Kaelepulu Bird Sanctuary Clean-up

Sunday the twenty-sixth of March, zero-dark-thirty. We hadn't expected the water to be so low, and strained to drag our boats over the muddy bottom, the hulls scraping. The Marines weren't coming; like Washington at Valley Forge, Crockett at the Alamo, or Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, it would all be decided by a handful of stalwart volunteers. We could make out the silhouettes in the dark ahead, bobbing on the water like sitting ducks..."

They literally were sitting ducks, because this wasn't The Battle of Midway or Torpedo Bay, but rather, the Kaelepulu Bird Sanctuary, Enchanted Lake. Where Freemasons from some Oahu lodges combined efforts with concerned neighborhood groups to cut back and clear out the persistent California grass which threatened to overgrow the shallow wetland refuge for Kailua's endangered and migratory freshwater birds. And stalwart these Masons would have to be. Hacking at fibrous swamp grass that your machete bounces off of, while struggling to keep a footing on algee-slippery, submerged rocks or sinking in black, sulfurous ooze hip-deep, is brutal, bone-jarring labor.

Cutting swamp grass with a cane knife in one hand, a sickle in the other, is not unlike a hair cutter manipulating a comb and shears. Hook, pull, and cut...hook, pull, and cut... repetitively using muscles not ordinarily employed in computer work, engineering, sales, or our usual vocations. The left shoulder, continuously pulling, always gives out first. But fortified by coffee and an Egg McMuffin, they waded into the marsh, spaced themselves at intervals, and commenced chopping.

Hawaiian lodge officer, Horst Solfrank, lost his footing, splashed into the water, but dismayed, came up laughing; "I just wanted an excuse to go swimming!" Honolulu's Senior Warden, Frank Condello II, took a tree branch across the cheek that raised a shiner, grinned it off, and never flinched. As the tedious muscle and mind numbing chopping continued, the occasional clang of knife on sickle indicated that the left arms were tiring and moving slower; yet Hawaiian's Senior Warden, Randy "Baba Chang and "Recon" Jeff Dexter forged on with a measured resolve. They were in it for the long run.

I reflected it's good that we had the sickles, donated by Kari at Kilgo's, holding the grass, not a left hand, when the arms are fatigued and flail uncoordinated. There were no quitters, no complainers, or clock-watchers. We had Masons!

"Hey, Worshipful!" I yelled downstream, "Some rep from the Mayor's office is supposed to be coming! Keep an eye out for him!" From upstream, a casual, unassuming voice said, "Jeff, that's me. I'm from the Mayor's office." My jaw dropped into the knee-deep water. Ross Sasamura, who administrates six hundred some odd City and County employees, who maintain facilities, roads, and vehicles, had been the first volunteer to arrive, just as the sun came up. Before breakfast, he had helped haul the rowboats across the mud shallows, then kayaked far upstream, into dense overgrowth through which you had to turn sideways to pass, and commenced blazing. By the time we'd worked upstream to him, he had cleared out a twenty-yard stretch the width of Kalanianaole highway by himself.

"I thought you were coming over to make a speech or something..." I was incredulous. Ross grinned, deftly lopped off a three-quarter inch limb overhanging the stream, and said, "...good knife...." We thought Myra Ono at the Mayor's office was sending us some paper-pusher, and we got "Indiana Jones", a seasoned Bayou man! We had Masons, and we had men who should be Masons!

The cane knives were good. Donated by Barry and Dave Lundquist of Hardware Hawaii True Value in Kailua, they were made for the task of close-in chopping, almost as if they were familiar with the area and knew what we'd need for equipment.

Kimi Yamada had also arrived with first light and she hadn't volunteered just to serve the refreshments. Through the arduous morning, she and Honolulu Lodge Steward, Mark Bleakney, got soaked in muck, heaving half-bale loads of cuttings out of the water onto the skiff, then wrestling and body blocking it downstream to the dumping point. Kimi banged her shins into submerged rocks, took face first plunges in to the swamp, and came up laughing. Whatever scares her it's not muck, sweat, or toe threatening snapping turtles! Even Honolulu Worshipful, George Theofanis, conferred a gesture of deferential respect reserved for only a few men; at lunch break, he offered her a cigar! We had Masons, and men who should be Masons... and people with the heart of a Mason!

If the Marines didn't make it, the "cavalry" sure did! KGMB's Assignment Editor, Brenda Salgado sent reporter Debbie Sokei and cameraman Tom Garbisch, KHON's Assignment Editor, Mark Matsunaga sent cameraman Bryan Clymer. Honolulu's Steward, Walter Volinik and Worshipful-to-be "Baba" Chang, already bone-weary and low on blood sugar, spun their kayaks about with the small craft agility of an Inuit, and raced back upstream to position the media crews. They realized that clearing the grass was only half the objective; more important, was to put the Masonry in action, before the eyes of the public to boost recruitment, fill the columns and promote more support for future projects. So "tired" was not in their vocabulary today.

In a battered boonie hat, a machete slung from a frayed web belt, and the square and compass emblem still visible on his mud-splattered shirt, Worshipful George Theofanis, who had strategically pieced this project together over the past two months, spoke before the cameras about Masonry's role in public service.

Not all the people who made this project happen were in the swamp. Operations cannot be filled without the logistical support of equipping and feeding volunteers. Blistered hands and sunburn would've taken workers off line, but that did not happen because Randy Asuncion of Eagle Hardware donated a dozen gloves and Darrell Ito of Kailua Longs Drug Store donated a case of sunscreen and insect repellent. Rosie Solomon of Kailua MacDonalds provided McMuffin breakfasts; Clyde Gonsalves, Enchanted Lake McDonalds provided burgers and fries for lunch. Yamashiro Building Supply in Kaneohe backed us up with a ten-percent discount on any other items we might need. Grass tonnage and camera crews were transported on Jim McPalmer's boat. Bob Twogood, Twogood Kayaks, was standing by to supply additional boats if the conditions required more flotation crafts. Many folks rely on a shot of caffeine to kick-start the morning and this was provided by Carla Mudgett, Starbucks in Enchanted Lake. Neighbors Arlene Green and Tracy and Terry Olival made the food runs, which kept us alive. We had Masons and men who should be Masons, and people with the heart of a Mason... and yet others who put us into position.

Koolau's Senior Warden, Charlie Wegner and I had pulled and towed the rowboats through a couple hundred yards of mud shallows like draft beasts, manhandling and wrestling them toward deeper draft. Now we sat shoulder to shoulder, pulling at the oars, exhausted. My left arm twitched spastically, the shoulder having gone into meltdown hours ago, and my hands couldn't feel to grip the oars effectively. Charlie was spent too, but with one mind we kept yawing bow pointed toward the distant dock, compensating for current, setting the other up for an effective stroke; thus we eked the string of rowboats homeward with each agonizing pull. This was Masonry. Not who's the boss, who gets the credit, who eats first, who's to blame and the name-calling. Masonry is "ladders and right hands", each man hauling just once more, to get where we need to be. Today neither the Rainman, nor the Swamp Bogey, nor the Black Lagoon Creature, nor the Green Man deterred us from what we needed to do...together.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeff Tomoyasu
Senior Deacon