My column in MidWeek gives voices to many people. I am impressed with Kate Welch, a Ho’ala middle schooler who is wise beyond her years. This column ran in the July 9th issue of MidWeek, but I think it deserves a wider audience.
What kind of Hawaii are we bequeathing to our children?
Kate Welch thinks about it. She thinks about it a lot. The Ho’ala School seventh-grader wrote an essay, Ka’ena: A Journey Through Time, that earned her a spot as one of the winners in the 2014 My Hawaii Story Contest.
I read it and was impressed, saddened, encouraged. Impressed by the writing skills of this 13-year-old girl. Saddened by the reality of what she is seeing all around her in her Island home. Encouraged by the beauty of her vision — and by her response to the cry of the earth.
I don’t usually do this, but I’m including most of her essay as is. Kate wants the story to be shared by as many people as she can reach, and I’m happy to help. This is a young woman who deserves to be heard.
I’m walking on the beach as water and sand swirl around my ankles and between my toes. Waves crash upon the rocks, and salt spray fills the air around me. Looking toward Ka’ena Point, I feel relaxed and at peace.
As I continue my trek along the coast, my happiness is shattered when I look up toward the nearby land and notice broken glass, food wrappers and cigarette butts spread across the dirt roads made by trucks, ATVs and dirt bikes. Along the coast, fishing line and plastic bags are entwined throughout the cracks and crevices of the uplifted coral reef.
I almost trip over a clump of feathers, mixed with pieces of plastic and bones. I look closer and discover it’s a Laysan albatross carcass.
I’m filled with sorrow and rage. This glorious and beautiful bird died because of our negligence. It ate our plastic trash bobbing on top of the ocean, thinking it was food to be shared with its baby.
Over the ear-splitting sounds from dirt bikes and trucks racing passed me, I hear the voice of the earth goddess, Papa, on the wind whipping around the coast. She cries and calls out, “What have you people done to your home? Your ‘ ina? Hawai’i?”
The voice fades away when I start walking towards the point. There is less and less trash. I hike until I reach the protective fence.
As I open, then walk through the gates, it feels like I’m going back to the time of our kupuna. Here, there is no trash! Here there are no dirt bikes, ATVs or trucks. I see the m l , flying freely over the cliffs and the ocean. The koa’e kea squawk and call out to each other while they search for caves to build their nests.
As I look along the beach, I see four ‘ lioholoikauaua (including one pup) sprawled out across the beach. Watching the monk seals makes me tired, and I drift off to sleep in the shade of the naupaka.
I dream of many wa’a off-shore. They are paddling back to land with mahimahi and ulua to share with their people. There is no plastic floating in the ocean. On land, there are no roads, only footpaths. The air is filled with the sounds of ancient oli, thanking the gods for providing food for the day.
It’s here in her essay that Kate wakes from her dream.
But — was it a dream? Kate, who wants to be a writer, marine biologist or environmental scientist, figures it was a message from a land crying for her help.
The clap of thunder in the distance snaps me out of my slumber. The ‘Īlioholoikauaua hear the storm as well and return to their underwater home. I move on and pass by several ‘ua‘u kani burrows. Nobody is home.
I remember hearing from my kumu that these birds only return to their burrows in March and lay a single white egg in June. This is the season for mōlī to nest at Ka‘ena. I walk until I find a very cheerful and fluffy mōlī chick waiting for its food.see that it’s turning late and the sun is starting to set over the horizon. The kohol are breaching in the distance. I thank the gods for showing me the Ka’ena of the past, and why we need to take care of our ‘ ina. This protected coastal ecosystem shows us what it could look like if we all cared for the rest of this spectacular coastline.
As I trek back to the trailhead, I notice the pa’u o hi’iaka and ‘ilima reclaiming the land. I pick up as much trash as I can possibly carry out of there. The bags are heavy and the trash smells horrible, but I’m helping to heal the ‘ ina.
I hear a whispered “Maika’i” from the gods. I will be back soon, and I will bring friends. Together we will care for this land we call home.
Mahalo, young Kate Welch, for giving voice to our ‘aina, and to our children.