Hana hou-ing the ‘Hidden life of trees’

  • Dawn Fraser Kawahara / Special to The Garden Island

    A grandmother-father banyan tree is seen in the town of Maymyo, Burma, where both maternal and paternal sets of her partly European-born grandparents settled during the times of British India and Dawn Fraser Kawahara’s parents were born. Note the family shrine tucked into the roots.

It’s always pure pleasure to receive feedback from fans of TGI’s Forum column, “The Green Flash.” This Monday I’m moved to reprise, or “hana hou,” the Aug. 5, 2019, column, “Confessing to a love of trees,” which brought several interesting responses. I had included some of these (and am always open to feedback).

Here, a response from a member of the Live Poets’ Society and Kauai Community College English instructor Nicole Street, who has granted me permission to publish her “Trees Fall” poem.

“Hi Dawn,

Here is a revised version. I hope you like it. I’m also working on a poem that reveres an orange tree. Thanks for the inspiration! S / Nicole”

Trees Fall

My husband has predicted the imminent fall of three trees: a spruce discovered after cutting to have rotted hollow; a dogwood that would have landed on his car had he not felt a threat and moved it; and a Douglas fir that he warned a neighbor about, but she rebuked him: “It’s my tree, don’t touch it.” After which it fell on her house.

Given his reputation, brother Robert and partner Mixel ask him to assess the danger of surrounding redwoods five times the height of their mid-century Seattle home. Glimmers of sunlight peak through, patio dappled, koi nurtured in shade.

He laughs, but looks hard. Does he feel disaster looming, a fish bone innocent until the throat is pierced?

Removal requires a permit. Trees are given the status of cows in India, revered wholly, and therefore, allowed to squeeze the driveway into a thin wavy line as trunks add rings. Our fingers cross.

I look up often, not in fear but in awe. Pine air and birdsong lure me. My steps skirt moss, press into loam. I reach out my hands to touch the rough bark, feel a pulse.

Up the hill, an elderly neighbor heard a boom as night fell, and watched as neighbors cut cedar and hauled huge hunks of another near miss. Mixel asks again — is this one leaning toward the bedroom? My husband isn’t sure.

Old trees say nothing, yet truth is found among them.

Find yourself here. Breathe.”


And then came this message from a malihini (newcomer) whose tree connection with the island is the root of her message:

“Dear Dawn Fraser Kawahara,

I’ve enjoyed your columns, but this about trees truly struck a chord. When I had the option of moving to live where ever I wanted, I first looked at Iceland. The geography, not surprisingly, is very like Hawaii, except it is not in the tropics. When the Vikings first moved there they used trees for building and firewood, only to discover that the trees did not grow back. Now, Icelanders tell the joke — ‘If you get lost in an Icelandic forest, don’t get scared or upset. Just stand up!’ Well, the two things that kept me from moving there were my need to hear English now and then (spoken by all in the cities, but I’m a country girl), and my need to see trees. Never knew that one until they were not there.

Now I have found Kauai, where most people speak some version of English and there are trees! And I have learned a fact about trees that I think we all know from grade school science, but whose importance has only recently struck me. We breathe in oxygen and out carbon dioxide and trees the opposite. That carbon then makes its way into the ground and normally stays there. Our big problem now is with carbon going into the atmosphere in green house gases. Did you read that in Ethiopia they planted 353 million trees in one day to restore forests and fight climate change? So please keep planting those trees!

Aloha, S / Ruta Jordans”

This column was written from the Seattle area during a family celebration time. It struck me as significant that Street’s poem centers on the much-valued cedars of the area in which I was temporarily living and breathing. Also, within hours of arrival at my sister’s home on (!) Cedarhome Road, my niece brought forth a book that had greatly interested her to offer as reading material, Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees.” She had no knowledge of what I planned to write, or had written, as she told how the latest scientific research reveals that trees actually communicate and care for each other. Talk about synchronicity…

I looked up author Wohlleben in the online Hawaii State Library catalog system and found that the trees book and two other of his ecological books (on weather and animals) are readily available to us locally in book and audio formats. Now there you have it: next time you’re feeling a bit peckish about having to rake some leaves and seed or fruit falls, remind yourself about the natural systems that make life on Earth possible. You might wonder how plants and animals influence each other, or how it’s possible for life forms to communicate across species boundaries and what is the outcome when a “finely tuned system gets out of sync.”

You can be sure I’m learning as I continue to learn and recapture my sense of awe. Good tree-ing, Dear Readers. Last, our sincere mahalo to the gleaners of Malama Kauai Farms who came to harvest my burgeoning star fruit and distribute those we can’t put to use ourselves or share to the food bank and charter school cafeteria kitchens.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai in the 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. They share the passion of nature and travel to far-away places. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For further information, email her at tropicbirdpress@gmail.com.

  1. Rev Dr. Malama September 30, 2019 8:58 am Reply

    Intelligent societies are funding art and agriculture in the schools and civil lives….. to enrich and beautify our Hawai’ian economy, PLEASE PLANT MORE TREES!!!!

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