It's Monday morning, March 14, 2011 in Hawaii. I pull back the sheer curtain covering the window beside my desk to peer through hibiscus bushes. I see blue sky, white clouds and the glare of sunshine through a dappled leafy view. A shama thrush belts out a musical tune. My dogs race upstairs to investigate a sound that only they can hear. I sit at my computer, fingers poised above the keyboard. Threads of sentences stream through my head. But I am at a loss for words.
I must write about the tsunami that hit Hawaii in the early morning hours of Friday, March 11, of course. How could I not? It's the elephant in the virtual room, isn't it? But how can I share Hawaii’s tsunami experience when the news of the devastation in Japan keeps pouring in? First, the 9.0 mega-quake near the east coast of Honshu, Japan. Then, the tsunami roared through on the earthquake’s heels. Now, nuclear meltdowns threaten. It's enough to freeze my fingers into arthritic claws and ensure I never type another word.
My friend Pat's sailboat--her home--ended up wedged underneath her dock at the Ala Wai Harbor on Oahu and, indeed, there are reports of varying degrees of damage at many of the harbors across Hawaii.
A home overlooking Kealakekua Bay on Big Island was inundated with water and upon sunrise on Friday, its roof was found floating in the bay. Down the road, the surge of ocean compromised the pier at Kailua-Kona, also on Big Island, rushing over the breakwall in a waterfall and tearing up Alii Drive as if a bulldozer had powered through, flooding businesses and retail establishments and the lobby of the recently-renovated King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. County work crews swooped in to clear the damaged half-mile section and re-open the road and, today, the mayor walked door-to-door informing business owners of an imminent re-paving project.
Down the coast, the National Park Service closed Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park indefinitely while staff assessed damages and cleared debris.
Hulihe'e Palace, closed temporarily due to flooding in the basement, reported all artifacts were relocated prior to the tsunami’s arrival.
On Maui, a fisherman watched his boat—and commercial fishing business—sink at Maalaea Harbor, while Jim Darling's whale research vessel overturned at Lahaina Harbor.
Devastation of another kind took place in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, some 1,100 miles from Honoluu. On Kure and Midway atolls, thousands, if not tens of thousands of Laysan and Black-footed albatross chicks were washed away, some out to sea, some far away from their nest site, some embedded in brush and debris, some buried, some, no doubt, drowned, maybe even as they tilted their heads to receive food in the form of protein-packed slush from their parents. And, yet, Wisdom, the 60-year-old female hailed last week as the oldest-known banded bird, and the lone short-tailed albatross chick both, miraculously survived.
All this from a tsunami with wave heights that peaked at 4.9 feet at Midway in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, 2.5 feet at Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai, 2.3 feet at Honolulu on Oahu, 5.7 feet at Kahului on Maui and 4.6 feet at Hilo on Hawaii (Big) Island, start to finish.
I can't speak for everyone. A few lost their homes and their livelihood in Friday's tsunami as it rolled its way through Hawaii. And, for them, that is a very, very big deal. Indeed. But people in Hawaii pour their sentiments outward--to Japan--even those whose lives were affected, some greatly, here in Hawaii where the tsunami reminded us of the power of water, no matter its size.
And, so I ask again, how can I write about the relatively minor tsunami wave--a wave most professional surfers would consider small and a wave with no loss of life attached to it—how can I write about it after witnessing clip after clip after clip of water rushing inland, destroying homes and entire streets of homes and entire communities of homes?
Today, visitors soak up the sun on Hawaii’s world-class beaches. Locals head to work. Children go to school. My employer, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, manages and/or owns numerous hotels along Hawaii's coastlines and, they are all up and running, accepting reservations, operating business as usual. Nary a glitch. My house has electricity to power my computer and television and refrigerator. We have running water to drink, water in which to shower and bathe and flush our toilets.
And that’s the writing conundrum. Was there damage? Yes. Was it extensive? No. (Not even if there was no Japan tragedy with which to compare it.) Should the tsunami be taken lightly? Joked about? Called a non-event like last year's tsunami? Absolutely not. Will it impact visitor experiences and the lives of kamaaina? Hardly.
These thoughts and more ping pong their way through my mind when I realize the sound that drew my dogs upstairs was the Fed Ex man who stopped by the house to make a delivery and, instead of knocking, left a slip of paper saying they'd re-attempt delivery again tomorrow. I call 1-800-GO-FEDEX and find myself getting snarky with the customer service agent. "I am home," I say. "I work from home. I never left my home. Why didn't he--or she--knock?"
Joe, the well-trained customer service guy, says he will call local FedEx location and request re-delivery for later today.
And I hang up, still feeling right and righteous and wronged, when it dawns on me. I am upset about a silly Fed Ex delivery--a printer that I don't even need but was too good of a buy to pass up when I purchased my new MacBook Pro--when 3,850 miles away, there are people going on four days without food. People without homes. People who have lost loved ones. Lots and lots of loved ones.
When the FedEx guy--a fill-in--returns a few hours later, honking his way up my drive, I am chastised, embarassed. "Thank you for coming back," I say. "I appreciate it."
I return to my computer, contemplating the many directions I could go with this blog post.
One: a simple timeline of the events as they unfolded for us in Hawaii, starting with my discovery at 9:00 p.m. that we were under a tsunami watch and a message from Outrigger’s Director of Security & Safety, Jerry Dolak who shared this email from the Civil Defense of the State of Hawaii:
A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED THAT COULD CAUSE DAMAGE ALONG COASTLINES OF ALL ISLANDS IN THE STATE OF HAWAII. URGENT ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN TO PROTECT LIVES AND PROPERTY. A TSUNAMI IS A SERIES OF LONG OCEAN WAVES. EACH INDIVIDUAL WAVE CREST CAN LAST 5 TO 15 MINUTES OR MORE AND EXTENSIVELY FLOOD COASTAL AREAS. THE DANGER CAN CONTINUE FOR MANY HOURS AFTER THE INITIAL WAVE AS SUBSEQUENT WAVES ARRIVE. TSUNAMI WAVE HEIGHTS CANNOT BE PREDICTED AND THE FIRST WAVE MAY NOT BE THE LARGEST. TSUNAMI WAVES EFFICIENTLY WRAP AROUND ISLANDS. ALL SHORES ARE AT RISK NO MATTER WHICH DIRECTION THEY FACE. THE TROUGH OF A TSUNAMI WAVE MAY TEMPORARILY EXPOSE THE SEAFLOOR BUT THE AREA WILL QUICKLY FLOOD AGAIN. EXTREMELY STRONG AND UNUSUAL NEARSHORE CURRENTS CAN ACCOMPANY A TSUNAMI. DEBRIS PICKED UP AND CARRIED BY A TSUNAMI AMPLIFIES ITS DESTRUCTIVE POWER. SIMULTANEOUS HIGH TIDES OR HIGH SURF CAN SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE TSUNAMI HAZARD. THE ESTIMATED ARRIVAL TIME IN HAWAII OF THE FIRST TSUNAMI WAVE IS
0259 AM HST FRI 11 MAR 2011
Two: A simple listing of links to news articles and amateur video that has crossed my path in the past three days.
Three: Hawaii’s deep connection with Japan and the immediate outpouring of help to the people of Japan, including a concert fundraiser sponsored by ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who has family ties to Fukushima, and his manager, who is from Sendai, two areas hit by the natural disasters.
Four: A compare and contrast of March Madness for those of us around the globe. There is the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final Four Tournament. A Tournament of Books. SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Even, in the midst of it all, the mad scramble at Apple stores for the new iPad2. And, then, of course, there is Japan.
Looking for guidance of any sort, I step outside and sit in the sun. My dogs take the opportunity to roll in the prickly grass—or some detestable scent. I shuffle a deck of cards. Not just any cards. These are known as The Hawaiian Oracle: Animal Spirit Guides from the Land of Light. I pull a card daily for many reasons: 1) to learn about the Hawaiian culture; 2) to give me something to ponder during my day; 3) to get my head outside my own ego-centric reality.
After shuffling for a few minutes, cutting the deck into thirds, re-stacking them and, then, pulling the 14th card—for the day of the month—I turn over the card labeled Naia. The picture illustrates what appears to be a bottlenose dolphin leaping out of the ocean high into the air. The marine mammal is wearing its ever-present smile, of course. Sparkles and wisps of light radiate around the animal.
According to author Rima A. Morrell, PhD, nai’a—or dolphin—represents these three characteristics: playfulness, grace and unconditional love.
In the accompanying book, Morrell includes a Hawaiian saying:
Pi’i ka ihu o ka nai’a ika makani.
The nose of the dolphin rises towards the wind.
Morrell writes, “In the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant, Nai’a is one of the first fish to appear, diving in the ocean of the sun.
Hanau ka I’a, hanau ka nai’a
i ke kai la holo.
Born is the I’a, born the Nai’a
swimming into the ocean of the sun.
She says, “Perhaps the reason Nai’a appeared first is that it’s important for us to learn all our lessons with joy. The nose of the dolphin rises towards the wind, and the wind in Hawaii represents love.”
“If Nai’a is your ‘aumakua for the day, you have a living example of how to embody love. Make your dolphin day stretch out to eternity!”
It does seem a little too pat of an answer. That all we need during these anxious times is love. But, I suppose, if we didn’t already live from a place of love; that is, if we didn’t believe in love and feel love for those closest to us, we wouldn't feel moved to help strangers across the Pacific and across the globe. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t text REDCROSS to 90999 to make donations to the relief effort. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t hold ukulele concerts to raise money. We wouldn’t send messages and prayers via Facebook and Twitter. We wouldn’t call and email friends to check on their well-being in times of great need. And I’ve seen this and more in the past four days.
That's it's for now. That's all I've managed to make of this tsunami and my resulting tsunami of thoughts. The thoughts will continue to run up. They will run dry. And I'll still try to discern some meaning from it all. Because that's what I do. In the mean time, as the bumper sticker reads here in Hawaii, "Live Aloha."