Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Eyes Wide Closed"

For people, especially those who come from where I come from, the Hawaiian Islands are like one big, tropical garden. Kauai distinguishes itself from its neighbors by labeling itself, “The Garden Isle.”

What it’s saying is, ”You think those other Hawaiian islands are gardens? This place is even, as Pee Wee Herman would say, gardenier.”

And they’re right. Kauai is breathtakingly beautiful. (And also, Pee Wee Herman would say “gardenier.”)

Years ago, I went to Kauai. I was supposed to go with somebody, but things didn’t work out, and I went by myself. Going to a romantically gorgeous spot like Kauai by yourself is like going to a “date movie” alone. The question, “What’s the point?” leaps prominently to mind.

Well, SIGH, I guess some things are meant to happen, and some things are meant not to. Wow, look how philosophical I am. And it only took me thirty-five years to get there. Though, to be honest, I’m not all the way there even now.

Okay, so I went to Kauai by myself. I had reserved a rented car for the visit. But that was when I thought I was going with somebody else. And they were going to drive.

Now, I have to drive. In a place I have never been before. During torrential rainstorms. (You don’t get to be “The Garden Isle” without being the recipients of some serious amounts of rain.) The Kauai “Speed Limit” is fifty miles an hour, and the street signs are too little for me to read. Suffice it to say, my driving sorely tested the local residents’ “Hang Loose” spirit.

A miracle happened on that trip. I wrote about it before, so I’ll give you the short version.

Only one of my eyes – my right one – is really good for seeing, and I wear a contact lens in it. Once, in the middle of “Nowhere, Kauai”, I stopped at one of the designated “scenic sites”, and, when I raised up my camera to take a picture, I knocked the contact lens out of my eye.

There I was, standing alone by the side of the road, no cars coming by – this was before cell phones where you could call for assistance –

And I can’t see a thing.

With few other options at my disposal, none, in fact, that came to my panicky mind, I knelt down in the roadbed, which I assumed was black gravel but was probably lava, and I blindly felt around through the uneven rubble for my missing, and desperately needed, contact lens.

And I found it!

I love that story.

Anyway, I took a lot of pictures on that trip, though I was now scrupulously careful, holding the camera up to my eye. I knew it was only “one miracle per holiday.” And I’d already used mine up.

I snapped pictures of everything: Exotic flowers, brightly colored birds, multiple rainbows. I took a helicopter tour, clicking away through the window, as we hovered over a giant land fissure known as, “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Everything was amazing and new, tropical wonders, to my untraveled Canadian eyes. I kept a photographic journal of everything with, what I am sure, was not much of a camera. But it didn’t have to be. My magnificent subjects did all the work.

For some reason, what particularly caught my enthusiasm were these bottlebrush trees, with sprouts of plasma-red flowers brightening their branches. I was mesmerized by these trees, as only someone can be, for whom oak, pine, birch and maple are the highlights on their arboreal resume.

I took “full tree” pictures. I composed “branch” pictures, featuring numerous dottings of bottlebrush clusters. Then I got real close –no “Zoom” on this camera – zeroing in on a single flower. I was absolutely smitten. If you could date botany, we might easily have gone out.

I had never seen anything like it before.

The day after I got home, I rushed to the nearest Fotomat to get my pictures developed. “Getting pictures developed.” They don’t do that anymore. I am now required to explain how it works, like the rotary telephone.

You took pictures on film, Children, and you could not see those pictures until after they were developed. Which usually took a few days! Now, you can look in your viewfinder, and see what the picture will look like before you take it, or, at worst with some cameras, immediately after you click. Then, you can print them up on your computer right away. We had to wait.

And I’ll tell you something. The waiting was, maybe, the best part. The anticipation while you waited. The excitement of sliding the pictures from the envelope and seeing how they turned out. And the delight, when a surprising number of them surpassed your loftiest expectations.

It was the Christmas morning of photographic revelation. This new stuff doesn’t even come close.

Okay, you expected that from me. And I delivered. Moving on.

It’s not likely that I ran to the Fotomat with my undeveloped film. I don’t usually run anywhere. But with the adrenalin rush I felt, I could have. And made impressively good time.

Except for one thing. Which made me slow down along the way. And then finally stop.

When I noticed that, lining the street my apartment building was on was a flourishing and block-long planting of

Bottlebrush trees.

That’s right, Kiddies. The trees that had sent me into rapturous delight on Kauai were growing all over my neighborhood. There were hundreds of them. Everywhere.

And I had never noticed them before.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; no matter where you go, there you are.


YEKIMI said...

Same thing with cars. Amazing how you never notice how many of the same type car is on the roadway until you buy that model of car and THEN you start seeing them everywhere.