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One Thousand Starts

WRITTEN BY BRYNA ROSE STORCH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MAMI WYCKOFF

“In this new “Talk Story” segment of the magazine, we invite locals to share their personal experiences of working with food and plants in Hawaii in their own authentic voice.”

The eight-legged boar trotted up the hill, haunches glossy in the dawn, muscles rolling under the thick scruff of his neck and rumbling with grunts, he ran right past us, my grandmother and me, sitting at the bus stop. A happy bounce in his legs, on the way to his morning nap. Sniffing for strawberries that had turned wild in that neighborhood, growing in the crevices of rocks and roots. Bus came, we went. My stop was first while Grandma continued on to her work, parting with a provocation, “How you gonna do all that?”

The way home is either dusty or muddy. Through the woods, the river-silt road is the only open pathway to light, which shines through high trees in long beams. Dirt swirls like fancy smoke from footsteps. The air smells of river, of cool stones, wet leaves and atmosphere being born. Farms peek through hedges and beyond shadows, murmurs of whose breadfruit are ripe, sudden gasp of a can opening, background buzz of insects. Lizards who have seen it all bask on branches. Instinctual pauses for plumeria.

As the road rounds and the sky opens, a low rainbow hums from within the dark forest up the valley. The clouds above could be angels, animals, or omens of who I’ll love… But then there’s a wild crashing, an explosion of breaking branches and right in my face is the wet breath of a red mule who’s sprinted to the end of her rope which reaches right to the edge of the road. Expecting a papaya, searching for a snack, kissy snorts, angling for a good scratch. From the moment her big ears catch you coming from miles away, she go hiding in the bushes for her funny game. Will get you every time, shi-shi-panty kine. She’s just too much.

Loosening the rope from the swivel, slipping it into a sloppy knot over her nose, rolling clumsy onto her shaggy back, she wanders on and takes us home. Her owner is too grumpy to know that she often goes free. She nibbles banana peels and comfrey leaves along the roadside then naps next to the fire pit on a hearth made of heart stones, soft ashes balance on her eyelashes.

Had been a drought for so long, rainy season had passed with blue skies, cracked earth and only the weeds and mangos growing happy. Still, I planted seeds and starts in little pots to be ready for the right day. Every single day giving root to at least one being. Gathering all the free moments in between into a bucket to water all that had begun. So that it could never be questioned if the forest was ready to grow. And after many months, almost a year, now the rain was coming to believe in the trees.

The sky is filling, thick with clouds close to spilling. Stepping down stone stairs that Aunty Paʻa had perfectly placed, I grab crates full of starts waiting by the ditch and set out to offer roots to soil. Been waiting for this day, when a good heavy soak would give these seedlings some hope, to plant a forest to protect us. That the future may want to keep us.

Air so warm, sweat so thick, could barely feel the heavy drops soak through my shirt. Crouched planting, planting, sipping the very heavens streaming down my face. River rising, rising, turning red. Rivulets rambling and all sorts of swirling. Loosening dead trees as if a light blanket of leaves. Bathing dry valleys with rushing streams. Vast handfuls of spreading seeds. ʻOʻopu unleashed. Hidden springs singing. Underfoot, waterways pulsed within the land, exactly like the maps that Uncle Earnest once drew. Was him who told me, “From the softest rock, the forest grew.”

The storm revealed the safest places and wherever I could, I planted them all- one thousand starts. The water’s rage danced in my chest but as my crate emptied, the river gentled its course. Within mist and profound darkness, a forest gave birth. Scattered leaves gathered along the high-water mark, a wild lei offered to the earth.

Now the mule stands still as a stone outside the house, gently cuing me to rest, let everything be. Bones sink deep into the weather’s roar, long surrendered to the potential of drowning but gratefully floating into sunlight shining through the twisted old longan tree. Laughter singing in light streaming through green leaves, smoke rising from the cooking fire. Warm air swirls in my face as a smiling child flies into arms reach, kicking high on an old koa swing. Her face in the sun rays, squinting in glowing beams. Prettiest thing I’d ever seen, this familiar being sprouting deep within a flood dream.

Bryna Rose Storch: I am a farmer on Kauai and founded Lanipō Farm in 2010. I’ve loved plants & gardening since childhood and learned to farm from aunties, uncles and friends. I believe in a proper fallow, sharp shovels, organic matter, doing better and a good cookie. Farming inspires me to write and my stories are as true as can be.