I “met” the makaloa reed during a cultural walk and talk in the restored wetlands of the harbor area. Amazing, the work the hui (group) has accomplished in what used to be overgrown hau and mangrove thickets. Now, a boardwalk extends into the marshy area that borders the Huleia Stream toward the small boat harbor.
Also, a sprucing-up has made the Niumalu Pavilion a pleasant picnic shelter. Grasses and reed tufts now proliferate in the marsh, returning to a time preceding mangroves taking hold and predating the landfills that changed the shoreline of the Nawiliwili area as our deep-draft harbor was created. What’s missing now are the wiliwili trees for which the area is named.
The makaloa is a valuable weaving material. When harvested and dried properly, according to weaver Keahi Manea, it can be worked into hats, fine baskets and mats. Drying it before it mildews in our humidity remains challenging. Maybe there will be new uses found for the special reed as it takes hold and multiplies.
I read somewhere that the makaloa product was so fine when completed, it was favored for the alii’s undergarments. When I offered this tidbit of information after the talk, it produced chuckles. (But think about it, would you want to wear lauhala next to your skin?)
Makaloa grew well around the temporary lakes of Niihau; also, in the Alakai Swamp. I have yet to uncover the other tidbit, about the alii’s preference, but this stuck in a brain coil from some source. (Dear Readers, if some one of you have knowledge of this, please do share it.)
Being in the harbor area brings me back to my beginning on the island. Each time I return, it’s another point on the spiral of years. In the Hawaiian culture, I understand that the idea of life as a spiral or continuum is one that exists as fully as with scientists who have studied the almost indefinable subject of time within the span of human lifetimes. Also, the before — in the eons unknown, and after, or future.
An aerial photograph of Kalapaki Bay and Nawiliwili Harbor drew me like a magnet to Kauai from my former home in Colorado. On a freezing, sleety day in Boulder, I stepped out of the cold into what I thought was a coffee shop to escape the icy needles. It was, instead, a small travel bureau.
On the counter lay a book open to a double-paged spread of a tropical bay and harbor: sparkling blue waters bordered by curving sand and palms, a cliff rimmed by small cottages, rock walls and a moss- greenish estuary beneath a black rock mount. I stared at this tropical dream scene as I lowered my parka’s hood and brushed the melting sleet off my cheeks. “Where is this?” I asked the agent, tapping the pages. “Is this in the United States?”
She nodded. “Oh, that’s Kauai,” she said, “but you don’t want to go there. That’s the rainy island.”
“But I do want to go there,” I said, enthusiastically, being a child of the tropics, originally.
“It’s the furthest of the Hawaiian islands,” she continued. “You have to take a prop-jet from Honolulu.” (Remember Mid-Pac?)
Some months later we did just that, staying in one of the small cottages above Kalapaki Bay near the old Kauai Surf Hotel. The vacation rentals were rented through an outfit called I Pali Kai out of Denver. It was an immediate love affair. The scene came alive for me, no matter that it rained and rained. There was always a place of sunshine and mountain beauty between clouds to be found. At night, there was the whisper and roll of the bay breakers to lull, and then again to wake you; there was the looming shape of the sugar house above the harbor, gull-gray lit by morning sun, gray-green as the sun set over the Hoary Head Range. Little did we know that we were just days ahead of Hurricane Iwa arriving as I experienced the wrench of heading home to the Rockies.
Shocking, to see during a news flash, a large waterspout entering Kalapaki Bay and taking out some of the cliff cottages, seeing the palms and greenery strewn around, a large cleft cutting the sand beach, and other pictures of damage around what I now connected with as “my” tropic island. All that was left of our dwelling was the old, claw-footed tub. For me, that was another Thanksgiving that carried a dark pall, though not of such extreme nature as the Thanksgiving of President Kennedy’s assassination.
One year later, when I moved “for keeps” to Kauai, the harbor area became my home. I explored the bay, the jetty, the float across to the harbor breakwall, the locals’ “Pine Tree Inn,” where I walked to write in my notebook each dawn. My youngest son and I became acquainted with the area regulars, from Mama Ouye at Club Jetty, to the people who ran charter tours, paddlers, surfers, divers for prized limu, and the Coast Guard crew. We were on friendly terms with the Surf workers and musicians, my son bartered help with sailboards with Kamal Salibi for lessons, and we even got a friendly nod from the guy who piloted the little yellow boat that ran late cruise passengers out to the “Constitution” and the “Independence” cruise ships.
Ah, Kalapaki. Ah, our beautiful harbor. Ah, Nawiliwili Park (no longer for young motorcycling dare-devils) and a perfect place to view one of the Lahaina (The Heat) Noons when all shadows recede and disappear at a given moment from one of the poles or straight palms within the park, or your own form.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, resident author and poet, has focused her supportive interests within the Kauai community since the early 1980s and also writes a monthly TGI column, “FarAway Places.” Kawahara’s books are available through Amazon and other outlets. Info: www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com