Sometimes you wonder where traditions begin. Many traditions help to form who we are and others become memories of times gone by. Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, there are many traditions. Hawaiians are proud of their heritage and keep up with the traditions so as not to lose touch with who they are as a people. Of course there are Luaus’ and Hula, and then there’s Madam Pele.
I’m really not sure if you’d call it tradition or superstition, but of course you NEVER bring home lava. There are all kinds of stories about bad luck following those people whoo have dared to bring home a chunk of lava in their suitcases. There are many stories of people mailing the lava back to Volcano’s State Park to try to stem the tide of bad luck.
But this blog is about a tradition that must have been started by tourists visiting the island and it’s been going on for years. For miles (roughly 15 miles) along the stretch of Highway 19 near the Kona Airport, there is what can only be described as Hawaiian Graffiti. I can only imagine that once, long ago, some savvy traveler noticed the slate of midnight black lava that covers the landscape. No doubt they had visions of chalkboards from their school days. They probably saw the plentiful water worn white coral that splashes up with the waves on some of the black sand beaches and got an idea. An idea to memorialize their visit to the Big Island and leave their mark. You will find all kinds of messages; love, death, words of wit and just plain names and initials. There are many memorials built to loved ones who have passed.
Of course there are no rules other than common sense, but etiquette says not to disturb the messages others have taken the time and effort to build. And I’ll tell you, it is a chore to bring coral from the sea in enough quantity and then either stoop and build or try to sit gently on the razor sharp lava to complete your works of art.
Way back in 2000, nine years ago, I happened to be on a business trip with two environmental consultants and good friends, Simon Wakin and Pam Hesterberg. We had business on every island and I didn’t have my wife Linda with me. SO, being the romantic type, I noticed all these messages and thought how cool it would be to leave a message for Linda and take a picture. So, with my friends at my side (they were off the official payroll as consultants and you can only ask friends to help you toil away like that), we found a lot of loose coral and a nice clean slate on the Pa Hoi Hoi (smooth lava) and went to work. I took pictures and my wife loved me. In the biblical sense.
Two years later, Linda and I returned and hunted for her memorial. With a relatively fresh memory it wasn’t hard to find though we were rather shocked to see it intact after two years. Okay, so here it is 2009; nine years after it was built and seven year after the last time I saw it. Memories were dim of location, but we had to find out. Could this delicate message have withstood seven years of wind, rain and tourism?
A few days ago, Linda and I left the Hapuna Prince Resort and headed south on Highway 19. I called my friends Simon and Pam hoping they could refresh my memory of where we had built it. There are few landmarks to use as reference as Simon reminded me. Pam only knew it was near the airport. SO we drove, as slowly as I could considering traffic. With the speed limit of 55 MPH, those messages are just blurs. My eyes were occupied with the road and my wife’s eyes are not as good as they were. For near fifteen miles we searched and then, some visual stimulus hit me. I slowed the car and made the statement, “It’s right in here. I’m sure of it.”
Well, the first pass by we missed it, so I turned around and went back, this time parking on the side of the road and the half mile stretch of smooth lava. It took about ten minutes and I saw it. The “L” was a little disheveled and the “A” had fallen asunder, but there it was. Linda’s Big Island memorial. We took a half hour for some well needed maintenance and viola, my beautiful wife’s memorial is ready for another ten years or more.
We took another thirty minutes to work on another project. No, we didn’t build a memorial to our children, Kelly, Kristen and Kaitlin. We worked on a tribute to the hard work I’ve been doing the past four years. You’ll have to see it below.