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!