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Ramblings of a Ranger- Rambling across the Volcanic Isle of Maui
Rambling around the Island of Maui
From the Summit Lake Ranger Station Log Book, Lassen Volcanic National Park: Last Wednesday, Ranger Chuck S. and I, "rangers from hell" (we joked), did a trail run/patrol, hiking and running 20 miles: from Summit Lake to Echo, Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, Swan, Rainbow, all around Snag Lake and out again to Summit... in shorts, running shoes, backpacks with snacks, water, radios, and citation books...
So, I have these three old station log books, all of green felt, or whatever, two are filled and the last is half filled with years of writing and sketches: entries and stories and poems, fantastic emotional highs and a few deep lows, pages of weather and world events and local happenings, rescues and wildfires and every day occurrences of living in a national park... and filled with the reverence of being in a holy place. I mean, do you understand just what Lassen Volcanic is, what our national parks mean? They are pieces of our biological and geologic history, our natural and cultural past, part of our evolved souls; they represent a presence we still need and a connection our souls long for. And if they can remain protected, they are also our future, these 'islands' of hope, surrounded by dramatic disruption and change humans have wrought, and they contain the seeds, the biological diversity to help repopulate a devastated world.
Sometimes, finding the right entry or passage I want for the start of a story takes a while, thumbing through the well worn pages, but it is always a worth while task. Rangers range, you know, and that day, now long ago, Ranger Chuck and I ranged a lot, all on foot, 20 or so miles of back country patrol. So often the back country is understaffed, or UNstaffed, and of course, managers have to put their scant resources where the real action is likely to happen: in the front country, along the park roads or in the campgrounds. But the back country is the wilderness, the heart and soul of the park, and sometimes it needs attention, too. Besides, I am part of a small cadre of rangers who desire for, beg to get, time in the back country... all that nature connection and nostalgia: hiking the dusty miles to check on back pack campers, clean up trash and destroy unwanted fire rings, make sure that nature is allowed to persevere, sleeping out under a star-shimmered sky... all that! We weren't really 'rangers from hell' that day, but if you break the rules and cause resource damage, most likely you'll never get caught. But, if we find you, dogs running amok in the wilderness, hatchet throwing contest into some poor tree, orange-spray painted names on the ancient boulders (can you imagine that stupidity?), you'll probably have to clean it up, get a citation to court, get a lecture or at least a lesson on "Leave No Trace' and maybe come away a better human being.
But, back to that ranger-ranging-rambling thing. The chance to range should never be passed up, and for this old former ranger it comes in the form of a trip to The Islands, Man, more specifically, Maui. Oh my, imagine a mild rain falling onto a tin roof of a little cabana-cabin with the sliding doors wide open to the roar and tumult of the sea, a blue-green storm-tossed ocean, and to the heavy downpours and brilliant sun sparkling down, each in turn, while a house gecko barks out its strange birdlike call each morning, as it pads across the inside walls. That is Maui, for me.
The flight there is difficult, no it sucks, trapped without the ability to move around; took some antihistamine or something at the behest of my kind traveling companion, but it just made me antsy, climbing the walls, shifting, shifting, twitching... the flight back is worse, but the in-between is a marvel and a wonder and I chalk it up to the price one must pay for rich life experiences such as these. My first days there, with that lovely companion who makes it all possible, are spent in a ritzy resort area, where fabulous wealth and decadent lifestyles of the vulgar rich ( I LOVE that line!) leave me longing for peace, beauty, and simplicity, the simple elegance and complex connections to nature. So, into the reefs we go, thank goodness. The first thing I do, the very FIRST thing I do, as I enter the water that first day, to put on some swim fins, is to step onto a rock, such an innocent thing, and right onto a sea urchin.
Seven or ten or twelve spines break off in my right foot pad below my right big toe, and I have to spend time pulling as many of the little broken quills out, though pieces splinter and remain. It's the price I pay for glorious experience, I tell myself, and for weeks after I carry little purple dots tattooed into foot and some pain at the site... when I was teaching and taking students out on camp outs and rock climbs and hikes, and some of them fell or got bruised or scraped a knee or elbow, I would tell them that it was a badge of courage and accomplishment. If they went home from an outdoor adventure of rock leaping, and running and playing and doing service learning projects without a mark, it was like they really hadn't done anything, hadn't pushed enough. Okay, I can believe that in myself, eyeing the ever-present scrapes and scabs and bruises I get from activity!
I feel I can spend the rest of my life in these reefs, just diving down and through schools of color and motion, finding strange fishy creatures, elegant striped and dotted eels, so serpentine in movement, and a funny little flounder, scooting through the white sands, invisible until it moves. Just holding still and floating, feeling the ebb and flow of the ocean, is a welcome salve to the bruised spirit, a balm to the weary soul.
And then there are the powerful and majestic sea turtles drifting solemnly by... it's illegal to mess with them, and immoral too, I believe, and we don't, but one comes up close to stare at my goggled reef-mate, and a short time later two nearby skin divers bust out of the water and shout,"Sea Turtle!" And I see nothing of the sort, can't figure out their fuss and clamor, then I feel a presence and spin slowly in the water and there is a sea turtle as big as a VW bus (well, maybe), almost motionless and VERY close to me, staring at me, right through me... it's a magic moment and we notice that sea turtles didn't come close to anyone else, so we chalk it up to being blessed, to having a moment. Some say that's what it is, a blessing, and others say that the sea turtles are just accustomed to humans and ...yawn... no big deal, and whatever, I loved, loved, loved that experience.
What to say about driving around, about shopping in glitzy touristy places crammed with junk made in China? Or the overpriced bars? Not much...yawn... and not for me. I deal with it and do my share of supporting the local economies... and there is that moment when some street kid asks, "Wanna buy some weed?" Then, it's off to ride on a zip line and the best part of all, staying in a tiny hamlet on the northeast coast, called Hana. It may as well be named Heaven, because it is. The zip line is just that, hooking up on cables with lots of climbing equipment and harnesses and climbing up onto high platforms and trees and then 'zipping' down a long line, over canyons and over hillsides, to the delight of all.
Then climb up the next one and zip down, again. And, again. And again... in the end, my companion is really happy and it's lots of work and waiting for a few brief minutes of flight. It is rather tame to me, compared to rock climbing and belaying and rescues. Getting a helicopter ride up to the top of Lassen Peak, at 10,000+ feet in the winter to try to fix the radio 'repeater' unit and then ski down is way more fun, but I don't rain on anyone's parade, just grin and shout like the rest of 'em.
Several in our group are plain afraid of heights while I love it the higher up I am. You know, the Grand Canyon was a rather dangerous place for me to 'ranger' for a couple of summers, since I was constantly drawn to the rim and its siren song, beckoning. I liked climbing around those edges and fantastic drop-offs and dropping small rocks or pine cones off...
Speaking of ranging, we end up in Haleakala National Park, hiking up for a trip to a 400 foot waterfall. The seven sacred pools, near the ocean and within the park's boundary, are filled with torrents of roaring flood waters, it's been pouring for days, and all of these waterfalls are ripping: not with shining streams of tranquil blue-green water, but red-muddy-foamed and roiling... no swimming in these pools this trip. Strange and contorted banyan trees are found along the way, and a bamboo forest reaches far over our heads, bright green, like being underwater in a vast kelp forest, and when the breeze blows, the bamboo stalks clank against each other with an eerie musical tune.
Heavy rain showers and brilliant sun take turns, as the trade winds push moist air over the mountains, over the volcano of Haleakala, and a violent thunderstorm with wind and heavy rain floods the slopes, creating wildly surging waterfalls at every crease and canyon. Green rain forest trends to dry desert uplands as we travel south along the coast from Hana, and the water, grey storm, changing to blue clarity, beckons. That waterfall hike was the 'high' point for me, as well as swimming in the warm ocean. Often just a dribble,this waterfall, say the guide books, but the rains have created a cascading sheet of water, wind blown and rock-sprayed, pulsing with energy and light. We are able to walk into this fall, with a few other brave souls, and I feel the cool water, hard, beating down, and the, next instant, showering me with a whispery touch, spilling onto my upturned face; such a joyous feeling that I find myself laughing out loud while tears of joy pour down my waterfall-wet face.
The good and bad of Maui, from one former ranger's observations, seems to be this: such unique land and sea, still wild coastlines and semi-wilderness, especially up in the highlands of the national park of Haleakala, but there are sure human-caused problems: invasive species like rats and mosquitoes, carrying bird flu viruses, and loss of habitat and feral pigs have devastated Hawaii's native bird species: it's one of the greatest species die-offs in modern times and many wonderful and specialized species are extinct. There are invasive snakes, and mongooses, brought to try to control the rats and snakes, and it all causes the native species to struggle. The blue ocean has trouble with the sugar cane growers, as run-off effluent water, laden with fertilizer, causes alga blooms and clouds the waters and fish populations are in decline. Don't get me wrong, there are tons of beauty and unspoiled nature, lots worth saving and conserving. While there, we see them burn some of the cane fields, thick orange smoke smogging the deep blue skies.
Imported cattle cause damage to the fragile grasslands, of course, and trees like eucalyptus, brought from Australia, spread quickly, thickly crowding out native plants, as well as increasing the wild land fire danger. All of those tourists, (ha! like I'm not one), sitting in their pampered little suites, in those overdone and overdeveloped resorts, seem unaware and uncaring as to the plight of the rest of the islands and the struggle by native species for their very existence, or so I tell myself. Even the tall, thick and musical bamboo 'forest', so magical to walk through, is an exotic species, crowding out the natives.
Now, if one thing is true, true, true, it is that we humans change and change and change every part of the world. The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote island chain on earth, yet they, too, bear the damage done by humans and the species that we bring along, accidentally or on purpose. Not that parts of it aren't fantastic and timeless and hauntingly beautiful: but if one wanders up into a rain forest and doesn't get to hear the melodious calls of extinct bird species, well, there is something missing, and something is wrong, is all I am saying. And each generation born hears less beauty, sees less diversity, feels and is touched by less of nature's wonder... who will show our great grandchildren all that they are missing?
Seems my e-mail is crammed with environmental damage is the making: elephants still in trouble, and mountain gorillas and tigers and whales and dolphins and every place and everything is in danger of being overwhelmed. John Muir's words of "everything in the Universe is hitched to something else" which means it's hitched to us in some way, speaks to me, or as William Shakespeare wrote," One touch of nature makes the whole world kin!" but some of our kinfolk are disappearing.
Horace McFarland, a pioneer of the United States National Park Service, said," It is love of country that has lighted, and keeps glowing, the holy fire of patriotism. And this love is excited, primarily, by the beauty of the country." By that measure, most everyone I know, even me, are great patriots! Fine words and ideas to ponder in this rapidly changing and evolving world. Do yourself, and nature, a favor and take a wander, take a hike, see a sunset, feed the birds, close your eyes and take a good breath, and feel, just feel the connection to all that is special about the world around us, and the place each of us has in the natural world. Can't do that through any technology, go to lose that stuff, turn it off, step back in time, for a little while. Do it for yourself, for the earth, and for your grandchildren. Mahalo (that's' thank you' in native Hawaiian).