By Toutka Wongse-ont
Armed with a pen, charcoal, and colored pencils, I was eager to start sketching and writing about my walk around Waianae, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. My brown, leather journal peeked out from a pouch, slung across my body. When I looked through the chain link fence, I sighed. The dry, straw-colored grass and twisted, knobby grey trunks were set against a somewhat barren hill, chiseled brown with grey boulders. “You might see some goats,” my friend reassured me. “They come out in the afternoon to eat.” It’s as if she knew what I was thinking. I nodded and hoisted myself over her fence.
In the middle of the desolate, dry land, I caught sight of a small Koa tree. Clusters of pods dangled from its branches, some green, but most brown. Seedless, their time is done. But there was something beautiful in the way these withered clusters of pods twisted nature’s design wavy, curvy. One looked like an octopus, its two outer arms curled up, beckoning me to join them. A jewelry designer could not imitate—no, rival–the curves of nature’s designs. They danced in the wind like little octopuses on branches. When the wind stirred the leaves, the dried seeds in the pods slightly shook. I stopped and listened. “Shush-shush-shush.” I pulled a dried pod off, put it near my ear, and shook it. Thoreau once asked, “The singer can easily move us to tears or to laughter, but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning joy?” Nature’s music! They sounded like little maracas, “Shush-shush-shush.” Soft…gentle …simple… music.
I pulled off dried, firm, soft pods and tucked them into my journal pages. I planned to wash and eat the green pods when I got home. On the way back, I picked up a rock and looked underneath. What looked like a silverfish went around and around. I returned the rock back to its moist spot. Another rock had a miniscule, pale orange ant wandering under it.
When I got home, I washed the green pods and nervously exhaled before chewing a soft, green pod. It was supple, and tasted like I remembered. But at the end, it was slightly bitter. Did the lack of water affect the taste? I chewed the next one. It was not as bitter, but firmer, even harder with age. It was like chewing a piece of paper, and I had to swallow hard at the end. The mature pod was ripe. I pulled a strip off its edge, and peeled back the pod. It opened up like an Edamame bean (soybeans). To my surprise it tasted mild like peas, and I eagerly chewed each seed. Thoreau again: “There is a difference between eating and drinking for strength and from mere gluttony.” I remembered eating soft Koa pods, scooping up chunks of papaya salad with it, between mouthfuls of sticky rice. My brothers and I would snack on Koa seeds, taking only what we needed from the tree.
While I did not see goats, I did see the Koa tree, and the pods. The different pods reminded me to walk, fully walk in life because, as Thoreau noted, “we cannot afford not to live in the present.” If Thoreau’s idea of simplicity was accepted, life would not be as barren and desolate as it seems. Nature is beckoning all, inviting us to fully experience it. A walk is simple, and costs very little. I spent a little of my time and effort, but this simplicity paid off. I not only saw, heard and touched “nature,” I even tasted it. It “tastes” beautiful. And I feel “rich.”