Christina had a week off and did some hard work:
My work is environment-focused but more likely to be in an air-conditioned office than outside. I decided to do something about this imbalance by requesting a week’s vacation and finding a conservation project that needed a volunteer. Two weeks later I was on a flight to the Big Island headed to Pu’u wa’a wa’a (PWW).
PWW is a 35,000 acre State Forest & Park is managed by a very small, dedicated team from the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. The ahupua’a* is mostly dry forest but also has a wet forest bird sanctuary and coastline.
I lived in a cabin there and woke early every day to join the field team for 10-hour days of serious physical work on the land. In my first hour they had entrusted me with the newest weed wacker and basic instructions on how to operate it. By the end of the week we had cleared 1.5 acres of invasive fountain grass. We wacked through rain, hand-numbing cold (ok, I’ve been in Hawaii over 10 years so 50 degrees feels cold), and hot sun. During our short breaks we could see Mauna Kea’s new snow cover and Haleakala on Maui in the distance.
The last day they lightened the work load and let me help plant native Koa trees that had been nurtured from seed in their greenhouse. Koas are the first to be planted when trying to restore a native forest. With fountain grass cleared, fences to keep out feral grazers (goats, sheep, pigs or deer), and some Koa shade, a native forest can recover amazingly quickly.
It was one of the toughest week’s of work, but just what I needed to rebalance. A few blisters and ouch-its-early mornings were more than compensated by the beauty of the land, generosity of the team, and satisfaction of helping a few more native plants grow strong. I left with serious respect for Big Island conservation workers and an optimism about the future of this island.
Highly recommend for those who need a break from the grind, don’t mind physical work, and want to be inspired.
To learn more about PWW:
For regular volunteer opportunities (groups or individuals) and tours of a restored Big Island dry forest, Waikaloa Dry Forest Initiative is outstanding.
*a summit to sea land division used by Hawaiians.