Like eerie ghosts, the lights floated above the water, hundreds of feet from the shore. They were hovering around the area where the ocean swell meets the reef, as it creates the thunderous applause that seems to go on without end, the relentless ocean releasing her energy to the land in an eternal dance. Sometimes the lights would appear close, and then would veer off in some other direction as though chasing some unseen object. As we sat basking in the glow of a huge bonfire, Cyrus and I speculated on what the lights could be. Ships out at see? Kayakers trying to breach the 8 foot waves to make safe landing on the shore? Aliens looking for good night surfing?
The reef at Anini reaches out for nearly half a kilometer from the shore, and stretches out for nearly 5 kilometres along the shoreline, creating an excellent haven for all types of sea life, including snorkelers and divers. Those were obviously people out there, but what were they doing prowling the reef at night?
We had been camping at Anini Beach Park for several days. It is a choice camping spot, costing only 3 dollars a night per person, with restrooms, cold outdoor showers, and a very calm, protected beach. On most days the water is flat and glassy, due to the reef, which breaks the momentum of the wave well before it can reach the shore. There is prime shell picking, especially for the tiny Ni’ihau shells, which are woven into beautiful necklaces by the locals, and a fairly good sense of community amongst the campers. On the weekends it can get busy as the locals head out for some R&R. There are no designated sites, and camping is first come, first serve, which means the thin sheltered strip of trees lining the beach get snatched up, leaving the large grassy area away from the shore for the majority of campers, which included us.
Our first few days had been tranquil, as we re-learned the ropes of beach camping, and enjoyed some beach hopping to find some good waves for boogie boarding. On Presidents Day weekend, several large groups of Hawaiians had showed up, (or was it several groups of large Hawaiians?), equipped with huge pop-up shelters, and multi-family tents. Hawaiians know how to rough it, as they are not that far removed from their ancestors but I have a sneaking suspicion that their ancestors didn’t have generators, TV’s or 10,000 watt flood lamps. Nonetheless, the spirit of Ohana remains strong. Family is key in these gatherings, as cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents and children all share the experience of convening together in nature.
After watching a stack of palates get artfully arranged into a 12-foot-tall tower, Cyrus and I enjoyed the spectacle of the massive fire that ensued. It was a little surreal, sitting on a beach in perfectly warm weather, enjoying a fire that was probably visible from space. We were staring transfixed into the amber glow as licks of flame reached 30 feet into the air, when we noticed one of the bobbing lights getting closer to the shore. Wondering if we should put a call into SETI, we sat transfixed as a figure came into view.
The firelight revealed several extra flailing appendages on the dimly lit figure, and we moved toward the shore to have a better look, because, hey, who doesn’t want a closer view of an alien, or sea monster, or whatever this was? In a surprisingly short time, a man came into full view, wearing a wet suit and carrying a spear, on which he had impaled an assortment of brightly coloured fish, and several rather large eels. I felt awash with an indescribable primal feeling, as I realized that this was a process which had been going on for thousands of years, that there was a connection with the elements that this man carried. He was an extension of the sea, had become a part of it, and it a part of he. This was about as earthly an experience as one could wish for.
He had walked out on the shallow reef, and the sea had shared her abundance with him. He had braved dangers, including the sharks which prowl the reef at night, and come back with a small feast for his family, to be cooked on a fire the size of a small house. He had, for a time, become a potential part of the food chain, and not just the top of it. All the trappings of modern society were mere conveniences. This could have happened, and had, once upon a time, without the fancy tents, lamps, cars, or palate fires. Despite generations of influence from non-Hawaiians, there were deep roots here. The spirit of the ancestors lived on, ghosts who had found form.