Shara Yuki Enay Birbirsa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Sept. 11 marked our one-year anniversary on Läna‘i. I’ll be honest: It hasn’t been a cakewalk.
My job is demanding and stressful, and the transition from city life to a rural area became progressively more challenging as Alex and I settled into our new home. I’ve learned the hard way about the politics and small-town drama of living in a community of only 3,200 people. At times, my morals and patience have been put to the test and I’ve had to get used to everyone making my business their business, whether I like it or not.
But, I’ve also experienced many firsts on Läna‘i and have met some of the most humble and decent people ever. Living here has also allowed me to explore one of my other interests — being outdoors.
When I was growing up, nothing made me happier than going the beach. I was so comfortable in the ocean that my parents often joked that I didn’t want to stop swimming until I was dark and shriveled like a raisin. My grandpa taught me how to swim at the Käne‘ohe Pool when I was in the first grade. After that, my love for the ocean kept growing. When I was in high school, I would catch the bus to Waikiki Beach with my boogie board every day after summer school and play in the sand and surf until the sun sank into the ocean.
For some reason, the ocean has always had a calming effect on me. I love putting on my headphones, laying out in the warm sun and drifting off to la-la land. Some of my best ideas pop into my head when I am near the ocean with sand between my toes.
I have such fond memories of going to the beach on O‘ahu’s windward side with my family. To this day, my favorite drive is the stretch of Kamehameha Highway from Käne‘ohe to Lä‘ie, with the turquoise-blue ocean on one side of the road and the breathtaking Ko‘olau Mountains on the other. I remember spending the whole day playing in the sand, jumping off the rocks into the water, and then driving to the Kahuku Shrimp Farm to eat whole, head-on prawns. My daddy taught me how to snap off the heads and suck out the eggs and “miso” before moving on to the body. I also remember him taking me snorkeling on the North Shore and teaching me to spit into my dive mask to clean it and prevent it from fogging up underwater.
On Läna‘i, I retreat to the beach when I need to clear my mind and take stock of everything that’s going on. These days, my favorite thing to do at the beach is to watch the sun set. They are absolutely breathtaking here — some of the best I’ve ever seen. Even from the heart of Läna‘i City, the sunsets are glorious, oftentimes with shades of orange, pink and red that I’ve never before seen. Even locals stop what they are doing to take photos of the sky.
I’ve also developed a big interest in hunting, but not for the obvious reasons. As I explained to my family one day after being called “a barbarian” when I emailed them a photo of me skinning a deer, it’s not the actual killing of animals that fascinates me. Rather, I’ve gotten obsessed with being outdoors and experiencing Läna‘i’s captivating natural beauty. When the entire forest is quiet and the sun rises on the horizon with Maui’s majestic Haleakalä in the distance, all is right in the world for those few minutes. I’m not thinking about which projects are due at work, or what bills need to be paid. I am in the present, and the only thing I am focused on is trying not to blink so I won’t miss even a second of the sky changing from dark to light.
Hunting has taken me to parts of Läna‘i that even some locals have never experienced. I’ve hiked through gulches and climbed ridges that offer some of the best views the island has to offer. I’ve seen colors of the sky and the ocean that I didn’t even think existed. This is the stuff tourists pay thousands of dollars to see and experience — and I have the good fortune of enjoying it as often as I want.
There is something about being up on Läna‘ihale, the highest point on the island, at the crack of dawn, when the only sounds within earshot are those of chirping birds, barking does and howling bucks. On a clear day, you can see Maui, Kaho‘olawe, Moloka‘i, O‘ahu, and even Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island from different parts of Läna‘i.
I’ve recently taken up another hobby — fishing. My daddy has always been a fisherman, so I grew up catching halalu and camping all over O‘ahu so he could fish for ulua. He taught me how to set up a pole and would scold me for eating the raw shrimp that we used for bait. He bought me tabis (rubber fishing shoes) and a headlamp so I would look the part. At low tide, I would walk with him off the shoreline in Aina Haina, catching small fish and picking limu (seaweed).
I remember fishing from a pile of rocks one afternoon when the water was rough. I accidentally dropped my pole in the water and within seconds, the pole was sucked underneath the rocks and gone forever. I cried and my dad tried not to look too disappointed, even though I know he probably felt sick. Within a matter of minutes, he whipped out a second pole and let me continue fishing. By the end of the day, I had lost that pole to the ocean, too — and without catching any fish.
My daddy has been totally enthusiastic about my outdoorswoman endeavors since I moved to Läna‘i. He’s given me a rifle and fishing poles and has outfitted me with enough gear to do some serious damage — from lead to floaters and hooks, to a hunting knife, safety vest and a rangefinder, which detects the distance between a shooter and its target. This weekend, I caught my first menpachi with the pole my daddy gave me. Guess who I called first with the news? And whenever I go hunting, I text him photos throughout the day, giving him the play-by-play action and updates such as: “Nooooo! I let ANOTHER buck get away!!!” and “Wish you could see this amazing sunrise!” He’ll text me back messages like: “No worry, main thing you had fun,” or “Just relax, still get plenty time. Next one is yours!”
My daddy always wanted a son. I think he’s glad that I’m not just a girly-girl all the time.
The outdoors on Läna‘i has definitely become my retreat. It is not uncommon for me to work 12-hour days and attend events on weekends, so I jump at every opportunity I get to retreat to the mountains or the beach. I’ve amassed an amazing collection of photos of sunrises, landscapes and sunsets, and I would love for that picture gallery to continue growing.
Before taking this job, I never had the desire to visit Läna‘i. Now I know why people love it here so much. There is something very charming about life in a small country town — everything is in close proximity, people wave as they drive pass you on the road, and I never tire of staring at the fog-enveloped mountains in the morning.
Even a year later, I still feel something magical whenever I am up at The Lodge at Koele and can smell that great big wood fireplace burning. I am not sure how long Läna‘i will be my home, but its beauty has captured my heart and will always occupy a special place in it.
Shara Enay Birbirsa resides on the island of Läna‘i, where she is Pulama Läna‘i’s liaison with the island’s community. Shara is a former writer for The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawai‘i Business magazine. She has been writing this Drama Queen Journals column since 2006.