Kuana’ike (Perspective)

Published 10 months ago -

By Sarah St Pierre, Staff Writer
My eyes opened wide as I was abruptly woken from my deep slumber. The sound of
sirens blasted through my eardrums, but I barely recognized the noise. It didn’t sound like a
normal fire alarm or a police car or even a fire truck. The sound was deafening, scary and
overwhelming. My heart started to beat faster. Panic set in.
I was ripped out from the white cotton sheets I laid under. Suddenly, I was standing there
in my turtle pajamas staring blankly at my mother, who was promptly packing a small duffle bag
full of clothes for my little sister and me.
I glanced toward the windows. The curtain was slightly open, revealing the pale blue sky
and an early morning haze. The sun peaked out ever so slightly behind the ocean. It was
reflecting an orange glow onto the transparent turquoise waters in front of it. The Marriott that
we stayed at was directly on the ocean, which made for the most breathtaking morning view.
“Hurry up and get dressed, we need to leave as soon as possible,” Mom said in a soft,
seemingly unconcerned voice. She didn’t want to worry me.
I looked at the clock that read 6:02 A.M. I was confused, but oddly intrigued by what was
going on. I had experienced the sudden fear of an accidental fire alarm going off in the middle of
the night when Mom accidentally burned muffins or the time Dad cooked his popcorn a bit too
long, but never anything quite like this.
The sound began to overwhelm me. We get it, we need to evacuate. Can’t you just turn
off the alarms already? I thought to myself. I covered my ears for the next several minutes, only
taking my hands down for the brief moment it took me to get my clothes on. I grabbed my new
purple sweatshirt that I had just got a few days earlier and my ladybug pillow pet before heading
to the car.

It felt as if we were in that hotel room with the alarm going off for at least twenty
minutes, but the clock on the car dashboard said otherwise. The numbers 6:11 A.M. stared back
at me. Am I dreaming? I asked myself. I felt dazed and delusional. I rested my head on my
grandma’s shoulder and fell into a deep sleep.
The year was 2010 and my family and I were vacationing in Kauai, Hawaii. We had a
two-week time share at the Kauai Lagoons Marriott where we would spend every February break
with my grandparents. This was our sixth time going, and this was a vacation quite different
from the rest.
“Good morning numba one,” Papa said to me, with a soft smile on his face. I was his first
grandchild so fittingly; this was his nickname for me. I opened my eyes slowly, blinking several
times before fully opening them. Why am I in the car? I wondered.
“Hi Papa,” I said, “Where are we?”
“We’re at Waimea Canyon State Park. We had to get to a place of high elevation. There
are big waves right now in the ocean, and we had to get up higher than they are,” he explained.
This was a more simplified version of what was actually going on because he had to explain it in
a way my 9-year-old brain could understand.
I remembered the loud alarms we had heard much earlier that morning, and once I
connected that to the fact that we were hours away from our hotel room, I knew something was
Tsunamis are not a huge threat to the Hawaiian Islands; however, some sources say that a
tsunami will strike the Hawaiian Islands on the average of once every twelve years. The most
devastating tsunami occurred in Hawaii in 1946, with the last tsunami being in 1975 so
according to earlier patterns, they were due for another.

A few hours had passed since I woke up in the car on the top of a canyon. My little sister
and I sat outside the car, tossing breadcrumbs to the chickens running around outside.
“When are we going back to the hotel?” She asked me. “I just want to go swimming!!”
“I don’t know,” I replied, beginning to wonder how long it had even been. My concept of
time was completely thrown off.
Dad and Papa were leaning against the car just a few feet from us. I got up to go and sit
on the edge of the inside of the van. My feet dangled below me. I stared at my purple crocs and
listened to everything going on around me. Dad leaned in through the car window and turned up
the radio. We had it playing the news so we could stay up to date with what was going on.
“At 6 A.M. this morning, evacuation warnings went out in Hawaii’s most vulnerable
coastal regions, as the island braced itself for what federal officials said could be a dangerous
tsunami. Officials warned that the hardest-affected locations could have waves that reach 6 to 10
feet high. The tsunami will first impact Hilo Bay on Hawaii Island at 11:05 a.m., Honolulu at
11:37 a.m., and Kauai at 11:42 a.m. as it moves up the island chain.,” the news reporter said.
10 feet? That’s like three of me… I thought to myself. I wasn’t scared because I honestly
had no idea what was going on. But I felt like I needed to be scared.
I looked behind me into the car at Meme sitting in the back seat. There were sweatshirts
draped over the windows to keep the sun out. She was sitting back there alone, knitting a pink
scarf. She was quiet and kept to herself in that moment and something inside me was telling me
that she was extremely afraid.
When I was very young, about 5 or 6, Mom used to take me over to Meme and Papa’s
house to go swimming. They had an above ground pool that was 3-feet in the shallow end and
reached just about 6-feet in the deep end. Meme loved to come in the pool to play with me, but there were restrictions. She never went in the pool without her pool noodle, and she never went into the deep end.
“Why do you need that floatie?” I would always ask her.
“Because, silly Meme doesn’t know how to swim,” she would say, laughing afterwards.
Not only did she not know how to swim, but she was terrified of it. She hated going in deeper
than her waistline and if the noodle ever slipped out from beneath her, she would screech and
panic and flail her arms every which way. I asked her about her fear every now and then. Her
answer was always simple: she never learned to swim so she was convinced she was going to
drown, and drowning was her biggest fear.
I thought about Meme’s fear of water and then I thought about those giant 10-foot waves
crashing over all of us. This was her biggest fear coming to life.
I saw Dad now in the distance. He was standing at the edge of the canyon looking out at
the Hawaiian abyss. He had been awfully relaxed all day, but looking back now I realize that he
was likely putting up a front for my sisters and me.
I sprinted over to him, grabbing his hand once I reached him. The top of the canyon was
flat and covered in trees. There were railings surrounding the entire perimeter to prohibit tourists
from going too close to the edge. The view was stunning. The landscape was filled with brilliant
shades of green, blue, and brown. There was a waterfall in the near distance that caught my eye.
It was heavenly looking, aquarium blue in color, and it glided effortlessly down the edge of the
canyon. It was absolutely mind blowing for a nine-year-old girl to see something so surreal.
I looked down from where we were standing and realized just how high up we actually
were. My heart skipped a beat. I was terrified of heights. I squeezed Dad’s hand a little tighter
and he looked down, his icy blue eyes staring back at me.

“Look down there,” he said, pointing at a small area where the ocean met the edge of the
canyon. It seemed like it was miles and miles away. “You can see the waves crashing right down
there. See it’s not so scary, those waves are so small, even smaller than you!”
I giggled and felt a sense of ease settle through my body. Those waves did appear to be
smaller than me from all the way up here, whether they were or not. I was still scared of what
might happen, but I knew we were safe up on that canyon top. I went back towards the van
where Meme still sat in the back seat, knitting away. I grabbed her hand and asked her to come
with me to see something. I took her to the edge of the canyon and pointed to the small waves
crashing down below.
“Look, they’re smaller than me!” I shouted. She laughed and said, “oh yes my love, they
sure are.” I hugged her tight and we stood there for a moment longer.
Later that day, state officials told us that it was safe to return to the main part of the
island. What people had feared would be yet another catastrophic tsunami, was just slightly
erratic surges in the sea.
The tsunami warnings that day had come from an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck
Chile. In 1946, a mysterious tsunami hit the shores of Hawaii killing 159 people and causing 26
million dollars in damage. An earthquake in Alaska that had a magnitude of 7.1 was the cause of
this calamity. Based on scientific theories, that earthquake should not have caused such a
devastating Pacific-wide tsunami. Some scientists believe that the earthquake was actually larger
than the instrumentation of the day could measure. When the sirens sounded on that peaceful
Saturday morning in 2010, the island had been filled with great panic. Because of the mystery
that came from the tsunami of 1946, no one knew what would happen.
On the way home, I rested my head on Meme’s shoulder once more. I closed my eyes
and thought about the ocean waves. I thought about how tall ten feet was, yet how small they looked crashing against the sand at the bottom of the canyon. It was interesting how changing the
perspective of something, completely changed my fear of it. I wondered if Meme had changed
her perspective on drowning; maybe then she’d have learned how to swim.

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