In nature nothing exists alone. ― Rachel Carson
As we sat in Honolulu traffic in the baking heat last week, there was no flow. The cars were not moving and there was no way out of this concrete, exhaust ridden mess. I decided this would be the perfect time to read out loud from our Guide to Oahu!
As we sat amidst convertible mustangs in every color, I rambled on about how Hawaii is one of the most isolated population masses on the face of the earth. Hawaii is 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. My seven-year-old piped up and said, “Then why are all these people here?”
The answer is that this is paradise.
This week we swam with 60-year-old Hawaiian green sea turtles that were playing in the surf. We observed critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal pups as they swam in protected pools along Kawela Bay. We marveled at the luminescent Hawaiian hibiscus that seems to attract and radiate light simultaneously. We listened to the native birds that chatter all day long but feverishly at sunrise and sunset. We know from our guidebook that more than half of the native species of birds that are left are endangered so we listen just a little more carefully to their fading song.
The most compelling measure of the remoteness of Hawaii is that it is the world capital of endemism. This means, for its size, Hawaii has the highest percentage of species that exist nowhere else on Earth. Because of this, it is also the extinction capital of the world. If a species dies off here, it is probably is gone from the face of the planet.
As we sat in gridlock, it was hard not to experience the contrast. We are players in this game. We are in this remote archipelago and yet we just went to Costco.
We keep our distance and respect the caution tape around the endangered species. We also know that much of this land has been slated for more development and the tape can’t prevent “progress.”
We don’t want to see hotels cover nesting grounds and destroy habitats and yet we have been frustrated by the lack of affordable housing available in paradise. The low supply creates a huge demand and yet I JUST linked that market condition to preserve the very nature of this paradise.
When we finally arrived at our temporary home on the North Shore, after-hours commuting, we jumped out of the car and into nature with a breath of desperation. My daughter grabbed a plumeria bloom, tucked it behind her ear, and ran toward the surf, stopping just at the water’s edge to show respect for its power and await an invitation. When she was ready, she plunged into the foamy waves and I watched as the remoteness of this tropical paradise came back into focus.
The more we travel, the harder it is to assign issues and accolades to a geographic location. It is one world and we are all connected and therefore citizens everywhere we go. We can’t hide behind the local, tourist, or ex-pat label as an explanation for what we are doing or not doing. It becomes clearer with each new landscape that our awareness of our footprint is directly tied to our ability to connect with nature. This is true whether we are in paradise or a concrete jungle, or stranger still, a concrete jungle in the middle of paradise.