Thursday, February 19, 2015

On the Edge of Oʻahu

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 42-46

On this long three-day weekend, I did three hikes in three days: Saturday biked to the trailhead and hiked up the summit of Lēʻahi (Diamond Head); Sunday biked to the trailhead and hiked up to Mānoa Falls; Monday went roadtripping with friends to Kaʻena Point, on the edge of Oʻahu.

Here are some photos and thoughts from the latter two adventures:

Mānoa Falls

Trickle-down ecologics, Mānoa Falls

Mānoa Falls was one of those must-hike hikes, one that everyone and their mother does on a weekend morning. (In fact, when I hiked up there around 7:30am I was one of only maybe 4 or 5 people on the mountain. When I came down an hour later, though, there must have been 30-40 folks on the trail heading up. It pays to wake up early!)

The trail itself was pleasing: quiet, lush, trembling with bird song. Not too many interesting views, because the canopy is thick and the trail winding.

A view from the trail to Mānoa Falls
The falls themselves were thin and trickling. It did not compare at all, say, to Kaaterskill Falls in upstate New York, one of the best waterfalls in North America. For one thing, Mānoa is only about 100 feet high, while Kaaterskill is over 200 feet. Also, even on the driest summer day there is more water coming over Kaaterskill Falls than, on this day, over Mānoa. After a bit of solitude, two hikers joined me at the base of the falls. One said to the other, "I wonder where that water is coming from?" I laughed under my breath. From the clouds. From the rain. From the Koʻolau Mountains above us. How could one wonder about something like that? Then again, what is more magical and fantastical than not knowing, and allowing our imaginations to go wild considering all the unknowns up there above the falls?
Kaʻena Point
I had been to Kaʻena Point before, from the Waiʻanae side. Kaʻena point is the very NW edge of Oʻahu, about as close as one can get to Kauaʻi without swimming or hopping on an airplane! When I visited Kaʻena in 2013 it was summer, and the landscape was very barren. This time in winter, the landscape appeared altogether different. And if you only remember one thing about Kaʻena Point, remember this: go in winter! All the wildlife is here in winter, not in summer!

First we visited Waimea Beach on the north shore. In winter, Waimea (meaning "reddish water," presumably because upland streams wash down eroded reddish soil and deposit it here?) is world-famous for its humongous waves. They can get to 30 feet high or so. Today they were about 12 feet high, but still, this was enough that the lifeguards had to make stern announcements every half hour warning that anyone without proper surfing / bodysurfing equipment would not be allowed to even dip their feet into the water. And so we sat on the beach and watched the experts.

Waimea Beach, North Shore of Oʻahu

 Twelve-foot waves at Waimea Beach, North Shore of Oʻahu
We left the beach in late morning and then ate delicious fish tacos in the town of Haleʻiwa. I had been to Waimea before, to visit Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau, the largest surviving heiau (temple) on Oʻahu. We did not stop there this time.

From there we drove to Kaʻena Point. In 2013 I had approached Kaʻena from the Waiʻanae Coast. This time we were approaching from the North Shore. 

Looking up at the Waiʻanae Mountains, Kaʻena Point Trail
One of the charms of Kaʻena Point is the preservation of indigenous flora: we saw ka ʻilima, ka naupaka, and other native plants that, throughout much of Oʻahu, have been crowded out by invasive species over the past two-hundred-some years.

Pua ka ʻilima, the flower of the ʻilima. One of the subjects I write about in my dissertation, a guano laborer working abroad in the 1860s, wrote of the ʻilima as a plant that reminded him of home and brought him joy in an otherwise barren landscape.

Ka naupaka a me ka moana, naupaka and the ocean. My brother got me a book about the naupaka a few years ago, and this was the first time I saw it in nature, so that was exciting.
 Beyond the native flora, the true pleasure of a hike at Kaʻena was getting to see so much native wildlife. We saw the trifecta of littoral nature: seabirds, whales, and seals. 

ka mōlī, Laysan Albatross, Kaʻena Point

ka mōlī, Laysan Albatross, Kaʻena Point
It was too difficult to adequately do justice to the sight of the whales and seals. So, no photographs. But they were there, and they were beautiful.

Interpretive sign at Kaʻena Point, in English and Hawaiian
And there were people, too, at Kaʻena Point, lest we think that this is a place preserved only for non-human creatures. Certainly there are restrictions on the commons: it is illegal to harvest the plants or hunt the creatures, avian and mammalian, that are protected by law. (I honestly can't say which are protected and which are not, although the charismatic fauna are obviously protected.) These are not cut-and-dry issues, though, as evidenced by a stirring New York Times Magazine piece two years ago about human conflict over monk seals management in Hawaiʻi.

But there is a commons. I saw at least one man fishing at Kaʻena. We need to ensure, in light of the historical and ongoing dispossession and marginalization of Native Hawaiians, that there is space here on Oʻahu not just for indigenous flora and fauna but also for indigenous peoples. And not just here on the edge of Oʻahu, but a commons that sweeps from one end of the island to the other.

Man and commons: fishing at Kaʻena Point

Man and commons: fishing at Kaʻena Point

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