Prologue: The Landcallers
At its center the blue is like love: intense, subtle,
boundless, sustaining. Above the sea, the bruised plum
mountains of the Big Island. Testament to the promise
of land in a world made only of water. Hawaii. Land
Here at the edge of the blue, near the iridescent rim
of the horizon under soaring afternoon and clouds, a
single outrigger canoe rolls in the summer swells. In
the boat, two riders sway, their bodies shifting casually,
in tune with the slow pulse of the ocean. Always these
two men—one older, one younger; uncle and nephew—have
ventured on the water together with unperturbed ease.
But today the older man is troubled by a restless, guilty
question: had four years of mainland college broken
his nephew – forever?
Most people on the Kona coast figured it was a stroke
of luck, the way Monty Guildwood stepped in to send
a fatherless Hawaiian boy to high school in Honolulu.
Then, in 1929, when Monty signed a check covering all
four years of the youngster’s expenses at the
University of Southern California, just like that, people
said it was a miracle. But that was Montieth Guildwood.
Whatever else you might say about him, you had to admit
he had an eye for talent.
In 1934, you couldn’t stay on the Big Island
too long without running into Mr. Monty. He owned just
about everything worth owning on Hawaii at that time.
Some said everyone. And if recent local history
proved anything, it was this: a Guildwood never
made an investment without a reason.
But today, here on the undulating skin of the sea, the plans of Hawaii’s
powerful were only part of what the older man feared. It was his nephew himself
–his way of seeing, his spirit – that was changed. He seemed stunned
by the view of life he had witnessed on the mainland, unsure what to do; unsure
how much, if any, of modern Californian experience belonged to him too, was
his fate also. Perhaps it was just a doting uncle’s selfish fear, this
feeling that something was lost. Maybe his nephew had just grown up, was becoming
his own man with his own troubles. Then again, perhaps exactly such a loss of
certainty was what Monty Guildwood had in mind. The Guildwood family excelled
at the game of eliminating leadership from below. In 1934, wages on their vast
sugar plantations, estates and ranches were among the lowest in the Territory
Crouched at the bow of the weather-worn hull, the younger
man absently scanning the distance seemed anything but
damaged by his years of study in California. His broad
shoulders and athletic poise spoke of a childhood playing
daily in the warm Pacific surf, and four years of lonely
and desperate college swim team triumphs. His gaze was
direct, matter-of-fact American, but with an unmistakable
Hawaiian sweetness too. In his eyes, a subtle hint of
that amused expectation of pleasure that sometimes marks
the children of the Kona coast – the adult fruit
of a long-ago Hawaiian birth blessing; a prophesy sealed
with a wreath of sweetly scented flowers.
The young man’s name is Moke Kealoha. Barefoot;
wearing only shorts, his lean, smooth and confident
presence would remind old Hawaiians of his grandfather,
the famous fishing Kealoha. Today, he wears a loose
cord around his neck from which hang two large “calling-stones”
that once belonged to his grandfather and had been passed
down to his uncle. Each translucent stone, carved and
polished long ago, was shaped to fit perfectly in the
palm of a hand.
Moke stands in the narrow boat, balancing expertly.
In the distance, just discernable above the rolling
blue, a splash of spray.
Dorsal fins—seven, maybe eight, Moke
Kealoha guesses. The pod is moving at an easy pace,
on course to pass the canoe within 500 feet. Too
far. Much too far.
As if hearing his thought, the big animals adjust their
course slightly, heading closer. Patience. Ahonui.
The young man bends to the bow of the boat, picks up
a tether line.
“We’re a long way out for that …
” the older man warns without much conviction.
Sharks terrify him. And sharks happen here. The canoe
outrigger is tattooed with tooth scars, memories of
the sudden and shocking power that could be unleashed
without warning from below. “Big fish don’t
ask questions,” Moke’s uncle thinks.
Still, he knows his nephew’s passion for these
ocean experiments …