Gratitude expressed, and eyes focused forward

This column brings my gratitude green-flashing to my readers, who have sent such affirming and interesting feedback over the past months about subjects ranging from the green flash phenomenon and other sky events, Lydgate Park work days and love of lilikoi, Colorado camping to the Burma correlations cited in the last TGI “Green Flashes.” Mahalo kakou, for a column unread (like a book or a poem) is akin to an art gallery that is locked and shuttered, or a play rehearsed and staged beautifully without an audience.

Fresh from the Southeast Asia trip and happily back to work, I found myself casually reviewing what makes the immersion in different cultures and settings during our travels so interesting and — using the perfect word to wrap and describe multiple facets — revivifying. Then I transferred my thoughts about the eye-opening and restorative value of travel to a new place to our island home: What is the travel experience like for visitors to the Garden Island, those 5,000 to 10,000 people the Kauai Visitors Bureau tells us we have here every day, in addition to our own 65,000 or so citizens?

Beyond the natural beauty of this sea-surrounded island with its beaches and bays, forests and mountains, and tropical weather, what about the richness of our community through its people and their pursuits, their creativity expressed through work and business, through varied arts and cultural undertakings? With the influx of varied peoples since times of the Hawaiian Kingdom, what is the resulting stew from this mix, all stirred up in the pot over many generations? And how do we serve it up, for ourselves? For visitors?

As I tell “my” Road Scholar visitors who come in for a day of immersion here on ships that dock at our harbor, “Ladies and gentlemen, this island is not about mai tais with little umbrellas stuck in them and coconut bras on dancers in jiggling grass skirts!”

This always draws a chuckle, but it is the underlining point of the learning that takes place about what the people and the culture of Kauai — as I have come to know from experience living and working and volunteering in the community, my kumus, and learning acquired over several decades in the Ka Imi Institute, group connections and research — are all about.

The Road Scholar group heads toward the Waimea Canyon, that natural wonder that affords us a chance to discuss the geology and formation of the island, plus see the native and some endemic plants, such as the iliau. On the way we no longer focus on the sugar story, since our sugar plantation days, as well as our pineapple growing times, are a thing of the past. There are some vineyards now in the mauka lands, and we await a successful (hopefully) vintner story in the future. We touch briefly on the GMO crops seen, and the positive vs. the negative effects of same as reported, plus current events that include a lawsuit against our county for its rule made to gain disclosure about chemical spraying.

Upon reaching the forest trails, people can wonder at the change that occurs in our koa trees, from the delicate first leaves that hark back to the genus acacia, to the petioles that must develop for our particular acacia variety to survive. Our jewels of endangered native birds are never seen from the “beaten track,” especially since so many introduced birds such as cardinals, white-eyes and mynahs have reached our highlands and are competing for food sources. We occasionally spot some “peegs,” a pheasant, a pueo, or some wild mountain goats presenting a Kodak moment on canyon cliffsides. In and around the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow, we see the kolea (golden plover) seasonally, an occasional nene goose, and the wonderful row of evergreens from all around the world that line the meadow’s edge — everything from Japanese tsugi redwoods to a monkeypuzzle tree from South America. And then, there are the flowers — the ohia lehua during summer bloom, the purple princess, nasturtiums and pink hanging bells, although lovely, that signal the invasive, tree-strangling banana poka.

But enough of the fauna and flora and avian life, or lack of it.

Our museums — both Hui o Laka/Kokee Natural History Museum, and Kauai Museum on Rice Street in Lihue — offer visitors a rich and varied view of culture and natural history. There are other island “past and present” venues such as the Grove Farm Museum, self-guided walking tours of Waimea town, Hanapepe Friday Art Nights and Kapaa Town First Saturdays. These give visitors lacking a personal guide a chance to absorb some history, mingle with Kauai residents and vendors, and tap into interesting exhibits, Kauai made products and home-grown talent, as well as people watch. Also, there are our many festivals and unique holiday parades, which could fill another paragraph in the listing. Not to speak of our advertised luaus and kayaking “secret” falls, and so forth, surfing and paddle-board and windsurfing lessons. The list can lengthen easily.

It’s one thing to be nostalgic about the past, and another to be within the present, looking to future. Also, it’s one thing to “entertain” guests and another to make sure we don’t over-extend hospitality, that we operate toward the goal of making our home just how we want it, running smoothly and within budget, with as much in place as possible to ensure our Gross Island Community Happiness and afford us all a chance for economic stability.

This writer urges you to study the issues and candidates in the upcoming election and make your mark on those ballots, voting toward those purposes mentioned earlier. Also, keep your antennae tuned about something many citizens have thought a necessity for some 30 years: a Kauai community arts center that would be home for all our various organizations in the arts/culture classifications that are interested and need such.

By having a central home for their programs and presentations, workshops and classes, many needs and dreams could be met and birthed. The constant struggle to meet creative goals would be relieved. A community arts center would nourish our people and at the same time become a magnet for visitors. The goal would be to make it possible and affordable for people working in their various groups to cooperate under and arts and culture “umbrella” and translate their energy to make such a center self-sustaining.

•••

Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer is at work completing her second memoir, based on recent travels and the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, toward Burmese independence.

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