The past and present come together to forge the future.
Story and photos by Sera Lindsey // @portablesera
On the Big Island of Hawai’i at the peak of Mauna Kea, a woman lives. She tends to her home peacefully, unless disturbed. Sleeping with one eye open, she sees the blessings and injustices alike that are rendered to her land. A goddess of the fire, the wind, of lightning, and of dance, she is a daughter of the earth, and an eternal witness. She will defend it as she always has. Her name is Pele, Ka wahine `ai honua, “Woman who Devours the Land.”
Legend says that when Pele arrived to Hawai’i on her canoe, she became entangled in the many strong roots of the Hala tree. In anger and frustration, she tore them from the ground and tossed them far and wide. Each piece rooted itself throughout the islands. Hala has been honored as one of the most important parts of Hawaiian ecology, gifting the people with fruit to eat, branches to build with, and draping lau. The lauhala (leaves of the hala tree) are long enough to weave canoe sails and malleable enough to wear.
Women have worked with Hala for countless generations. In the practice of lauhala weaving, they touch down to the first place Pele encountered when meeting her new home. In honoring this tradition, the weavers root themselves with ancestors, and with the spirit of the land itself.
These are craftspeople working within a lineage that has existed for thousands of years. Yet today, fewer than 10 percent of Hawaiian families now practice lauhala weaving, and many of the techniques and designs have been forever lost to time. Master weavers crafted their own braiding and knots, distinguishing themselves and their families—simultaneously honoring one another while also standing independent in their craft.
The women of Hilo-based shop Hana Hou have been doing their part in holding the heartbeat of this tradition, practicing and preserving it by offering lauhala workshops, woven lauhala hats, bangles, bags and earrings. For over 25 years, Michele Zane-Faridi and her daughter Shadi Faridi have worked together to keep their business thriving, as well as the culture that serves as its foundation.
Beyond lauhala, they also provide formal pieces made from momi and kahelelani shells, some of the most valuable shells in the world, sizing somewhere between a grain of rice to a watermelon seed. These are harvested from Ni’ihau (known as The Forbidden Island, as it is not open to visitors), and are protected by law, keeping the ecology and authenticity intact. These lei pūpū ‘o Ni’ihau (traditional shell-crafted lei from Ni’ihau) are painstakingly made. From harvesting to threading, they must be handled with the most precise touch, as one mistake could cost a shell, or an entire lei. Traditionally made for royalty, these are now reserved for wear during weddings or other special occasions. The cost of each piece reflects the great effort made in their creation, often selling for over $5000.
I asked Shadi of Hana Hou why they decided on this particular phrase as the name of their shop, she said, “It means ‘one more time,’ or ‘so good you want to do it again.’ Starting out as a vintage Hawaiian collectibles shop, we focused on our favorite Hawaiian clothing, home goods, and crafts. The design and quality were so good that we needed to give it another run, another life. Often heard at the end of concerts, or events, the crowd can be heard screaming HANAHOU! HANAHOU! confirming that the music, the art, the mana, is so good, that it must be called out, once again.”
From the selection of vintage they carry—ultra-rare Hawaiian shirts, elegantly draping kimono, or the magnificent woven Hala pieces — all are recognizable cross sections of various cultures that now make Hawai’i what it is today. Echoes of times past, and times to come.
The Big Island of Hawai’i is dormant and active all at once. It expresses a fierce energy that cannot be contained, but rather beckons for respectful collaboration. It teaches us that what we give is what we get. Aloha ʻĀina “love of the land,” is a central part of the way of life in Hawai’i. There is an understanding that what you give to the land, you give to yourself, your home, and all that live upon it as well.
Just as the roots of the Hala tree reach from island to island, the old teachings trace the same path. In working with the land, you honor the land. You honor ancestors. To teach those today breathes life into the future of this craft, and ensures a new generation of understanding and stewardship. With one eye open, Pele smiles.
Our first date was stupidly romantic — a luscious sunset, crisp cocktails, freshly cracked saltwater crab — right up until the moment I gave him explosive liquid diarrhea.
We’d been in touch months before, and there’d been loose correspondence while I traveled for my work as a mountain guide. We traded emails while I was on Alaskan mountains, Russia’s highest peak, and a Mongolian expedition. It was late August when my plane landed in Seattle, and less than 24 hours later, I looked at him through sunglasses still covered in dust from the steppe.
He leaned toward me. I put my hand on his chest, my flat warm palm firm against the open v-shaped slice of skin at the top of his button-up shirt. “Maybe we shouldn’t kiss,” I said. “I’m shitting my brains out. We visited a yurt. A Mongolian family offered me fermented camel milk. Now I’m peeing out my ass. I’ve been on a diet of Gatorade and Imodium.”
He shrugged. “That stuff isn’t transmittable by mouth,” he said. “I like you. Kiss me.”
I did. He tasted like sunshine and saltwater and honesty. I remember how it started. I don’t remember stopping.
Two days later I got a text from Chicago, where he’d flown for a business meeting. “I’m at a walk-in clinic,” he wrote. “Just tell me which antibiotics I need.”
I texted him the details: ask for the strongest Z-pack imaginable. Then I immediately texted all of my friends, too. “You’re not going to believe this,” I wrote. “Remember that dude I went on a date with? He’s got the shits, too.”
My best friend wrote back immediately. “If he’s still calling you after this fiasco, you should marry him.” I started to write her a sassy response, then stopped typing to pick up his call. We talked for three hours that night, each sipping electrolytes and chewing dry crackers.
He moved in three weeks later, slowly unloading his belongings from the Rubbermaid tubs he kept in the back of his car. It was rash, a little impractical. I cleaned out a drawer in my bathroom. He left a pair of shoes. The sex was fun, but what I remember most is that we couldn’t stop talking. Late at night, while we were running errands and buying milk and sliced turkey and too much nice cheese, we told each other the truth — the kind of truth that’s hard to even admit to yourself, where it just spills out of you before you’ve even realized what you’re going to say. The kind of truth that makes you realize you’ve just admitted your deepest soul, the things that matter, the points on the scatter plot of life that connect to tell your most real stories.
I told him about my dreams. He told me about his ideas. We laughed. I cried, sobbing into his chest until I dry-heaved on the bathroom floor. Every time I work up the courage to admit my weakness, he teaches me that every quirk is a strength too.
We fight. Sweet Christ, we fight. But there has never — not for one single instant — been a moment where I’ve doubted that he’s the one. In past relationships, I’ve been ready to torch the fuckers and leave in a cloud of righteousness, but in this one — well, it’s the first time that I’ve truly felt like part of a team.
Six months after our first date, we drove together from Salt Lake City to Seattle. We stayed in a cheap casino, ate greasy take-out, followed signs to the annual cowboy poetry convention. It was a romantic road trip, but I remember feeling grumpy because I was scared of that nebulous in-between state that happens after you’ve cleared space for somebody you love but before they’ve fully moved in. I didn’t tell him that, but he knew.
He found a hot springs in the mountains, and we drove too far out of our way to soak at sunset under the big desert sky. I stripped off my clothes, feeling the bathtub-warmth move up my thighs as I stepped into the pool. Then the sandy bottom fell away, and I slid, off-kilter, into the depth. I choked, sputtering a mouthful of water before finding my balance as I swam. But then I kept swimming, lap after lap of that tiny green pond, and I thought: Maybe I do know how to do this after all.
I first wrote her from Everest Base Camp. I was busy climbing, getting ready to make a go at the mountain. Curled in a sleeping bag, my ungloved fingers darted through the cold air to peck out the words that would entice her. I wrote of things that had impressed other women: my bravado, my athleticism, my sensitivity. None of that worked, but I was persistent. Four months later and under the guise of asking her for business advice, we went on our first date. She asked me if we were flirting. I said yes. Maybe some of those things did work.
One month later, we drove to Hood River while forest fires smoldered on the banks of the Columbia. As sheets of rain draped across the river, we wrapped ourselves around each other in the back of her bean-shaped travel trailer. We discussed the color of love. The plush sensation of an excited heart wasn’t new to either of us, but we both had concerns. There was hesitation in our kisses. We were already naked, and as we pressed our emotions and dreams against each other, we began a more intimate process of stripping bare. The gray noise of droplets hitting the fiberglass roof filled the silence when we rebounded from each other’s revelations. The smoke cleared from the gorge. My love was orange. Hers was blue.
I intended to spend the fall and winter exploring the Rockies from the front seat of my SUV, but Seattle now had a gravity I didn’t want to escape. I changed my plans and lingered. She started to introduce me to her friends. They were climbers and writers and corporate types. I think they all liked me, but I felt isolated as I struggled to translate my decade in New York for a western audience. My adventures amid the cacophony of brick and steel in the Bowery didn’t seem to have value when the snow-felted slopes of the Cascades are your playground. But they did matter because they shaped me, and so I found connections. I was excited and encouraged because the more I knew the fixtures in her universe, the more I understood her.
We had our first real argument on the eve of my departure for a month-long trip to Wyoming. After that, I cried some nights, cuddling myself under a scratchy wool blanket I had stolen from our closet in Seattle. I’d watch my tears sink into the waves of fabric as my fingers traced the edges of a polaroid she gave me before I left Washington. The blanket wasn’t comfortable, but it provided comfort. It was a physical connection to her. Though we talked every night, the distance was caustic. Skype messages and missed calls were misinterpreted in the worst possible ways. That was digital ersatz love. That was hell. Still, it mattered that each of us saw that the other was trying. We invested in the relationship in ways that we could, even if they weren’t what the other person needed. And we never stopped believing in us. In past relationships, I’ve rooted myself in my self-sufficiency during moments of tension: If the relationship blows up, I’ll drink a lot of bourbon, but I’ll be fine. We are different. During our moments of discord, I never imagine a universe where we aren’t “we.”
I am relieved no one told me when I was young how shaken and shaped I would be by the people I choose to love in this lifetime. Writing that sentence I questioned, just now, the use of the word choose. Is to love a choice? I know to love well is a choice. To see love through, to take care of it, to commit to it are all choices. But can we choose in fact who we love as we choose how to love them? That I wish someone could tell me.
For three years I have been learning this: You cannot love someone into loving you. I imagine when I look back on my twenties, when I look back on my life in Idaho, it will be one of the great lessons I learned. I always believed that if you loved someone, if someone loved you, and particularly if they took place at the same time, that nothing else would matter. It seemed to me almost like a science.
Sometimes I am standing in a doorway or at the grocery store and we’re talking like nothing ever happened. And I am learning this is where I will leave us. I can love him and not want to be with him. I can love him and leave. I can leave and just leave. And none of it changes any part of what has been and what will be. For a while I was worried it made everything mean less. It does nothing of the sort.
I am interested in the way we can build worlds with someone else, how quickly the roads are cleared and paved, the monuments built, the jokes on our tongue. I could have never imagined how quickly I would take to riding in your car, or the shape of your hands in mine, or how I might make room for loving in a new way entirely. I didn’t even know there was room to be made. There is always room to be made.
And we do, in spite of all the other madness. We build entire rooms to make peace and love and to rage against each other. We build rooms where we keep our plans and our distant shores, rooms where we whisper what we like in bed. Rooms we lock and leave behind, lives we wanted, lives that were forgone by others, forsaken and left. Rooms for all the room and the different ways we can love in this life. I am taken by how large my heart is, surprised by my resilience, and pleased with the rooms I have built.