Four months ago, Paul and I were in Hawai’i. (How strange it feels to write that; it seems like so much longer since we were there.) Recently, as I was looking for something on Paul’s laptop, I came across a text file titled simply ‘Hawaii’. It contained a few paragraphs that Paul wrote the evening of our first day in Hawai’i. Since it was clearly intended as part of a blog post, I thought I’d share it here. As I read it, I realized that I hadn’t ever downloaded the photos of the trip that I took with my new DSLR, so I did that, and combined some of those images and shots from my phone together with Paul’s words.

Kimberly and I are not typically the ‘spontaneous getaway vacation” types.

But both of us felt that the coincidental trip to NYC in May, coming as it did just before we launched into the radiation treatments, was special. It was an extraordinary weekend, and having a big charge of enjoyment and wonderful experience right before a Big Bad Thing was really good.

So, with very little discussion ahead of time, as soon as my surgery date was settled, we booked tickets for Hawai’i. Where we are as I write this. Having been here less than 24 hours, I can say it was a very good idea.

Surprisingly, for people who have lived on the West Coast for so long, neither of us has been here before. It’s more surprising for me, because previously I’d been in 48 of the 50 states, having driven, taken the train and even bicycled across the country before. After reading and consultations with our many friends who have been here before, it seemed like Kauai was the island we would most enjoy, but when we checked the weather forecast, we ruled it out. We were interested in seeing the sun, and there was nothing but rain forecast.

So here we are on “the Big Island”, which, I finally learned, is the one actually named Hawai’i. We have had some light rain and overcast, just enough to ease our transition from Seattle, but today we also got the sunshine and warmth we were seeking. We fly back on Monday, and have just enough planned to know we will have a good time, and also have room for flexibility.

The “flexibility” was key just to getting here. Faced with strong head winds, Alaska Airlines flew us first from Seattle to Portland, where we refueled, giving us a little extra margin, I guess. The headwinds not only slowed us down, but made much of the trip bumpy as well. By the time our flight arrived it was two hours behind schedule, making a night-time arrival an early-morning one. But the Kona airport is apparently used to such things, and they called ahead so the rental car places would have people stay late. I was very grateful we’d decided to book a B&B an easy 10-minute drive from the airport, instead of some of the more distant options. Our gregarious and generous B&B host was even up and showed us to our comfortable room, and emphasized that it was perfectly OK if we slept in, and he’d have breakfast set aside for us whenever we got to it. Hurray!

We awoke in a tropical bioregion full of plants and animals we’ve never seen before. Our breakfast, once we got to it, included fresh fruits I’ve only read about, and samples of others like pineapple and banana that were fresher and tastier than I’ve ever had. Later, we drove along the ridge through the Kona coffee belt, passing dozens of little coffee farms, and stopping at a couple for tours and samples.

Our first farm reminded me a bit of something from rural Sonoma or Napa – a tiny operation tucked away off the road, employing a few people producing a specialty crop, involving growing, harvesting and processing on a small scale. But here, there were beautiful roosters and hens prowling the property, and the crop was real live organic coffee, growing right in front of my eyes! It was really exciting.

Later we also stopped at a much larger, longer-established operation, which was also fun, but different, giving us a peek into another niche in the economic system, because they also process raw beans from other growers, and do a lot in the bulk export market. (They can also pay for manicured lawns, tour guides and a gift shop, as opposed to handing you a laminated ‘self-tour’ and going back to their real work of running the roaster and packing bags for sale.)

As we left, we picked up a snack of Portugese-style sweet bread, baked next door at the Kona Historical Society, supposedly using the traditional forno at their restored settlement site. It was tasty, and reminded Kimberly and me of the similar bread common to Providence, RI, where we met.

We descended from the hills and had a very late lunch/early dinner at a highly-ranked cafe/restaurant right on the ocean. Our friend Janeen had posted to Facebook an item from Fodors.com, with a list of America’s best 15 indie coffee shops, and this is one. (I’ve been to a few of the others on the list, too.) It was a little hard to find, tucked in the back of a building in the darkest heart of the touristy section of town, but it was lovely and the food and view were delicious. It was great to be sitting outside in November, enjoying a light breeze that made the heat and humidity quite comfortable.

That’s where Paul’s draft ended, one day into a five-day trip that we packed full of beauty and wonder and delight. When we got home from Hawai’i, and he was preparing for surgery, he tried to condense those magical days into one brief paragraph:

We went to coffee plantations, and we saw sea turtles, and we walked through steam venting into a jungle from a volcano. We saw plants and animals and fruits I’d never seen before. We watched the sun set on one side and the moon rise on the other and between them the glow of lava lighting up the steam in an active volcano crater.

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Four months ago today, we spotted those sea turtles off Mokuola Island, and walked past those jungle steam vents, and watched that glorious sunset-moonrise-lavaglow. We also wandered the Hilo Farmers Market, and ate lunch at the lovely Hilo Bay Cafe, and brought Thai take-out back to our octagonal wooden cottage deep in a forest of giant ferns. It was an extraordinary day.

Since Paul’s death, I’ve been so thankful that we had that time in Hawai’i. We went aiming to store up as much joy as we could, to help us through the pain that we knew was coming. We couldn’t know then how much pain, and what a horrible loss, lay ahead.

Our second day in Hawai’i, we went back to the oceanfront coffee shop we’d found the previous day. Ever the coffee nerds, we decided to compare coffee from an Oahu plantation processed using two different methods, washed and raisin. When the mugs arrived at our table, Paul leaned over them to inhale the coffee aromas. And as he looked up, I captured him. Curious. Playful. Happy just to be there.