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Why Is Everyone Here So Nice? (And Other Kauai Quandaries)

Kauai. A small-ish island in the middle of the largest ocean on Earth, forged over five million years ago from lava spilled onto the ocean floor. The oldest of the Hawaiian island chain, the Garden Isle is home to roughly 70,000 people, and boasts a single highway that can take you from one end of the island to the other in about 90 minutes. We recently relocated here (temporarily, for a sabbatical) and I find myself in awe at the many things that make Kauai special. This place just feels different. It exudes a distinctive energy. I think it is something you have to experience, but I can share some snapshots from our first ten days, and maybe tune you in to its frequency.

Our first night on the island, my oldest was catching giant tadpoles with his bare hands in a river. (Can you feel the difference already?) A local boy, also on the hunt, approached my son and handed him a net, silently inviting a team effort. In no time they had filled the young boy’s bucket, and his father had given my son the net to keep. This small gesture seemed excessively nice to me, and I ran after the man to thank him for the net. The man asked where we are from, how long we will be on Kauai, and told us before long we would be islanders. For comparison, you have to live in NYC for a decade before you are accepted as a New Yorker. So what is it about this place that makes people so welcoming? Why is everyone here so nice? Are they happier? Is it the simpler lifestyle? Are they all high on weed? Whatever it is, there should be more of it in the world.

First day at a new school for my boys, and I am greeted by happy “hellos” from every child I encounter at drop off. My son’s class went to the nurse for an uku (lice) check. They even make lice sound cute here! After drop off I head to Hanalei beach for a jog, and much like the schoolyard, hellos come in from all directions as I pass people walking their dogs, strolling with their honeys, or having their own morning workouts. Some smile, some nod, but not one has averted his gaze, turned her head away, or refused to make eye contact. Why does everyone here greet you warmly? I don’t know, but it makes for an instant sense of community. Even the grown-ass man getting ready to boogie board nodded a hello as I huffed passed.

My son, walking home from school barefoot with a new friend.

My son, walking home from school barefoot with a new friend.

Why do grown men boogie board here? It seems a bit silly, a six-foot-tall man holding a boogie board, reading the waves, timing them, preparing for a perfect ride, like a surfer. Here, it seems, people are drawn to the sea. From surfing to boogie boarding to paddling, even jumping off the end of the Hanalei pier with utter disregard for the “Do Not Jump” signs – grown ups find pleasure in the ocean, same as children do. My son often drags me out on that pier and begs me to jump with him. Why don’t I just freaking hurl myself off that pier? I really should. I suspect before long I will, maybe after a particularly hard and sweaty run.

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Hanalei pier, one of our favorite places to play!

Speaking of which, why doesn’t exercise feel like a chore here? Back home, I run to fight middle-age spread. I run on a treadmill, while watching crappy sitcoms on Hulu, counting the minutes until it is over. If I don’t run I feel guilty, bloated, and cranky, and yet, I never look forward to it. Here, I cannot wait to get on the beach and run. I run to get to the steep and muddy trail leading to a tiny turquoise beach waiting just for me. I run because my boys think there is something to see at the end of two miles of sand. Here, running is a way of connecting with the landscape more than a chore to be completed. I suspect I would not give a second thought to exercising if I lived here, as it would simply be part of my life.

Hideaways beach, at the bottom of a steep, muddy trail.

Hideaways beach, at the bottom of a steep, muddy trail.

Driving on this island, through jungle-book type scenery, is quite pleasant. Why isn’t driving stressful here? Maybe because everyone is courteous, follows the rules of the road, and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Windows are down, surfboards strapped to car tops, and sand wisps out of truck beds, as people coast to their next adventure. Even better, using a device while driving is not tolerated here. Period. No texting. No talking on the phone. If a cop sees you with a phone in hand while operating a vehicle, you will get pulled over. I have been here for ten days, have circumnavigated pretty much the entire island, and have not once seen someone on a phone while driving. I haven’t heard one horn honk, nor seen one bird flipped. It is the complete opposite of driving back home.

Normally, I am a massive consumer. I pump my hard-earned money into the American economy via the purchase of imperative items such as the season’s trendiest high black boots, low black boots, fringed boots, a flashier pair of black boots, and…more boots. While I don’t have a clinical addiction or anything, the amount of stuff I have in my closet back home is completely unreasonable. I could get by with a few pairs of shorts and some sandals, but I don’t. And yet, I would give up 100% of my closet to come live a simpler life in Kauai. Some sandals, a few swimsuits, and purchases limited to necessities and outdoor recreational items. Why don’t I care as much about material things here? Because…the beach. No shoes, no shirt…no problem!

Warm greetings, sun and sand, physical activity, and fewer material possessions. I think I’m destined to hang loose.