There is nothing like a lake in midsummer. The first baby step into Lake Del Valle was all warm, coffee-colored waters swirling gently. In the second step, all the mud of a drowned valley swallowed my feet. Diving in and escaping to deeper waters was necessary.
Floating on my back, I smelled smoky summer BBQs, tasted lake water tinged with lupa (earth), and dreamed. Funny how those earth-tinged California waters took me back to other rich, fertile lupa on the Big Island, Hawai'i, and a place I have not touched for years but which haunts me still.
The sweet fragrance of Waipi'o rises up from the valley floor. As a youth, I was blessed to spend a summer night in Waipi'o hosted by Native Hawaiian aunties and uncles who continue traditional taro farming. I learned how much like Filipinos, Hawaiians living in their own homelands must struggle for self-determination. In keeping alive the root of Hawaiian foods, they also keep alive ancestral ways of life for future generations.
We stepped barefoot into the taro paddies, called lo'i kalo in Hawaiian. The mud surrounded my toes and ankles a warm, smooth second skin. As the hot sun beat down and heart-shaped leaves fluttered around us, we harvested taro and surrendered to the rhythm of the Valley.
Nothing was wasted. We learned how the thick green stalks were saved to be planted again into the earth and grow again. Water diverted from the river slowly flowed through the lo'i and reconnected, just as clear as before. No artificial fertilizers were added, and the river was not starved, a stark contrast to conventional agriculture. After washing the thick mud from the taro and our bodies, we spent hours preparing the taro, later filling our bellies with a feast of freshly pounded poi and leaf-wrapped lau-laus.
That night, belly satisfied, I listened to the rain patter onto the tin roof, the same waters that had flowed through the paddies, into the ocean, and now returned to the island. I slept, filled with gratitude for the gift of our hosts for sharing their home and a meal deeply rooted in the land.
A Little More: