The moon, edging into fullness on Friday, was smothered by a thick layer of clouds that dimmed its brilliance, but not its light, which illuminated the world with a ghostly grayness when Koko and I went out walking late last night.
By morning, the finest rain was falling, so fine that it felt more like thick mist, so fine that it would merely settle on the leaves and never permeate the soil. As we walked through this muted, softened landscape, where all the interior mountains had ceased to exist, I thought of a roadside conversation I’d had with farmer Jerry the previous morning, where we spoke of how we could feel the land, and it was suffering in the drought, as were we.
And that made me think of all the ways that the ancients, and not so ancients, tended the land, cared for it, to show respect and reverence and also, perhaps, to ease its suffering, as one would a fellow human being, or an animal, because the land is, after all, so very much alive.
And that made me think of the time I interviewed Aletha Kaohi, who is a descendant of kahuna and who herself can see things in the sky, hear things in the wind, and she spoke of how her father had regularly ridden his horse through the hills on the Westside, tending to places that needed regular tending, that had for countless generations been tended, with prayers, offerings and I don’t know what else, because the details of such tendings are not readily shared.
And that made me think of how much tending used to be done, and now is not, and it got me wondering what the consequences are of neglecting such processes. Some, I am sure, are still carried out, by people like Aletha and certain kumu hula and other cultural practitioners, but not anywhere near to the extent that they once were, when people had kuleana, responsibility, for maintaining the spiritual health of certain key places, and they fulfilled it.
I know that many people would dismiss such tendings as mere superstition, but considering that the ancient Hawaiians knew their land so well, and in such detail that they had thousands of place names that were carefully chose to descriptively pinpoint very precise spots, doesn’t it make sense that they also knew what was needed to keep it humming along, working in harmony?
And that got me thinking about Wailua, which is perhaps the most sacred spot on all of Kauai, and Andy Parx’s blog post yesterday, where he asked where was the mayor, who had come up with a new alignment for the bike path that is still on the beach, and “what happened to the dozens of activists who brought the issue of burials to light and the hundreds if not thousands who were outraged enough to get the mayor to put out his bogus realignment announcement. … Have they just given up?”
Well, I know that some are looking into legal action and some are lobbying the mayor’s office and some are discussing other actions and some — many — are grieving. Because when you go down to that beach, drive across that bridge, and see the tall cranes and heavy equipment massed there, all the commotion and activity, you can feel that place is suffering.
At least, I can, and that feeling comes in the form of chicken skin and a sense of foreboding, and I know I am not the only one who feels it.
Yes, I recognize that the river was already drilled to install the bridges that are there now, that burials were already disrupted to build the highway and hotel, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of what is happening now. Perhaps the past despoilment even serves to heighten the current despoilment, much as the straw served to break the camel’s back.
Because, really, how much despoilment can sacred places take, how long can the ritual tendings be neglected before the mana that is the underlying essence of this place is drained, depleted — dimmed, like the landscape that I walked through as I thought these thoughts?
I don’t know the answer to that question, and perhaps no one else does, either. Many, I’m sure, wouldn’t think it a question even worth contemplating.
In the meantime, we just stay the course of this modern path, where nothing is sacred, save for money, and our right to pursue it in pursuit of happiness, counting on science and technology to see us through.
Maybe it will.
Or maybe we ignore these past knowings, these past rituals, these past reverences, at our peril. Like so much of what we’ve immersed ourselves in, with our pesticides and genetic modifications and plastics and carbon emissions, it’s a giant experiment, outcome unknown.