The Adventure We Didn't Film
"Are we having fun yet?" Pat, a spritely 70-something pats me on my shoulder as she shows me around her temporary housing- a shipping container with a door on it. We'd just picked up her hitchhiking thumb ten minutes before. I smiled in response as I tried to figure out how to answer that question.
I came to Molokai to do a story on wild venison. Sadly, this story was postponed again and again until I finally gave up and moved in the direction of reef foraging. I had wanted to centralize the story on the elusive island of Molokai because venison has been such an important source of food for the locals. Once the venison story imploded, I ended up having a day on Molokai with nothing to film.
In all of our years traveling & filming I can't recall ever having a day with nothing to do, so once we boarded the island hopper and flew over lusciously emerald Jurassic Park peaks, the mysterious Leper Colony Kalaupapa, and landed on a band-aid air strip, I made a hasty plan of shooting additional footage and finding *the* expert fisherman.
The airport is an open ended hallway with one or two ticketing stands for the little planes that fly in and out, and an Alamo stand for rental cars. It takes about 2.5 seconds to walk through and even less to get out of the airport area. In about ten minutes of driving you realize how far you have come to get somewhere hidden, somewhere quiet, and slightly desolate. Molokai is earthy crimson. Compared to the blue and green hues of the coast it's interior ruggedness is striking. It feels like the American southwest but the air is thicker, and more fragrant from the kiawe. The island is empty- especially comparing to the highly trafficked areas of Waikiki in Oahu or Kihei in Maui.
My mind struggles to hum inside the ideas of story. The scenery changes from dried, golden reeds to the little village, a postage stamp, and just as Lucas & I make plans to go back to fill our empty bellies I see an older woman, visored and sunglassed, canvas bags a plenty, with her thumb out. "We should pick her up, right?" Lucas asked, looking at me for confirmation. "It's the Aloha spirit," I said. As he pulled the car slowly over I could see the woman shirk in a Gob Bluth style "Come on" from my rear view mirror. Once she realized we were stopping she picked up her bags and began a lively jog over. It was my first time picking up a hitchhiker.
"Hey, how ya doin'?" She said in a bright voice. Her tone was immediately upbeat, spunky. She was clearly a bit overheated and sweaty from standing in the sun. "Where you folks headed?" We told her we'd just arrived and were heading to our hotel with not much to do. "Oh, well we'll pass your hotel but if you don't mind taking me to the 5 mile road marker, it's only about two miles past." She explained she used to be a tour guide on the island and could tell us anything we wanted to know. We started talking about what we're doing here- food adventure show and trying to find story around reef fish- and she told us about her decades spent as a diver. We introduced ourselves by name and met Pat- technically Pohakamalamalama Pat.
The conversation somehow shifted to her telling us she's homeless right now. Sad to say, my first reaction was like "Oh shit, did we just get a crazy?" but my mouth moved words with compassion and asked what had happened. She pulled out some newspaper clippings to show a piece in Letters & Announcements that told her story.
Pat had been rescuing and housing forgotten animals since she moved to the island in the 70's, but recently her landlords decided they didn't want her 3 dogs and she's been struggling to find a place since. She walks about 4 or 5 miles each day, hoping to hail a ride if she can, to use the internet, check her mailbox, check on her stuff all stuck inside a storage container, find a book at the library, and most importantly find a place to live.
At this point we've reached mile marker 5 but instead she's invited us to see her "wacky" temporary home and to really meet "the girls" (her dogs). We get off the main vein of the island and onto a rugged dirt road where I suddenly feel like I'm back in the Ozarks with my homesteading family. There's odd looking patched up structures made into dwellings, a standard small house or two, solar panels clustered throughout tall mango trees, and eventually the shipping container Pat calls temporary home.
"Are we havin' fun yet?" Pat nearly laughs her catch phrase out loud as we get out of the car and take our location in. She goes inside the door- one has been added to the front- to get her three girls and bring them out to meet us. Eager, big, but very sweet, her pups are put on a rope because they aren't in an area they can wander. Pat shows us inside- her mattress that has to be moved constantly while trying to figure out where rain didn't come in. There was an old tv set that gets electricity for a short window in the evening so she can watch the news. A high table for bits of cooking components, like a campsite, for her meals. There's no bathroom or shower but she proudly pulled up a hose attachment that Lucas helped her open.
It was 10am and I couldn't tell if both Lucas & I wanted to leave or if we were hungry. She invited us for a puff of weed and we brought out some beers we'd stashed in the car from Maui. Soon the three of us sat on some stumps outside the shipping container to "Talk Story." A term commonly used on the island that essentially encompassed everything I love about conversation. Let's go deep. Let's avoid the shallow end of small talk. Let's talk story.
Pat showed us photos of a house she built on one side of the island in the 70's. Her friend had bought a bunch of lumber and Pat knew, had it been left unattended, would be stolen, or foraged for, by the locals. So she set up camp and began through trial & error to construct a pretty amazing house. Pat was in the army. Pat had a second life and described a car accident she had where she was T-boned, dragged across the road on her face and pronounced dead on-site. But my telling is a disgusting disservice. Pat's description was seeing the entire process being played out from above. A new soul about to take a nearly destroyed body. And as the paramedics were about to ditch her recently deceased corpse at the nearest hospital, Pat's new soul was slapped inside and she sat up shocking everyone in the ambulance. Pat shouldn't have had any use in her legs. Pat shouldn't have recovered to be a perfectly able bodied woman. But she did.
Let's back up a second. One of the reasons Lucas & I thought we should leave straight away after dropping Pat off is- we knew we could get the gear out, set up the camera, put a microphone on Pat and put together a great episode, but this was a time I didn't want to film. When we film, my first job is to be absorbed and present with my subject. Immediately followed by writing, producing, editing- really overall shaping- the story as it happens. It's a mind that hums quickly to make this two person process efficient. On the quiet island of Molokai in the backwoods with this fascinating woman, I just wanted to be present. Lucas & I looked at each other and without words had this entire conversation and the camera case wasn't opened.
By about 3pm and after much talking story we moseyed on to our hotel. Making a plan to come and meet Pat in the morning and spend our last day on the island with her.
We found her in the village around 9am clearing out her junk mail on her laptop, seeing if anyone had responded to her letters in the mail. The three of us walked through the village and picked up some beers and provisions for the day. Pat was in her ultimate tour guide form as we got back in the car and heard history. She took us to the overlook spot of Kalaupapa and talked about Father Damien. We wandered through the crimson roads as she showed us her past homes and hopefully future neighborhoods. We drank beer. She asked if I knew she was a lesbian (yes, I did. The rainbow pin on her lapel a dead giveaway). She took us to her favorite old diving spot where I befriended a gang of wild cats with deli meats.
Eventually we ended on another beach to eat and have a swim. In the water she spoke to a local she'd met in passing who may have a lead on a place. Pat was positive the house was coming to her this week. Somehow it was coming. Pat also liked to say, "No beliefs required." Because it's not about believing: it's about what happens. And as we waded out in the water we noticed a local pulling a large bag of something on the rocks. She was worried he was dumping trash- not uncommon- and we eyed him as we fought the waves to retreat from the ocean bed.
"Hey, do you guys want some venison?" This tanned, shirtless man asked us.
Pat said to take whatever he offers as she rushed off to gather her stuff to leave. I followed the handsome young man over to his truck (what's up with these island guys?!) He just killed a deer about an hour ago nearby. He told me, as I had assumed through research, venison is very big for subsistence living. I told him about Pat and that she would appreciate whatever he wants to provide. He handed me a long heavy piece of saddle meat. It could feed a family for days. I asked if I could trade him something. He declined my offers. Invited us to stay for beers but I sadly told him we had a flight to catch.
Pat was thrilled to take us back to her shipping container to cook something for us before we left. She explained how much fun it had been spending time together and wanted to show her appreciation. I told her I felt bad because I didn't have anything to trade him in thanks.
"Kelly, that's the Aloha spirit. It's to give. It's not because you want something in return."
Pat begrudgingly cooked in her crock pot like contraption ("This should be done on the stove with a little a butter and salt, not like this," she said) and invited the neighbors over who loaned her the shipping container. We talked a little more story and eventually made a tearful goodbye.
Pat: we've played a little phone tag since I saw you last and I apologize. I'm terrible at the phone. My connection is through being present together or words written, but there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of you and miss you. We are kindred spirits. You are a vagabond of story- just like me- and I can't tell you how rare it is to come across that even in my travels.
I loved that our story together ended where I started: with venison. But even if it didn't, you showed me the Aloha spirit. I just wanted to give a fellow woman a ride to wherever you needed to go.
I'll see you again soon, Pat. No Beliefs Required.