forever, make lifelong friends, find jobs or start a business and become a viable part of our community.
For the second type it is a little more iffy. They stay for a while, then become disenchanted with paradise, turned off by the high prices of everything from groceries to real estate. Living on an island so small can be stifling for people accustomed to jumping into their SUV or mobile homes and driving from state to state. One island with one belt road that doesn’t even completely circle the island quickly loses its appeal. I suspect, too, that homesickness and missing loved ones from home is also a big factor for this group.
I discovered this when we went to Oregon. We drove from Oregon down to California, went to Nevada and were enthralled at being able to do so. But coming back to Kauai was still better than anything else.
There are just a handful that fall into the third category. They enjoy Kauai when it is at its best, when the weather is beautiful, economy is thriving and opportunities lie around every corner.
But when disaster strikes, like tsunamis, or hurricanes or floods; when the beauty that is our trademark looks like a war zone with downed utility poles, trees, when plants that were lush and verdant before turn into brown, dried-up remnants of their former selves; when tourists stop coming and the economy is hurting, these people start searching for plane reservations out of here.
There is one other group that can be affected by Rock Fever
Some longtime residents, usually kids who go off to college on the Mainland become so impressed by the diversity of the scenery, and the job and career opportunities offered up there they decide to leave Kauai and move to the Mainland. Once there, they fall in love, get married and start families and their relocation becomes permanent.
Some of them do end up missing Kauai so much they return home after a few years. But many don’t. Most of these though, forever consider Kauai their home and think of it often and long for the good old days.
I am one of the many Kauaians who have never succumbed to Rock Fever. Everything I love in the world is here on Kauai, from my family to my home, to the beauty that surrounds me. I have gone to the Mainland a few times but without exception, when I finally see Kauai from the airplane window, I am at peace again and I know exactly why I live here, why it is my home and why I love it so much. Aloha.
Rita De Silva is a former editor of The Garden Island and a Kapaa resident.