Koko and I set out walking this morning in the silvery bright path laid by an impossibly big moon that was so bright, my neighbor Andy said when he caught up to us, that you almost needed sunglasses.
And we stayed out long enough that when we returned, the sun was in our eyes, pink wisps had draped themselves over the gold-green summit of Makaleha and a small patch of mist rose from a damp nook in the pasture.
“What a glorious morning,” said Farmer Jerry, as he pulled over in the waning darkness for a few minutes to chat. He was on his way to a meeting to discuss how to fend off even more severe budget cuts expected for the Department of Agriculture and College of Tropical Ag. But despite his worry, he was buoyed by the beauty. “Just imagine what Ansel Adams would have done if he’d made it to Kauai.”
All the mountains were visible in the moonlight, and we could clearly see the bowl they formed, with us smack in the middle.
“The Hawaiians had it right,” Jerry said. “Wailua really is the piko. They had heiau going right up to the top of Waialeale. This is a sacred area. You really feel like you’re in the center of the universe here.”
Tis true. Kauai is the center of the universe, and Wailua is the center of that center.
Of course, Wailua isn’t the only sacred spot on Kauai. Last night I drove through the moonlight to Hanalei, where a meeting was being held about an innovative plan to use constructed wetlands to treat wastewater from the toilets at Ke`e, another extremely sacred area.
It seems something needs to be done, as with the current system, secondary effluent — sewage without the chunks — is now running over burials, the foundation of what is believed to be an alii’s house and other cultural sites.
My friends Ka`imi and Ka`ili, who farm the adjacent taro lands and have hopes of restoring the fish pond that could, in a worst case scenario, have semi-treated wastewater flow into it, were also there. They have been involved in the issue for three years, and the state has been forced to slowly bend its will — aided, in part, by the formal intervention filed by Ka`imi and other residents – in response to concerns voiced by the community.
Ka`imi and Ka`ili don’t like the current situation, but they aren’t thrilled with the plans for resolving it, either. They see it as undermining the cultural integrity of Kee, which they and others are working hard to restore.
“There you are, trying to do the protocol, and there’s a big holding tank full of shit behind barbed wire,” Ka`imi said.
They’d like to see the state “take the shit out of there,” Ka`imi said.
But what they’d really like is for the state to address the underlying issue: the extremely intense use of the area by tourists.
Because, quite frankly, tourists are the primary cause of all the shit that needs to be dealt with. Ke`e is one of — if not the most — heavily visited spots on the island. Most tourists go there for the snorkeling, sunsets and access to Kalalau Trail, and they have little understanding about the area’s cultural significance.
Recreation, not culture, has become the focus at Ke`e, and that’s what really rankles.
“It’s all being done to accommodate the tourists,” Ka`imi said of the wastewater project.
Yes, we all know that tourists bring the almighty Euros and yen and dollars. But does that mean that Hawaiians should be forced to choose between whether they want to have sewage flowing over their burials, or possibly into their loi and fish ponds?
How many times must we push them into that tight, unyielding space between a pohaku and a hard place, and then ridicule them for choosing their culture or denigrate them for slowing down “progress” if they resist?
Can’t we have some places where tourists just don’t go, or are only allowed in small numbers? Instead, the state is looking at how to bring in more, more, more.
Back at Wailua, a similar issue is playing out with plans to build the Path along the beach. It’s all about recreation, and Hawaiians who don't like that are being ridiculed for speaking up on behalf of their culture and denigrated for slowing down what some perceive as progress.
Yes, some local residents use the Path, just as some local residents use Ke`e — if they can find a parking space and bear the crowds. But let’s not pretend that the Path won’t be billed as another tourist attraction. Heck, it already is.
So why should Wailua, which is already heavily used, be compromised even more to accommodate recreation and the tourists especially when some Hawaiians object to it?
The state’s master plan for Ke`e also called for a bike path, but as Ka`ili said, “we crossed that right off the map. We don’t want it, and we don’t need it.”