Coconuts — those symbols of the tropics, and motifs for many Hawaiian designs and prints — seem to be rapidly disappearing. At least in our neighborhood, in public parks and the Wailua Golf Course, too, where heavy-bearing coconut palms have become a public hazard as they lean out over public roadways and walking trails. There is the danger of someone getting “bonked” with a maturing nut, subject to a dented auto or cracked windshield, or even a concussion or (rarely) death.
That initial snake-hiss sound that triggers fear in words related to “sue,” “suing” and “suits” (as in law) is enough to get homeowners to call tree cutters to come quickly, or get out their chainsaws. In the case of county golf courses, it’s a regular happening to see multiple workers climbing and cutting immature coconuts and dangling fronds of coco palms, also considered dangerous.
Then the shredders get to work — and there go all the nuts before full maturity, including their nourishing and delicious meat and refreshing coconut water that might have been. In the days of yesteryear this waste of a plant resource that was considered so valuable throughout the Pacific and other tropical regions of the world would have been unthinkable.
The lively trade that was built around coconut plantations and all the direct and by-products of same led to shipping routes that connected continent to continent, and isle to isle, joining the dots.
When I first arrived to live in our present home, I was thrilled to discover a young coconut tree volunteering in the back garden. I pictured myself harvesting the delicious nuts (actually, drupes) and being like the stunning kamaaina B&B lady I so admired when I stayed in her local-style home over Hilo Bay during my first trip to the island of Hawaii.
After wielding a wicked cane knife on the outer husk, she demonstrated how she accessed the delicious coconut meat she’d served along with home-grown papayas at breakfast. She had implanted a pickaxe in her yard; perched before me on a low stool, she slammed a coconut onto its point, offering me the freshest coconut meat (copra) I’d eaten since India, in my youth.
My maternal grandmother was born in Cochin, a South Indian state of waterways and coconut palms, and the very old name for a “cocoanut” was “cochi” as it traveled to Guam and other islands. I have an affinity for the taste of coconut in all forms, as its flesh, known as copra, and jelly in its young state, as well as the juice and coconut cream are used in many delicious South Indian dishes.
This grandmother was famed for her to-die-for coconut cakes, with the juice and shredded flesh all prepared from scratch — and beaten by hand before being baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven.
Back to our backyard coco palm, however, in time it arced over a state walking trail, taking an artistic bend that led to its demise. Those huge, bowling ball weight coconuts it produced were ticking bombs over the heads of the walkers, bikers, kids and dogs who frequent this trail. Sawed right down to the ground into a mount of wood ships, my prize coco palm didn’t merit the chance to become a pahu drum.
The lesson learned is: Don’t plant your coconuts close to property borders (or lanais)! This held true for our neighbors, too, whose chopped palm stumps remind me of amputations, causing a visceral reaction.
By the time my young grandsons arrived on island, they had to gather their coconuts elsewhere. We had fun scrubbing half a dozen of the many coconut “souvenirs” they found, then painting them white as a foundation for bright tropical artwork and addresses that would take them winging to Mainland cousins from Ohio to Colorado. It was a friendly Lihue postal clerks who gave our coconut mail the once-over to make sure they were within the tenets of law for agricultural mailing before processing them.
And now the novelty of coconut postcards is to be revived in a “Save Our Post Office” campaign to raise awareness about saving our Lihue town-centered U.S. Post Office, a hub where much more happens than clearing of P.O. boxes or the mailing of letters and packages.
In the Lihue area, we’ve already lost our Hanamaulu P.O., and before that, the P.O. of the old Puhi Store. Not this one, too! On any given day during regular hours — and even before and after — it’s an informal community meeting place, providing that uplift that used to be characterized by a break to hang out, if briefly, at the office water cooler.
If you feel that pleasant, red-tiled post office fits into the scheme of the revitalized Rice Street plan, which encourages us to park and walk some blocks to shop and do errands within our main town’s core, be sure to place on your calendar as important this Thursday, Feb. 23, 6 p.m., in the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall’s Exhibition Room.
This is when the informational meeting to explain the potential closure of the building will take place — and that closing along with hundreds and thousands of coconuts, to my “Green Flash” way of thinking, would be another great waste.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai in the 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live in Wailua Homesteads. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. Info: www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.