WAILUA — “It looks a lot better than Sunday,” said Mickey Howard, a guest at the Aloha Beach Resort-Kauai in Wailua.
Mickey and her husband Lyle relished the cool evening breeze that blew in from the ocean as they stopped to catch their breath at Lydgate Park.
Lyle’s aloha shirt bore signs of the couple’s toil, as perspiration showed on the back of his shirt and overflowed onto his walking shorts.
“We came here for a vacation,” he said. “This is our first time on Kaua‘i. We’ve come to Hawai‘i before, but only visited the other islands. This is the first time we’re on Kaua‘i.
“This is my first time to help, but my wife was here the other night,” Lyle said.
The Howards were part of a group of five people who earlier in the waning hours of daylight, were slinging pieces of wood that clogged the popular pool at Lydgate Park, the debris accumulating from the heavy rains that inundated the island late last week.
Runoff from the Wailua River combined with the forces of nature to wash the mass of wood, branches, and other debris out of the river, collecting in the pool in a creaking, groaning, undulating body that heaved with each wave that crashed over the outer, protective wall of rocks.
The scene mesmerized visitors, who picked their way along the litter-strewn shoreline.
“If people can think of a reason not to do something, they won’t do it,” the leader of the cleanup effort said, offering the couple slices of freshly-cut watermelon.
“I swim here every day. I love this beach,” said the gentleman, who doffed a hard hat bearing the moniker, “One Man Can.”
Reacting partly in frustration over a county-official’s statement of placing a higher priority on hurricane preparedness over the cleanup efforts, the local man’s one-man cleanup effort took flight Monday evening.
Heeding the warnings of danger of the water quality, the man, who is known to The Garden Island but asked not to be identified, collected wood and debris from above the high water mark, and torched it.
“Fire is a primal energy,” said the man, who has lived on Kaua‘i the past five years, and is heavily involved in volunteer work in several communities around the island.
It is that energy that pulled walkers away from their strolls, joining him in his quest to make a difference.
A solitary walker who watched the scene rummaged through his backpack, his hand emerging with a can of beer that he offered to the man.
“No beer,” he said. “Maybe later, when we light the fire.”
Pieces of wood flew through the air, landing with clonks and thunks in a growing pile in a designated area that showed signs of an earlier fire ring.
Among the wood slingers were three members of a family from Germany who were also guests at the Aloha Beach Resort-Kauai, the only member of the group who understood English noting that they were here for a couple of days, leaving today, Saturday, Sept. 24.
“There is supposed to be a four-wheel drive truck tonight,” the local man said. “But, who knows? If it comes, it comes. It’s all on a wink and a nod.”
The man, whose efforts have spanned four nights, has made a noticeable dent in the tons of debris that had been in the main swimming pond at the popular beach.
He explained that most of the work will probably be done by this morning, when a big volunteer group was scheduled to show up to help with the cleanup effort.
“Maybe we can have another fire Saturday, to cap the whole thing,” he said.
“The people that help the most are visitors,” he said. “They come from Russia and Germany. But, the other night, the Corona crew came, and we kicked butt.”
“Beer. Fire. Wood,” He repeated the words that sparked the group of residents into action. “We kicked butt that night. In six hours, we cleaned a lot! They had a pickup with a rack, and that helped move a lot of wood.”
The man said that, when he undertook the personal challenge, he was faced with a huge task, as debris choked the pool. Slinging wood, one piece at a time, he said he felt pretty dis-heartened.
“One person stopped to tell me I was a chump,” he said. “But, if there’s any good that came out of this, it’s that I’ve gotten to meet a lot of interesting people.
“A few people who know what they’re doing can really kick butt,” he said. “Ideally, we’d have four fires going, and if we had a four-wheel-drive truck and about 10 or 12 men, all the big wood would be gone from the pool, and we could move to the other beach.”
During his week-long, one-man campaign, he got to meet John Lydgate, some of the Kaua‘i Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau water-safety officers who man the park’s lifeguard stand, and some of the county’s Department of Public Works park workers, Lydgate informing him of today’s planned cleanup from the Lydgate volunteers.
Heeding the man’s words to stay out of the water, the collection of people continued their task, hauling armloads of wood.
There were no power tools to interrupt the quiet coolness of the evening. Beach towels were pressed into service as makeshift sleds, as the group worked to milk the last bits of daylight.
Along the litter-strewn shore-line, other beach-goers had erected a makeshift shed with the driftwood and, towards the kiddie pond, a huge, teepee-looking tower had risen on the shoreline.
“That’s not mine,” the man said.
He explained that following every burn, he returns early the following morning to water down the area, assuring that the fire is completely extinguished, and leaves only after raking the ashes into the ocean.
He expressed more of his frustration, noting that after talking with “the old guard,” one man told him he’s done this at least 13 times in the past 20 years.
County officials once paid a contractor $80,000 to do this, and the contractors didn’t even haul away the debris, he said. They just graded it to one end of the park, and it was the county workers who had to haul it away.
“If this occurs twice a year, historically, then, why can’t we have some heavy equipment assigned here?” he pondered.
The last bit of sunlight had already disappeared from the sky. Further down the beach, a family of three was preparing their own fire, ringed by sand chairs.
The collection of people intent on cleaning the beach paused for some watermelon as the man prepared to light the pile of wood.
As fingers of fire peeked through the kindling, he reflected on his deed. “I came here by fire. I lost everything I had except the tickets in my pocket. That fire brought me to Kaua‘i.”
He’s never left. Settling in Koke‘e, the man began his campaign of volunteerism, noting Takeshi Fujita as his life’s sensei.
“He’s done so much in the time he’s been here. He’s my idol,” the man said.
The crackling fire provided a scene that contrasted sharply to the one presented in the daylight hours, and the group changed their focus to feeding the crackling blaze.
More people stopped, attracted by the fire, the group’s efforts, and adding their own efforts to the task at hand.
“All I ask is that they return my shoes,” he said.
“I had some Nikes that I had to change out of,” he explained. “And, the other night, they disappeared.”
- Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or firstname.lastname@example.org.