I always love my guests’ reaction to the stop signs in the Parker Ranch Center, one of two main strip malls in Waimea. Nearly everyone pauses to take a picture. They are a great reminder to locals and tourists alike that this is Paniolo Country. The uplands have a whole different culture than the beaches and tourist attractions on the dry side of the island.
Actually, our island signage reveals deep differences between Hawai’i and the mainland. I see signs here that I’d never see in Wisconsin.
Take the signs along the beaches. The lakeshore signage in Wisconsin consists largely of “Swim at your own Risk”. We also saw occasional warnings of poor water quality along Lake Michigan due to rainwater exceeding Milwaukee’s sewage treatment capacity. Their solution was to dump raw sewage into the lake. Gee, thanks Milwaukee.
But even on the beaches, the waves can get huge, especially in winter, and the riptides can take people out quickly. That’s why I insist that the girls swim only on beaches with lifeguards. Luckily, we have many.
On top of that, we also have occasional rogue waves that scoop people up, and dump them into the sea. When this happens, it is typically from a rocky edge or seawall without gradual steps or sand back up to shore. That makes it difficult for the victim to return to shore, and it complicates rescues. A while ago I heard a radio report on a guy who was washed out to sea from shore by a large wave. His friend jumped in after him to save him. The friend drowned, and the first guy is still missing.
Near the Volcanoes National Park where lava is pouring into the ocean, rogue waves and even normal waves can also scald people after passing near the lava.
Then there’s the weather aberrations. Okay, tsunamis aren’t really weather, but the weatherman is the one who reports on them. It spooks me a bit to drive to Kona or Hilo and see the signs that warn me that I am entering a tsunami evacuation area. Seeing other signs pointing me to an evacuation route are only somewhat comforting. What I really want to see is the sign that says I am leaving the area. The probability of a tsunami occurring while I am in one of these zones is very small, but the consequences (to me) would be staggering.
Funny, I never had the same reaction to signs pointing me to Tornado Evacuation Shelters (typically public building basements) in Wisconsin. The yearly tornado drills at work and in schools, and the constant exposure to tornado watches and warnings, made me accustomed to those dangers.
But never blasé: I always dutifully went to the basement whenever we had a warning, and in Wisconsin, every building has a basement. There was never a bottleneck. In a large building there would be several entrances to the basement and everyone proceeded in an orderly manner down the stairs. On the Big Island, there are few roads leading out of tsunami areas. I can only imagine the gridlock and road rage.
There are other signs that made me look twice here in Hawai’i. Some of them make me want to laugh, mostly because of the novelty, the differences from what I saw in Wisconsin. Take the animal road crossing signs. In Wisconsin, deer crossing warnings are everywhere. Drive close to a patch of trees and you’ll be sure to see a sign, often full of bullet holes. I never got nonchalant about these signs, because hitting a deer with a car could kill me; at a minimum it would total my car. Deer are most unpredictable during the rutting season. I guess thinking about sex makes deer, especially bucks, stop looking both ways before they cross the street.
On the Big Island, we don’t have deer. But we have road signs that warn of donkey crossings. Apparently the number of wild donkeys has grown so large as to be a nuisance. I would love to see one in the wild. There’s a donkey “farm” between Honoka’a and Waimea with about four donkeys so I do see them. But my roadside wildlife sightings are limited to lots of wild goats and turkeys on the upper road from Waimea to Kona. I wonder if goats and donkeys get careless in their road behavior during rutting season. Do we even have a rutting “season” in the tropics?
Here, we also have signs that warn of Nene crossings. Nenes are geese and our state bird, now found only on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and Hawai‘i. In 1952, there were only 30 left. But using zoo breeding programs, they were brought back from the brink of extinction and now there are about 1800 in the wild and in zoos. Still, they are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world. I had much empathy for the Nene until I learned that they evolved from errant Canadian Geese blown off course.
You won’t see any signage protecting Canadian Geese in Wisconsin. We have way too many of them fouling our lakes and ponds. They honk loudly, rivaling the roosters in my neighborhood. Wisconsin used to be a way-station for them as they migrated. But many now refuse to migrate south in winter or go back north to Canada in summer. So Wisconsin has the lazy ones. They make a mess of small lakes and lake shores with their goose poop: large, green, slimy, slippery, messes prevalent on docks and beaches. Canadian Geese flock in packs that strut, hiss, honk, and hunt small toddlers and tiny dogs. Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much. They definitely terrorized my little girls when we’d go up north to Fishtrap Lake every summer. I had to chase them around with a broom to get them to leave the beach area. And the poop – Ack!
I love the sign I saw recently on the door of an art gallery in Waimea. An animal would have to be pretty big, maybe the size of a horse or cow to block these garage-sized doors. What would an animal that big be doing in the middle of town, unattended? Cows and horses have owners. Maybe the sign is talking about the wild donkeys! Where exactly would the sheriff impound said animal?
Enough about fauna. We also have Hawaiian signage related to flora that I’d never see in Wisconsin. This one is on the road into Kona. What the heck is the Banana Virus? Why is there a quarantine area? With all the empty space on the bottom of the sign, you’d think they’d take the opportunity to explain a bit more. But it must be serious if the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture had these signs made up.
Then there are the signs cautioning people to watch out for falling coconuts. Based on my experience with my 11 coconut trees, the fronds are as big a hazard as the nuts, probably bigger. They are far heavier, and huge – up to 25 feet long. Leaf piles in autumn are easy to handle compared to these.
Anyway, these should say, “Back Off, Move Away! Falling Coconuts and Fronds.” Why? Because with the original message, they’re more likely to stand right where they are and look up – bonk, right in the face. Frankly, I think signs like that are lawsuits waiting to happen.
Some of our signs have their equivalency in Wisconsin. For example, we have people who are just as territorial here as anywhere else. But our ‘No Trespassing’ signs look different. Kapu is Hawaiian for taboo.
I find it interesting that official signs often contain Hawaiian words that many would not understand. While Hawaiian is one of the two official languages here, not many speak it.
Aloha and a hui hou!
If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.