Some Significant Change

SUBHEAD: As we humans blunder on, the plants and animals are already preparing for some significant change. By Joan Conrow on 4 September 2012 for Kauai Eclectic - ( Image above: The Botero Gallery Bar in a courtyard of the Grand Wailea Hotel on Maui. From ( I’m on Maui, the place that Kauai is always saying it doesn’t want to be, and we don’t, in terms of the super upscale resorts and vacation home communities that are not just gated, but walled, and the tacky strip malls that have sprung up around Kahului and Kihei. Still, there’s a lot to love about this place, like Haleakala, which revealed itself under sunny skies and conditions clear enough to see the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. And I always enjoy being able to see the other islands, like red-scarred Kahoolawe, the gentle blue mound of Lanai and the little brown lump of Molokini, all of which are visible from the beach where I swam in clear waters this morning as a big honu moseyed by. Not so nice is the line of windmills marching like a white fence up the otherwise barren West Maui mountains. They’re ugly, and intrude on nearly every view plane, prompting me to wonder where on Kauai we might be willing to tarnish the landscape with similar structures. It seems they could’ve at least been painted bluish-brown to blend in with the terrain. It’s been interesting, with my sister visiting, to experience the world that tourists inhabit. Everyone has been super nice, though surely those who work in the visitor industry on Kauai could come up with something other than the hackneyed, “So where are you from?” On Maui, the set phrase seems to be, “Are you having a good day?” In checking out the big resorts — we stayed two nights at the Hyatt on Kauai and cruised through the massive and opulent Grand Wailea here on Maui, as well as the Four Seasons — I’m stunned at what is required to keep these places functioning. The electricity, the water, the staff, the supplies. It’s absolutely astounding. And I keep thinking, when I look at the size of some of these places, the thousands of rooms that must be filled to keep it all going, are there really that many people willing and able to plunk down $600 to $700 per day for lodging and meals? Realistically, how much more can the visitor industry in Hawaii expect to grow, especially on the high-end side? I’m not a shopper, but my sister is, so I’ve had a chance to see what’s being sold, and for how much. North Shore Kauai seems to be catering to folks who have the cash to spend $70 on a simple cotton nightgown and $110 for a pair of yoga pants. Even Hanalei Liquor, long the last throwback to the downscale days of old, has gotten a major exterior renovation. Here on Maui, we walked through the Shops at Wailea, a two-story mall where all the shops had their doors wide open, billowing icy AC into the desert-like air. Alongside brand name retailerers like Tiffany’s and Rolex, where the clerks looked miserably bored, there were smaller shops selling the usual schlocky tourist crap. I couldn’t help but notice a new clothing line that announces, “Hawaii, established 1959.” WTF? The women’s bathroom in that tony mall had more stalls than the lua at Lihue Airport, prompting me to again wonder, are there really that many well-heeled shoppers in this one corner of Maui? We certainly haven’t encountered any crowds, and some of the resorts look like they’re less than half-full. My sister attributes it to the off-season. I think it’s more likely the off-economy, and I feel for all the workers who depend on tips when the visitor count is low. In the Wailea-Makena area of Maui, the manicured green golf courses and lush resort landscaping stands in sharp contrast to the goat-nibbled keawe trees and sun-scorched grass of the vacant lots that don’t have irrigation and I wonder, where are they getting all this water? What streams are being de-watered, diverted, to make the desert verdant? Mostly, though, I can’t help but feel like it’s all an illusion, an unsustainable dream of paradise that we keep pretending can be carried on forever, perpetually expanded. Which brings me to a tour we took of the Allerton Gardens on Kauai, where our guide, a man named Frank, pointed out a mango tree that was in its second fruiting, and simultaneously flowering. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “No one can explain it.” A woman noted the same thing was happening in South Florida, and I felt the creep of chicken skin as I wondered, is it akin to crisis blooming, a phenomenon that occurred after Iniki, when the plants burst into flower out of season because they thought they were dying after being buffeted by intense winds, stripped of their leaves? Later, I got an email about how the first whale of the season had been spotted in late August off the Big Island — the earliest that whales have returned here in recorded history, and I thought, as we humans obliviously blunder on, the plants and animals are already preparing for some significant change. Because surely they know better than we what's really going on. .

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