Eric Stinton: The Small Wonders Of Knowing Your Home - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Ulu A‘e Learning Center Executive Director Miki‘ala Lidstone made an interesting comparison between the windward and leeward sides of Oahu in an interview with Civil Beat last week.

“We don’t have a lot of (Hawaiian) names for our rains because it doesn’t rain that much (in Kapolei),” she said, adding that it’s not like that in Kailua. “They have a lot of names for rains — we don’t. But you know what we do have? We have a lot of hills.”

This echoed around my head as I was in Kailua helping my parents salvage soaked belongings in their house after a torrential intruder whose name I do not know barged in and alerted us to a leak somewhere in the roof. The hills of Kapolei are no doubt more mannered acquaintances.

The days of heavy downpour reminded me just how inextricable rain is from life on this side of the island, and how essential it is to its — and our — character. Rain comes in a menagerie of personalities. It can be a gentle patter that helps you fall into a deeper sleep, or a deluge that turns your waking life into a nightmare. Which made Lidstone’s sentiment all the more compelling.

“Our hills line up with celestial events,” she said. “They’re sacred and they’re special. They’re not the highest point but they’re not the lowest point. They remind us, on the side where the sun is strongest, to remain humble but tall.”

That kind of poetic interpretation is not empty flourish. To borrow Lidstone’s phrasing once more, knowing “what’s special about where we live that you can’t find anywhere else” makes you appreciate things more, and incites exploration into the things we otherwise drive past without noticing.

Olomana Enchanted Lakes Aerial.
Knowing more about where you live, such as Olomana, helps to create a shared identity. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It prompts us to build deeper connections with the places we live and creates a shared identity that allows people to take greater pride in their communities. And for those of us who aren’t Hawaiian, it helps to reconcile sincere love for Hawaii with the ugly past that permits that love to exist in the first place.

I grew up in a part of Kailua called Olomana, named for the mountain which is itself named after a legendary warrior from ancient times. Olomana the warrior was said to be a giant and a feared presence on the island, until Palila, a warrior from Kauai who wielded a war club named “revolution,” cut Olomana in half and took control of Oahu.

There’s a lot to unpack in that story, but there is a strikingly clear analogue that resonates today: the outsider arriving, asserting himself and permanently settling where other people already were, changing everything along the way. What exactly that means for today, however, is up for interpretation.

As curriculum specialist for the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii Manoa, Maya Saffery wrote, “was Palila’s victory over Olomana a disruption of pono or simply an acceleration of inevitable change?”

Could it have been both? Whatever your answer is, it’s important to engage in that conversation, especially in the current context of life in Hawaii, with non-residents buying an increasingly large chunk of houses in the islands.

Knowing more about our communities is how we relate to one another, the essential human activity undergirding society. Making the effort to better understand where we live provides an entry point into vital discussions that affect us all. And these discussions aren’t just individually edifying; they’re essential to tackling larger issues in concrete ways.

Solving our most intractable problems — and, perhaps, accepting that some solutions will be more palliative than curative — will require on-the-ground understanding, not just bird’s-eye analysis.

The affordability and availability of housing is directly tied to injustices of the past. Climate change is more easily understood as the eroding shoreline of your favorite childhood beach, or the diminishing availability of your favorite food. Our utter dependence on external supply lines is most clearly exemplified by prolonged toilet paper shortages. The little things are how we come to know the big things.

Those are all overwhelming issues, but when we feel overwhelmed, the response should be to start small — to magnify the small and micrify the great, to borrow a phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Building deeper connections with where we live — whether it’s through the moʻolelo of place names, the history of geological formations, or the different types of hills and rains — is a small thing we can all do to make life a little better in the short term, and prepare to make big changes down the road.

There are small wonders everywhere, another world inside this one. The more attentive we are to it, the more apparent it becomes that we are just grains of sand suspended in a momentary tide that has been ebbing and flowing long before we were here, and will continue to do so after we’re gone. There’s unavoidable humility that comes with that knowledge, but also an urgent hope that we might use our one brief moment to make things better.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

HereÊ»s a thing:  most people these days donÊ»t care.  They donÊ»t know or care about the rich histories of our places, about names of rains, winds, pali, bays, surf breaks, ahupuaa.  They do not care.  Kids arenÊ»t taught geography or natural history.  Many move hither and yon, and they donÊ»t care.  WeÊ»re increasingly homogenized and purified.  Water comes from plastic bottles and foods from The Store.  ItÊ»s all unspeakably sad.  IÊ»ll bet Legislators donÊ»t know or care either.  And yes, Kahua, there should be a flood of comments, but...Those of us who do care, and are kamaaina, not because of our drivers licenses but because of aloha aina for our aina aloha, we are in the minority.Too many people being too busy leading frantic lives of desperation.  Sadly, I cry aue....

Patutoru · 2 years ago

This is a poignant and sensitive piece of writing and I thought there would be a flood of comments. For myself- yes, the immediate neighborhood / ahupua'a where I've stayed since 1985 is very well known to me. A very elderly Hawaiian woman who grew up here walked me through the area many years ago and told me the stories and the facts of this place and I pass that along to folks who visit.The old trails, the old gravesites, even the springs and the bowl formations in the river pohaku. Thanks Eric. PS since this comment is likely to get overlooked, by the CB "Editor"  in favor of "Punchy" I'll copy and try and get it directly to the author.  

Kahua · 2 years ago

It is not only "our" communityBetween innocence and wakingSpirits of the ancient ones tell the treesThe songbird is here with joyful callingWe go on creating with our seeds My senses are alive now in my bedA smile on my lips to hear the shamaBeautifully bring in the day aheadThey sing of joy and Island mana A chorus erupts, all want to be heardAll energy and chatterLittle creatures with purposeNature’s garden, with open theater Life’s necessities of survival and connectionsThe balance we strive to keepNature’s perfection can teach us trustIn the Shama’s range of verses We make friends in the gardenI dig and plant, and turn the soilWhile the Shama is nearThen comes close to gain from my toil All through the day, I spy the black tailOr hear the mates calling across the yardTheir song does then regailLife’s grand and majestic ballad Dusk light is fallingThe garden becomes stillNests are made cozy and all settle inThen out of the silence a melodious trill The Shama’s last songAnother day is endingThe ancient trees rustle and bendAnd the pueo are ready to take their watch  

robynal · 2 years ago

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