Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean? For someone who grew up on an island in the middle of the Pacific, this memory is often taken for granted. I only know that I was taken to the beach before I was a year old because my mom told me that it happened; my first actual memory of the ocean is as a toddler at Ala Moana Beach Park. The idea of going years without ever seeing the sea is…mind boggling. Yet this absence of the big blue is a reality for many land-locked individuals out there. I know because I have met some of these individuals during the HRAP beach shifts. Since my first meeting of an individual who has never seen the ocean before, I have been extremely cognizant of the visitor mindset.
Yet, here in Oregon, I am a visitor. I may not be a “tourist,” but I am certainly not a local. While I try to put myself in the shoes of those who are unfamiliar with the ocean and marine environment, I also observe myself as a visitor here in Cannon Beach. Having self-awareness as a visitor, sometimes wielding authority at Haystack Rock can be difficult. I have talked to many a beach goer that remembers playing in the tidepools as a child without any government regulation and exploring the Rock without any restraint. Some of them cannot believe what they got away with — now as adults they see how their actions were irresponsible, and would never fathom doing those things now. Others resent me and see me as a barrier between them and reliving childhood memories. As a visitor of Cannon Beach, I feel a little uncomfortable about telling these people “No.” But then I remind myself that as a kiaʻi kai (ocean caretaker) it is my kuleana (responsibility) to protect all the invertebrates in the tidepools that do not speak human and therefore cannot scream “You are hurting me!” as they are poked, pried or smashed.
Saturday, August 3rd was the last day of data collection via survey for my project studying human dimensions at Haystack Rock. According to my data, one third of my respondents knew about Cannon Beach from their childhood. Of those individuals, 48.5% are from Oregon and another 35.6% are from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I often compare Haystack Rock to Hanauma Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District that is probably the most popular snorkeling destination on the island of Oʻahu. Like Haystack Rock, Hanauma Bay is the responsibility of multiple levels of government: all of the land areas are a municipal park, but once you touch the water you are under State jurisdiction. Also like Haystack Rock, interaction with the environment is regulated and education is a major component of the visitor experience. Anyways, getting back to my point: if I were to do a survey of Hanauma Bay visitors, I highly doubt that many of those visitors would be locals that remember visiting as a child (although I am from Oʻahu and remember being seven years old, coming face to face with an uhu (parrot fish) and getting attacked by pigeons while eating Cheetos my first time at Hanauma Bay). A huge difference between Cannon Beachʻs visitors and Hawaiʻiʻs visitors is that the love that the former has for Cannon Beach comes from a deep seated sentimental place in the heart that can only be developed over time. Hawaiʻiʻs visitors may have love for Hawaiʻi, but it is a love that is developed during their short stay and on their own terms — they see and take with them the pretty pieces of Hawaiʻi that they prefer and leave behind the ugly real life parts that do not fit into their idea of paradise.
There is a bumper sticker back home that says “I Love Kailua…Before You Came.” I think this phrase, though maybe hurtful to new comers or visitors, is completely justified. As the local of a particular place, one draws identity from the area: the place is a part of the person. This does not mean a person new to the area cannot also love the place, the love is just different and the relationship with the place is different. As a visitor of any place, one must remember that there were others there first — and not just humans but plants and animals too. As a visitor, one must keep in mind the places back home that they love, that define them and remember that this new place serves the same purpose for someone else. Almost like extending the golden rule so that “others” encompasses all nouns, not just humans.