As Koko and I were walking back from the beach, we encountered two roosters fighting in the middle of the path, kicking up a lot of dust as they squawked and beat their wings and butted chests. Then they spotted Koko, straining at her leash, and quickly forgot their differences, running off in separate directions.
Came home to discover it’s snowing in my yard. No, not the pretty flakes that become drifts and snowmen, but African tulip tree seeds. Wrapped in their little cellophane-like packets, they’re made to travel on the wind and that’s exactly what they do, floating along and then touching down to blanket the lawn, the garden, the taro patch in a thin layer of white.
They’re the quintessential invasive species — fine in their native land, but over here, aggressive, opportunistic and once they gain a foothold, nearly impossible to eradicate or even control. And as I thought about them, it struck me that the very same scenario is under way with people in Hawaii, too.
Think about it. Just as Hawaii has many imported plants that are beautiful, benign or beneficial — those that provide food, delight the senses and are content to stay where they’re planted — the same is true for a lot of people.
And then we’ve got imported plants that are noxious, prickly and poisonous, and some that are invasive, moving quickly across the landscape, destroying all in their path, and still others that crowd out and smother the native species that evolved here for centuries unmolested and so never had a chance to adapt to that kind of aggressive competition.
I’m sure you can see the parallels to human behavior, what with the developers and the iwi desecrators, and the mainland mentality perpetrators, and the folks who absolutely must have the same stores/services they had "back home" and those who have absolutely no interest in learning about anything native, much less protecting it.
Of course, what you end up with, once invasive species take hold, is a homogenous environment that’s largely dysfunctional because it’s not appropriate to the place that's been overrun. A perfect example are the invaders that are smothering the native plants that support our watersheds. It’s also an environment devoid of its diversity, its uniqueness — the qualities that once made it special and distinct. And once that rare native ecosystem is destroyed, it's gone for good.
While conservationists can apply a lethal dose of herbicide to Australian tree ferns consuming the native forest, no acceptable control measures currently exist for the invasive humans who are inflicting no less damage as they slowly but surely crowd out the natives.
This musing made me think of a comment made by my friend Kepa Maly, a cultural practitioner and director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center.
“What was on the verge of extinction first?” he asked, when I visited him on Lanai earlier this year. “It wasn’t Hawaii's animals, plants or birds. It was the people.”
Now, largely because of invasive species, it’s all on the ropes.