Viator

Coming Full Circle

Lavinia Spalding

We’d been in the air about five minutes when our pilot, Cameron, pointed out the rainbow. It could be viewed, he said, from the right side of the helicopter — my side. I turned my head, knowing just what to expect.

Since arriving on Maui a week before, I’d been witness to more rainbows than I’d seen in years. In fact, for the past four days I’d seen one every day. “Another rainbow!” I’d holler at my husband Dan, pointing out the car window as a colorful arc materialized over a sugar cane field. Each was brilliant and perfect — no mere fragment reaching in vain toward the sky, but complete half-circles, both ends hooked firmly to the earth. I was growing accustomed to a certain standard of daily rainbows. But this one was different.

I have long been an adventurous traveler—the kind who jumps out of the airplane, rappels off the cliff, hang-glides from the lighthouse, goes trapezing and zip-lining and canyoneering and white-water rafting. And when I had a baby almost a year ago, I swore that wouldn’t change—I’d still take as many risks and seek out adventures. But then I started to doubt myself: Would I, really?

When Dan suggested the helicopter tour over West Maui andMolokai, I was delighted: I’d never been in a helicopter. Here was my chance to prove that my former adrenaline-junkie self hadn’t been body-snatched by a wheels-on-the-bus-singing Mom-bot. Except that when I booked it, I asked a litany of questions. Wasn’t it a problem to bring a baby? Did he need special equipment? Wouldn’t it be too loud for his teeny little ears? I asked myself questions, too: Would he be scared? What if he cried the whole time and spoiled everyone else’s tour? Would I be too worried about him to enjoy myself?

Here is what transpired as we boarded the helicopter: my son sat on his father’s lap looking adorable in a miniature yellow flight jacket and headphones that dwarfed his face, and after glancing around once, yawned and fell asleep, before we even left the ground.

And then we lifted off. There is nothing quite like the moment you disengage with gravity, when the earth releases its hold on you. And in a helicopter, with no runway or takeoff, you feel it acutely. One second you’re on sturdy ground; the next you’re scooped up like a little fish in a big net. You wobble, then float, and soon you are flying over the greenest greens and bluest blues you’ve ever seen. And you’re instantly captivated.

Cameron cued the soundtrack—starting with a rocking tune—and took us over West Maui, showing us macadamia nut orchards and the intensely lush West Maui Mountains, more than 2.5 million years old. As we crossed the thirty-mile wide Pailolo Channel, aka “Stupid Fisherman Channel,” we were treated to the obligatory tour-guide canned joke: Q: How can you tell when a shark is nearby? A: The water is salty.

A sea turtle swam below us, then Cameron pointed out Lanai, or “Pineapple Island,” Hawaii’s sixth largest island. Soon Mokuhooniki, better known as Elephant Rock (and apparently also called Turtle Rock) came into view, looking at first like a sea turtle and then like—you guessed it—an elephant.

And at last, Molokai. Hawaii’s fifth largest island, Molokai is just 38 miles long by 10 miles across at its widest. A friend from Maui had recommended this particular helicopter tour because Molokai’s coastline was, he claimed, “borderline life changing”—and as we caught our first glimpse of the sea cliffs on the northern coast, I understood what he meant. Half of the island’s volcanic mountain collapsed into the Pacific some 1.5 million years ago, leaving seventeen miles of the world’s highest sea cliffs, some of which plummet nearly 4,000 feet straight into the Pacific. We watched waves crash into rocks. The ocean gleamed bright cobalt and teal. A waterfall flowed straight into the ocean. It was the sort of scenery that sparks instant wonder and immediate vertigo.

Our tour of Molokai took us over remote Wailau Valley, a tiny settlement of people who live off the land. We stared down at dense farmland and verdant emerald valleys, and flew past waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. He showed us Nakalele Point, with its intensely rugged terrain and active blowhole.

On our return to Maui, Dan and I gawked at Kahekili Highway, the shoreline-hugging one-lane road we’d driven days before, going 15 mph and pulling over whenever possible to gape, snap photos, spread out an impromptu picnic, and of course, change diapers. It looked even more harrowing from the air.

But before all of that, about five minutes into the trip, I glanced out my window to check out what would be my sixth or seventh Hawaiian rainbow, only to see a phenomenon I didn’t expect or even know existed: an unbroken, perfectly round rainbow.

"All rainbows want to be full circles," Cameron explained, as I sat in silence and wonder. "It's just that the land and mountains get in their way."

I was still thinking about it forty minutes later when Cameron gently set us back down on the earth, and Ellis woke up cheerful, and we all exited the helicopter smiling. I was thinking that my adventures weren’t over, and that I wouldn’t let doubts or worries get in my way. I was thinking that like the rainbow, I had come full circle.


I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.” –Rainer Maria Rilke