One of the best things about growing up in the Mo'ili'ili/University area was access to some unique things. One of them was the UH Lab School's summer science program that Mrs. (Thelma) Odo enrolled me in as a fifth grader. Though the program was not part of Ala Wai Elementary School, she signed me up and off I went for three weeks or so.
UH Lab School seemed far away for a kid whose entire world covered a range of three or four blocks on Kapiolani Blvd. and University Ave. But it was only a 15-minute walk, really. Though I skipped the first couple of days in favor of Ala Wai Summer Fun with my friends, my mom got on my case and I went to the science program.
It was a great experience. Will Kyselka, the University of Hawaii professor, was one of the instructors. Imagine that. A sage old guy dealing with 10-year-olds! He was cool. We went on field trips almost every day, including one to the UH quarry, known in the old days as Kamoiliili quarry. Though campus construction had obliterated much of it, there was still much to be seen in 1976. Kyselka showed us coral reef remnants and blew our minds. The quarry is a few miles from the sea, and there's a 60-foot (or so) drop from the upper-campus surface to the lower campus where we stood.
My interest in the geologic formations of Mo'ili'ili has never waned. Folks in the area know about the blind mullets under the busy traffic intersections of King and University. Leah Colucci is a cave explorer who has preserved images and observations on a site called ExploreBiodiversity.com.
The historical background of the caves ties into the Ala Wai Watershed, which ties into the enormous fields of taro and rice that existed there in the early 20th century. The eviction of those highly successful Hawaiian and Chinese farmers from the land is another story I want to dig into eventually.
It also ties into the reason why that filthy little ditch next to Isenberg Street was (still is?) called "Duck Pond."
Mrs. Odo, the one who signed me up for the science program, once laid out an old map of the community and explained what used to be here and there before Chunky's Drive-In and The Willows. I don't remember most of it, but I remember the feeling of amazement. Growing up on concrete leaves little to the imagination. It's only after hanging out in some of the area's remaining areas that still have foliage — like Ala Wai and Manoa-Palolo stream — that it seems possible that this was once a thriving agricultural haven.