After traveling through roads I was not familiar with, I found an old couple outside of their house , in the shadow of the mountains of Oahu. Grey haired, first generation Japanese, both walked with a slow, quiet gait in the way of people who were used to an unhurried pace. Their faces looked slightly weathered, the skin like rice paper, from working in the sun, I guess.
They kept a nursery, mostly of orchids and bonsai. I can’t remember the location but it wasn’t far from the Valley of the Temples overlooking the Chinaman’s Hat. The man, bearded, was stooping over a table, pruning a red maple, getting it ready for replanting: he had cleared the roots, cut and twisted several branches, and what remained was the beginning of a bonsai tree. I stood there and watched the painful procedure. The Japanese woman led me past the varied bonsai to the greenhouse at the rear of the premises.
On the way, a glimpse of the interior of their house: in the light of a late afternoon I saw a low Japanese table used for dinner and tea ceremonies sitting in the center of the living room. On the wall, a silk painting with calligraphy. A subtle scent met us at the gate of the greenhouse: the elusive perfume of the orchids that one sometimes encounters on a hike through dense tropical forests. I wasn’t into orchids but here was an array of some of the most beautiful I have seen in one place. The only other private collection that I admired belonged to a young man, a brilliant student and progressive and a vocal critic of the Marcos government. He spent time in jail for his politics. He must have cultivated a thousand. A brave patriot tending to these delicate flowers. Later, he died of a heart attack, possibly as a result of his harsh imprisonment.
I walked around the greenhouse to see and smell. The woman asked me what I did. “I’m an acupuncturist and herbalist, I teach martial arts and meditation,” I said. As we prepared to leave, she said, “Come visit again. Let’s talk story.” It sounded like an invitation to an ancient pastime. People gathered in one place telling stories. Children seated at the feet of the patriarch or matriarch listening to folk tales and legends. “I’ll come back,” I answered. But it wasn’t meant to be. When I was in Hawaii again, I drove to the area a countless times but I could not find the place. We are gifted with a glimpse of beauty and we carry it with us in a kind of nostalgia for a secret place we treasure but when we go back, it is not there where we remembered it to be.