Sitting atop the magnificence of the vast pacific ocean, waves gently lapping under the nose of my Aunt’s standup paddle board, it’s rare that I’ve felt so immersed in the abundance of the universe. Letting the cacophony of sensations flow through… no attachment, no aversion – simple presence.
Suddenly my awareness shifted as I realized that the gentle lapping of waves had ratcheted up several notches in volume and intensity. Lifting my head and looking around I found I had drifted close to shore where the surf was crashing against the jagged black lava rocks only a few feet ahead. Attaching to my board I now needed my skills in aversion to steer clear of a rather painful incident. So much for my meditation!
As I climbed over the sunken lava rock, waves pushing and pulling on my already tired legs, my heel came down on something sharp that sent a warm toxic pain through my calf muscle.
“That can’t be good” I though as I quickly scooted forward to avoid further damage. Vana, I later found out, is the Hawaiian name given to spiky little sea urchins that like to hide in the dark crevices of lava rock.
By the time I had freed myself from the bullying arms of the ocean and pulled my board up onto the sandy shore a nickel sized lumpy black spot had formed on the very hot and tender back of my heel.
“Hmm… I guess this means I should take a break,” I thought as I hobbled back over to my towel. I was a little worried that, whatever I had stepped on, I might be in for more pain as the toxin made it’s way into my blood stream. My aunt hadn’t told me any stories of people dying out here from stepping on mysterious hot spiky things… but she also didn’t mention that I might encounter such a hazard.
I figured, if it was a life or death matter, I would have been cautioned. I was already concluding that it must have been a sea urchin (even though I really had no idea what that meant) and that it was probably not going cut my adventures short… although it could certainly put a thorn in my heel!
After about thirty minutes, I was confident that I was not going to go into anaphylactic shock and that I could probably get up and limp over to the resort beach house where my aunt was working. Already my concerns of dying alone on the beach were fading. The pain had not gotten any worse and, because it was only affecting the very back of my heel, I could get up and walk without aggravation.
No man is an island
Paradise does not come without a little pain. Personally, I know this. I worked hard to get here and, although it has been quite the vacation so far, my adventures are intended to provide growth and experience over a pleasurable paradise retreat.
The sting of the vana, for all it’s warm discomfort, provides a healthy reminder that there is urgent work to be done. Nipping at my heels is the stark reality of how dire our cultural shortsightedness is to our long term survival on this planet.
The Big Island is a striking example of the devastation our myosis can create. When I reached the top of the hill I ran into a landscaper by the name of Mark.
“Your Aunt tells me you’re into permaculture,” he says glowingly.
“Well yea, it’s what is taking me to Australia… I stopped here along the way to visit.”
“You ever hear of ‘Bill Mollison’?” He asked with a grin.
Before I could even get an answer past my lips he was regaling me with long winded stories of how he once met and worked with Bill in Portugal. His first exposure to permaculture, back in the mid-nineties when it was still “hokey hippy stuff”, he says, changed the way he looked at his trade.
He talked to me about building grey water systems and flow-forms as well as something called “Sonic Bloom” where artificial bird sounds are used to induce flowering.
A jolly man with genuine intentions, Mark’s current work involves installing and maintaining landscaping for the uber-wealthy within the Hawaii resort community. He was happy to be making a decent income doing what he loved but he conceded to the challenges of esthetics over the practicality of natural methods. Creating systems of self-renewing fertility does not often fit the esthetic ideals of the super rich.
Mark was optimistic though. He shared with me his vision of reforesting the island, starting from the beach front resorts and moving mauka (Hawaiian for ‘toward the mountain’). He then proceeded to tell me some of the history behind how the Big Island came to find itself in the situation it is in now.
The whole island aside from the most immediate lava flows was forested at one time, he explained. “…but the monarchy got greedy and sold all the trees off for guns and alcohol. Now it’s all ranch land.”
Ranch land indeed. Much of the leeward side of the island is dominated by cattle ranches. Parker Ranch, with nearly 225,000 acres, is the largest and oldest ranch on the island. In fact, Parker Ranch is one of the oldest and largest ranches in the United States!
Near the Volcano National Park, rangers are in the process of fencing out the cattle to restore the once diverse landscape. Needless to say, cattle are in no way endemic to this island. First brought here as a gift to King Kamehameha in the late 1700’s, there are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 head of cattle roaming the 700 square miles of Parker Ranch alone. That is nearly one sixth of the island!
According to a Livestock Management report produced by the University of Hawaii in 2003, even if the islands were to double their production over the following 10 years since the report was written, it would still supply less then half the total state’s beef consumption. To re-quote a statistic from an earlier blog, 80 – 85% of Hawaii’s food is imported.
This presents a serious challenge for islanders. How can we feed the islands in a responsible and sustainable way? My only hope is that my trip to the small island of Molokai this weekend can help to shed some light on this very interesting subject.
Stay tuned to hear stories from my visit with Malia, president of Sust `aina ble Molokai: