For a 30-mile-long island, land can be a sensitive subject that can sometimes require a delicate dance, each step in a thoughtful direction that considers a complex history and proud people.
If you aren't CHamoru, and especially if you weren't born and raised on Guam, it might be hard to understand why locals are so strict about their private property and, in all honesty, trying to understand often requires quite a depth of patience and compassion.
For all it's worth to the indigenous people of the island, I do hope you lend an open heart and mind to the land's history before deciding to illegally trespass onto private land on a whim, even if it's to access a hiking trail.
If you've been following this column for the past 21 months, you might've noticed I write a bit about hiking. By now, we've explored about 40 distinct hiking destinations on Guam, despite some that could be categorized as short nature trails.
And yes, 40! We have many an opportunity to hike on Guam, and there are treks you might not ever have the luxury of laying your eyes on, simply because they're on private property.
Now, I know that's a big bummer – and you might not even know how big considering what's kept under lock and key – but it's a fact we have to live with.
Put yourself in their shoes
For more than a year now, I've tried tracking private landowners to ask their permission to publish directions through their land to access hiking spots. And I'm not making courtesy calls; this is a must when hiking through private land.
This has worked well in my favor a couple of times, but for the few hikes I can't yet share with you all, well, the owner just needs a little more time to warm up to you.
I respect that, and so should you, because private landowners have a lot to consider before opening up what most consider their second home to the public.
We have to be understanding in this situation, which, though you might think is easy, others would consider baloney.
"It's just land" or "We'll be careful" can ring hollow for a people who've historically lost their land, or have had it ravaged.
I think about this when composing an email or message, or dialing a number to a landowner. In fact, I overthink it by placing myself in their shoes, and you should do the same.
Why would anyone with a sound mind willingly let strangers onto their property? Regardless of whether the property is by a waterfall or beach.
You're asking owners to cross through their property, as if you were entering their private home. This puts them in a very vulnerable spot.
What if you litter their home? What if you take their belongings or natural resources on the property? What if you spray graffiti or desecrate the land? What if you behave wildly and without concern? What then?
All of this matters on an island plagued by illegal dumping, where the tourism industry touts a pristine paradise that only exists in Tumon or is tucked away on some private lands.
So, landowners are right for protecting what's theirs when jungles and coastlines near rural, residential areas are dumping grounds created by humans.
When a landowner is obviously dodging my calls and messages, I lay off, because I already know it's not something up for discussion.
There are nights I lay awake and wonder whether Spots on The Rock is a good idea, or if I've simply opened up 40 of our most pristine, culturally and historically significant sites to potential harm.
I think about the human footprint left behind on lands that never knew humans to begin with, and I dread the possibility that trash might be left by hikers.
I wonder if those trekking into jungle depths are quiet and inquisitive, rather than rambunctious and rude. And I often think whether our native plants, marine and animal species are safe, or are being disturbed.
These are the things I think about, because I'm not oblivious to the consequences of media exposure. When word gets out, what you do with the information is fair game.
I feel pride in documenting what so few get to see and experience firsthand, but I'm also aware there are others who would rather capitalize on the opportunity to further expose and endanger the land.
Despite that heavy, gray cloud hanging overhead, I've always been a glass half-full person, and I try not to let these kinds of What Ifs get the best of me.
On nights like those, when I feel the well-being of our island's natural treasures on my shoulders, I remind myself there's a greater goal.
The goal, and the dream
People should know what we have, because what we have is what makes us great!
I've touched on one reason I started Spots on The Rock last year, but the main idea has always been to share with you what we have, and it's been rewarding ever since.
I bet you never knew just how many wonderful waterfalls there were to chase, or how many miles of white, sandy beaches stretch along our coasts, did you?
Often, I get excited thinking about readers flipping through these pages, surprised to stumble upon photos of a striking swimming hole hidden in the hills of Yona, or a magnificent waterfall crashing in the middle of a vibrant jungle valley in Piti.
I try to remind myself that this is the goal, and the dream: inspiring awe and appreciation for the natural wonders we find in our home.
You should be proud of this place! In fact, you should be SO proud that you would do anything to protect and preserve it, and not just "for future generations" – I know, you've heard that many times before – but simply because it's yours!
So, no, I don't worry – too much – about what people could be doing wrong out in the isolated parts of the island. I'd be out personally patrolling our trails if I did.
I'd rather think about what people might gain from being educated, and from being aware of what's right in their backyards.
The soul of our culture
If you were fortunate enough to experience the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts in 2016, you might fondly remember the atmosphere that arose from the sharing of indigenous cultures.
Native peoples and cultural practitioners, from as far as Rapa Nui and as close to home as our own island of Guam, sharing what they owned and what they have – it was beautiful!
Fitting, the theme of the festival was "Håfa Iyo-ta, Håfa Guinahå-ta, Håfa Ta Påtte, Dinanña' Sunidu Siha Giya Pasifiku," which translates to "What We Own, What We Have, What We Share – United Voices of the Pacific."
Land is the soul of CHamoru culture and connects us to the people who have come before, and continues to sustain those who have inherited it. The land is part of our identity.
It's what we own, what we have and what we share.
We do our best to honor that and I hope it's enough. It is for me, and it should be for you.