Last fall, my partner Ruth and I were making our way slowly along the Maunakea track called R-1, between Puu Laau and Kemole, when we came upon two 4-wheelers. People on R-1 usually stop and chat. The riders were a father and his daughter, who was headed for the mainland to begin college.

NOTE: pick the correct link

“And so,” she said, “to mark the change we came up here.”

I knew just what she meant. But this isn’t about me. I’m only telling the stories. Anybody who’s spent a long time on Maunakea knows that there are thousands of Big Islanders who go to the mountain for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s taking all the Maunakea oxygen these days.

On the less-traveled slopes of Maunakea I’ve stopped and talked with motorcyclists, hikers, hunters, runners, and photographers. I’ve talked about hunting sheep and pigs in the old days, about bird dogs and chukar, about crashing around in an old Willys Jeep when I briefly worked for Fish and Game as a teenager, doing bird censuses and looking after the captive nene at Pohakuloa. I’ve picked plums with people I didn’t know, and one morning a few of us looked at the missile warning on our phones and said, “This is a good place to die.”

“What I feel when I am on the top is that Maunakea is in connection — in conversation — with the whole universe.”

These people aren’t being heard. It’s not because their voices are being suppressed or because they don’t have anything to contribute. It’s because their voices are soft and they aren’t interested in raising them, no matter how much they love the mauna.

For almost a year I sat with Envision Maunakea’s “listening group” (the hui hoolohe) while people from all over the island told us what Maunakea meant to them, the part it played in their lives, and their visions of its future. Our project was about the entire mountain, not about the TMT or astronomy in general.

We wrote a report, which you can find here.

A lone silversword on Mauna Kea.

Don Mitchell

I urge interested people to download and read it. I guarantee you the report isn’t an ordinary one, the kind with bullet points and an executive summary. It’s a narrative of what we heard. It makes no recommendations beyond “listen to these people.”

I decided to write this because I think the Maunakea conversation needs widening. I’d like Civil Beat readers to hear some of what I heard. And so, in no particular order, without comments or interpretation, here are soft voices talking about Maunakea. Some are lightly edited because space is at a premium.

Full quotes, in context, are easily found in our report.

  • There were a lot of firsts for me on Maunakea. It was the first place I ever touched snow, saw snow, and walked through clouds. Driving up through a really old koa forest was a spiritual experience.
  • If I’m up there looking for quiet, I can find a kipuka and make a quick connection with nature. And nights, where I can go and be cloaked in darkness and silence.
  • Whenever we went hunting and it was time to eat lunch or rest, I felt at peace with the mauna. Being up high — that was a time of reflection and quiet, with no noise except the birds. What I got from the mountain was that feeling of peace. It’s powerful. It’s different from just driving across the Saddle.
  • I went there and weeded plants around Hale Pohaku, where there are a lot of invasive plants.
    It’s like an ecological university for me.
  • Maunakea was our safe haven. Our parents were rough, so we went hunting up Maunakea. I went to Vietnam. When I got back, I started hunting again and the mountain was a safe haven again.
  • Maunakea is a place of connections, micro, macro. It is a huge complex process because people can put things together. We give lip service to connections (but it’s something else to) take them on, take them on our shoulders.
  • My older brother goes up to Maunakea on his own. He’s a doctor in Hilo, and has a stressful job, but that’s his place of refuge. He goes up and spends time de-stressing there.
  • I think I gained the most appreciation for the mountain and what was up there through getting (my) hands dirty taking care, planting, putting in fence lines to protect the mamane, protect the silverswords.
  • My birthday gift is to go around the mauna. Every time is like the first time because there’s always something new there.
  • Sacred is about experiencing it. The way you interact is different when a place is sacred. You walk lightly, and you feel that on Maunakea. It’s very personal to you. I don’t have to understand your sacredness to understand that it’s important to you.
  • I think there are people within every religion, as well as people who are nonreligious, who experience the natural world as sacred, whether they use that term or not. In a sense I believe the whole earth is sacred. But there are certain places that are exceptionally powerful — you can feel the energy. Maunakea is one of those places.
  • It’s hard to explain; it’s more than just the clean air, the feeling you get sitting on a rock, not thinking about hunting. It has a spiritual impact when you’re up there. It is all simplicity and complexity. It’s perfect.
  • What I feel when I am on the top is that Maunakea is in connection — in conversation — with the whole universe. It feels unbounded, expansive, full of light, weightless.
  • If I had to pick one thing that’s most significant — and I had no idea until I went up — it was the silence, such a profound silence. You think you know silence until you go up — your thoughts and your breath — quiet like nothing I ever experienced before or after, the quiet up there.

I’ll close with what we wrote in our report: There are more voices out there than we knew, and more probably than you know. Some are soft voices that haven’t been heard over the past few years, and some are louder. But they all have important things to say about Maunakea.

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