For Andy Taira, a retired landscaper, the valley provides an unending opportunity to learn about Hawaiian culture. Boots pulled up over his jeans, Taira is a quiet mainstay on the slopes and terraces—chopping weeds, spraying herbicides, planting koa, tending the dryland taro. “I like to discover something new every day,” he says.
Volunteer Donna Kroetsch, a registered nurse, weeds around the base of a kokio keokeo (native white hibiscus). In her words, the valley is a place “where old Hawai‘i still lives.”
As I pull on my work gloves and safety goggles and begin dragging branches of Java plum to the wood chipper, I can feel it, too. Even the roar of the chipper can’t steal that heavy peace. It lives in the strength of the pohaku (stones) that line the terraces, the stillness that pervades the golden afternoon, the sudden rush of wind through the kukui leaves that makes me look up, with chicken skin, from my work.
Later, the volunteers gather for a well-earned lunch under the spreading branches of a huge monkeypod tree. Lindsey lifts a teardrop-shaped stone, balancing its weight in his palm. “We are discovering little by little about our ancestors,” he says.
“My dad told me before he died that everything Native Hawaiians had came from two things: ‘sticks and stones.’ The stories reveal themselves in the pohaku.”
The shape of this particular stone tells of pounding poi, staple food of the ancient Hawaiians. Other stones reveal other uses, and tell other stories.
As for the “sticks”—“they provide food, clothing, medicine, canoes, fire, water,” Lindsey says. “They are the native plants.”
But for the last hundred years, native plants in Honokowai, and the Hawaiian Islands overall, have been under attack from invasive species and foreign diseases.
Puanani bends over a small ‘ohi‘a tree whose leaves are darkened with a rusty fungus. She strokes the diseased plant with gentle fingers. “We may lose this one,” she says, her voice pained.