Saturday, October 02, 2010

so i ran into this place, you can find it yourself, while i was out google-imaging haiku road signs and haiku church signs. there are actually quite a few of both, and it's fairly interesting google-imaging such things, but along comes this place i'd never imagined existed. it's called the haiku stairs, and it's a steep set of stairs that climbers can use to cross a steep valley on the island of oahu, hawai'i. it's near what is called haiku road (there is also a haiku valley), which is where it gets its name, but it's also known as the stairway to heaven, because it's so steep, and it gets so cloudy there, that sometimes the stairs disappear in the clouds beneath a hiker.

now the problem is that the stairs are closed, and have been for some time; they were vandalized in the 80's, and though they repaired them, the entrance way is a point of contention, and the locals don't like all the crowds they generate and aren't crazy about people just gathering at that spot. the city (this is not honolulu, but near honolulu, a town called Kaneohae) has offered to give it to the state which could better run it as a hiking trail, but that hasn't happened; it's still closed pending negotiations, and well guarded; they don't want you on it.

as you climb on these steep steps you find that some steps are crooked, and sometimes the railing is a little questionable. i think some people believe that it's not quite totally safe for a public hiking trail, especially since it became a little famous (from magnum p.i.?) so it attracted a few too many non-hikers, who might go a little to far out onto them, only to find out they weren't really made for such things. then of course it's too late.

now of course i'm attracted to such a place, though there's no way at this point i could get out to oahu in early october; the leaves are changing here; people are extremely busy; all of the various (8) children have crises, and my wife too, who is in a painting frenzy but also way overextended at work as i am. on the soccer field, both boys played today, and did well; the older one played in a driving rain; it was well after noon before we got out of there and then almost forgot our balls and water; at the fields i continued my discussions with people about the differences between the youngest, and the older players, and which ones go to the private leagues, and why, exactly, they would have an all-girl league, and a mixed league, which is about 1/10 girls, but no all-boy league. it just worked out that way; apparently about the same number of girls and boys sign up, but some girls want to be in with the boys, and many don't...and the girls who are with the boys are generally at least as good if not better, so it doesn't really matter to the boys, and so it goes. someone asked if i was complaining but i said, no, i never complain, since i don't run the place, but am just curious what's going on and why.

later in the day, a long ride out no name road, or more properly east no name road, which is actually only a short road, about a mile, but goes through all kinds of countryside before it gets to a friend's house, way back up against the county line and up against some dense woods that seem like the end of nowhere. this road becomes very narrow and hilly, so it would be somewhat dangerous on a day-to-day basis, especially if one's kids were to do it with a bicycle, but it comes around these curves, and funky old houses line it where people obviously have more to do than worry about decoration. some people had trouble believing this was my actual address, the woman who lived there said, after i commented on what a cool name for a road, and what a cool place to live, right up against the woods, yet not too far from town, maybe only a couple miles. the day was clear, again, blue sky and grasses going to seed around us; the road comes out at the castle park where the sculpture wizards, dragons, and lions reign, and where cars now line up on both roads; they're getting a lot of business these days. you get some open space, some trees, a place to sit for a while, and people like it; on a good day, they'll come, and be outside for a while, knowing full well that most of the time around here it's summer, and you can't.

sometimes i imagine that it would be interesting to put one's life on an address according to the address that seemed the coolest to have; for example, live on haiku road, just for the sake of living in such a place. in this area, if you buy enough land, and create a lane, and wait a while, the county will decide that every lane needs a name, just for fire prevention purposes, and you'll be required to name it anyway, so this is the best way to accomplish that end, though it takes a number of years, and some of us don't have that long to wait. i lived in this one town which really needed all of its streets to be renamed; they had very systematically named them with such letters as N, W, S and E even though the streets were all at angles, and the angles were not related, in any good way, to the true N, W, S, & E they'd have this street, N 32nd St. W, and it would be neither N or W, since it ran at a perfect angle right through town, then after it got out of town it would go straight E, or maybe S. so here's a place you need names like haiku road, or maybe grammar road, or grammar boulevard even.

which reminds me of my last thing. i was at a party tonight; the kids were outside shrieking and tearing around which in fact is a good wrapup of my entire day, starting with the soccer game, but i got into a conversation about the amish, who recently bough a local place called grammer orchard, owned for many years by a family by that name, spelled with that e i believe; their trucks used to catch my eye, understanably, as they drove through the center of town. now the amish have a community already, in the county, maybe about twenty-five miles north of here, but their arrival at a place more like five or six miles southwest of here means they've really moved into the area, and locals confirm they are interested in buying lots of the rural property that has come upf for sale in the last year or so. and this sets folks to talking, about how they take care of their land, but they have a lot of children, so their steady taking over land puts upward pressure on land prices and makes it much more common to encounter horse-and-buggy operations on, say, a road to wal-mart. i dragged out my story about the english river, the day i was out there with a friend, and a banjo, and lent the banjo to an amish guy for all of about five seconds; to me, i was way out in the country, and it didn't occur to me that those amish farms way off in the distance had people in them, with very clear eyesight, who could see from mile away what this guy was doing. nor did i know that, at the time, in that community, whether a guy could pick up an instrument or not was a political issue, so this guy was making a fairly strong political statement about which side he was on, and he was doing it more or less in public, with the help, of course of an English like myself, actually providing the banjo. i often miss that banjo, it was what is called a mountain banjo, and though the one i have now is in some ways better, it is different, and will never be a mountain banjo.

but to get back to the amish of that story, the fact of the matter is, when you put yourself in the middle of a community that you really don't know well, you find yourself in the middle of these social disputes which are also foreign; it takes you a while to really orient yourself to a new culture and the imaginary line they've drawn at which to fight amongst themselves. in the same way our students have trouble figuring out how and why we fight over gay marriage, we in the 'english' community had trouble figuring out how the amish in our area could divide themselves over the issue of whether it was ok to have lace curtains, or to be able to pick up an instrument. that place, the english river bridge, will always represent that to me, a spot where cultures come together in such a way that we can hardly figure out each other's language; where even our interpretation of what kind of 'place' it was was so radically different; where whole sets of cultural assumptions become suspended, more or less like the bridge itself, while we agree, mutually, to a temporary friendship.

i found myself explaining my life, as i often do, at that same party; having taught internationals for years, and now seeing southern illinois from their point of view, as a wild jungle, squirrels and large colorful birds everywhere, no public transportation to speak of, all kinds of things foreign and threatening, yet i manage to make friends with them, suspended in a classroom, so to speak; many of them, perhaps most, go on to master the environment, get what they want, and go home to use it successfully, and carry the memories of their time here home with them. others leave faster, unsuccessful perhaps due to basic failure to adjust culturally to a foreign place. in my mind, i relive my own journeys, countless times at which, as a traveler, i'd intrude on someone's carefully structured existence, just passing through, and, in the course of actually getting to know their world, come to find out how far exactly i was, from ever hoping to even understand it. we live in our own heads, and the distance between any given pair of them can be measured in a kind of light years, which themselves could barely be converted into a kind of mental distance that we both could understand. yet, we manage to function in this world, to occupy the same space, if only temporarily, and even be civil to each other, to reach out a little, to make steps to understand what the other is thinking, and why, of all the issues that are available to us, we might get stuck on the ones we do.


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