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Rainy Side View: Where did all the falling coconuts go?

I love everything coconut: haupia, kulolo, squid lu‘au, papale, bracelet, the list goes on. Small kid time, after swimming and slathering on coconut oil (SPF 0), we husked these prized gems to guzzle refreshing water and slurp silky spoon meat.

Those were the days.

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Sadly, I rarely find my favorite beach snack anymore. And where’s that brilliantly designed tool, the one where you sat on a thick wooden board to grate coconut on iron teeth? Every home used to have one.

A few years ago, we took a family trip to Baja California to eat lobster (Hawaii people make travel plans around food). After our fill of crustaceans, we visited La Bufadora, a blowhole on the Punta Banda Peninsula outside of Ensenada. We have blowholes in Hawaii so … (yawn) and instead, I fixated on nearby vendors offering every manner of Mexican food and craft your heart desired.

But my heart desired only one thing: coconut.

In food carts were baggies of coconut meat, and while family members browsed for silver jewelry and kalakoa pottery, I bought half a dozen bags of fresh coconut wedges. Of course, those pesky relatives all wanted to “taste,” and I tried to hold off. Eh, buy your own! But I gave them a sample.

After polishing off the last luxurious chunk in the last coveted bag of coconut (which went straight to my arteries, according to some medical mythologies,) I wondered why I can’t find coconut treats like this at home.

Here’s one possible reason: Hawaii County maintains our parks and has tree trimmers who lop off coconuts before they drop. Sometimes I’ll be at Moku‘ola — also known as Coconut Island (!) — and find my beloved football-shaped fruit (drupes, according to botanists) on the ground after pruners have done their job. It makes me sad, because when I look up at the trees, aue pua ting no mo’ nuts!

I know it’s for safety so that visitors and residents alike don’t get conked on the head by a coconut. Of hefty weight and size, it can do damage. But instead of neutering our iconic niu, what if the county puts up signs and urges the visitor industry to publicize warnings: Beware of falling coconuts! Do not sit, sleep or picnic under coconut trees! Coconuts can hurt your head, so look up and step aside!

Then we can send tree slashers elsewhere to whack invasive albizia and miconia because I think we can count on the intelligence of fellow humans to steer clear of dangerous orbs falling from the sky. Of course we always have to worry about those with litigious tendencies, which is why we need serious signage and education, especially since over the years, we have foolishly enabled ourselves and others to not pay attention to coconuts. In fact, do we even notice them anymore?

In the decades after statehood when hotels were being built on the dry Kohala Coast, scouts came to the wet side seeking mature coconut trees to landscape these new resorts on barren lava fields. They offered Hiloans prices we couldn’t refuse, and you can bet those trees trucked and transplanted to tourist sites have their coconuts regularly axed.

But by hacking off the nuts, how will the next generation of trees grow? We used to see it everywhere, fallen coconuts sprouting new green leaves, but I can’t remember the last time I came across one.

We live on Pacific islands where our sense of place is symbolized by lofty, graceful palms, laden with plump, golden coconuts.

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I hope our beautiful and beneficial coconut trees don’t disappear.

Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at rainysideview@gmail.com. Her column appears every other Monday.

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