It was a time at a place, and Maui gave the dialogue the specifics of landscape, textures and smells, hot lava rock under foot, volcanoes over head. We responded to that nature and wanted to make art about how powerful and mysterious it was. The Hawaiian spirit clung to every rock and outcrop, permeated each Ti plant, and voiced itself in stunningly beautiful poetic songs of women and flowers and mist in waterfalls. It was the ambient culture that we walked into and sucked up.
We came into a land that was fresh from being Polynesian. The real influence was this family of islands, of chants and stories, spirits and presences in coves and valleys. Hula was less an entertainment than a religion, and this gaggle of foreigners came and took off their shoes, put their feet in the foaming water and were inspired to write and paint and make art to celebrate this amazing creation, the Hawaiian Islands.
It wasn’t about being outrageous, it was about being free in some elemental sense, to walk barefoot, or piss in the forest, to cast off the trappings and restrictions of “civilized” life. The great and lasting attractions to these artists were the waterfalls of Kipahulu, the grey cinder expanse of Haleakala. That’s where the spirituality comes from, from that sacred mountain, and from the knowledge it emanates.
What Maui or Lanai was teaching us was that nature was real. It wasn’t a media construct, an idea, a movement or a press release. It was flesh and blood; sharp stones that cut your feet, and animals that sting and can eat you. The same thing that waves teach, or strong winds, or wild animals.
Art comes from response, and this covey of haoles who arrived in the 60’s or 70’s, who brought their disaffection to these islands, saw rainbows - literally - rainbows over the mountains - daily. They saw the crisp starlight night and the transparent sea, and were inspired. When they painted or sang of rainbows it was not an abstraction, it was a description. It was warm. We could stay out at night and connect with the heavens, with Hokule’a and a canoe traveling to Tahiti by starlight and wave direction. It was cultural immersion even if we didn’t know it.
Why did the whales needed to be saved? Because they stood for a whole world that needs saving, and then we came to Maui and found that whales were real, and if anything, it was probably the whales that could save us. Many see nature as something out there, an object to revere or “take care of” — but nature blurs self and other, so perhaps the Buddhist view of no separation between self and object is the appropriate one. Our environment is us and we are it.
And yes… of course there was acid and peyote and pot and those aids to consciousness showed us a way to consider what was glowing all around us. Perhaps what they showed us most powerfully is that there is a — now — and that’s all there ever really is… and that the now is beautiful and wonderful and scary and ominous all at the same time.
Far Artist Joana Varawa originated the international campaign to make wild furs unfashionable, catalysed the international Save The Whale movement at the Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment, founded Project Jonah, wrote Mind In The Waters: A Book to Celebrate te Consciousness of Whales and Dolphins, The Delicate Art of Whale Watching, Changes in Latitude,
She lived above Manele, Lana’i, watching dolphins from a cliffside camp.
—Excerpted from FAR ART, www.pukapuka.tv
When the solitary-one advances with the torch
Of the one tooth swelling up out of the cloud
To light up each cool leaf of the low-sprawling forest,
The sound of the wind whisks over the stone notches
And whistles with the sound of a small gourd whistle.
It is not the boast of the conch which is heard
Heralding war, or royalty, or grief;
It is the lover’s call at night,
Modest with breath,
It is the child’s last game resisting rest
Before the sun
Pulls the night
About its back
Turning away from the land,
Sinking into the sea’s deep sleep.
Here where the root of the fern was devoured by boars and sickness flowed,
Where the last of us gathered—life sucked up to the base of the upturned bowl,
Where the last of us dove, sick with water and lament, crying release to these laughing
Who themselves were tied and did not know, who were bound to the isle raising its head in refusal:
With the bird-man’s wing
Takes flight into streams,
Over tides which overflow
And are blocked
With the stones,
Which sail down from the mist
Crushed as a sisterly fruit,
Fragments from the white mist lei.
Here are the pools which settle and gather
As the life-tears of the sacred flower stop up,
As life bled
And blows settled
And we fled
High into the notches of the land’s last stand
Until the grand, new chief arrives, also lonely
And a different forest clambers up
To snare a naked sun
Whistling with winds rainless and barren of tears.
—Tajiri, Fall 2013
Big pine down on Haole Hill
Stacked repine next wood chip pile
Dry fragments, no smell,
Inert, rubbish now
Do trees bleed.
Sure they do,
You can see it
White sap congealing
Drying in golden glops
Running out of severed trunk
It must seem so strange
To be so disarrayed
Piled without regard
To the intrinsic order
Of circulation that kept
This tree alive
Where are the birds
That perched on branch
And pecked at bugs
Who made their comfy home
Beneath this bark
Where is the wind
That tossed leaves around
To weave a fabric
Of living light and shade
What has happened
To make this tree so dead
Who ordered this execution
For such a fragile thing
And one day will return
To haunt our dreams
Bereft of trees
This last summer, while in the Bay Area, I had the good fortune of watching the America’s Cup races (scroll down for earlier story) and being interviewed for a project conducted by Huey Johnson, one of my old friends in saving things…
The edited interview about my experiences “saving” whales follows. You might like to watch it.