Today I looked fear in the eye, and I think it got the best of me.
Sundays are lazy on the farm. Often there are few people around, as groups slowly trickle back in from weekend excursions. There’s no time to go anywhere, really, except close spots.
This Sunday I—and all the Obies—felt a little stir crazy. The farm can be incredibly boring at times, and Sharon, Melissa, and Matt planned a trip to Honoka’a for groceries and time-killing. This, I must admit was sensitive as they didn’t let me know of their plan until they were sure there would be space for me to come along.
I decided I didn’t need their pity and instead hitched up the hill to Kalopa State Park with a couple of Zak’s friends who told me of the plantation tradition in the Honoka’a region that existed up until about twenty years ago. I hadn’t thought of the land’s history in such recent terms and was astonished to learn that the area’s farms used to house thousands of resident sharecroppers in tent cities. It was a hereditary, self-perpetuating industry that took far too long to break up. The idea of essential Hoovervilles running along the Big Island was perturbing, and put the Hawaiians’ distaste of Capitalism into perspective.
When we got to Kalopa, Charles, the driver, mentioned that the park had “tons of trails” and I could be occupied all day. Looking at a map, however, I found only two trails. One ran along a gulch on the western side of the park, with a few branches back to the main road. The other was a much longer horse trail that ran along the eastern perimeter.
I took the gulch trail, expecting to find a viewpoint where I could read and write for a little. This proved to be a vain hope, as the trail was narrow and crudely carved between trees and never opened wider than a few feet. I amended my plan, deciding to pick up the horse trail and complete the three and a half mile perimeter of the park.
Walking along the horse trail, listening to music, I suddenly heard a deep, steady panting, like someone hyperventilating. I took off my headphones and it got louder, closer. Around the bend ahead, a big yellow dog trudges, barely able to keep his feet, but determined to avoid me. He was wearing a strange collar. It was gray and padded like a neck brace; a black strap with an antennaed box was wrapped around the outside. The box was black and had a blinking red dot like a homing device or a bomb. He dodged off the trail and I tried to follow, holding my water bottle out to him. He was more adept off the path than I and I soon lost him and regretfully turned to seek out the trail. By the time I found it, it was 3:30, about three hours until dark, and I knew I had to get moving if I was to read at the park’s picnic area.
I continued along the trail for about half an hour until it split into three, none of which were on my map. Frustrated, and not willing to guess in a strange place, I decided to turn back the way I came.
About a mile along the way I exchanged pleasantries with some bikers, the first people I had seen since entering the park, and turned down a trail.
At 4:15 I was positive I was in new territory, and had been so for at least a mile. It was an hour and fifteen minutes until dark and I was at least two and a half miles from the nearest road, wherever it may have been. For the next fifteen minutes I took ground and subsequently turned back, not sure which the better decision was. During a pause when I debated whether taking the new trail because all trails must lead somewhere or retracing my steps to determine where I had messed up, two more suffering dogs came staggering down the trail.
They were English setters, identical up to the pockmark on their noses, and they were both wearing the same collar as the earlier dog.
The first things that popped into my head were the twins from “The Shining” and I stared at the dogs, petrified. Dogs are not allowed in the park, these dogs were not with people and, from the look of it, they had been lost for days. They began to pick up speed towards me and I immediately ran in the opposite direction. I began yelling for help, convinced the dogs were a horrifying omen from the island to get out of the park or die of dehydration. I called Melissa but her phone was off. The thoughts of spending the night in the park set in.
I stopped running when I couldn’t breathe anymore and turned around to see the dogs standing, staring at me from about 150 feet down the trail. The thoughts of never seeing the mainland again set in. The dogs glared at me for a few moments and then, as if I had left their jurisdiction, turned and reluctantly hobbled away.
I breathed a sigh of relief but was possessed the rest of the trip back. I managed to find my mistake: in my haste to get past the bikers I had failed to see the proper trail marker behind one of them, and taken off down the wrong path.
The whole way back along the gulch I heard barks coming from hundreds of feet down below. Dozens of different barks, coming from a depression where I knew no four legged animal could possibly access, let alone survive. Reaching the road at 6:00 felt like finding paradise. Sweet psychological paradise.
I only saw three humans the whole time I was in the park, and never in proximity to all of these dogs I saw and heard. When I passed one lady on the way back, I realized that I hadn’t heard any barking for a minute or two prior. A minute after I passed her, the barking resumed.
I can’t stop thinking about where they all came from. And whether they’re spending the night in there. And if they’ll live through it without water.