It was hard to tell, what with all the drops sloughing off the trees, whether the rain had actually stopped, but Koko and I decided to venture out nonetheless this morning. The day was just starting to arrive via a pale spot in the east and two rivers ran silver along either side of the road. A gust of chilly north wind caused me to shiver, despite my fleece vest.
But I’m not complaining. I love this cool, wet weather, especially when it’s interspersed, as it was yesterday, with sunny skies and glassy windward water broken by big surf with rainbow-infused spray blowing off the back of the waves.
I took advantage of a similar break in the heavy rain to drop by Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach on my way back from the North Shore late one recent afternoon, and happened to encounter rancher Bruce Laymon chatting in the parking lot with Thomas Ka`iukapu, the state wildlife manager, who had been called out to check on the albatross that nest there.
I asked Bruce if he was still planning to run a fence along the posts that had been erected parallel to the walkway that leads to the public trailhead, and thus block off the so-called lateral access that runs through the nonprofit Waioli Corp. land that he leases for his cattle. He is, and when I inquired as to whether he thought the fence might be breached or vandalized, he replied that if it were, it would be very clear to the police that people were engaged in trespassing and criminal property damage.
Then Bruce proceeded to tell me of the many encounters he’s had — including one just prior to my arrival — with some of the regular beachgoers who are opposed to his fencing plan. The most recent apparently involved a video camera and a guy getting in his face and an exchange of angry words and other ugliness that I was glad I had not witnessed, because who wants to see that kind of drama when you’re going to the beach?
He told me of how he’d been threatened and insulted and the subject of falsehoods printed in the local newspaper, and people had called the cops on him and were continually reporting him to the state and county about alleged contrived offenses. Then he got into how one woman was throwing trash his crew had picked up back into the bushes and a group of naked men had approached his son to ask if he feared them and how other beachgoers tried to antagonize his crew in hopes of provoking a fight, so now he never sent any of his workers down there alone, or without a camera.
He said the FBI had even come to his house after hearing complaints that he was a racist and had been engaged in unspecified hate crimes, but the agents were surprised to learn not only that Bruce’s father is a haole, but haoles even come to his house. Indeed, two showed up while the agents were there.
Now Bruce is not an especially sympathetic character, and by no stretch of the imagination could be termed an ambassador of aloha, but as he recounted some of what has gone down this past year, and given what I know about the complexities of the situation and the distortions, if not outright deceptions, perpetrated by some of those opposed to his fencing project, I couldn’t help but think, good grief, how can we bring an end to this hostility?
Bruce was wrapping up what had turned into a rather lengthy rant/vent when two friends of mine drove up, local boys, both Hawaiians, who had come to do a little fishing, seeing as how the conditions were so good.
They didn’t know Bruce, but they knew about the conflict over the fence and felt it overblown, because, as they said, we still will have access and anyway, they said, they had no problem making it a little bit harder for folks to get down to the beach, seeing as how it was often dangerous and the site of many drownings and a place where monk seals like to lie on the sand.
Besides, one noted, “Sometimes get so many people down there, it’s hard for even fish.”
Lest anyone forget, as I knew from previous research and as Thomas, during a brief pause in Bruce’s diatribe, had pointed out, Waioli initially gave the county access across its land from Koolau Road in response to a request from fishermen who wanted a shorter route to the beach and reef, which is prized for both its fishing and limu.
So perhaps it's a just a little bit ironic that the fishermen are now disturbed by the growing crowds of people, whose numbers unfortunately seem to have increased since the cry went out to "protect and save" this wild beach.
My friends and I were about to venture down the trail when another guy I know came up from the beach, carrying a bag filled with plastic flotsam and jetsam he’d collected, and he asked if I’d heard what had gone down earlier, and I said I had, and he shook his head and said that it was a personal thing now for Bruce; he no longer cared about the land, he just wanted to have things his way.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if the same couldn’t also be said for those who oppose him because what they really want, and what all the talk about protecting the resources serves so righteously to obscure, is to continue walking down to the beach in the most convenient and effortless way.