Saddle Road, Milepost 27
Most of the Protect Mauna Kea remnants I found were not on the Access Road itself, but near its entrance on the perpendicular Saddle Road. As I looked around, I thought about archaeologists in old films discovering abandoned territories for the first time, trying to fit the clues together.
A large metal mailbox leaned against a straw hut, and I wondered if that was the stolen mailbox Porter had been referring to. Above a nearby cavity in the black, volcanic ground was a skeleton of a tent. It wasn’t fit to provide shelter to anyone, but the small mailbox next to it suggested that it once was. This was the case with lots of other tents and trailers in the area.
Every now and then, I'd see white pebbles spelling out a phrase on the side of the road. One of them read E KOMO MAI, which means “welcome.” The first thing I thought of was a barista's remark about the Hawaiian way—making enemies into friends. Hospitality, even in the face of conflict.
The second phrase was HO'OPONOPONO WITH KUPUNA NO TMT. Ho'oponopono is the Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and making things right. Behind the pebbles was a metal statue of three women forming a triangle with their hands, a symbol of solidarity.
Not far up the road was an area of land called Humu'ula & Kala'i'ehā. A sign described traditional native uses of the area — bird catching and adze quarrying — and how they were replaced by sandalwood harvesting and hunting wild cattle, then eventually, astronomy. It mentioned Mauna Kea’s geographic benefits for celestial studies, such as its elevation that places the summit above forty percent of the earth’s atmosphere, noting that it hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory with telescopes operated by eleven countries.
The Humu'ula & Kala'i'ehā area was striped in varying colors and textures. At my feet, wild bursts of dark sienna flora grew in a terrain of weathered grey stones, which stretched back and faded into mounds of volcanic rock. Behind this, patches of pili grass caught strings of sunlight like cornsilk in the foreground of lush green foliage. And in the center of all these layers was what looked like a shrine: a wooden statue with pieces of driftwood that read PROTECT MAUNA KEA CONSERVATION ZONE, and twos slabs of rock reading KANAKA MAOLI BENEFICIARIES OF THIS LAND and HAWAI'I IS NOT AMERICA.
It certainly didn’t feel like America. What struck me most was the emptiness. I remembered what Hawane Rios told me about this being a time for reflection and healing, and how the pandemic has caused lots of people to step back and hold deep and intentional space for rest. Seeing these pieces left behind, from blue tarps flapping in the wind to tattered flags and signs pleading for people to listen, I understood more than ever the strain of those who camped out to protect the Mauna, how taxing it all was.
But they'll come back. I got back into my car, leaving the light-soaked landscape burning in my rearview, confident in this fact. I didn’t know how long the land would be empty, and still don’t. But people will come back to finish what they started.