I live in a place that is rich in tropical flora, volcanic mountains, lavish waterfalls, and beaches. It sits--this most isolated archipelago on the planet--in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Paradoxically, I live also, in a place where the detritus of the continental United States floats to shore--literally and figuratively. Our beaches are strewn with the enormous, floating timber cut from the old-growth forests of the American Northwest. Our campgrounds are brimming with the continent's social misfits: Castoffs from several states' welfare systems--after the obligation to serve them has expired.
In one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments--several state bureaucracies buy their hometown homeless, mentally ill, and addicted, one way tickets to Hawai'i, where it will almost never snow.
So, inhabiting the beach at the Salt Pan Park on the Island of Kaua'i: A hovering, seething young man who wears only a long black trench coat, and speaks to no one but himself; A not-so-young woman who shrieks--solitary in her tent--"Get off of me! I won't go to Hollywood!"
These are but the tangible examples of our large, rich nation's residue. There is much more. To a native people with no word in their language for "ownership," we've introduced locked gates and "No Trespassing" signs. To enforce that purpose: we've brought a remarkable collection of watch dogs"--Pit Bulls and Rottweilers--bred to protect one man's home from another man's approach.
With shocking regularity on this tiny slice of paradise: toddlers are chewed to ribbons by the fear and prerogative of the next door neighbor--and man's best friend.
To a native people whose word for "family" assumes responsibility for all of God's creation--flora, fauna, and human--we've brought: racial division, police force, and military occupation. The fearfulness America, bred to an art form and disseminated for political ends, has been exported to the land of aloha.
We, on the American continent, like to gloat over our technological mastery, our know-how. We consider ourselves emissaries of a profoundly egalitarian society. We brag about our affluence, our comfort, and our freedom.
But I live on a tiny Island that can be circumnavigated by car in an hour and a half. And on this Island, the sorely insufficient dump groans under the residue of that technological mastery; the narrow roads are locked in gridlock with evidence of that affluence, that comfort, and that freedom to impose our choices on another people's life.
On this tiny Island in the middle of the vast Pacific: so much of what America no longer wants to be bothered owning dead-ends, washed up on these pristine shores.