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We grew up knowing him as Uncle Robin. I guess his "real" name was Lorenzo, but it  was something I learned after I was an adult. I remember seeing him once when I was 4 or 5 years old. He made a trip to O'ahu from Moloka'i for medical treatment. We had to talk to him through a fence. Years later, the whole family made a trip to Moloka'i once to visit him in his upcountry house. That was really when we spent time with him. We drove around in his station-wagon and he waved to everybody. Everybody!

I said, "Uncle, you know everybody on Moloka'i?"

He said kinda slowly, "Y-y-yeah" Like, don't you know everybody on Kaua'i?

My dad passed away in 1990, and Uncle passed away not long after. I moved to the mainland having to be content to enjoy Hawaii through my siblings who'd been wise enough to have stayed.

One day my sister Kelli called me. I was living in—oh, I don't know—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts one of those cold places.

My sister is this great nurse. She was working at St. Francis Hospital and decided to go with a friend to Moloka'i for a few days. Her friend knew another nurse who worked in Kalaupapa. They decided to ride the mules down one day, spend the night with this friend, and return by mule the next day.

I know that ride has to be unbelievable. I can still see the lookout leaning on the railing with Uncle explaining the history of the place and his history at the place. I was tracing the cut-backs on the trail as far as I could, hearing Uncle's story about having to abandon an injured horse on the trail. We didn't have time then, but I wished we did, to ride down.

So when my sister told me she was going to do it, I could hardly wait to hear about it.

Do you know she barely told me about the ride? I expected to hear how beautiful the cliffs were, how steep the trail was, how sore her okole was—and maybe she did—but this story is what I remember.

When they got down to the peninsula, they met up with their hosts. They had food and talked story for a while. My sister mentioned that Uncle lived there in the village. "His name was Lorenzo," she said.

The host had an immediate look of recognition—"Lorenzo? This was his house."

You can imagine the I-don't-believe-its and no-kiddings.

The hostess said, "You know, when we moved here, Lorenzo had already passed away. We brought a dog with us, and we used to tie him up in the backyard like we used to at our old house."

"We spent the first night in the house and in the morning, when I went to the back yard, the dog was running around loose, wagging his tail, happy as anything."

"That night I tied that knot even tighter. But sure enough, in the morning, there was our dog, wagging his tail, running all over the place, loose."

My sister's hostess went on to describe the different things they tried to keep the dog tied up. They bought special run-lines, special collars and special leashes. And every morning they would wake up, and there would be their dog, happy to be loose.

One morning, her neighbor was out as she was puzzling over some solution. "I don't know how he keeps getting loose!" she complained. "We have tried everything."

Her neighbor was a Kalaupapa old-timer. "Es not you or yoah dog," was the slow reply. "Es Lorenzo. When he when live heah, he had one dog dat he when tie up. One night, da wile boahs when come out from da fores' and when attack da dog. An' Lorenzo no could save 'em, yeah? So from den, he said he no like see da dogs tie like dat. If dey loose, dey can run away from da boahs. If he saw one dog tie up like dat, he would untie 'em."

"So you're saying that Lorenzo unties the dog at night?"

The old neighbor smiled slowly.

Somehow, with the beautiful landscape, the steep trail, the sore okoles—that's the story that got retold. And I don't mind a bit.

About Author

There are certain things Kauai kids know a lot about. Like how far dried dead toads fly when you fling them like Frisbees; when you're on a hike and find a lilikoi vine with choke planny ripe ones, it's good to eat only a couple and take the rest home for the rest of the family; it's best to circumvent patches of lantana bushes rather than try to push through them. Those are important kinds of things. I'm not sure what kind of giggle God gets out of having uprooted this local girl and replanting her in the northeast mainland for twelve years. Then He dropped her in the middle of metro Miami. It's a good life with three teenagers, a spoiled black cat, and a retired husband that doesn't mind making sure dinner's on the table when we all get home from school. I'm sure He gets a bigger giggle out of watching one of His best pidgin English enthusiasts teaching standard English all day to high-school students who'd rather be at the mall. It's really all still there -- that red Kaua'i dirt, clinging to the roots no matter where they're replanted. It's where the nutrients come from to empower this incredibly busy life. It's the source of balance, a foundation to keep this Kaua'i girl planted while the rest of the plant is flexible. If there is any sweetness to the fruit of this exotic transplant, it comes directly from that soil.

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