The Hawaiian Islands are overwhelmingly populated by folks who followed their dreams to the tropics. It's hard to blame them. Rainbows are are an hourly fact of life; sunsets against the Pacific take away words and breath. Pristine white sand beaches are ubiquitous. Hot lava pours into blue water. This is the stuff of fantasy. The number of movies filmed on the Islands attest to it. Largely, the new settlers come from the western half of the United States: from California, of course, and Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico. They come just out of high school or college - young adventure seekers, travelers to places that are other than home. They come, too, in middle age - professionals hoping to combine their healthy salaries with a healthier lifestyle. They come, too, as wealthy retirees. All are chasing their version of a tropical fantasy.
They come often, "For the rest of my life." The overwhelming majority are gone within three years. I've developed an uncanny ability in my years with 'Iokepa. After simple conversation with the newer-than-me arrivals, I can guess with startling accuracy the number of years they will stay before they go.
But none of them leave empty-handed.
Our friends, before they leave, often feel the need to explain, to apologize for abandoning this place they still love. 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani answers: "You take all that you've received with you.
"My ancestors have pumped love into these Islands for 13,000 years. You carry that with you."
They thought they were expatriates when they left the continental U.S. for Hawai'i. But, it seems, the reverse is actually true. They often live the rest of their lives remembering all that the Islands gave them.
Never was this more apparent to us than a few days ago, in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe beckoned us to return after our first gathering there. We'd moved on to the next in Arizona, and (we thought) points West. But the call to return was loud: both the enthusiasm generated by our first visit, and the Grandmothers' firm hand. Return Voyage, for the first time, turned around - returned. We spent another week in Santa Fe.
It is one of those Return Voyage events I write about here and now.
Every single soul (save one) in that crowded Return Voyage gathering (none were Native Hawaiian) had lived for more than a single year on the Islands. And that exception had just returned from his first ever visit to the Islands. Every single person had a story he or she was yearning to tell us.
It isn't rare on the Return Voyage to find folks with stories to share about their vacations on the Island. This one was unique indeed. When these Return Voyage participants introduced themselves - every single one of them spoke of a treasured part of their lives spent on the Islands.
"I lived there for nineteen years..."
"My son was conceived on a boat between Moloka'i to Maui..."
"I was a North Shore guitarist for five years...I just returned to Santa Fe...I'm suffering..."
"The Big Island sent me away...it was too intense for me..."
"My child was born in the water on Maui...she's still there..."
These were dozens of folks who had spent years on the Hawaiian Islands, and who - as 'Iokepa predicted - carried within them still, the gifts of his homeland and his people. These were people who were searching for an opportunity to express their gratitude. At that Return Voyage gathering in Santa Fe, they did just that.