Hawaii. What's the first thing that comes to mind? Well, beaches, naturally. Maybe surfing, gardenias, the sun, sapphire water, Tom Selleck, tropical fish, rust . . . Wait a minute, rust?

Well, yes, rust. You know, the brown, dusty stuff that comes off onto your hands if you touch it. Tends to form in extreme humidity, another Hawaiian attribute. Come to think of it, all the time I was in Hawaii I never saw a car free of erosion, corrosion, or good old rust. In fact, while I was there, one of our neighbors had a yellow vehicle we fondly called the Cane Cruiser. It was the typical model of all fashionably appropriate Hawaiian cars. They were all Cane Cruisers and they often dropped car parts or other accessories after fighting the corrosion battle. Our neighbor's car released the burden of its right rear rusted door while it sped across an intersection. No one was hurt and no one was surprised. "A common occurrence," I was told.Nevertheless, most of you probably did not choose rust as a virtue of Hawaii and so I'll expand on one you may have. Let's see, beaches? No . . . Tropical fish? Probably not . . . Ah, here's one; surfing.

Although I have never board-surfed, I have done a version of the very popular body surfing. An interesting experience. My sister and I had observed body surfers all day long on a small beach on Kauai. We had, instead, sun-bathed. But for some reason, imperceptible to us, the surfers had moved to our end of the shore leaving a beautiful portion of the beach free of all inhabitants.

It was the most spectacular part of the beach as far as we could tell. Noting that we would have its entirety to ourselves we concluded it was just too good an invitation to pass up. What we ignorantly failed to notice was the reason why the wise surfers had abandoned that part of the sea. And there was a reason. This we quickly discovered as we swam out. We stopped only to study a small ripple on the horizon. It crept methodically toward us, enlarging, swelling, magnifying with each ounce of momentum. We realized after intense scrutiny that the said innocent surge had matured into a, well, a roller, technically speaking, of course.

A "heavy wave" in Webster's terms, a "nightmare-come-true," in ours. By the time the realization of the wave had become clear, the roller was less than a few yards away. My sister and I looked at one another knowing that sure death rode atop our wave-gone-made. We pinched our noses and ducked, only not in time. The wave had reached its peak at our encounter and swiftly threw us to the rocks occupying the ocean floor. Sand swirled around our heads and all intelligence of which was up and which was down vanished with the rushing water. Guessing, we swam toward a random direction, praying it was up, and it was.

We started swimming madly toward shore only to be caught in another roller and then another. Waves tend to travel in threes. Finally we reached the beach and crawled to where no water could touch us. We coughed and collapsed. Wave escaping is hard work, you know. We were to clean sand out of our ears for three days and we were never to swim an abandoned section of beach again.

After visiting Hawaii, I have concluded that it is simply an existence of intense beauty. All aesthetic beings are drawn to her shores, her mountains and her mysterious secrets not because they sense her brilliance but because they lack the will to deny it.

Hawaii is not merely the tourist attraction we have passed it off as. Instead, it is an attraction to those who seek sights hindered by common words, sounds as unique as Shakespeare's rhythm, and atmosphere that could only be found on the grounds of heaven itself. Despite rusty metal and nightmare waves, I have never encountered a place more sublime than those islands found in the north Pacific Ocean, and if I searched my entire life, I don't think I would find a comparable one. And so, I have decided that Hawaii is not beaches, surfing, rust, sapphire waters or Tom Selleck. It is, instead, a rhapsody of simplicity, a scene of innocent beauty and a heaven spotted on earth.