The tsunami effect
March 3, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
Days later, phone calls from the Mainland were still coming in. People at work and at school were still buzzing. Newspaper headlines were still talking about that “crazy day.”
There’s nothing like a tsunami — even a mere Tsunami Scare as it would be dubbed in the TV news graphics — to get the adrenaline pumping.
As opposed to the tragedy in Chile or in Haiti some weeks earlier, disaster Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day on the Valley Isle. It was one of those blue-sky, crisp-air, glorious beach days … if anyone had been able to get to the shore.
But no matter. With sirens going off vaguely in the distance, even way above sea level Upcountry, we watched the stationary TV shot of Hilo Bay looking for any sign of the wave as zero hour approached.
Then zero hour passed, we shared a big group exhale — thank You very much — and got on with our business.
Along with the readiness of disaster agencies, the proactive moves of government officials and the calming effect of the media bringing the latest news through the morning, the best message of the day was what it brought out in everyone.
“Aloha” isn’t in most newspapers’ arsenals of front-page headlines; it was exactly the right word in Tuesday’s Maui News coverage of the tsunami that didn’t happen.
Natural disasters used to be known for bringing out the best in people. In the islands, they still do. On our little rock in the middle of the sea — like our little planet in the middle of the cosmos — they remind us how vulnerable we are.
The point is brought home especially by slow-moving catastrophes we can see coming for hours, thanks to deep-ocean buoys and other advances in early-warning technology. It’s humbling … and might have something to do with how friendly everyone’s been ever since.
I’m still coming upon unnoticed e-mails from Kula neighbors last Saturday inviting their lower-elevation friends to come on up.
This awareness that seems so second-nature to islanders is harder to come by elsewhere. Like Hollywood, for instance.
Still recalling that old advertising line, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” I have to admit a small warning buzzer went off in my brain when I heard Clint Eastwood and company were coming to Lahaina to film a tsunami sequence for their new movie, “Hereafter.”
Oh, sure, the tsunami itself would be added later, by the special effects department. The actual filming went off without a hitch for three days in January. The actors — including Maui’s 8-year-old Jessica Griffiths —were required to run up Front Street with really scared looks on their faces, then jump!
Jessica jumped into padding just out of camera range … but it will be a savage wave by the time the movie is released.
Speaking now as a professional metaphor maker who sometimes sees things that aren’t really there, I noticed that one of “Hereafter’s” producers was Steven Spielberg. The very same Steven Spielberg who was directing the special-effects-laden “Jurrasic Park” on Kauai in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki sent the crew scrambling for safety into the fortified section of their resort.
It’s not that I actually believe film companies are provoking the wrath of the gods of nature, so present in the mythology of our island home.
But then again, it never hurts to remember our place in the grand scheme of things. And what is it about us that defines world-ending disasters as entertainment?
On Sunday, Hollywood will honor its greatest achievements at the 82nd annual Academy Awards. Among this year’s top contenders is “Avatar,” demonstrating the movies’ awesome powers to literally create entire worlds on a blank green screen.
Last Saturday, the same TV screens that will bring us the Oscars were full of the very real world where we live. We watched flapping fish left stranded on rocks by receding tides, and we held our breaths that nothing worse would happen.
The greatest illusion created by special effects is that we are in control. The most basic truth of living in these islands is that we’re not.
Nature trumps special effects, every time. It doesn’t even have to try.
We are like tiny ants on this pebble in a vast sea. We’re not the chief, we are part of the flow of life. Those days when everything turns out OK are days to be grateful for.
All it takes is one little tsunami to remind us of this lesson. Especially a tsunami that doesn’t happen.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.