On a Monday morning I join Keale for one of his occasional, crack-of-dawn trips “up top” to the 1,200-foot-high Kuaokala ridge and plateau atop the Ka‘ena pali. The remote plateau is perhaps best known as the site where those two giant, golf-ball-shaped radar domes (“radomes”) have loomed over Yokohama Beach for the last fifty years. Operated by the Air Force on leased state land, the still-active Ka‘ena Point Satellite Tracking Station (STS) played a key role in the nation’s earliest satellite, missile detection and NASA programs—among them MIDAS, ADVENT, SAMOS and NORAD. Keale carries a state-issued pass, so we cruise through the STS gatehouse adjacent to Yokohama Beach and up a series of switchbacks to the cool, green plateau. Up close, the radomes are actually made of fabric stretched over geodesic frames. Why, I wonder, is Ka‘ena such a magnet for spirits, radio waves, radar and other invisible signals?
The highest heiau (temple) on O‘ahu is called Mokaena and sits up here in the middle of a cow pasture dotted with silky oaks, naio, haole koa and alahe‘e. As we approach, Keale stops and offers a Ni‘ihau wind chant. An unseen cow lows, birds chirp. The rising sun rakes Kuaokala (literally, backbone of the sun).
The heiau survives as a tumbled low structure, about 120 feet square, that looks like it’s sinking into the grass. A stacked boulder platform, hoary with lichen, commands the rest of it from an uphill position, while the perimeter wall is still visible. One would hardly notice Mokaena if it weren’t for the rudimentary wire fence that protects it from cattle. Keale says it is a heiau makani, a wind heiau. He tells me that in the Pele legends, Hi‘iaka came here because she needed favorable winds to get back to Kaua‘i. “A kupuna I know told me it was this place,” he says, explaining that there are lots of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau connections to Ka‘ena, connections traceable to the sun-worshipping Marquesans who came to Hawai‘i before the Tahitians. Legends and old surveys indicate that there’s another heiau up here called Kuaokala, a sun temple; there’s some confusion about whether Mokaena and Kuaokala are the same. But because Mokaena heiau has no obvious orientation to the sun, Keale believes a second heiau is out there somewhere, probably on a nearby ridge. He’s still looking for it.
We head out to the northern edge of the plateau, to the spectacle of the sea. Off on the west-northwestern horizon, the island of Kaua‘i, seventy miles distant, signals its presence with a clot of unmoving cumulus clouds, different from the cirrus and stratus sheets streaking the morning sky. A thousand feet below us, the shores of Ka‘ena are at peace. I look for the leina, the soul’s leap, and find it. We watch the neat crisscross of northerly and westerly ocean swells that crest and intersect on the point’s reef.
Another wave pattern shows itself, this one so faint I have to look twice to make sure it’s there. Concentric circular waves, emanating outward from the point in all directions—a pattern so abstract and faint that it seems to exist in its own dimension atop the furrowed sea. The pattern reminds me of those old-fashioned, cartoon radio waves pulsating from the tip of a broadcasting tower. But this is real Earth-energy physics, as delicate as it is epic, and it’s Ka‘ena doing the broadcasting. I know that Polynesian navigators were able to interpret multiple wave patterns well enough to “read” distant storms and find unseen islands, but still, to me this is a living power signal showing itself.