SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
August 20, 1962
Reflections on a wayward passage through Hawaii's neighbor islands, including encounters with benign and secret toads, beguiled antelopes, neurotic goats, a laughing girl, a peremptory Chinese, many 'pipipi' and a steamed mullet in a Japanese bakery
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August 20, 1962

The Outer Islands: Miracles And Prophecies

Reflections on a wayward passage through Hawaii's neighbor islands, including encounters with benign and secret toads, beguiled antelopes, neurotic goats, a laughing girl, a peremptory Chinese, many 'pipipi' and a steamed mullet in a Japanese bakery

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It was quite late when we left the inn, and around Lihue on Kauai the place to go after hours is a Chinese restaurant with a sign hanging outside which says: "Wontun." Inside, you sit amidst fragrant steam at a wooden counter and eat huge bowls of wontun soup. Thus fortified (or purified) you drive home. Halfway to my hotel Tony sagged over the wheel, as if the last air had been let out of him; sort of giving up the ghost. He protested that he wanted to sleep by the side of the road. I took over and drove along the strange, winding, mild coast. It was then I noted the bufos hopping swiftly across the road at intervals, as though bound to a greater, ineluctable obedience. It was a benign spectacle and induced genial speculation, like a hot bath.

I saw them again when I went with Rick Fuller, a game area supervisor, to take a game bird census in Kekaha, also on Kauai. Much of Kekaha is a high, dry plateau; there is prickly pear up there. We struck out singly and, after walking for miles in the hot forenoon, compared notes. We had seen nine pheasants, 50 barred doves, seven chukars and a francolin. The bufos were by the water units Rick had built for the birds; green as jade, concealing princes.

Beyond my hotel, beneath the mountains where it is always raining, there is a beach on which feathery crabs run with great swiftness. They don't seem to touch the ground—indeed, to be bowled along by a private wind. At evening, when the crabs are in their holes, the people from the town where Tony lives cook spaghetti and octopuses on the beach. From the hotel window I could see their fires and the lights on the swinging masts of the boats moored in the bay distorted by the glass into dandelion seeds.

There is, providentially, no outdoor advertising in Hawaii but there are such signs: Do Not Trash Up The Road; Look Out For Falling Coconuts; Keep Out: Please No Pick, Bother Or Bust Up. Busting up is, apparently, a problem. On the island of Lanai, which is the world's largest privately-owned pineapple plantation, the Dole company erected picnic tables in a palm grove by the bathing beach. One night the tables were busted up. They were made of useful lumber. Dole replaced them and again they were busted up. Finally, the company set a small bronze plaque in the center of each new table. The tables are there today. The plaques read: In Memory of those Lanai Veterans who Died for their Country.

Lanai is the scene of an important game management experiment: in 1959 pronghorn antelope were introduced from Montana. Before this, Lanai's big game consisted of feral goats, axis deer and mouflon sheep, all imported in one century or another. There are some 35 square miles of tableland, much of it bound by the silvery, green-and-red, fragrant geometry of the pineapple fields. Too open for deer and not suitable for mouflon, it is the habitat of an occasional ringneck pheasant and its antagonist, the wild cat. It is a desolate, silent plain of red earth, shrubs, stands of pine and pale grass, soft but so thickly matted one can lie on it and be buoyed above the ground. Here and there are apparently haphazard designs made out of small boulders. They are not, as has been suggested, the work of the Menehune, a lost and legendary tribe who were two feet tall, had distended bellies, worked only at night and capriciously turned one another into stone. The designs were, in fact, targets for bombers making practice runs. Lyman Nichols, who was resident wildlife biologist from 1957 to 1961, noted that the old bombing range was similar to pronghorn country on the mainland, and in December 1959, 38 pronghorn were released on Lanai.

The project had an eventful but melancholy beginning. "One factor was overlooked in the release," Nichols has written, "...the antelope had never seen salt water, and were used to large fresh-water lakes in which to quench their thirst. They took one look at the large, blue 'lake' several miles down slope from the release area, and headed directly for the Pacific Ocean! Unfortunately, they bypassed the water units placed in the release area. Some time during the first night following their release, they found their way through the heavy algarroba [mesquite] forest lining the coast and came out on the narrow sand beach between the forest and the sea.

"The next day, they were found wandering disconsolately up and down the narrow beach, searching vainly for drinking water, and unable to return to the cooler, open country above because of the solid forest which they refused to enter. A crew of volunteers was immediately rounded up, and the antelope, now suffering from lack of water, were herded up the beach to an open ridge that led to the higher rangeland and water units. During the drive, some of the animals became confused and took to the water, swimming out over the reef towards the open sea; however, the surf turned them, and they returned to shore with no losses. A few became lost in the trees and did not make it up the ridge with the main herd. Most of these were subsequently chased—or captured and carried—up to the open range of the release area, but at least two died on the beach, probably from the effects of drinking salt water.

"The majority regained the release area and found the. water units. They remained there for a number of days before commencing to wander. By January 20th, the known survivors had been reduced to 18. A number had died from the effects of having their eyeballs punctured by the thorns on the algarroba trees while they were at the beach, and others had wandered from the main herd and could not be found. Most of the 18 were suffering from scours [dysentery], probably brought on by the severe change in diet, and it is possible that some losses were caused by this."

The antelope have since prospered; the herd now numbers 52 and the government hopes to declare a season in a few years.

At present the most popular big game in Hawaii is feral pig and goat. The goats came ashore with the early captains, such as James Cook and George Vancouver; the first pigs traveled across the South Pacific with the Polynesians who settled Hawaii. A second lot came in with Cook. Their welfare was assured by the fact that the early Hawaiians considered dog an equally succulent dish. Although still similar in appearance to their domestic counterparts, the pigs and goats have undergone certain physical changes during several centuries in the wilderness, particularly in size, coat and length and shape of tusk and horn. Goats have attained a live weight of 120 pounds; their horns are as much as three inches in diameter and grow in various, and extraordinary, screws and directions. Pigs have been killed that weighed up to 300 pounds undressed and had tusks as broad as the goats' horns.

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