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Living and Writing in the Natural World

People, Beaches, Hawaii

(Hawaii again?! Hey, I’m here for two weeks and this is a weekly blog. Next week I’ll be back on the mainland.) After my usual morning routine (see my earlier posting) I noticed it was low tide around ten o’clock, so I tightened my teva sandals and walked “tide-pooling/beach-combing” along the base of the seawall at the tip of Magic Island (actually a peninsula that sticks out 3/8 mile into the ocean). The loose boulders along the wall permit debris to collect at high tide and be exposed at low. And what's debris to some is treasure to others! The water was only six inches deep when I started. Gathered a fine collection of fragments of seashells and coral, highlights being the spotted drupe (I wanted it to be the flea cone, because I love cone shells, but I’m afraid it wasn’t. My best cone shell from Hawaii is the one spotted by my boy Louie half a decade ago in a tide pool north of Sandy Beach, a full one-half “cloth of gold” shell, which I like so much that it figures prominently in the treasure quest in my Return to Treasure Island), a spindle shell, two species of cowry (you always get the margins of the “lips” on the underside of the shell), a mussel, a couple of fine pieces of coral, and several purple shell fragments which I will enjoy trying to identify once I get home and can consult my collection.

The day before, I'd traversed the seawall west of Ala Moana Bay, leading to Kewalo Basin, during the low tide. By the time I was approaching the inlet channel for Kewalo Basin nearly an hour later, the tide was definitely coming in, and I got deliciously wet before giving up my fun and climbing up the seawall onto the walkway. The view was great: Diamond Head looming to the east, and the length of Ala Moana bay before me. As I was standing there, a couple of surfers emerged from the water, and more put in, climbing down the seawall, gauging the waves, then throwing themselves and their boards onto the water between swells.

Which led me to reflect how much fun is to be had from an ocean, which is of course why I love coming to Hawaii so much. Looking back towards Diamond Head, there were nearly a dozen fairly distinct bands of human activity on or adjacent to the water. Farthest from the shore were the container ships (OK, not enjoying the water, but there they were) and the para-sailers in parachutes being dragged by boats. Me, I’m not nearly bored enough of life to require this sport or skydiving to fend of ennui, but clearly many are. Just in from the para-sailers were the outrigger canoes, with crews ranging from half a dozen to a dozen or so, skimming along at surprisingly good clips. Even Captain Cook two hundred years ago was impressed with the speed and maneuverability of these craft.

Then you get to the surfers, scores or hundreds in view bobbing in the water, catching the waves for a ride. Maybe a third or so of the surfers that I was looking at use paddles now and stand up while waiting for the waves—they are, in other words, paddle-boarders who are surfing, and they’re only barely in the minority. Surfers these days of course include quite a few females (as they did in the Hawaiian days before Cook), and over all, every age and ethnicity. By far the majority are “ethnics,” that is to say, people of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, or Hawaiian ancestry (or some mix of the above), but there’s many “haoles” out there as well.

In from the surfers are the snorkelers and scuba-divers, which is where you find me often enough. Then next are the paddle-boarders, whose number has risen dramatically in the past decade, and like the surfers include all ages, sexes, and ethnicities. I have followed these good folks the past several days, and it is surprising (to me) how far you can travel in twenty minutes on these boards (which are like surfboards but wider, typically, the ones I’ve seen; on the other hand, it looks like some folks just use their surfboards as paddle-boards).

Next in at Ala Moana is the lane reserved for serious swimmers, those folks swimming the length of the bay (and back!). Then you finally get to the common beach-goers, those folks bobbing up and down in the water and sharing stories and laughs with their similarly-engaged friends. Arriving at the shore itself, this tends to be the domain of the children, from toddlers to ten-year-olds, who find the interface of sand and water endlessly entertaining and are completely absorbed in sand castles, throwing sand, dunking each other, chasing around, and just letting the incoming wavelets roll them around in the water, laughing hilariously all the while.

Up on the beach are the sun-bathers, typically lathered up with oily sun-tan lotion and either lying flat upon beach towels (the majority) or sitting in beach chairs facing the sun they worship so assiduously. In my ten days here, I’ve noticed quite a few are “regulars” (this is the locals’ beach, remember, as distinct from Waikiki) who show up the same time and occupy the same spot of sand every day. Some of these regulars hold court, with others dropping by to chat and exchange pleasantries.

Then we leave the sand and come to the grass, where sun-worshippers with a dislike for the messiness and invasiveness of sand set their lawn chairs and commence their devotions. On weekends and holidays the grass is thick with tents and pavilions occupied by whole trans-generational families and their grills and ice chests and miniature dogs, to which everyone repairs in the evenings after spending the day in one or more of the other layers described above.

A whole lot of life in the natural world, in other words, goes on at Hawaii’s coastline. Maybe that’s why I love it so much here. I’ve spent many hours in the darkness at Ala Moana Beach and the adjacent Magic Island and never felt the least bit threatened or uneasy. I guess one reason is the place is so thronged with people in the evening and early morning that, even in darkness, there is a real community here of folks enjoying themselves. People love this place, and take care of it. I notice many people with plastic bags and pick-up-sticks policing the area—groups from churches or temples, it appears to me, as well as individuals, one of whom I spoke to, telling me she’s just doing it “to take care of the place,” and fills up half a dozen plastic bags, tosses them in the trash cans, then dives in the ocean to cool off.

So here’s to Ala Moana beach, Magic Island, and all the other beaches in the islands where people are enjoying the natural world.

I’ll be back.
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