Venus and a few of her showier friends were still visible when the first tendrils of pre-dawn orange began to appear in the northeast sky this morning.
The mountains were all clear, but as Koko and I walked and the birds began singing, a blanket of fleecy white descended on Waialeale and turned first pink, then purple-pink, as the sun rose in a full-on glorious streak show.
Watching the day arrive never ceases to fill me with a sense of awe, as does going holoholo on Kauai, where I’m always awed by her tremendous beauty, and shocked by what’s happened since the last time I went and looked.
And so it was yesterday when I headed north with a couple of friends to check out the taro fields that are being opened at Ha`ena State Park and the burials on Joe Brescia’s land that Ka`iulani Huff and others are trying to protect.
The first shock was Ke`e. If you haven’t been to the end of the road lately, steel yourself first, because alarming is the only word to describe it.
Cars were parked all the way down to the wet cave, and the parking lot that previously was used by Na Pali tour boat companies was totally full. And it’s not even peak season. My friend Ka`imi, who was working in the loi there, said 900 cars go to Ke`e daily, and if you figure two people in each car, that’s at least 1,800 people packed into that small, gorgeous, fragile place, with its stinking portable toilets, every single day.
We stopped before reaching the beach to visit with the Hui Maka`ainana O Makana guys who are restoring the taro loi in the park under an agreement with the state, but one of my friends continued on down to the water, where he said the air was thick with the smell of suntan lotion and the sand and lagoon were crowded with bodies.
“I saw one big pile of fish, but with all those tourists, no way going get close enough to throw,” he reported, prompting the guys to grumble about new state regulations requiring them to register their nets, which they see as yet another intrusion.
Meanwhile, as we gazed in wonder at the mountains that come right down to the sea, there was the incessant buzz of tour helicopters overhead.
Still, it was encouraging to see the progress they’ve made in the past few months, with three loi planted and another one opened and ready to go. They were clearing brush with chainsaws and a bobcat when we arrived, and will soon be cleaning up the fishpond so it can be refilled with water.
They’re doing it all for free under a curatorship agreement that isn’t without the usual bumps that any relationship with the state entails. For example, they can’t put up any interpretive signs to keep people off the reef, away from the hula heiau and out of the loi. The state doesn’t have the manpower or money to do any kind of real restoration or cultural interpretation itself, but it still wants to exert full control over those who step forward to take on the job.
As we headed south again, past an ocean that was turquoise-hued and impossibly calm, we forded Maniniholo Stream and gasped when we glimpsed the giant house — and I use the term loosely — that’s being constructed within feet of the road, streambed and beach park. It was impossible to imagine how the county and state could approve a structure in that particular location, especially one that large.
When we got to the beach at Naue, our moods turned somber. We walked through Brescia’s lot, where numbered stakes marked the burials that were dug up in anticipation of constructing yet another monolithic house on pillars, like all the other eyesores that have popped up along that stretch of beach.
How could anyone want to build there, we wondered, when the entire lot was literally covered with burials? How weird can they possibly be? And how sick is the system that would let them?
Regardless of what one may think of Ka`iulani, and some people have been making some pretty nasty cracks, if you actually go up there and take a look, you’ll understand why she’s upset. Desecration and sacrilege are not overly strong terms, not to mention total insensitivity.
But then, if you see the new houses that are crowded in all along there, you realize that not one of those property owners has the slightest bit of sensitivity to their surroundings or the character of that neighborhood, which has degenerated into the characteristically Kauai bizarre mix of over-the-top “look at me” architecture and local-style humble hale.
As we drove home, past startling blue green mountains and the lake-like calm of Hanalei Bay, stopping to talk with friends and acquaintances and hearing everyone express the anguish of loss, I could only wonder how anyone could possibly believe that Kauai would benefit in any way from one more lavish home, or even a half-percent increase in tourism.
Though I heard rumblings of gas cans and matches during my travels, it's too late for that already. Only a giant tsunami can help us now.