There are chickens everywhere, not the dingy barnyard variety I know but freakishly lustrous specimens grown big and bold in the easy air of the tropics. They’re iridescent and move like athletes. This is not poultry.
On all the other islands they are kept in check by mongoose, first introduced in the plantation days to purge rats from the sugarcane. “The motto of all the mongoose family is, ‘Run and find out,'” says Kipling. In daylight, though—details, details—and rats are nocturnal. The mongoose ate the birds instead.
So the chickens’ presence here is as unlikely as mine. I think about this as I stand in the rain. There’s water running down my face and I’m not even cold.
We hammer out the 22-mile Kalalau out-and-back as a day hike. The broad white beach at the trail’s end abuts a muddy wood that only half conceals the campers’ slum, part commune, part drug den, part frat house. As Ken-doll kayakers negotiate the surf I recall, for some reason, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
“We must all show great constancy,” Caspian was saying. “A dragon has just flow over the tree-tops and lighted on the beach.”
“Perhaps it will go away,” said Lucy.
“It will be worse if it does,” said Edmund, “because then we shan’t know where it is.”
No dragons, but Jurassic Park was filmed here for reasons obvious in the throb of helicopters over the green and breathing cliffs. In envisioning raptors’ swift emergence from the trees I recognize the roosters’ sharp eye and strut and cannot imagine how the family resemblance was ever doubted.
Snorkeling sort of freaks me out, which I know is pathetic, but the currents are strong and stirring up shifting curtains of sand. When I do see fish it’s much too suddenly; if the experience is dreamlike—as advertised—it’s because I feel disoriented, not serene.
A sudden seizing of my wrist, a muffled shout, a rush of bubbles. There’s a turtle bobbing yards away. It turns its prehistoric eye our way; in my rush to meet its gaze I plunge my entire head underwater and inhale the ocean, come up sputtering in the waves.