How to spend the holidays? Do some crazy Hawaiian emergency drills

“Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.”

Spencer W. Kimball, 1976

A couple of things happened in the days before Christmas. They’re unrelated, but in my mind they were both fire drills. As if Christmas time isn’t busy enough, let’s practice some emergency response drills!

We were swimming at beautiful Hapuna Beach on the 23rd. It’s winter now, and there were big waves, some of them slamming right into the sand. The beach is sometimes temporarily closed when it’s dangerous for body surfers. There’s a spot along our usual swim route where we can see five volcanoes: Haleakala on Maui, and Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai on the Big Island. It was a one-volcano visibility day, just Kohala, thanks to Kilauea’s resumed eruption and resulting vog.

We were almost done when we saw a yellow helicopter fly over the water, heading north. But then it returned. By this time, we were out of the water. The helicopter was flying much lower to the water now, and flying back and forth around Hapuna. Next thing we know, there was someone hanging out of the open door calmly commanding, “Get out of the water!” And there was more commotion with the lifeguards on the beach. I was amazed to see the breadth of Hapuna’s water completely cleared in about 1-2 minutes. There had been a fair amount of people in the water (but nothing like the usual pre-COVID holiday numbers).

Hapuna Beach on Dec. 23 after the water was cleared.

We looked from this bluff to see if we could see any shark shadows or fins. We didn’t see those, but we did see a lot of active humpback whales. It’s winter, it’s time. Thousands travel to Hawaii in November-April to mate, give birth and raise their young.

Apparently a dead Pygmy pilot whale was removed from the beach that morning. They think the remaining scent was still attracting sharks. The reports said the size and type of sharks hadn’t been determined, but they were about 30 yards from swimmers. That was a close one!

I’m late getting this post out, and there has since been more shark news. Unfortunately, a 68-year old lady was swimming at Anaeho’omalu Bay at Waikoloa on January 2 around 8AM, about 500 yards from shore, and was bitten in the leg by a shark of unknown size and type. We were swimming there Dec. 26 around that same time in very murky water. From the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources sharks page, “Incidents of sharks biting people in Hawaiian waters are very rare, occurring on average at a rate of about three or four per year.”

Take-away lesson: if you notice a yellow helicopter flying back and forth, low, just quickly get out of the water.

The day after the Hapuna beach incident came the next drill. We have occasionally purchased a few plants from individuals who list them on Craigslist. I like this because you can sometimes find unusual plants or good values depending on plant maturity. Most things grow, it depends how long you’re willing to wait to get the size you want. We bought a few palms on Christmas Eve day. The seller, a self-described compulsive palm-rescuer, wrote and said, “No fire ants or coquis.”

When we bring something home, we still take precautions. We do the peanut butter on a stick test. You smear a thin layer of peanut butter on a stick and put it in the plant and check it an hour later. An hour later, there was nothing. But three hours later, there were some ants, and they were the right size. Arrgghhh!! What do you do now??!!

We were frantically researching things on the internet, trying to identify what we had. Were they little fire ants? Place the stick in a ziploc bag, freeze it, etc. Isolate the plants. My husband was in complete panic mode, thinking we’d now infected our land and the neighborhood. He repeated several times that we’re no longer buying/getting plants from individuals.

It was Christmas Eve and we had to quarantine the new plants. Of course, we had just finished up our ant poison granules so we couldn’t encircle them in with those. We’re familiar with ant moats, just from coping with ants in the tropics. You use a shallow container that can hold water, then put a smaller diameter shallow bowl or something in the middle that can support whatever you want to keep ants off of (e.g., your plate of cookies). This time we needed a moat that would keep the ants ON the island object (the plant pot) instead of OFF the island. We built three moats for the three plants. One was a pretty large palm, so we had to fill our wheelbarrow with water, and we put three small upturned pots in the water to support the palm pot.

There are reliable breezes here. That, and our elevation, is why we don’t need air conditioning; we have Nature’s AC. At 11pm on Christmas Eve, the motion sensor light kept going on, probably due to the palm fronds waving. And we discovered the precarious palm, already too big for its pot, and now balanced on pots in water in a wheelbarrow, had predictably fallen over. I’d never spent Christmas Eve like this before.

Christmas morning, after sleeping and having better functioning, non-panicking brains, we redid the little fire ant tests. The hubby had the brilliant idea of using his single lens reflex camera to take photos so he could really zoom in, beyond what we could see with a magnifying glass. This LFA website is a treasure trove of LFA info. Check out the detail in identification! In the end, we determined we had one of the ants commonly mistaken as LFA, thanks to all of the photos and info available on the website.

Glad that’s all behind us! I see the upside that now we’ve gone through a real drill. We’ve practiced what to think about and do. And as a physical reminder, we still have a ziploc bag with a frozen popsicle stick and a few ants in the freezer.

One thought on “How to spend the holidays? Do some crazy Hawaiian emergency drills

  1. You now-Hawaiians do have challenges that being mainlanders did not prepare you for. Congratulations on handling these two challenges well — and on your well written, interesting accounts thereof.

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