Kauai Work Retreat Day-by-Day Summary

Day One of the Kauai Work Retreat we spent at good friends on the North Shore, who have a very special site on their land that needs constant attention. The North Shore of Kauai is among the rainiest, most lush places on Gaia/Earth. You can almost see things growing in real time. It was a bit of a surprise to Owen and me how much work we accomplished in a few short hours. We were expecting slow motion because of jet lag, but it was not to be seen in the students. We also learned about Hawaiian and Kauaian history from the source – the locals. Eye and ear opening, about both the struggles and indomitable spirit of a people who deeply love the specialness of this land and the communities that call it home. Everyone slept well that night.

Day Two was my day, spending a morning scouting and wildcrafting medicinal herbs for Clearpath Herbals. We wanted it to be an easier work day because of the more grueling effort of Day One, and because how much work we knew Day Three was going to be.  I am interested in picking medicines on Kauai that are either invasive or super abundant, and even more so if largely overlooked. There are plenty of medicines on Kauai without having to put pressure on endemic species or plants deemed culturally significant. We picked Bidens pilosa (aka Spanish needles), a super prolific ‘pest’ throughout the island and an excellent broad-spectrum antibacterial herb, a medicine that disappears quicker and quicker from my apothecary shelves because of its help against antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and Lyme Disease.  We also searched for gotu kola (Centella asiatica), a renowned Ayurvedic brain, skin and anti-aging tonic. We found it. Not enough to pick for medicine, but enough to dig up and bring to Malama Kauai, an inspiring non-profit organization that we have been cultivating a relationship with. They will test a small plot of gotu kola to see how much cultivation effort is needed.



Day Three we were at Malama Kauai,  an organization dear to Owen’s and my heart, because of its mission (very similar to Local Harmony) and how successful they are at manifesting it, largely because of the integrity and vision of its director, Megan Fox (a transplant from MA, don’t ya know). They seriously walk the walk. After getting a download about its mission, challenges, and successes, we went to work cleaning up their Youth Community Garden, an educational garden showing the diversity of horticulture on the island, and the very garden that the crew on the first retreat helped to create two years prior. Our supervisors  –  talented, young Americorp volunteers – were a bit awed by the amount of work we five New Englanders mustered in a few hours.

Day Four we were back with Malama Kauai, this time picking and gleaning (sorting by quality) grapefruit from a private orchard, one of many scattered across the island. Kauai is not called the Garden Island for nothing. Anything you stick in the ground here has a good chance of growing and thriving. There are fruits of many varieties in so much abundance that a lot of it goes to waste, falling to the ground and rotting. One of Malama Kauai’s many ongoing projects is to pick these fruit, fresh off the trees, and deliver them same day to schools across the island for their lunch programs.  And if the supervisors weren’t amazed enough by our work output the day before, they were floor-stunned by how much we accomplished in short order on grapefruit picking day. Local Harmony and Five College students have earned official rock star status in the eye of the Malama Kauai staff.

Day Five we rose before dawn so we could be ready for poi making day at Waipa, another successful, hearts-and-minds-in-the-right-place North Shore non-profit, devoted to agricultural, educational and cultural projects aimed and keeping Hawaiian ways strong and growing.  Kalo (Taro is the more commonly known, Japanese name) is a food staple for Hawaiians. A large-leaved plant that mostly grows in the water (like rice paddies), its large tuber provides a multitude of foods, including poi, a reddish brown gelatinous glop that is beloved by Hawaiians, and seemingly requires getting used to for nearly everyone else. I loved this day, getting to be with community members and other visitors, taking part in a centuries’ old cultural tradition, getting to know the locals and a little more about ourselves, sitting and talking and working and laughing side by side for a few hours.

Day Six was play day, but not your typical chill-by-the-beach day. Participants have plenty of time during the afternoon and evening to enjoy the beach and ocean. This day, however,  we again rose before dawn to get an early start hiking the beginning of the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast, up and down two miles of switchbacks with some of the most breathtaking ocean vistas on the planet, at times a few hundred feet below us, before turning from the shear sea cliffs toward the island’s interior and hiking another two miles — where every step counts, hopping rocks, walking through bamboo an mango groves, crossing stream water several times — before coming to the base of Hanakapiai Falls, one of the most spectacular, heart-lifting places I’ve ever been.  Swimming under the curtain of water and feeling the spirit- and-body-cleansing qi blast coming off the waterfall quite literally takes your breath away. Again, the three students glided seemingly effortlessly through the physical demands of the hike. Two of them said it was the toughest hike they were ever on.

Day Seven was devoted to wrap-up, tying things together, giving all of us a chance to talk about how we were going to take the experience back with us and integrate it into our lives. How quickly people can come together as community and even family! Another excellent human quality we all got to experience this week. I can’t wait to hear and read what Giuliana, Matt and Sadie have to say and share. Mahalo!

Upcoming Kauai Work Retreats Sponsored by Local Harmony

By the way, because of the success of this retreat, we have committed to doing it again, in early January 2018 (Wed 3rd – Wed 10th), and with a little luck, also this July 15-22. Our biggest criticism was not promoting it far enough in advance, so we are correcting that in order to give people the chance to make it possible. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements regarding details. For more information about the retreat and other Local Harmony projects, visit Local Harmony, or navigate there from Facebook , or even from Clearpath Herbals website.

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