invasive species


A gentle resuscitation. A safe place to sleep. A rain shower renewal.

It’s been ten months since I moved back to Hawaii, and I still pause and rejoice every time I walk outside  and breathe the softened air.

There are downed lychees on my driveway.  Mangos threaten my parked car. The neighbor’s cat greets me when I come home and accompanies me to the mailbox and back. It’s good to be home.

I was at Long’s Drugs tonight and the lead pharmacy tech was good-naturedly lamenting her fate of working with student techs. I heard about her ten years at one pharmacy, another ten at Queen’s and now ten years there. It was time to retire. She has grandchildren, 1 & 3-years old, who are asking for her.  Yes, I said, “you’ve earned it”. She wished me a good night, and with that, the Mo’ili’ili Long’s became a bit more than just a convenient stop.

leafsHawaii is an island ecosystem; one that’s been invaded and overtaken. When you fly in you need to fill out a form listing any possible plants or animals that might be accompanying you. Invasive species are watched for with vigilance. All luggage is screened. Incoming pets are quarantined. Airplane wheel-wells are searched. The native Hawaiian species are threatened. The native Hawaiian culture is threatened.

I practice due diligence. I don’t import anything I shouldn’t. My cats passed their rabies tests and stay away from native birds. I buy native plants for my lanai. But, then, after all, I’m not native either. By all definitions that are politically correct, I’m invasive.  So what now?

There are some who will argue that Polynesians were also invasive. It all depends on where you draw history’s line. The Polynesians also came here from someplace else.  Regardless, I’d be considered invasive twice over since my ancestors opted to leave Finland and Sweden three generations ago for the New World.

I believe in saving and protecting endemic species, ecosystems and cultures. So is my very presence a threat? Is Minnesota so far gone that I’d do no further harm to return there? Or if I followed my logic, would it really just be best to pick up and move to Sweden or Finland? I can pass for a native. I’ve tested that.  Should we all move back to where our ancestors came from? Would that solve anything?

The world has changed.  I’m not Swedish. And I’m not Finnish. My ancestors came from those places, and that has given me a history, a lineage. But I am American. Most of the people I know can’t trace lineage to just two countries, so what would they do?  Pilgrims, vikings, conquistadors, explorers. Darn them. The one thing we can’t do is turn back the clock.

I think what we’re moving towards is an identity created by shared values, more than shared blood. I have blonde friends who, having been born here, are more islander than mainlander. I’ve asked two native Hawaiians whether I would truly ever be welcome here, and they both independently told me that what mattered was the spirit of aloha and the love of the land. If I had that, I was welcome.

There is a group of people who do not to believe that the Hawaiian monk seals are native to Hawaii. They believe the seals are another invasive species. But one of these people declared that while she wouldn’t believe that monk seals were native, they lived here now, and are now part of her children’s world, and therefore are part of the ʻohana, the family, and deserved to be protected.

Scientifically, her logic is infuriating, but politically, it’s a god-send. And for me, it’s a relief. ʻOhana can be created by shared belief, shared life, and shared love. I truly hope so.


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