Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Great Wall of Wailea

I was thrilled when the bulldozers and giant backhoes finally arrived. Bambi and his pals had been getting on my nerves for about two years. When I read in the paper that the property had sold and new condos would be built I knew this herd’s fate was sealed. Once this parcel was developed they would be forced back up the mountain and off the golf course.

It is a bit sad to see wild land turned into condos, but when this land no longer resembles in any way its original form due to two centuries of human improvements it is a little hard to get upset about it. The deer were another major insult to an already tortured land. They had bred so prolifically that they were now moving into upscale suburbia with impunity and this did not seem to register at all with those who should be in the know about invasive species in the Hawaiian Islands.

The state and county prodded by realtors foaming at the mouth and with pockets full of money were focused on the Coqui Frog because it sang at night and might cause harm to property values. I guess they missed hearing about the 911 call from the panicked person watching two bucks dueling in the neighbor’s front yard. None of them had to clean up the battered shrubs after it was over either.

So I did not mind so much that I had to put in a lot of extra work to pull landscapes and irrigation systems back within the confines of property lines. In the course of 25 years some gardens had moved from 5 to 40 feet over the line and it was time to give that borrowed space back. After talking with some of the worried owners, the site managers were a bit taken aback when I met with them and pretty much said rip the sh*t out except for this one thing or that thing. Please just dig that up and set it over there. That bougainvillea there is on our side but if you accidentally take it out, that will be just great.

Stuff grows really fast here. There isn’t much that is worth the effort to save, especially when you have no place to put it in a fully landscaped yard. Landscaping the front of a temporary twelve foot tall dust fence in a construction zone isn’t my idea of wise either. The owners would forget about it soon enough. Something big was coming their way that would make the loss of a bit of shrubbery seem manini.

Over the phone the project and site managers made it clear it was their desire to be as accommodating as possible. I had even heard the owners in the neighborhood association had been offered first rights to buy in a market where lotteries for home purchases are common. They did not want any bad feelings leading to law suits and delays. When I met with them to determine the exact property lines and what needed to go I also learned what they had in mind for the setback requirements. They were going to build a wall. Nothing was unusual about that. Then they said it was going to be fourteen feet tall and I started to ask questions.

This wall was going to be made of huge stacked boulders, starting a foot in from the property line and leaning back into the development at an angle and rising fourteen feet over a ten foot distance. They said it would have landscaped pockets to mitigate the impact.

“Who is going to landscape this I asked?” The new condo association they said.

“I can see the old Filipino gardeners now, rappelling down this boulder wall to tend these landscape pockets. You must be kidding.” A puzzled look appears on their faces.

“Are you going to make paths along this wall?” Again I get this puzzled look.

The super sized backhoes came and with a couple of scoops the new development had all their property back. The dust fence went up right on the line and fifteen feet away from the back of the house. I went back to my regular chores. The deer herd was long gone.

The rumbling of the machines and the whistles before the explosions began in earnest. The dry kiawe forest disappeared. The land was molded and sculpted to start the creation of another piece of Maui that is sold in brochures and passed off as the real thing. Behind the black dust fence curtain the wall started to grow.

I know what a stacked boulder wall looks like, but as this thing grew it began to take on a look and feel that was completely new to me. The size of it alone moved it out of the category of wall and into the concept of earth works. It ran the entire length of the neighborhood about a quarter of a mile. The back sides of the boulders were being filled with concrete poured in like sand just to find the puka’s. Four inch diameter pipe was randomly laced throughout the wall. Then soil and dirt was backfilled in. The promoted landscape pockets were no where to be seen. This was not a wall. This was a fourteen foot rise in elevation from the natural grade that rose gently but steadily on its own.

I guess condos with a ground floor ocean views are worth more. An entire neighborhood directly below was no obstacle that could not be surmounted.

The Great Wall of Wailea was being born. Still unfinished and rising higher it calls to mind medieval fortress ramparts. The kind of thing archeologists and engineers try to figure out how humans could have accomplished such a feat with limited technology. Today these machines are picking up ten by eight boulders like dented jellybeans and stacking them at a pace hard to fathom. The new castles looming in the sky above are yet to come and will tower even further into the air. The poor houses below were not fortunate enough to get inside the protected zone.

My new job will soon be to landscape this behemoth, to try and hide it from view or make it blend in. There is five to ten feet of space left between existing decks, landscaping and natural rock grades to the base of the Great Wall for planting and the back of the houses are fifteen to thirty feet from the property line. This is not your ordinary pile of rocks. Forever more these folks will sit by their pool or on the back lanai and look up at this monolith with the golden condos above.

I will need to make some magical transformation occur. Somehow I will need to turn this wall into a landscape feature that soothes the soul. Somehow I will need to turn greed and folly into art. When the black dust curtain comes down I sure hope I have thought of something good.

On the way home today I saw the deer again. They had only moved above this development and not across the highway and up the mountain. Native Americans in some areas used to drive buffalo to the edge and then over cliffs when hunting them. These Axis deer hold their spots into adulthood for that sweet Bambi look and now I can see them raining from the sky above and bouncing off the roofs below. Is it Christmas already?

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