Hawaii on Foot. A Photography Series and Book by FinnGravesArt 2011
In 2011 I found myself at the end of a long-term relationship. I got a divorce from my partner of seven years and hightailed it out of Portland. I’d received an offer from a friend to come set up camp and work on land improvement, on her property. So, I packed my bags, used the last of my cash to book a ticket, and ended up Puna side of the Big Island. I landed in Kona, Hawaii and drove down to Hilo to begin living on and analyzing the property she’d bought. She wanted to create an artist community there. It was bare lava rock and a plastic shed.
Now, I’m from Alaska. I’ve been homeless before. This time, I was there, homeless in Hawaii, thinking… this time it’ll be easy. The weather is tropical- warm even. I could sleep in my tent, cry, swim in the ocean, haul rocks and wood for my friend and heal myself from my recent upset. I was grossly unprepared.
I had no job, no money, no car and a barely working knowledge of the currently dangerous insects in Hawaii. But I had myself, a deep and profound grief from my recent separation, and a whole lot of time on my hands. Time and creative resourcefulness can do many things for the soul. But first, dog.
Within a month, I had found a mangy, flea ridden Chihuahua tied to a cinder block, and I gathered her to me and began the slow process of teaching a dog how to be a dog again. I found pallets and dragged an old camper into position near the plastic shed. I strung tarps over top between them. I flung a huge carpet found at the dump over the pallets and I set up a mostly dry little nest there, between the two almost shelters. The camper was full of rats.
My jobs changed. I found a new gig cleaning out a green house. The green house was filled with old homework and I took it back to the property to shred into mulch. I built raised beds with lava rock. I took the left over, carefully hoarded dirt from my jobs and planted seeds in my raised beds. I dug dirt out from between rocks on my days off, because in Hawaii- dirt is as precious as gold.
That mangy little dog became my best friend. We got rid of the ticks and fleas sucking her lift blood out. I massaged her, I bathed her. I made her food. In trade, she followed me all over the land while I designed spaces for tree houses, clearings and began the process of creating a network of paths. Then, she decided it was really time to pay her debt, and I woke up one morning to screaming. The entire glade echoed with it. She was killing rats. By the next weekend, they were gone. She cleared them out.
I found an old typewriter and started writing. I wrote my second novel there, listening to the rain beating down on the tarp. I bathed in the rain. I began to heal.
I spent months out there. Clearing spaces. Growing things. Installing an outdoor shower and a composting toilet. Grieving, writing, working and waiting. That process, almost seven years ago, was formative to who I am as an artist today. I used the process of being homeless, clearing the land and writing a novel to heal my heart and my grief. Eventually, the rainy season ended. Eventually, I had cleared enough space to remember where I was going. Eventually, I moved on.
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