My Mental Mapping

The Big Island is Big. And diverse: waterfalls, deserts, lush rainforests and tangled buzzing jungles, wind-brushed green and silver grass on low hills, wide yellow plains, even near-tundra perma-frosted, with lichen on the rocks and stunted wind-bent brush.
Driving from point to point, you can see out over the guardrails into the varied vastness of the island. There are "Scenic Point" pull-outs along nearly every road-- offering a pause for a vista over jungle, plains, and sea. Tourists in rental cars clump at these spots, shooting pictures over the guardrails.
I admit I have my fair share of guardrail pictures-- just this morning the mist was pouring over the puu on my way back from school and I stuck my camera out the window and snapped a few before the light turned green. And rainbow pictures-- there are almost always spectacular rainbows chasing alonside you on Kawaihae road. The one behind the title of the blog has a tell-tale corner of guardrail.
And the roadside picture snapping is symptomatic of an important quality of the Big Island: it's a closed book. There are the major roads that sweep you from point to point: towns, a park, an airport, and hustle you past all the jungle and green. As an outsider, you can stop and take pictures of the views-- but there is no simple way into the heart of the island itself. There is hardly any public space, except for slivers of beaches, and the ribbons of paved roads.
I love camping and hiking-- in other places I've lived, it's that kind of slow-paced recreation that broadens my mental picture of the place. Mountains and wildernesses can be consciously colonized on the rugged trails and washboarded raods criss-crossing public lands and parks.
I am continually frustrated that there are no public hikes, or worthwhile camping places in our town. There is a vast swath of Public Forest Reserve that I can see from my window-- but there are no legal paths into it. Our cop neighbor warned us-- the only legal way in is by written permission from the water district, and several private landholders-- or by helicopter.
This closed face of the island only bothers us newcomers and tourists. Everyone we know camps and rides horses on the weekends-- on their own land, across their grandpa's pasture, and at their uncle's Hawaiian Homes beach lot.
It has been our project to explore the unglamorous little trails that exist-- the neglected hunter paths and unpaved paths to old Hawaiian ponds. And I have been--slowly-- filling out my mental picture of the island.
As we have become closer friends with our neighbors, we have been able to camp on their ranches, help feed their goats, travel miles over rocky road to the high dry pastures on Mauna Kea, and traverse the reservoirs with permission and peer into the sheer misty heart of the island.

And the more I connect with people, find out from them their favorite places (the unmarked road just after the 1st gulch, the swimming beach behind that industrial park), and the more I'm able to go to their homes and land with them, the more my mental map of the island becomes more than just connecting roads crossing blank space. Like ink lines drawn onto wet paper, my awareness of the land spreads outwards from the public spaces and into the realm of the beautiful private.
The landscape becomes meaningful when places are connected to individuals. Knowing histories-- personal and cultural-- changes landscape, flaying open the layers of sight into layers of meaning.
And it's only beyond the guardrails that it can happen.


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