I’m sitting under the umbrella canopy of a heliotrope tree. Usually, there are bees bouncing from blossom to blossom in these trees, just enough to stop me from sitting this close. But there are no bees today. Either the winds are too strong or they sense the pending storm and are already hunkering down. Hunkering down. These are popular words in Hawaii the past few days.
Right now, Hurricane Iselle is bearing down–another popular phrase–on Big Island at the other end of the archipelago. We don’t expect her official arrival here on Kauai for another 24 hours, but she’s been sending signals of her hovering presence for a couple days now. Clouds like stretched taffy high in the air. Wind waves flexing their muscle. And the occasional closing of grey drapes across the sky.
I wanted to make one more trip to the beach to check on a few Hawaiian monk seals before doing so would be dangerous in the storm, and I have already discovered RH58, known as Rocky, has weaned her pup–the pup that survived last week’s dog attack but required a special vet visit earlier this week to lance and clean a couple abscesses, gnarly gifts from the dog’s bites. (To clarify, this is a second pup that was attacked last week by a dog/s. The other pup died. Plus, there was a weaner and two moms bitten in the incident. Yes, it was a pretty horrific scene.)
The weaned pup cannot seem to get settled. She wiggles one direction, twists her head back the other, creating momentum and her pudgy body performs a barrel roll. She discovers a stick in the sand and picks it up with her mouth. She flicks her head, and the stick flies end over wobbly end behind her.
I lay back on the sand and look up through the lacework of oval, olive-colored leaves. I am reminded of a coming-of-age Alice Munro short story—Lying Under the Apple Tree—in which the protagonist, a girl, trespasses to enjoy the view from under a tree. When she’s discovered, in her haste, as if it’s not enough to say she simply enjoys being in nature, she lies and says she’s looking for a lost bracelet. Like the girl, I am enjoying nature, but I do find something–a tightly coiled and stashed bamboo beach mat. I am not the first person to discover this hidden spot in which to spy on seals, or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”
Knowing Rocky, she is halfway to Oahu. When monk seals give birth, they do not eat for the five or six weeks they stay on the beach nursing their young. In Rocky’s case, she likes to birth and raise her pup on the same Kauai beach year after year. But the rest of the time, she makes her seal life on Oahu. When she finally gets too hungry and leaves her pup, it is weaned. There will be no more free food from the milk dispenser for this weaner. I think about Rocky heading in the direction of the storm. I am not worried about her. She can ride it out at sea, if need be. But her pup, the weaner? And the other three weaners along this stretch of beach? Yes, I am.
The surf is projected to reach heights of 20 feet during this storm. That will eat up much of the beach here, pushing the weaners high up the beach to the vegetation line.
In the 15 years living in Hawaii, this is the most concerned I’ve seen other people about a storm. (Tsunamis are different.)
On Sunday, I started hearing of people stocking up.
On Monday, my friend Pam told me her husband stopped by Home Depot, where generators were heading out the door one after another. At Costco, I found supplies still available on shelves, but I also discovered extra pallets in the aisles for bottled water, rice, spam, and toilet paper, the essentials that clear the shelves first in emergency situations like this. At the checkout, I watched as another customer emptied her cart onto the conveyor belt: hot dogs, buns, tequila, wine, beach towel, beach chair, snorkel gear. A visitor. My basket included canned tomatoes and refried beans, almond milk, coffee beans (my husband better hope the electricity stays on to power his coffee grinder), dog food, D-size batteries, and six rolls of duct tape.
On Tuesday, I topped off the truck with gas, waiting six deep in line to do so. I packed up our recycling—plastic and glass and HI-5—and made three trips to ensure the yard wasn’t littered with trash once Iselle passed. The bi-weekly barge arrived from Honolulu, allowing retailers to re-stock their empty shelves and re-sellout of the usual suspects.
On Wednesday, I topped off the 22-year-old BMW. The husband filled our propane tank. There were no lines. By now, there was a calm in the panic. Everyone, it seemed, was prepared for our unwelcome guest.
And, now, Thursday, we wait.