Monday, October 12, 2009

Musings: No Aku Birds

The drive into Lihue during rush hour traffic was made a bit more pleasant this morning because of the reduced speed limit along “blood alley” -- that deadly stretch of Kuhio Highway between the Wailua Bridge and the junction with Hanamaulu. I saw no law enforcement, but folks seemed to obeying the 40 mph speed limit that went into effect today, and it definitely made for a markedly less intense driving experience.

It was a nice way to ease into the work week after spending yesterday morning at the Kilauea Point wildlife refuge, doing the six-mile round-trip hike from Crater Hill (or Nihoku, as it’s properly known) to Mokolea Point, which includes the site of the old rock quarry on the north side of Kilauea Stream.

I hadn’t been to Mokolea Point since the Fish & Wildlife Service bought it, thanks to one of Sen. Dan Inouye’s infamous earmarks, proving that political pork isn’t always a bad thing. While it’s kind of sad that the public can no longer access that area, which has got to be one of the most beautiful bits of coastline on Kauai, it’s been really good for the seabirds, which were, after all, the original inhabitants. And they’ve been sorely mistreated since humans first set foot on these islands. We saw lots of wedgetail shearwater chicks and two red-tailed tropic bird chicks, as well as numerous nene, boobies and iwa.

We also saw some of the island’s most lavish houses, which always makes me wonder why people have the desire – there’s no way it can be justified as need – to live so extravagantly. I guess it’s part of the “look at me” syndrome, as characterized by musician Todd Rundgren’s very tall, and very prominently pink, house. Our guide, longtime Kilauea resident Gary Smith, said that when Todd and his wife, Michele, have people over to play music, “the whole town can hear it, and sometimes that goes on for a week.”

I found it amusing that the Kauai Public Land Trust has been able to secure easements to pieces of land in the Kilauea River valley and adjacent areas because the richy-rich landowners don’t want anyone living close to them. So they’ll sometimes buy an adjoining parcel and then deed it over to the land trust to make sure it's not developed.

Mostly I felt sad when I looked at those houses -- nearly all of them built on ag land, with no farm in sight -- and thought of all the money that’s been poured into them that could have spent on something useful and/or meaningful, like helping other people and/or the environment. It all goes back to the adage: Live simply, that others may simply live.

Gary was an informative and entertaining guide, recounting numerous stories of the old days in Kilauea and that community’s struggle to maintain some semblance of itself in the face of intense development pressures and the influx of really big money. One of my favorites was the time when landowner Ben Bollag tried to illegally fence off the road that has provided access from Kilauea Lighthouse Road to Kahili Beach since the 1880s. Gary said he was the first one to take wire cutters to the barbed wire, and he can still recall the musical ping of the tautly stretched wire being released.

He also recounted the punishment meted out to kids for infractions at Kilauea School: pulling hilahila, with their bare hands. In those days, he said, if one kid was shot with a BB gun, the principal would confiscate the BB guns of every child in town. “That’s how much power he had,” Gary said. “That’s how we kept order.”

It made me think of the football coach and kumu hula I recently interviewed. Both said that some parents don’t allow their kids to participate in those activities because they don’t like anyone else disciplining their children. So much for the village raising the kid....

As I listened to Gary in that glorious setting, I thought of how a small group of people can make a big difference if they’re committed to an outcome and willing to put egos and glory aside to work toward a common goal. The friend who was walking with me had recently watched a National Park special on TV, and said a similarly small group was instrumental in ensuring those vast tracts of land, which most of us would consider national treasures, were also protected.

And just the day before I had called farmer Jerry with a question, only to find he was preparing to put away all the tents that had been erected, and then taken down in the rain, in order to stage the new farmer’s market at KCC. It had taken pretty much his entire Saturday, and I knew that wasn’t the only service he’d given to his community that week.

Jerry and Gary aren’t the only people giving of themselves, even as they raise families and hold down jobs. All around Kauai we’ve got little pockets of people who are working hard to make a difference, as well as others who will throw in some money, but give nothing of themselves, and still others who don’t make any contribution at all.

Ultimately, this island, and this world, is only going to be as good as we make it.

As Gary noted, quoting an old Hawaiian proverb at the end of the hike, “So don’t be like the kolea, which just fattens itself and then leaves.”

Or as the bumper sticker on my friend Kaimi’s truck reads: No Aku Birds!


Anonymous said...

hey there, it's me
i really don't care if my music's too loud
or if i even fit in with this crowd
it's just that i'm a jerk off with
and i can do what i want cuz I'm rich

looking out
and seeing people who think my house is ugly
i really don't have any taste at all
i could care less because i'm a big star
so listen up and learn why i am renowned

it's kind of up to me
that you can all hear me
'cause you should know what a jerk i can be

Anonymous said...

"to live so extravagantly"

-- it is often relative

"had recently watched a National Park special on TV"

-- i would have to think that was the ken burns item that aired on pbs a week or so ago. glad you noted it; its high quality -- "the national parks: americas best idea"


Anonymous said...

I believe in living within one's means. As people's means vary, so do their lifestyles.

Why should one live a "simple life" when it isn't forced upon them and would not make them happy?

Now, Trump-style gaudiness is over-the-top even if affordable, but just having a few large nice-looking houses in various places in the world and the money to rotate residence among them throughout the year is enviable to most.

I can only afford here in Kona and the other in the Tuscany region of Italy. Neither are pink and I keep the noise down.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of houses that mar the vista of Kahili looking mauka. The Rundgrens' house is just one of many.

Anonymous said...

We also saw some of the island’s most lavish houses, which always makes me wonder why people have the desire – there’s no way it can be justified as need – to live so extravagantly.

Different strokes for different folks. I don't understand how someone can be so consistently judgmental and angry, but I can easily accept that some people just are.

Anonymous said...

"Saint Joan" - the patron saint of "the simple life".

All others who don't subscribe to her "religion" are infidels, I guess.

And you know what's supposed to happen to infidels...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, they invade the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

Obama's going to raise money via a national lottery...who gets to push the button which drops the MOP bomb on Iran's underground nuke facility.

I'd buy a few tickets...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, they invade the Middle East.

-- nice one!


Anonymous said...

We're just trying to get the women out of the burlap bags they call "fashion".

Once a Muslim woman is featured in Playboy piece shot in Baghdad (with a McDonald's in the background), we will have done our job.

Anonymous said...

I found it amusing that the Kauai Public Land Trust has been able to secure easements to pieces of land in the Kilauea River valley and adjacent areas because the richy-rich landowners don’t want anyone living close to them. So they’ll sometimes buy an adjoining parcel and then deed it over to the land trust to make sure it's not developed.

Joan, your comment is so representative of people who have little money. They tend to criticize people who do no matter what they do even if it's to give it way. If those landowners didn't want anyone to build next to them, they'd simply keep the land and maintain 100% control over it. After all, they're rich and privacy is a big thing to them (further extending your generalization). In giving it to the KPLT they totally loose control over it and there's no telling what could happen there in the future.

Anon. Oct. 12
Trump-style gaudiness is over-the-top even if affordable,...

Remember that Trump-style spending employs a LOT of people and keeps money circulating. After all, is it not true that sort of spending even kept Joan employed as a house sitter for rich people.

Joan Conrow said...

Actually, they deed it over to the Land Trust so they don't have neighbors AND they don't have to pay the taxes on it. They know nothing will happen to the land in the future because it's in a preservation easement.

And yes, that kind of extravagant living does keep money circulating. So does selling ice. Neither is morally defensible. My first-hand experiences with the waste and excesses of the super rich is why I speak out against it and don't "housesit" for heiresses any more.

Anonymous said...

Joan said, "Neither is morally defensible." please explain how being wealthy is "morally [in]defensible" other than you think, because you are poor that no one should have more than you do. It appears that you think that if they are more productive than you, that they should give it all to those who CHOOSE to live a less productive lifestyle rather than working hard for something to better themselves. How does being productive and enjoying the fruits of one’s efforts hurt humanity? You socialist continue to make the same logical errors over and over by espousing a system where hard work is not rewarded other than the self-satisfaction of having done a good job. It worked quite well in Russia, is working quite well in North Korea and even the Chinese communists realized that people just mope along if there's no good reason to make an effort. It's you liberals moral bankruptcy that is failing in that you think you are owed something you didn't work for because you CHOSE not to work for it because you feel it's your right to goof off and be under employed rather than making an effort to actually improve people's standard of living through invention and ingenuity. The liberal concept of taking other peoples' money is a loser philosophy. Charity should be for those who actually need it; not for those who choose to be hedonistic leeches.

Anonymous said...

Rundgren's house, though a strange look carbuncle, really isn't all that lavish. If you want lavish, go check out the houses in Anini Vista.