EXCERPTS FROM WAKING UP IN EDEN:From Chapter Two: Treasure Island
Lucinda arrives on Kauai and discovers her new home:
I glimpsed a one-story cottage perhaps a quarter of a mile away, at the far end of an immense, open plateau of green lawn. As we neared I saw that the house perched on stilts, one edge overlooking a jungle ravine, so that a wide expanse of windows opened straight into treetops. It had a childlike appeal, like a grownup's tree house. Spiky bromeliads, stag-horn ferns and orchids sprouted from forks in surrounding trees, casting the house in calming shade.
The driver set my bags on the front porch and sped off. I unlocked the glass door and stepped in. A rush of musty, over-heated air enveloped me. As I struggled to open a locked window, a pallid, flesh colored lizard dropped onto my head.
Eeek! It fell to the floor and slithered away. Gecko.
The cottage’s main room was a huge expanse, walled with banks of windows, although dirt filmed the panes. Scratches in the black-painted wood floors revealed undercoats of many colors, like a Jackson Pollock canvas. A sagging couch and a couple of rickety tables seemed sad and forlorn. In the kitchen, rust spots erupted on the door of an old refrigerator. Inside, an assortment of jars and bottles looked ancient and moldy. Ugh. I pulled open a creaky drawer to find silverware, rusty from tropical moisture.
Down the hall in the bathroom, two mouse sized roaches skittered across the floor. A pile of unsavory-looking sheets and towels lay crumpled on a bottom shelf. I turned on the faucet in a plastic, lavender-tinted tub. A trickle of rust-stained water dribbled out, accompanied by a loud clanging and knocking.
Get out! Run! Get some cleaning supplies, some new sheets, some air.
Outside an old rusty Volkswagen Golf sat parked in the dirt drive. So this is the promised company car. No air-conditioning, I discerned with disappointment. As I reached up to adjust the rear view mirror, it came off in my hand like a cheap toy. Someday this might seem funny, I thought. At the moment, though, I felt trapped in a Goldie Hawn movie.
Dr. Klein had frankly described the house as unoccupied for two years, and promised the Garden would fix it up. But the damage looked too extensive. And expensive.
I had wanted pastoral country, the real Hawaii, but this might be too real.
FROM CHAPTER FIVE: THE SECRET GARDEN
Director of the botanical garden, Dr. William Klein, leads a tour of Allerton Garden:
Dr. Klein opted to walk, leading what I privately called the Big Donor Tour. Tonight’s guests included a wealthy couple targeted for the Garden's $1,000-per-year Fellows Society; a couple of local businessmen; a visiting scientist. Not really A-list, but Dr. Klein gave them the million-dollar treatment: his lecture on the history of gardens; his views of landscape design; his plans for turning the Garden into not only a tourist attraction but a preeminent center for botanical research. To fuel his ever-expanding enterprises, Dr. Klein adopted the P.T. Barnum approach to fundraising. The moneyed were no different than others, he theorized, and what they really missed was passion, and the chance to do something important. He was selling dreams.
Our group trailed behind him as we walked into the tropical fruit orchard planted by the garden’s creators, Robert and John Allerton, soon after they arrived from Illinois in 1938. Gnarled orange and lemon trees grew in profusion, but also cherry trees. Cannon-ball-sized jambones resembling thick-skinned grapefruit littered the ground. Dr. Klein reached up and plucked a waxy yellow star fruit, took out his penknife and cut samples for the group. Munching the crisp apple-like slices, the guests were literally eating out of his hand.
We meandered down a cinder-covered pathway, past a cast-iron shell urn that marked the entrance to Allerton Garden. The light changed, the temperature dropped in a green gloom that enmeshed us in a sense of lost antiquity. High Java plum trees soared above, dwarfing our mere human forms. No matter how many times I came here, I was never quite prepared for its arching vastness. As we strolled, we passed the Thanksgiving Room, the first of what the Allertons called their garden rooms. An opening in the far leaf wall revealed the white lattice-work of a whimsical gazebo, and another, more secret garden beyond. The story was that Robert and John Allerton had invited guests to a casual picnic on Thanksgiving Day, then ushered them here for a surprise formal banquet.
The two Allertons, almost Victorian in formality, were the best of hosts. They famously induced guests to choose from their extensive costume collection of silk Chinese robes and skull caps, gold-threaded saris from India, Japanese kimonos, or the Bali dancer's spired headdress that made the Allertons giggle when the women unknowingly chose it, a prostitute's gilded finery. Looking into the shadowy, green-walled room, I imagined long tables garbed in white linens, silver candelabra, and dark-skinned butlers serving from lavish trays. I could almost see specters of costumed guests, glasses in hand, gliding among the tables, laughing.
Nothing else in Hawaii even begins to match Allerton Garden with its amphitheater-like valley into which the two gentlemen poured gleanings from their travels of the world -- sculpture from Italy, China and Thailand, and plants from tropical zones everywhere.
I may have been plunked into paradise, but I couldn’t suppress the reporter in me. I sorted through archives looking for clues about who the Allertons were and how they lived. I couldn’t understand why two refined, cultured men had abandoned Chicago for a rural sugar island.
I followed behind as Dr. Klein led our guests past a gurgling cascade of water that spilled over a wall of lava rock into a deep pool. Then down the steps, and onto some of the other tour highlights: the Three Pools; the Shell Fountain that spilled water from giant shell to giant shell down a fern-shrouded hill; the Mermaid Fountain with its bronze nymphs poised at either end of an undulating shaft of water that glinted in the golden afternoon sun. Tourists liked to hide between the giant roots of the Morton Bay Fig, the cozy spaces used in the movie Juraissac Park as a nest for dinosaur eggs to hatch.
"In no way does Allerton Garden resemble a natural Hawaiian landscape," lectured Dr. Klein in the voice of a professor who retained a childlike enthusiasm for his subject. "It is an unleashed fantasy of nature, a Chicagoan's view of a paradisiacal jungle. It is jammed with tropical greenery and flowers from all over the world.”
I lagged behind the group, but could hear his voice: “An obscured view heightens the mystery. The genius of Allerton Garden lies in its vistas enticingly veiled from view, its miles of paths and worn stone staircases that beckon to hidden trails and valleys... ”