Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saint Damien, Saint Marianne and Molokai's mules

Molokai island today is still very quiet and comparatively undisturbed by tourism, in some ways more like unspoiled Hana, Maui in dramatic contrast to the Kanapalii side of Maui which is wall to wall hi-rise resorts. Hana, though quiet and relatively out of the way due to its’ LONG winding access road, has orchid farms, little roadside stands, a retreat center, lots of artists–and very strong aloha energy.
 Molokai is something else—probably based on its dark past as the repository for those hapless victims of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) dumped, often perilously on its rocky shores in the 19th century. Molokai’s Father Damien was just canonized by Pope Benedict two years ago (deservedly for his fearless devotion to Hawaii’s ostracized lepers) — his simple small churches along our ride route yesterday stand as poignant testament to a pure Christian faith—And just today, even as we speak, we learned that in October 2012, Mother Marianne, who courageously volunteered in 1883 to come here on the remote desolate peninsula of Kalaupapa on Molokai to help him minister to the banished lepers, will also be sainted.

The Molokai saints’  gracious energy is not present in all the island’s current inhabitants, some of whom appear to have reversed the energy and want to ward off the outside world.

Today, starting out in pre-dawn darkness we ride our tandem only a dozen miles, but with a goodly 1500 foot climb up the mountain to the Molokai Mule Barn. The plan is one of us hikes one way down the 26 switchbacks 1,500 feet down the mountain to the isolated seaside site of the leper colony for a tour and the other rides the mule, then we trade going back up. Jim is opting for me to hike up and he’ll ride the mule–he says it will save my knees to ride the mule down instead of hiking. Hmm. Probably true, but suspicious!
 But, you know, Sweetheart that he is, once we are there and look at the trail (and the mules) he insists that I should honor my dramatic 20 mile emergency evacuation mule ride out of the Yangtze River tributary gorge with a round trip mule ride, and he’ll “Shanks mare” the roundtrip on foot. (It’s Scottish, dating from the eighteenth century. There was a verb, to shank or to shank it, meaning to go on foot. This is from standard English shank for the part of the leg from the knee to the ankle, which comes from Old English sceanca, the leg bone. This verb developed into shank’s naig or shank’s naigie (where the second words are local forms of nag, a horse) and later into shank’s mare. It was a wry joke: I haven’t got a horse of my own for the journey, so I’ll use Shank’s mare to get there, meaning I’ll go on my own two feet.)

Once down the 26 hairpin turns traversing the tallest sea cliffs in the world (and YES, mules do prefer the very edge) we recognize what truly heart rending isolation the victims of the near plague of leprosy, brought to the Hawaiian people by outsiders in 1840, suffered in this wild place until Father Damien arrived in 1873 as their angel. With his help, they built cottages, roads, a wharf, St. Philomena Church, a clinic and an orphanage for the children. Until he himself died of the disease 16 years later, he ministered, educated, tended the sick, built coffins and actually buried over 6,000 victims.

Sadder and wiser, we return to the steep climb, reunite with our tandem and into a rainstorm, to ride back down to Kaunakakai town for a genuine luau, a memorable sunset gathering of local musicians of all ages and sizes.

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