In 2015, an estimated 8.6 million people visited the state of Hawaii. In comparison, 1.4 million people call Hawaii “home.”
I won’t argue that it’s a wonderful place to visit; the clearness of the water, the white sand beaches, the beautiful flora, the awe-inspiring volcanoes…
You get my point.
But I feel like many people relax a bit too much. They forget to be conscientious of their environment. We’re on vacation, they think. The staff will pick it up for me.
Besides treating the indigenous population like their own personal servants (which is a whole other discussion, in and of itself), they’re endangering the environment. Who’s to say the wind or water won’t grab your plastic cup first?
It may be your paradise vacation, but it’s their home.
And it used to be my dad’s home.
I have visited Hawaii before, but I’ve never lived there. Yet I have a second-hand respect for it and its residents thanks to my dad. Of his many stories, there are plenty about his childhood on Maui.
Oh, how I squirmed in delightful repulsion of his description of the insects that crawled his bedroom floor freely at night. When he needed to get up to use the bathroom, he would turn a flashlight beam to the floor and like convicts evading the spotlight of a police helicopter the vermin would flee, the sounds of tiny legs scuttling away audible.
Some house vermin were less repulsive. Green geckos were common visitors but also quite courteous. If a family member walked anywhere, the geckos were gracious enough to get out of their way. They saw themselves in and would see themselves out. Unless, of course, they found their way to the freezer. As any grade schooler could tell you, geckos are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded. Meaning as soon as they squirmed their way through the crack in the broken seal of the freezer and took a few steps in, they were as good as frozen. And so, if my dad or any of his five siblings opened the freezer for a popsicle, they would inevitably find a frozen gecko. Then, they would grab their popsicle and pluck the little guy from the freezer shelf and diligently carry him out the door to the front porch. My dad related how he enjoyed watching them thaw out into consciousness in the sun’s rays before racing away, especially when only their front half was thawed and would try to hurry along with its hind legs and tail still frozen stiff.
If you’ve read my story Our Blue Marble, you may remember a recollection the protagonist has about her mother picking up fresh seaweed at low tide. I will admit that was blatantly lifted from my dad’s stories. Whenever my dad would head to the beach early, with friends or his siblings, he said it was a common sight to see these Japanese housewives bending over to pick up the sea-water-slicked vegetation into their colanders. The seaweed ranged from deep green to brown and all together had a powerful briny stench. By the end of that day, the same seaweed would be on someone’s dinner table.
As a kama’aina kid there was no more humbling experience given by the ocean than going out to surf. Plenty of kids had surfmats—a 4’ long rubber inflatable that was popular in the ‘60s with kids learning to surf. If you practiced enough, you could catch a nice wave. North shore on Maui was the best place for big waves, according to my dad. But it was terrible to get caught in the “washing machine” there. This was the part of the breaker wave where the crest overturns onto the body of the wave, creating a spiraling motion inside. If you got caught in one, it was like--
Well, like being inside a washing machine. Hence, the name.
Inevitably, my dad would paddle out, enter the wrong part of the wave, and end up in the “washing machine.” After the dizzying affair and the momentary terror of wondering which way was up, he would surface to cough and spit and gasp for air. Then, he’d paddle back to shore thinking, There’s no way I’m doing that again.
And after about ten minutes of sulking onshore, he’d head back out to try again.
Whether it’s the all-encompassing ocean or creatures that scuttle underfoot, it’s hard to escape the fact that no matter much development occurs on Hawaii you’re still surrounded by nature. Scorpions may try to sting you, coconuts or papayas may try to conk you on the head, or the Ocean itself will beat you in a rough-and-tumble, but, hey, it’s home.
Luckily, my dad left before the Pacific Garbage Patch started flinging large chunks of industrial fishing refuse at the islands. With the way the islands are separated, they act as a sieve, collecting the debris that doesn’t pass between the islands. Becoming a major problem in the 1980s, literal tons of waste have to be collected and burned from beaches. As recently as March, a beach in Ka’u on the Big Island had be cleaned of over 11 tons of waste. In a few months, this will have to be repeated as the ocean currents bring a new round of waste to the shores.
And so, all I ask is that when you vacation at Hawaii, don’t be lazy, don’t be arrogant. Pick up your trash, the islands aren’t that large and trash accumulates so easily. I don’t want my dad to return to the beaches of his childhood and only notice the garbage, instead of the sand, instead of the water, instead of his home.
Helpful Tips If You’re Headed to Hawaii