Monday, August 15, 2005

Small Kid Time at Hana'uma Bay

As I've mentioned, I've found myself doing a lot of thinking lately about recreational use of the Hudson River - both what's exciting and encouraging, and what's troubling and sometimes kind of scary.

It's a big & tricky topic, and my thoughts on the matter are rather complicated.

As I've been thinking this over, I've been following one of my favorite blogs, Courting Destiny as she's been working herself gently into the topic of writing about someone who played a very significant role in her life - in both good ways & bad. A lot of her blog is her talking-story (to use a Hawaiian-kine pidgin word, since I will be working my way back to being a kid in Hawaii, I might as well start working myself gently into that frame of mind) about people she's encountered in her life, and she does that really well. This guy, though - he's a little trickier for her to describe, and she's approaching it at a beautifully measured pace. Once small piece at a time.

Anyways - what that has to do with what I've been mulling over of late is that I started thinking, on the subway on the way home tonight, that her approach - one measured step at a time - might work well for this, even though I'm writing about bodies of water instead of people.

So that's how I'm going to approach it - as a series. I may turn away from the matter, but I'll try to keep coming back to it.

Part of why I have such a hard time sorting out my viewpoints on this matter are because I actually see the issues from different angles myself. I look at the river one way from my Romany, and another way from the deck of the schooner. I look at the river with the eyes of someone raised on an island where water access was a right, not a privilege - and I look at the river with the eyes of someone who's lived fourteen years in New York City and has a sense that in comparison to the average New Yorker - I learned an awful lot about water without ever really realizing that I was learning.

I think a good place to start this series is by talking about a place that used to be one of my favorite destinations for family outings when I was a kid (a.k.a., in Hawaiian-style pidgin, "small kid time" - hence the title!) - Hanauma Bay.

Hanauma Bay is perfect because it is truly a crown jewel of a natural wonder in a state filled with wonders - and came within a coral polyp's breadth of being loved literally to death not once, but twice, within the last century.

With today's post, I'll try to introduce you to the bay & show you how I saw it back then.

Hanauma Bay was once an active volcano. As the island of Oahu drifted northwest, leaving the volcanic hot spot where the islands of Hawaii sprang to life one by one, Oahu's volcanoes became extinct (one Pele story I remember involves Pele landing on the northwesternmost island of the main island chain, Kauai, and working her way down the chain until she found her home on the Big Island - at each island, she dug with her digging stick, but at each island, the fire she found went out, so she moved on). One wall of the volcano that became Hanauma Bay faced the sea at the southwest tip of the island, and over the eons, the sea simply wore away at that wall until it was gone and the sea claimed the long-cooled crater.

The arms of the wall that once held out the waves now embraced the water. In the sheltered circle, a coral reef grew, and fish in all the colors of the rainbow made their home.

Here is a legend I wasn't familiar with, concerning how the bay came to be formed and named, courtesy of an 8th grade science class team at the Kamehameha School on Oahu - stumbled across it looking for the exact translation of the name, which I couldn't quite recall except that it had something to do with arm-wrstling. Mahalo to the kids! Beautiful story.

As I said, I loved visiting Hanauma Bay when I was a kid. There was always the morning packing-up-to-go-to-the-beach ritual - my dad collecting towels, masks, snorkels, our mom packing up lunch in the kitchen, my sister and I helping one or the other, packing things up, and then finally loading everything into the car. The drive there always seemed so long, and circling the dusty parking lot looking for a spot seemed even longer. Then there was the long hike down the switchback trail, laden with all our beach paraphernalia - and finally, finding the perfect spot on the beach to set up our spot for the day - then, at last, hooray, it was time to go see the fish!

When I was little, I would stay in closer to shore - I liked to drift along the inner edge of the reef, or go into the "Keyhole" (see the keyhole-shaped light blue space in the coral that opens onto the beach, right between the two swathes of white foam left where a breaker has just rolled in over the reef?), following butterfly fishes and Moorish idols and the other smaller fish that tended to congregate inshore - then I'd come in and build elaborate drip-style sand castles, or draw on the margin of wave-smoothed sand.

As I got older and more confident in the water, I'd go further out over the reef past the break zone, into the deeper blue holes you can see just outside the surf line. Out there, the water was blue and clear, and the fishes were more interesting than the inshore small-fry - the Moorish idols and various butterfly fish were joined by big parrotfish (known in Hawaiian as "uhu") - you could hear their beaks crunch as they grazed on the reef (they eat the coral, extracting nutrition from the polyps, while the stony matrix that the polyps build for their home is ground up & excreted as fine sand), schools of Achille's tangs would swim past, the colors of Christmas and bird wrasses would mesmerize me, as would the very dancing of the shafts of sunlight, filtered and focused by the blue water (and in case you were wondering, the occasional humuhumunukunukuapua'a would, indeed, go swimming by). So many others, too - far too many to name. I remember never wanting to come out when my folks wanted me to. Lots of minor sunburns there as the salt water would wash the sunblock off my haole(caucasian) hide!

There was one other big adventure there, besides seeing the fish - if you walked out along and around the bend of one arm, you'd come to a place called "The Toilet Bowl". This was a spot where the action of the waves had tunneled out a passageway leading to a good-sized eroded hole in the lava rock ledge, and as swells came in, the hole - which was big enough for a bunch of swimmers - would fill up, then drain out again, lifting the occupants up and setting them down again. Big swells tend to come in in sets - between the sets, the rise and fall would be gentle, but then the water would drain down to your ankles and you'd brace yourself for a wild ride up when the crest behind that trough arrived! No, it definitely wasn't 100% safe - in fact getting out, which was best done during one of the big swells, generally involved a bit of getting scraped up on the lava rock - but it was fun. The main trick was to keep well away from the tunnel - everybody seemed to know that rule.

The walk out along the ledge took you past tidepools (each with their own doughty set of lava-colored inhabitants, who I was not always nice to - I specifically recall taking hermit crabs out and putting them down on the lava to watch them make their way home again - I never took them too far away, maybe a few yards at the most, but that's a pretty good hike - the cool thing was that they really did find their way back to their specific tidepool quite unerringly), arched rocks, and even one or two little inlets that were like tame little versions of the Toilet Bowl - when I was smaller, I have to admit that kind of preferred those to the rough-and-tumble of the big one.

It was always hard to leave at the end of the day, and climbing the switchback trail up the cliffside seemed three times as long.

I have so many good memories of that place from when I was little.

I remember having moments of awe every time we went there - particularly as I got older & gained more understanding of and appreciation for what I was seeing.

I also remember obeying some rules that weren't set by people, but by the ocean itself.

What I actually don't remember so much is frozen peas.

Next time I come back to this, I'll talk about both of those - and go into a bit more detail about how Hana'uma Bay was nearly loved to death twice.

(Hana'uma Bay image from the Hawaii Coral Reef Assessment and Management Program Site - an interesting site in and of itself. The Hanauma Bay site proper is also full of much more in-depth information than the summary version I'm giving here.

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