Hōlanikū – A Return to Pō

[Disclaimer: not everything I write in this blog may be accurate to the places and the cultures depicted. This blog is not a resource for you to learn this information. This is only a narrative report of my personal experiences. I will do my best to accurately represent this information, however this can even be challenging to anyone for much is left to the interpretation of the person gathering and “reading” the information. I have very little to no background in Hawai’i ʻōlelo and the subsequent manifestations ( mele, hula, ʻōlelo no’eau, oli, mo’olelo, etc…) although I am a student of these and understand my own personal need to learn in order to expand my own knowledge and awareness. Because my knowledge is very limited in this context, I borrow heavily from my broader understanding of archetypal psychology and mythology. However these subjects too are relatively new and foreign to me.  One of the purposes of this blog is as a tool to help me apply the knowledge I am learning to my own story as a way to actualize it: to bring it to life! Thank you for reading!]

Return to the West. Entering Pō.

Every Journey Into Darkness is a return to greater awareness of self. Human existence is a profoundly existential experience; every human being is burdened, or gifted – depending on how you look at it – with a deeper sense of awareness of self. However, full consciousness is not handed to us. In our lifetime, we must seek it out. We must journey into the unknown, the uncharted territory, the shadow realm, and bring back with us our own awakening.

How does one do this? How do we know about that which is unknown? How can we embark on a journey in finding and obtaining our fullest potential? The answer, or rather the reward, is found only within the journey itself. Yet, as creatures who are but merely the latest continuation of the unraveling story of life, we may my find guidance  in all that came before us. These clues have been observed from people to people, generation to generation, preserved in stories which have been remembered through their cues from the environment that surrounds us: Earth, and the greater cosmos.

The story of the Human is a cyclical story embedded within the larger contextual story of life. Each of us human beings are an expression of this grand story. Our identity, our psyche, is but a representation of all which has come before, flowing forward and backward in time: spinning, spiraling. In a reality in which we as humans are perceiving our world, it is difficult to “see” the foundational forces that provide this “home” or “space” for us to even exist. This is why humanity is profoundly a existential experience: The physical world in which we are born into: the light, is only illuminating the creations, but we cannot see the source of these creations. For that, we must venture into the darkness…

I cannot deny my own acute awareness of a deep void that rests beyond my horizons. Its gravitational pull is strong, pulling me towards its edge. I both fear it immensely, and desire it tremendously. I fear it because it is unknown: as we all are naturally programmed in our genetic instinctual self-preservation to remain in a state of safety. But I desire it because I feel so contained and limited within this bubble of safety. What does it mean when your soul calls for you to expand, to risk everything?

I don’t have many answers, but I have found that when I respond to this calling, my perceived experience fills with meaning and purpose. Destiny comes forth and leads me on. Passion is ignited and lights my way.

I am about to return to a very special place. It’s name is Hōlanikū. It is both a place on this Earth, and a place in our psyche. I am returning here for work, both practical and spiritual. This place is an Atoll which is part of the largest protected preserve in the world, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and it rests at 28.3925° N, 178.2936° W. It also rests in the realm of . As the Atoll exists much further north and west of the main Hawaiian islands, it also then exists within the realm of darkness: the subconscious; the source. It exists beyond the horizon, in the West where the sun sets, and in the North. These are places within us and without us where life came from and life returns to. It is where our ancestors rest. It is the home of our kūpuna. Mai nā kūpuna mai. 

I am still trying to grasp the deeper significance of ancestral places and their imprinted wisdom on the geography of us people. I am merely a beginning student who has been honored to learn from our greatest Kumu, our greatest teachers. I do not take this lightly. I take it as a huge responsibility, a deeper purpose. And although It often feels like a great undertaking: to walk between the realms of the conscious and unconscious in such magnitudes, I have already seen what walking this path has given me. A greater sense of myself. A greater understanding of the mystery of life and a clearer vision of where we as a people are going…

If you choose to follow this blog, you will be diving along with me into my journey. I will attempt to post regularly beginning now and all the way through the six months on  Hōlanikū, as well as the return. If you would like further information about this place and the work that we do, please visit the Kure Atoll Conservancy page.  If you would like deeper information on this place, there are many resources for this. Check out Kekuewa Kikiloi work titled Rebirth of an Archipelago: Sustaining a Hawaiian Cultural Identity for People and Homeland as well as some of his other work: KŪKULU MANAMANA: RITUAL POWER AND RELIGIOUS EXPANSION IN HAWAIʻI THE ETHNO-HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY OF MOKUMANAMANA AND NIHOA ISLANDS:

Mahalo nui for your interest in my story!

Fledgling Season

Mai ka Pō Mai ka ʻōiaiʻo
Truth comes from Darkness.
Truth is revealed by the Gods.
(Pukui 1983: 225, Ōlelo NoʻEau – Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings)

No one can see beyond a choice they do not understand.
To understand is to choose to go beyond where one can see.

Week 16

Every time I turn my head I see yet another young albatross run into the direction of the wind with their wings flapping as hard as they can muster, catching flight at the moment of full commitment, lifting into the air, into Lani, the sky, the heavens.
The island is abounding with the plethoric energy of albatross fledging. The time has come for these birds of the ocean to embark onto their next phase of life; to charge ahead with nothing but a compelling instinct and an empty stomach into the vastness of the unknown. To wander the ocean as a forager in solitude.
When evening comes and we all put down our work tools and shed our sweaty, sticky work attire, we fill our bellies with the rationed nourishment we brought with us from civilization, then head out to the heart of the atoll, the lagoon, to catch a few more fledglings disappear beyond the reef, beyond the horizon, where the sun has faithfully lay to rest.
By now, we have spent more time on this island than we have remaining for the season, except for the new guy, Matt, who joined us only 2 weeks prior, and for the French volunteer, Virginie, who has agreed to stay on through the winter season. She has truly found her set of wings out here.
We are fully adjusted and integrated into the daily routine of our own lives as well as the lives of our fellow bird inhabitants. It is no longer surprising to hear the harsh screech of a Tropic Bird as we step a little too close to their nesting ground. The fluttering of multiple White Terns around our heads as we maneuver through the carcass of an old dead Beach Heliotrope no longer triggers an emotional awe, but rather is duly noted and slips into our peripheral experience as we focus on the laborious and primary tasks at hand.
We move without thought like a seasoned skier across the mogul-like topography of the myriad of burrows that stretch throughout the island’s sandy-soil earth. The stench of our clothes and algae water-logged skin and hair is no longer even noticeable, even as its presence on the inhabitable surfaces of our bodies is ever more than it ever was. The periodic sharp sting of the paper wasp nor the elapsed throbbing of a tick bite arise any longer the stark state of bewildered alarm. And the wailing of the Wedge-Tailed Shear water, the glottal croak of the brown noddy’s nesting, or even the dramatic hissing and rasping of the territorial ducks right outside our windows has sequentially replaced the white noise of the car traffic that used to put us all to sleep in the city.
We are now fully accustom to Hōlanikū. Our habits, our routine, our way of life now integrated into the sounds, sights, smells, and feelings of this bizarre, strange world. But it is no longer strange to us. It is normal to us. The world of humans, where we departed from, is now the land of the strange, and upon our return, we will be the strangers.
I cannot help but think of home while I watch these albatross take flight and leave this Island. That place of home, that notion, that feeling is something that resides in all of our psyches. It is the resting place, the place that nourished us, raised us, comforted us. Or perhaps it is that place that deserted us, neglected us, abused us, threatened us. Either way, that place occupies a space in our mind, a domain which holds a many things congruent with our life’s journey. And one way or another, we always return home, no matter how far and wide we travel away. No matter how long we wander upon the vast oceanscape, foraging food for our soul, the home of our psyche beckons and awaits our return. Everything, eventually, returns to its source.
Hōlanikū is a mythical name of old. Its derived meaning, “bringing forth heaven”, constitutes an adjective process. This name is also a holder for an actual place. It is a place people can travel to. It is a place where hundreds of thousands of sea birds call home. It is a place where a few people come to work for the better part of a year. But it is also a name that is part of a greater tying of words, a chant that carries a deeper meaning, an enfolding process of a people’s connection to the gods and to the source of life.
The name Hōlanikū is one part of a whole series of names, Hōlanikū being the last of the series; the end of the line. It is the name given to the furthest island of the Hawaiian archipelago, the furthest along the pathway to Kahiki, a name used to describe a place in which the gods originated from. In Hawaiʻi, the direction of the west is associated with the domain of the ancestors, where the spirits of the those who have passed on venture to in the afterlife. It is also the direction in which the ancestors of Hawai’i came from to Hawai’i. The continuation of islands stretching west from the main Hawaiian islands are associated with the direction one takes in life from birth into old age and ultimately into the afterlife, becoming deified as the ancestral gods whom came to this world from the vast darkness of time, before the dawn of humanity.
The majority of my time on this island of Hōlanikū is spent in the light, or what is known as the realm of ao: day. This is the realm of humans. It is the realm in which humans live in and therefore have a kind of control and manipulation over. Physically, I continue to remain in the realm of ao, for this is the realm of the living. Our entire lives, as we know it, are spent in this realm. But given this condition of the living, I find that I have been lured to Hōlanikū for a very different purpose than what it appears my peers are here for. It seems that in my fortuitous way of life, I have come here guided by the desire to push myself into the darkness, the realm of Pō.
Physically, Hōlanikū and I are still existing in the light. The island is still afloat, above the vast ocean of time, and I still walk and breathe and think in the first person. But symbolically, I have indeed entered and returned to the dark. My time as a worker and temporary employee of the Department of Land and Natural Resource keeps me grounded in the light; my psyche still incased in the temporal constructs of an agency of which I am a participant of during my time on this atoll, which is governed, or rather owned in all its superficial senses, by the political entity of the country of Hawaiʻi.

Our human lives on Kure have shaped and molded into routines befitting to our character, suitable to our present needs. The lives of us few that live together in such close and lengthy proximity are encased in the boundaries of the conditions of this island, yet we each live separately in our own paradigms, each of us responding differently to this isolated wildlife sanctuary, each of us yearning to obtain some kind of transformation, some kind of change from what we were before we set out on this sojourn of seasonal work, hoping for growth, hoping to gain something. As the island has slowly become our whole world and the whole world has slowly become but a distant glimmer on the horizon, we humans wake up each day and decide what it is that defines us, here and now. We decide what we bring with us from our past into this new and different world, and what we lay to rest.
When I wake up each day and watch the lives of the myriad of birds I am immersed in constantly, I cannot help but feel another kind of separation. Like the separateness of my life from my fellow human peers as we go about telling ourselves our own version of our own experience, there too exists a desire to connect with the lives of these winged creatures. And that desire to share a connection with these creatures means that a connection does not already exist. And that severance of connection is the very same connection we knowingly or unknowingly are reaching out for every time we think of home.
We all carry in our conscious a different idea of home. For me, I think of a great many things. I think of a city smoothed between mountains and sea, saturated with moisture and brimming with tall, thick-barked piny trees. I think of my three older and uniquely different yet quintessentially the same sisters telling me how cute I am but also how stubborn I can be. I think of my younger yet growing up faster than me brother and the room we use to share when I had short straight hair and he had long golden locks. I think of my Mom in a denim jacket and Ray Bans driving a Landcruiser in the mountains with Mazzy Star and the Spin Doctors. I think of my father in a polo shirt with a big old grin on his bright face like he’s the luckiest dad in the world. I think of my step-father with long hair younger than I am now with four kids holding his hands and riding his shoulders through town to get pizza. I think of what once was, and I cling to the memories of those once upon a times fearing that if I let go I somehow will no longer know who or what I am.
I cannot say here and now how my fellow Kureans carry home with them, but I can watch how they carry themselves out here upon the sensuous world of Hōlanikū. I can see how they, like me, respond to the prophetic event of every single albatross fledgling reacting to the large squall passing over as they cast their wings out to catch the wind and feel that force lift their bodies into the destiny they were meant to live out. I see how we all stop whatever it is we are doing, our human tasks instantly becoming purposeless compared to the purposeful drive of the young albatross attempting first flight. They rip our attention away from our humanly constructs, they call to our souls, that source of life within us yearning to be filled with as clear a purpose as these seabirds.
And when the squall passes over and the winds die down, we are broken from the spell like being awoken from a dream. We drift back into ourselves, our soul slipping back into the confined space of our psyche we have so rigidly permitted it to function in. We return to the human world we have brought with us from our past, perhaps driven by the belief that it is our duty to repent for the costly mistakes of our human predecessors that left a path of destruction behind them.
When the albatross fledglings calm back down, also returning to whatever they were doing before – preening their feathers, smelling the air, stretching their feet – I feel once again that lack of connection, that feeling that there is indeed something missing from my life. I feel the appreciation for this life of mine, but I also somehow feel a distance from this life of mine, like I look at myself and wonder how it is that the older I get the further away I feel from my own self. The further away I feel from home. The less connected I feel to the source of my existence.
We often imagine the direction of the east being the source of our existence as this is where the sun rises from, the sun representing the source of life of our planet. But within the cyclical nature of our world, the direction of the west, where the sun sets, becomes a strong image of locale for the psyche’s understanding of its origin.
Myths, such as the Kumulipo, are a kind of story that can be found throughout human culture. It is what today is called a cosmology; a story of origin. It is a special kind of story because unlike all other stories which are historical, cosmological stories are telling of events that occurred before humans even existed. They come from the darkness.
Myths carry a force so powerful that when expressed aloud they can break right through the conscious mind of the listener and latch onto the attention of the deeper subconscious. In more latent terms, a myth is a road map that leads us back to truth of what each and every one of us are: that you and I, dear reader, are not necessarily what we have come to believe in our modern lives. We are in fact, so much more. And when I say more I meant it in every sense of the word.

The chant of the Kumulipo tells us that darkness, Pō, is the realm of the gods that precedes and proceeds the realm of humans, ao. It is common to associate East with our past, for the east represents birth, as does the sun rising from the east bringing light to our world, as does the birth of our life as we transition from the darkness of our mother’s procreative womb into the light of the world. However, our ancestors too represent our past; those who walked this earth before us; and if we can see this connection of all life through time – life sacrificing itself so other life may live – then it becomes abundantly clear that our past; the lives of our ancestors, actually exists in front of us, to the west, to the future, towards the place we go after we live our lives, where our ancestors await us to join them. Where we become them.
If we stop just once from our busy lives and look out past the myopic construct of our modern culture, out into the observable universe, there lies a whole expression of natural symbols that, with the help of our myths, speak to us of our orientation of existence. The past and future begin to blend together, as time and space appear to do the further out we explore our universe. The orientation of the Hawaiian archipelago has long been seen as a place holder for this understanding, a key for unlocking the illusions of the physical world; entire islands -something physical we could connect to – and the stories and names given to these islands became the very key that opens the doors between worlds.
These names are given to the islands to perhaps describe their physical features, but these names are not exclusive to such physicality. The names are also given as descriptions for a spiritual process, a spiritual pathway leading us to the beginning of the end, what I suppose would collectively be known as the source of life. No longer just behind us, but also ahead of us. Either way, it is that which lies beyond us, beyond the light, in the darkness.

This understanding is rooted in our body’s orientation in space. The view of the west as the source of darkness, the direction in which life originated, is to bring the psyche into full awareness of the human connection to the source of all life. This kind of connection is what I believe to be essential to the human race. It is through this connection that we establish a continuum of experience with life beyond our own fleeting lives. And in that continuum of existence; since the beginning of life itself, we experience the wholeness of our own self, the multiplicity of our own self. The self no longer is experienced as a self. The psyche is no longer a individual that experiences the universe in its own fragmented window of breath.
No, when we begin to experience all of time through our body’s orientation with space, guided by the stories that are older than any records of human thought, then we start to realize how catastrophic the recent cultural events have had on our beliefs of happiness. We begin to awaken to our sad and sufferable dependency on technological progress in bringing us the good life. We begin to understand that the purpose of society is to unite us in common purpose, and that the responsibility of those governing society is to ensure that that common purpose is speaking through us from the source of our existence; from our ancestors, from the source of life itself.
And when we awaken back to this understanding; when we reorient our bodies and see that our choices are not solely our own but driven by a deeper process that has been enfolding in a continuum since the very beginning of the inception of life itself, well then we realize that our society is not fully serving us the way it was intended to, just as my mind is not quite serving my life the way it was intended to.
And that feeling, that loss of connection, that loneliness, begins to make sense, and I start to fully understand why we are drawn to the Albatross enacting this next phase of their lives. They represent that connection we humans are so desperately grasping for. Our humanity. Our soul. Those albatross, bless their little strong hearts, are not governed by a single order. There is not one singular mind in control of each individual bird. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to understand how these lives work. It doesn’t take a biologist. It takes a connection, a feeling of relating, and through that relatedness you start to see your own self, and that you too are not governed by a single, monotheistic psyche. That in fact there is no one single thing in control of you, just as you are not one single entity. You are a multiple. You are many processes being expressed through you. You are the Albatross yearning to fly. You are the Mother giving to the world. You are the Servant tending to the fields. You are the King ordering the march. You are the Thief stealing the treasure. You are the Lover falling head over heel. You are the Wind carrying the message. You are the Warrior surrendering to death. You are the Hero bounding towards glory. You are the Villain misshapen by furry. You are the Fool. You are the Dancer. You are the Fire. You are the Rain. You are the Gods. You are the Pleasure. You are the Pain.

Death and Renewal Pt. III: Ducks of Our Lives

Some of the most dramatic work we do out here on Kure can be attributed to the introduced Laysan Duck, an endangered species endemic to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Three years ago a group of Laysans were captured from Midway to become the founding population on Kure as an attempt to spread the specie to more islands. Kure was an ideal selection because, like Midway, there is a year-round human presence that can monitor the ducks. However, the ducks on Midway as well as the ducks established on Kure have suffered from severe bouts of botulism.
The dry summer season does not see incidences of botulism with the adults. Instead, we get to monitor the brooding season. Everyday we head out to do what we call seep checks, various freshwater sources around the island created specifically for the ducks, to figure out the latest state of the broods. It begins as an exciting and pleasurable experience – Hens with 5-7 little ducklings running amok – but the cuteness wears off quickly. Those ducklings and hens seem to do a terrible job of keeping track of each other, and if a hen loses her ducklings and does not find them before nightfall, they are as good as dead. Ducklings cannot thermoregulate in their downy, relying solely on their mother to keep them warm after a day of swimming in the seeps.
Every day the number of ducklings with each mom changes. Sometimes she has less. Sometimes she has more. The ducklings are constantly mixing up which hen is their mother. And more often than not we find stranded ducklings in which we then attempt to capture them and reunite with one of the moms we think is a little better at her job. All of this is quite the commotion at the end of a long day, and it adds a lot of stress to our daily routine as we come back to camp tired from crawling through Naupaka and stepping in burrows for eight hours, only to have to return out into the field and deal with the anxiety of figuring out where the heck those missing ducklings went. Matt calls it Ducks of Our Lives, like some crummy soap opera we are forced to watch. The problem is we are pretty useless at changing the behavior of the mother hens, and so if we go out and see something is amiss, then it’s hard to not do anything about it. And we aren’t even sure how effective our intervention is since the Moms go right back to losing their ducklings day in and day out.
We gathered the biggest issue is the founding population that was brought to Kure were young and had no prior experience raising ducklings. So, the ducks that are brooding are going through their trial phases, learning how to be better mothers with each brood. This is a natural process as any mother of multiple children can attest to from having their first kid to their last. The pressure is on out here on Kure because of the inflicting Botulism that strikes each winter, killing off a significant portion of the remaining population. Kure began with over thirty individuals. Now there is perhaps half that number. If the Ducks are not able to repopulate then soon there will not be enough genetic diversity nor mating pairs to sustain the species on this island.
The amount of effort it takes to monitor the Laysan ducks feels like it requires a full time job, but we already have our hands full with our primary objectives. So, we work together as best as we can, sacrificing our time off at the end of the day because even though we end a little early to accommodate for the duck monitoring, it always ends up taking a great deal more. But we bear the burden because it is our job, because if we didn’t take the extra time out of our day, then the ducks would be far worse off.

Life on Kure is a continuum of call and response. We see the changes and we respond to the changes. It is a life style and mode of work that requires constant action where the demand of work does not end just because the clock strikes five. On Kure, there is always something more to do. There is always a project waiting to happen, a task waiting to be completed. This practice of always doing has produced in me a reservation for conservation, one that produces thoughts of doubt in my own ability as well as questions into my own intention. Does my criticism of conservation mean that I am not as passionate about it as I once was? Am I in the right line of work? Is my desire to relax in stillness and resistance to dedicating all my waking time towards direct efforts on Kure mean I do not believe in the work?
I don’t know these answers, just as much as I don’t know how to teach a Mother Laysan Duck how to raise her young, but I do know there is a commonality between all life. Our short-comings are windows into our strengths. Our pain are clues into our healing. Our suffering are opportunities for growth.
Today I heard R5, one of our momma ducklings in camp, outside my bunkhouse window. I knew it was a mom because they give a kind of duck chirp so that their ducklings don’t stray too far. I went out to see how many ducklings she had. Just yesterday there were five, but today only two. So, I grabbed my binoculars and radio and started walking around camp to search for the missing ducklings. I found one almost immediately. It was out in the open sun, lying on its side in obvious poor condition. It was panting, drawing in some of its last breaths. I picked the duckling up. It reflexively kicked its legs as I raised off the ground, contorting its body in the palm of my hands. I held on firm, but gentle, and walked into the shade. The duckling’s eyes were half closed. As I held it then I knew there was nothing I could do to save its life. This little life form, so new to the world, so fragile, was dying in my hands, and the best I could do was cradle it as if it was returning to the womb, to its egg, to where it came from. Where we all come from. That place we all share in common.
I thought, my god, this is what it means to be human. This is the true potential of our species. We can reach out, extend our compassion and awareness into other people, other creatures, other life, and do it consciously, knowing we are the same. I can care for this creature that in no way immediately benefits me, and I benefiting it, yet I can hold it as if it was one of my own children, and I can share this moment of death alongside it. I can understand that we are different and that it has its tribe and I have mine, but if I come across it lying there, dying, I can break through the taboos of separateness with no other desire for outcome than to connect, to share that moment of transition. I can wrap its suffering in the warm compassionate embrace of my hands.
I did not feel saddened by the duckling as it lay dying in my hands. I felt content, like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. The duckling rolled its head back and then dropped it one last time, and that was it. I got up and grabbed a specimen bag to wrap it in so we could preserve the body for a necropsy analyses (in the name of science), and wrote down the time, location, and potential cause of death. And that was that. Dinner was ready and I washed my hands and walked over to the main house, returning to my own tribe.
The continued experiences I am having out here are invaluable, and even though I hold a bit of grudge for how the greater potential effect we could have on the sanctuary if there was more funding, I still am so immensely grateful that there is any funding out here at all, that I wouldn’t be here with out it. And this opportunity is a foundation for me. It is part of a continuum that I am now a part of, and as I continue on in life, this experience will be a new source for my drive and dedication in the revolution of human’s relationship to nature. I am in debt to this experience, to all the lessons learned, no matter what direction this leads me into next. It will become the fuel of my past thrusting me into a destined future.
I will lay to rest the necessary deaths of doubts and reservations and use that cleared space to focus on what will work. I will use the power of my mind that holds all that I have learned and observed to process a better future, and I will have faith that my actions will be led by the feelings I internalize from these invaluable experiences, and not deterred.
I think perhaps that The Death of Our Lives, would make a much a better Soap Opera. We could all benefit from being more connected to the death side of life, and it may be the missing link in the fragmented map of the human psyche and the human experience of soul that can help us transform out of the fear-based state of our collective living. I know that now with all this rich time I have spent exposed to nature that death is one of the most obvious parts of life lacking in the today’s human environment so many of us are now born into and rarely ever leave.
Out here, I am surrounded by death. The smell of decaying carcasses on still humid days rises and fills my nostrils. I watch the Iwa swoop down and snatch the baby of a nesting Red-Booted Booby. I witness a tiger shark envelope an Albatross fledgling stuck in the lagoon. I share the space with my crew mate who begins to cry when she reveals a regret she holds for not going to her grandfather’s funeral two years ago. I see the loneliness in each of us exposed during particularly vulnerable episodes of the day. I hold a duckling dying in my hands. I watch a mother still calling out for her young already perished in the fearsome fire of the sun.
If we bring death back into our daily life, then we can empty out the hallow feeling inside that tries to replace it. If we share with each other the vulnerable darkness and fear that consumes us, we realize that that feeling and the associated memories and thoughts were really just a desire to connect and feel the depth of who we are speak out with the voice that carries us through life. This is what death brings to life. It reminds us that it is the source of our life, and it is where we will return. We all fall apart and dissolve back into organic material and become assimilated into other birthing life forms. And if we only focus on life and avoid death, then we will always live in fear of what we could be, of what the world could be, ignoring our own nature, ignoring the source of our true self: our soul.
As Hōlanikū symbolizes the last gate in which the deceased ancestors of Hawaiʻi pass through to become deified, immortalized, transformed into higher realms, I sink into the island’s myths, into the cosmology of the Kumulipō and realize over and over again just how relevant this place is to the lessons I am already trying to learn and hope I can reach out to others who share a similar or even a different path as my own. But as I lean into the darkness to find the source of light, I wonder who, if any, are willing to follow?

Death and Renewal Pt II: The Dance and Flight of the Albatross; Rituals of Transformation

Nesting on the island within Kure Atoll are two different species of Albatross. These two species look different and behave differently, but it doesn’t take a bird expert to tell they share a common ancestor. The Black-Footed Albatross is primarily black and walks with its neck tucked in as if it were crouching. The Laysan Albatross has black wings with a white breast and neck and a cream colored beak, and walks with a erect and often bobbing neck. Both species mate for life, nest on the ground, and dance with their mates or potential mates.
These common yet distinct traits illustrates a profound point about life: the species are enacting rituals reproduced from one generation to the next. All Laysan Albatross learn the same dance moves of bobbing their neck up and down, whistling, thrusting their head straight up to the heavens, shaking their head left to right, lifting one wing and tucking the beak behind it, and also rapidly clapping the beak. They do this because it is ritual. It is what works, what allows the species to continue to reproduce. The Black-Footed Albatross have their own dances, and they do it for the same exact reason: it works. Same but different.
The mystery of why something works and doesn’t in the world is not always for the eye of the beholder to grasp. It is part of a higher order of law invisible perhaps to the eye, but quite visible to the mind. We are born into this world and know nothing about it to start except for what is giving to us from the past; our parents, our ancestors, our history. Thus, we enact the ritual of traditions that came before us because it worked for them, and so it should work for us. But there is a predicament that occurs constantly in nature, and that is that nothing stays the same.

Same but different. Death and Renewal. One species splitting into two. One culture splitting into many. A proto-language going extinct yet still encoded within the modern dialects spoken across the globe. Death and renewal. The source of creation can be found in all life that presently walks this Earth; in its genes, in its behavior, in its rituals.
The notion of evolution brought time into the equation of Western human’s understanding of nature, and we began to perceive the very nature of our own selves. This breakthrough in science was actually a kind of renaissance, a renewal of something that was already known deep within our being, but long forgotten in the conscious world: that all creatures of earth share a common ancestor, and we are all bound in a complex web of change. Death and renewal.
There once was only a single species of albatross, a common ancestor, and even as these creatures transformed into their own unique species, they held on to common traits; rituals preserved through time, a story that traces their lineage back to their creation. It is here, within the rituals we can find the key that opens the door into our past and our future. And no longer must we walk upon our path blindly.

Today, a low cold pressure system swept in from the north and mixed with the high hot pressure that has been sitting around Kure. It produced a dazzling reaction of hot and cold, high and low, that didn’t quite reach our atoll but we could see it off in the distance: dramatic shades of grey, blue and purple deepening the coloration of the horizon and forming massive cumulus clouds. It brought with it little precipitation but enough to ignite the Albatross chicks, who have now been nesting for nearly six months and nearing their fledgling age: a call to adventure beyond the reef and out across the big ocean blue. The surface of this island is covered with these chicks; just over 23,000, and when that little bit of wind and rain touched the island they all stood up, spreading and flapping their wings, some even taking their first leaps into the air.
They knew. Somehow, by some instinct, they understood what this change in weather meant for them. It meant freedom. It meant flight. It meant survival. Yes, even within our habitual coding lie the deeper patterns which spark transformation. Those chicks have been sitting and waiting for six months, saving energy, yet giving their nature, so intricately tied to the cycles of growth and the patterns of the seasons of this planet, they are able to activate their desire to turn into something they are meant to be. They knew it not because they read it somewhere, nor because someone told them, but because of a feeling. Something passed down genetically, activated by patterns of nature. A ritualistic code.
We humans also live by rituals. We survive by rituals. Ritual is just a fancy word for a pattern. And patterns are just a generic form of habit. And habits are that which we do automatically. Without thinking, carved into our motions. Instilled within our being. Our heart beats because of habit so we can live. It transforms it’s rate of beats so we can survive.
Just this last week, we were doing our annual albatross chick count, in which we scour the entire island to count the remaining chicks. It was a nice break from all the invasive-pant treatment we do, but when I went out on my first chick-counting route I reached around to try and pump my spray pack only to grab air. I was so used to having to pump the pack we wear for plant treatment that that very motion had become habit. It had become ritual. Even as I was not wearing a spray back. Even as I could no longer feel it’s weight on my shoulders, the habit was powerful enough to engrain within my muscle memory the ritualistic practice of pumping the spray pack. I believed it was there. Even when it wasn’t. This is what belief is, it is a kind of habit of the mind that guides our lives. Makes things easier, more efficient, less expenditure of energy. But the issues is that the truth is always changing, like my spray back no longer on my back, and so I cannot cling to my belief that it is still there, otherwise I will not transform my behavior to effectively match the circumstances of my environment. In this case, counting albatross. The same can be said about more abstract beliefs, such as in god or moral laws. Transformation occurs and new beliefs are shaped around the transformation and we live, ritualistically, or habitually by these codes, guiding our society, guiding our faith. But time is always changing, we are always discovering and finding new truths, that the old become just that; outdated. No longer relevant to what is present.
Every creature lives by the code of ritual. It’s part of our survival. And humans are no exception. Especially when it comes to society and culture. Culture is just another kind of expression of nature. It exists within the same perimeters, it’s just that the information being passed through culture is abstract and symbolic. yet the effect is the same, creating deep subconscious patterns that often go unquestioned or even unnoticed.
Humans have taken the art of ritual and applied it to our culture as an effective means to pass on our nature from one generation to the next. We took this to another level and birthed complex social organizations, and our psyches are prescribed to these organizations as a means to keep society functioning through time as the humans that comprise that society cycle through it. Think about the inauguration of the President, or the Pledge of Allegiance, or the chanting you do at the end of your yoga class. Patriotism is just a ritualistic mechanism to maintain the cohesiveness of a nation. Ohm is just a resonating sound that binds the universe together.
A society is like the courting ritual of the Laysan Albatross. The individual albatross eventually dies, but her dancing lives on into the next generation. It is the same principle with socity. We use ritual to reproduce the past, but we only do it to the extent that it is still relevant to the time. When it is no longer relevant, no longer effective, then the process of transformation occurs: and thus the world births a new species of albatross, or, a new nation, a new culture, a new way of life. All of sudden things that seem so widely different actually share the same intention. A common root, a common purpose for action, even if those actions look insanely different. We have to see through the differences to find the similarities, to remember what all of this is for.
This is how we can come to see the process of revolution as just another natural process. It is the process of keeping evolution going. Keeping the natural cycle of life and death flowing. A revolution is built upon the past. It cannot ignore all that came before it. It has to grow from it, transcend from it, transform from it. But it also must carry with it all that came before. A revolution stores within it all the lessons, all the practices and understandings that allowed the revolution to occur in the first place. A revolution is the embodiment of wisdom, as wisdom is knowing the right time to act. A revolution is in debt to that which came before. It must respect the past. It must acknowledge the past as its source of existence, its creator; like the dance of an albatross generating new offspring. It must hold gratitude. It must have compassion. Within the fiery desire of the who seek change, there must also exist the love and understanding of what came before. We would not be alive to make the transformation if it wasn’t for the patterns and way of life that birthed us.
This is what religion gave people, it gave them the ritualistic practice of holding reverence for the source of our existence: the revolution that spawned humanity.
A desire to change, like the albatross chicks flapping their wings, is a preliminary stage for transformation, and cannot exist through fear. Fear is a reactionary mechanism and its ritualistic purpose is to act quickly for short-term survival needs. Fear-driven emotions exist in chaos and confusion, severed from the enfolding process of all that has lead up to the moment of transformation. Us tall and erect creatures walking heavily by the albatross chicks often causes a fearful reaction in them. They stand up quickly and turn their bodies as rapidly as they can to face their perpetrator, snapping their beaks and turning their heads with hyper alertness. And if this approaching threat becomes too dangerous, then the chick transforms into flight, running away and creating a safe distance between its perpetrator. Internally, the chick’s vitals are elevated, and unfortunately the bird is forced to use up energy. The heart increasing its rate. To always be responding in fear is not sustainable and will eventually ware down any single creature… or society. Our own history teaches us this, and so does our science in regards to personal health. Chronic stress, which is the body operating from a constant biological state of what I would call fear, causes the body to eventually breakdown and invite in disease.
A revolution does not come from this place of fear, it is the opposite response than that of fear. It is in fact a calling, a reaching out, a deeper listening for the necessary continuation of life, but it cannot come too soon or too late. It occurs precisely when it is meant to (Gandalf knows all about this). And we, we are the actors whom listen for the moment, and we act upon it knowing that it is time. The albatross chicks know then it is time to fly, for they feel the strength of their bodies match with the signs of nature around them. Cannot we humans do the same in our personal lives as well as our collective lives shared in the organization of society?
History is repeating itself, and we know it because we hold on to those past rituals, we recognize they had a purpose, played a role in the unraveling story of humanity, and we remember the stories of our past that go all the way back to the time of myth, when it was no longer known what was based on a real event and what was based on some primordial, demagogue drama. But we see the pattern emerge, the parallel between what happened then and what is happening today. And then we understand our purpose. What we must do. Each of use. Our role. What mythical character we are playing.

But to fully understand this process of revolution, of transformation, we must confront the one thing we have all been taught to fear: Death. And out here on Kure, I am confronted by death every single day.

(To be continued in Ducks of Our Lives, Pt III of Death and Renewal.)

Death and Renewal Pt I: The Mo’o of Solstice

Field work truly satisfies the whole spectrum of emotions; from the greatest failures to its wildest successes. The progress is slow and often the impact of our work is not seen within a single season. Only those who venture back reap the reward of change on Kure.
For me, it has been two years since I first came out, a year and a half since I left. There are surprisingly a great deal of changes, as well as progress, since my last season. Kawelu, a native grass that grows in clumps, has taken over the central plain, becoming the most widely successful out-planted species. Pōpolo, an endangered nightshade, is doing remarkably well since it was planted in 2016, and there are now healthy mature bushes fruiting big juicy black berries across the island. Ena Ena, a native of the Sage family, bloomed wildly in our nursery and dispersed itself throughout camp. It is now well on its way to cover the entire island. Every day we are finding it sprouting in a new area. Button Sedge has commandeered the runway, and Lepturus Repens – another native grass – seems to be a favored here on Kure and has filled in substrates that used to be bare.
The long-term cycles of nature are a rare thing to observe for people racing through the lives of their domestic making, never getting a chance to experience these gradual yet profound oscillations. It is easy to notice quick cycles, like winter turning into spring, watching the deciduous trees come back to life and fill the air with their sweet aromas, but it is the subtle intricacies of how one spring differs from the next; how a certain plant might bloom a deeper shade of red than the previous spring, which can too easily go missed by the domestic dweller. Yet it is these very changes and transformations that hold the source to many of our unanswered people problems.
Out here, it is a different story. On Hōlanikū, we are being blasted with constant changes, and a great deal of these changes has to do with the relationship between death and renewal: life passing from one generation to the next. I cannot deny that it is a privilege to be able to have this kind of experience for it brings with it a kind of satisfaction with life difficult to find in the grind of the human world. I have only been here in the summer, and only two summers at that, but given this places raw state, it has so far been enough for me to begin to understand nature’s language. Nature speaks, but to borrow the expression from Derrick Jensen, it speaks a language older than words, constantly communicating a vast database of information so profound that to express it in the form of human language takes a poet.
I am no poet, just another soul trying to grasp the meaning behind my experiences. And in my life I have been lucky enough to expose my attuned senses to the primary experiences of this far away island. In fact, it has been a very difficult thing for me to balance: processing the experience of Hōlanikū as it relates to all of life and my effectiveness as a member of the DLNR conservation team. This dissonance in me has been compounded by the recent events I am facing on Kure, and the clash of internal conflict has awoken a few beastly creatures from their lares.
The summer has fast approached and the sun’s solstice, a time of activation, is less than a week away. The winds switched suddenly, dying to a near stillness. Days are becoming longer. The interchange of cool and warm air flowing across the Pacific ocean has slowed, leaving only the sun’s warm rising air. This is a El Nino year, warmer currents dominating the pacific. It was a gusting spring, with strong cool winds prevailing from the North, but now that is gone, almost overnight, awakening to the shock of merciless heat.
The island’s bird population is reacting with stress. Just this last week, dead adult Laysan Albatross have been appearing, a sight unfamiliar and uncommon, until now. When the weather changes, everything changes along with it. It is easy to to view this die off as a bad thing, but when you spend enough time in Nature, it becomes apparent that there is always something giving, and always something taking. There are times of abundance. There are times of scarcity. It is neither a good or bad thing. If anything, it is a beautiful thing, for these Albatross have given their entire lives to try and feed their young, even dying as they give up all their food and water to the chicks who wait and wait under the oppressive sun.
And with death, there is always opportunity for renewal. I have been collecting the freshest of the dead carcasses recognizing that the death of these dedicated parents brings a great opportunity for education; which is the long-term side of Environmental Conservation. Seabird feathers and bones are extremely valuable to Hawaiʻi tradition, for they are used in feather work as well as tattoo, or Kakau. Feather work has always been a shining mastery for Hawaiian culture, and instilled within its ritual art is a key to humanʻs connection to nature. Manu, or bird, can be viewed as very similar to Kanaka, or people, for it is the seabirds and the people that have always ventured alike across the ocean. Part of our job out here on Kure is not only to be environmental conservationists, but also cultural stewards. I am attempting to help a cultural practitioner, who is also a biologist, to collect the feathers and bones of various specimens while I am out here to bring back to the main Hawaiian islands where the same seabirds are rarely found. If I can successfully preserve the feathers and bones, which takes time and effort while on a remote island with limited resources and facilities, then these items can be used to help educate the public on a vital part of Hawaiian culture. Restoring this practice of feather and bone work may help to revitalize a people’s connection to where they come from: activating the source of who we are and what our purpose is.
This cultural objectives on Kure are understandably of lower priority, a task delegated to anyone who is interested, but not mandatory, for the focus of our work out here are on the immediate threats to the land. It is often an area of great tension between scientists and traditionalist; trying to find the common ground between preserving old ways and progressing into new ways. However, the renewal of this cultural practice needs our effort and attention because the resources of these birds are found no where else. Part of understanding the healthy future of one’s relationship to one’s environment requires us to also see beyond the short-term changes and be a part of the greater forces that connect us to place as we are intricately connected to each other through all lifeforms that share these lands and oceans through time. These rituals that cultural practitioners are attempting to preserve and revitalize as once again common practice hold just as an important role in the conservation philosophy as the direct work of natural resource management. Everyone plays their part, and I am trying to find the balance in it all, find where I fit in. It seems that my life wants to lead me between both worlds, and in this middle ground I must learn to see the value in everyoneʻs work to gain a bigger picture of how it all comes together. We all have to give up a little bit of our own predisposition to see more clearly the answers that lie ahead in a world of impending problems.

With death comes renewal. With renewal comes transformation.

The summer shockwave has become a worthy adversary for me, and a kind of Mo’o has emerged to protect a transformation from me that lies beyond its greedy guard. No growth comes freely. This last week, our eleventh week on island, has been our hottest, and I did not take the necessary precautions to sustain myself during the intensive work we do while exposed to the sun. This island is rugged, rough, and wild. It is a home for light-feathered creatures, not for dense-boned walkers. Our movement across the terrain and through the vegetation is awkward and invasive to the wildlife, adding to the amount of time it takes to treat an area. When the winds die, as it did this past week, the heat becomes dangerous. Birds are literally dying all around us from the same forces pressing down on our own bodies as we work.
Since Tiana left, our DLNR team has shrunk to only five members, and the managers are struggling to adjust the objectives to fit our smaller task force. They are ambitious, and us volunteers and workers are just crazy enough to follow along. However, this past week’s plan proved to be too ambitious for me. I ended my Thursday short with dehydration sickness. I became faint and incoherent. My eyesight turned blurry, my head was pounding, my mood become ugly, and my stomach grew nauseous. I threw up my lunch almost immediately after eating it, and crawled to the floor of my bunk room with a ice pack around my neck, and a thermometer under my tongue where I promptly passed out while the rest of the crew headed back out into the scorching afternoon sun.
This kind of work is brutal, and as much as I hate to admit it, it kicked my ass that day. But the work becomes brutal not only because of the weather and terrain, but also because of pressure to achieve our objectives. What we are attempting to accomplish out here can sometimes be seen as a bit over the capacity of what five people can obtain. Alas, this is the nature of Conservation work, for saving the environment is not usually the highest priority for government. There is not nearly enough funds to support the level of work that is required to reach the objectives cleanly and effectively. Instead, each of us has to do the work of two or even three people. We have to go above and beyond to fight for what we believe in. This means being extra careful with our approach so we can do a good job and not get overwhelmed doing it.
This week, my body paid the price, and I ended it in bitter frustration. I was not able to join the nighttime Christmas Shearwater Survey on Friday (from 11 at night until 2 in the morning!) as I was barely able to make it through the day after my Thursday mess. I felt like I could not step up to the plate when I was needed, and that is a real shitty feeling. I take pride in my hard work ethic, but this week, I am the one having to make the compromises, and I don’t like being in that seat. It feels like a loss of control; something I hate to feel. It feels like a weakness, and when the body shuts down there’s no hiding it from everyone else.
It is here where my Mo’o slips out of its hiding, laughing and taunting me to chase it down, egging on the frustration I already feel. And so I get upset that I’m in this position, and all I want to do is immaturely blame it on poor management and lack of funding, instead of actually confronting the Mo’o that has revealed itself to me, once and for all.
Even as I grumble about the stress of our job, I still try and end every day feeling eternally satisfied. Because the truth is, every day I feel I am accomplishing something, and everyday we are making an acute difference to this island’s ability to be a sanctuary for life. I also know that the work that I am doing is allowing me to pay closer attention to revealing answers I have been so very much desiring in life. The exhaustion of our physical work can often hinder my awareness of the profound showing itself, blinding me from the rewards that await. But if I’m able to brush aside my personal grudges and see the good of the day while relaxing alongside the birds as the air cools with the setting sun, then my mind can begin to synthesize all that I am experiencing with the past knowledge I’ve been grasping, and out comes new understanding. Out comes clarity on how I must grow. Out come the tools I need to fight the Mo’o.
You see, the ultimate reward with staying here on Hōlanikū is to experience the intimacy of its nature; to truly see the greater patterns that make up life as we know it. And with that come the patterns that make up our own lives. Someone once said that history often repeats itself. We go through the same trials and tribulations time and time again. Another someone once said that the first occurrence is what we consider a myth, and the second occurrence is deemed the historical event. On Kure, the patterns are not historical, they are of nature, but it is these patterns that I witness on Kure as significant to the patterns of myself, humanity and its mytho-praxis history.
As I face the mo’o of my life out here on Kure, I cannot help but watch the same struggle for transformation occurring all around me in the form of these seabirds. And as I spend more and more time immersed in their world, I find myself developing a deeper connection to these creatures that flows from a state of relatedness. Yes, there is indeed a force of permanence shared within all life forms and if I take the time to listen to these Manu enacting their lives over and over again, from one generation to the next, perhaps I can learn a thing or two about how to transform my own life, defeat my Mo’o and even help transform something beyond just myself. Bring it on Mo’o, and let the Summer Solstice commence!

Return to Po: Rivaling Arrivals Part II

E hihi ka hele i ka uka o Puna
Mai ʻako i ka pua
O lilo i ke ala o ka hewahewa
Ua hūnā ʻia ke kino i ka pōhaku
ʻO ka pua naʻe ke chu new i ke alanui
Alanui hele o ka unu kupukupu
Kaulia!
[NBE: 31]

The path toward the spring of profound life is known but to a few Donʻt pluck any bloom while on this path
Or you will relinquish your focus to the indulgence of the moment For the true forms are secreted in the stones,
Where the profusion of flowers distorts
The path pointing to the sacrificial altar where life will feed the ferns Sacrificed!
[Taupōuri Tangarō]

Arrivals and departures are the beginning and ends of a cycle. They are the stopping and starting of our hearts of every moment in every lifetime. They are the ritualistic experience that we internalize and use to meaningfully understand our ancient past: to bring a ontological security to our existence. It is a chance to step out of old ways to birth new understandings. An arrival is a foundation for new forms of life to grow. The spiral of development: Like the rock for the fern, the fern for the forest, the forest for the water in the atmosphere; a sponge to bring rain and fill the aquifers as a spring for more opportunities for life to emerge. More profoundness.
But right now I feel stuck on only the flower, not respecting the path that precedes the blooming. I suppose all of this is why I feel such stricken emotions during the elapsed departure of Tiana. My mind struggles to comprehend the emotional surges I feel leading up to the known event of the Sette’s arrival and Tiana’s departure. My body mimics feeling sick. I start to lose my appetite, which is noticed by the others as I usually have the most ravenous appetite out of all of us. I blame it on too much sugar. I grow quiet and insecure. I turn inwards and isolate myself in the hallow feeing growing in my gut, trying to focus on it and bring about any understanding for myself on why the hell I’m responding so strongly to something that seems so trivial. Tiana is leaving and I liked her and now I have to deal with the void that will replace her. Another void. Another emptiness filling my shadowy desires. A moment isolated and lost. Another flower plucked along the path, disrupting a cycle, terminated the motion, severing the connection that binds life together.
I’m frustrated. So very frustrated. I’m frustrated because I want to be focused on other things. I want to focus my energy on my creative abilities, my work, on this island and its majestic qualities. But instead I’m gripping my hands into fists and gritting my teeth into regret, drifting in the severed blackness of something that never existed. That is the clarity of Hōlanikū: it brings illumination to the depth of personal struggle. It reveals the illusion of self-agency. I’m upset at myself for so easily falling into the same trap I always do, for letting it control me, for allowing it to submerge me into its shittiness. And like we too easily do as humans, not taking responsibility for putting myself in it and instead taking it out on the world and people around me through the irony of polarity.
I wait impatiently for emails from family, and I take it out on them being too absorbed in their own lives. Tiana tells me to man-up when I complain about feeling sick during our last weekend together, triggering my insecure masculinity, and I take it out on her insensitivity and lack of love for the feminine. I collapse a burrow in the field and I take it out on the Naupaka’s uncooperative twisting growth form. Virginie is bouncing proactively from one project to the next as I lay incapacitated on my bed and I take it out on her inability to relax in stillness. My frustration at myself builds and builds into a ridiculous form of loathing – a monster in my head – leaving me alone in its apparent chaos. My ego inflates into it’s own self-absorbing orb and the irony doesn’t escape me.
Instead, it causes me to run, to get away from the others so I don’t inflict my nastiness I hold within out loud to them. But even so it slips during our inevitable times together. I abruptly tell Steph, who is quite susceptible to receiving criticism, at the prewash station after dinner one night that I always observe how she finishes people’s sentences in conversations, and she immediately apologizes saying, “oh god, do I really do that? That must be so annoying!” I realize what I just did and try to remedy the situation by telling her that I don’t think it’s annoying. That, in fact, someone can’t be annoying, only annoyed, and that if I was annoyed by this it would be a problem that I have, not her. And with that I walk away, back to my bunk room, annoyed with myself for trying to hold in my problems and seeing how this only prolongs the same barriers that are holding me back in life.
Ah, the sweet metallic taste of irony holds supreme in the bile of my breached spleen.

As I continue to struggle with focusing my confusion into clarity, aligning feelings with thoughts with actions, bringing scattered energy into a singular purpose, my perseverance and faith in not giving up on myself has slowly but surely brought valuable lessons into my life. One cannot over indulge in any single moment, but rather release from such short-sightedness and expand into the peripheral plane of one moment becoming the next.
This is the realm where the wind blows from. This is the realm where our galaxy was born, where rain falls and blends with the tearful sorrows of yesterday and germinates tomorrow’s blooming disguise. Where the Albatross gather to dance. Where the Iwa chase the Koa eʻula. Where the Kawelu grass protects the Laysan ducklings. Where the mind dissolves into the body, and the body awakens to answers it receives continuously from a reproductive past permeating into a transformative future.
And as the arrival of summer represents consciousness growing and expanding outward, I look forward at all the possibilities yet to come, for all of us, as we depart from one moment and arrive at the next. As we build upon the foundation that has been set before us, always learning, always growing, always failing, always succeeding, always departing, always arriving, Oh then what great sacrifice will we make to bring forth a new dawn of existence?
E ala e!

—-
This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using GMPCS Personal Communications’s Speed Mail software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.

Return to Pō: Rivaling Arrivals Part II

Rivaling Arrivals – Part II

E hihi ka hele i ka uka o Puna
Mai ʻako i ka pua
O lilo i ke ala o ka hewahewa
Ua hūnā ʻia ke kino i ka pōhaku
ʻO ka pua naʻe ke chu new i ke alanui
Alanui hele o ka unu kupukupu
Kaulia!
[NBE: 31]

The path toward the spring of profound life is known but to a few Donʻt pluck any bloom while on this path
Or you will relinquish your focus to the indulgence of the moment For the true forms are secreted in the stones,
Where the profusion of flowers distorts
The path pointing to the sacrificial altar where life will feed the ferns Sacrificed!
[Taupōuri Tangarō]

Arrivals and departures are the beginning and ends of a cycle. They are the stopping and starting of our hearts of every moment in every lifetime. They are the ritualistic experience that we internalize and use to meaningfully understand our ancient past: to bring a ontological security to our existence. It is a chance to step out of old ways to birth new understandings. An arrival is a foundation for new forms of life to grow. The spiral of development: Like the rock for the fern, the fern for the forest, the forest for the water in the atmosphere; a sponge to bring rain and fill the aquifers as a spring for more opportunities for life to emerge. More profoundness.
But right now I feel stuck on only the flower, not respecting the path that precedes the blooming. I suppose all of this is why I feel such stricken emotions during the elapsed departure of Tiana. My mind struggles to comprehend the emotional surges I feel leading up to the known event of the Sette’s arrival and Tiana’s departure. My body mimics feeling sick. I start to lose my appetite, which is noticed by the others as I usually have the most ravenous appetite out of all of us. I blame it on too much sugar. I grow quiet and insecure. I turn inwards and isolate myself in the hallow feeing growing in my gut, trying to focus on it and bring about any understanding for myself on why the hell I’m responding so strongly to something that seems so trivial. Tiana is leaving and I liked her and now I have to deal with the void that will replace her. Another void. Another emptiness filling my shadowy desires. A moment isolated and lost. Another flower plucked along the path, disrupting a cycle, terminated the motion, severing the connection that binds life together.
I’m frustrated. So very frustrated. I’m frustrated because I want to be focused on other things. I want to focus my energy on my creative abilities, my work, on this island and its majestic qualities. But instead I’m gripping my hands into fists and gritting my teeth into regret, drifting in the severed blackness of something that never existed. That is the clarity of Hōlanikū: it brings illumination to the depth of personal struggle. It reveals the illusion of self-agency. I’m upset at myself for so easily falling into the same trap I always do, for letting it control me, for allowing it to submerge me into its shittiness. And like we too easily do as humans, not taking responsibility for putting myself in it and instead taking it out on the world and people around me through the irony of polarity.
I wait impatiently for emails from family, and I take it out on them being too absorbed in their own lives. Tiana tells me to man-up when I complain about feeling sick during our last weekend together, triggering my insecure masculinity, and I take it out on her insensitivity and lack of love for the feminine. I collapse a burrow in the field and I take it out on the Naupaka’s uncooperative twisting growth form. Virginie is bouncing proactively from one project to the next as I lay incapacitated on my bed and I take it out on her inability to relax in stillness. My frustration at myself builds and builds into a ridiculous form of loathing – a monster in my head – leaving me alone in its apparent chaos. My ego inflates into it’s own self-absorbing orb and the irony doesn’t escape me.
Instead, it causes me to run, to get away from the others so I don’t inflict my nastiness I hold within out loud to them. But even so it slips during our inevitable times together. I abruptly tell Steph, who is quite susceptible to receiving criticism, at the prewash station after dinner one night that I always observe how she finishes people’s sentences in conversations, and she immediately apologizes saying, “oh god, do I really do that? That must be so annoying!” I realize what I just did and try to remedy the situation by telling her that I don’t think it’s annoying. That, in fact, someone can’t be annoying, only annoyed, and that if I was annoyed by this it would be a problem that I have, not her. And with that I walk away, back to my bunk room, annoyed with myself for trying to hold in my problems and seeing how this only prolongs the same barriers that are holding me back in life.

Ah, the sweet metallic taste of irony holds supreme in the bile of my breached spleen.

As I continue to struggle with focusing my confusion into clarity, aligning feelings with thoughts with actions, bringing scattered energy into a singular purpose, my perseverance and faith in not giving up on myself has slowly but surely brought valuable lessons into my life. One cannot over indulge in any single moment, but rather release from such short-sightedness and expand into the peripheral plane of one moment becoming the next.
This is the realm where the wind blows from. This is the realm where our galaxy was born, where rain falls and blends with the tearful sorrows of yesterday and germinates tomorrow’s blooming disguise. Where the Albatross gather to dance. Where the Iwa chase the Koa eʻula. Where the Kawelu grass protects the Laysan ducklings. Where the mind dissolves into the body, and the body awakens to answers it receives continuously from a reproductive past permeating into a transformative future.
And as the arrival of summer represents consciousness growing and expanding outward, I look forward at all the possibilities yet to come, for all of us, as we depart from one moment and arrive at the next. As we build upon the foundation that has been set before us, always learning, always growing, always failing, always succeeding, always departing, always arriving, Oh then what great sacrifice will we make to bring forth a new dawn of existence?
E ala e!

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Return to Po: Rivaling Arrivals Part I

She smiles at me with a big grin and gives me that hug she says she doesn’t like giving. I squeeze her through her life jacket and mutter a “see ya later” into her ear, letting her go quick-like so she can get on hugging everyone else goodbye. I don’t know how to express my affection towards her except to sneak a Sea Purse bean into her Pelican case as it sits in her packed-up bunk room before her departure with a note that just reads ‘For the Memories’.
She steps onto the inflatable boat and shoots two shaka fists at the sky as the boat motors away towards the giant NOAA research vessel, the Oscar Sette, jogging outside the reef. Our remaining crew stands on the shore at the water line, waving in return. I turn around and head up the beach not wanting to have anything to do with any kind of prolonged goodbye ritual.
“I’m over it,” I say coldly to Matt as he joins me at the water jugs stationed near the vegetation line.
“Gosh they’re still waving back and forth at each other,” he says in return while we stand there watching the boat getting tinier and tinier. I don’t like saying goodbye. I don’t like when certain things change, as they always indubitably do, especially when it means losing something I like. Especially when it leaves an incomplete feeling inside of me. I don’t want anyone to see that I’m upset, so I play it off as apathy. But I’m not over it. I can’t get over it. That’s my problem. I liked her. She was different than me; impulsive, reckless, not afraid to do whatever she felt like. A hint of untamed wildness in her. I respected the hell out of that. I was attracted to it. I wanted it for myself. She brought it out in me. But now she was leaving and I didn’t like what that left of me.
I sigh and fill the gap of silence growing between Matt and me as we continue to stand there awkwardly, “Goodbyes aren’t a single moment. They’re like the moon, a cycle of phases. It’s just the continuity of the present becoming the past. I’ll still be saying goodbye for a few days I think.” I don’t wait for a response knowing Matt is probably just putting that in his short-term memory storage filed under ‘weird stuff JE says’. Maybe he gets what I’m saying, maybe he doesn’t, but I’m definitely not gonna stick around in that lost cause. I turn to pick up two 5-gallon water jugs and head back to the water cove with the sun beating down on my browning and glistening skin. This day has come as I knew it would, and with it a transition in me has arrived in time with the changes that constantly surround us all in this great cyclical universe we live in. The vibrance I felt around her will depart, becoming a dullness that will settle into a numbing itch that can’t be satisfied with a scratch.

Summer has arrived in all of its expressions. The National Marine Fish Services (NMFS) crew has arrived. The warm winds from the south have arrived. Tropical storms are brewing in the Pacific. The Brown Noddys have returned to nest. The Koa eʻula are courting in the thermals, initiating their backward-flying ritual. The Albatross chicks are purging their boluses and opening their newly-formed wings to feel the winds that will someday soon lift them into flight – if they can endure the tremendous scorching days that lie ahead. The Native seasonal ground covers, Alena and Nohu, are growing rapidly and taking over the central plains of the island. The Paper wasps are making their hives. The Blue metal wasps are finding holes to stuff dead bugs and their eggs in. The Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters are prospecting. The Laysan ducks are brooding. The Monk Seals Pups are growing into fat weaners. Heat rashes are forming on my waist where my spray back rubs during our prolonged treatments. The days are elongating into temporal eternity and the calm silent nights wain in day’s residual warmth with the growing scarcity of Adult Albatross presence. Oh how the summer bathes us in light and drowns us in heat.
As a team, we have nearly completed a full-island treatment approaching 10 weeks on the island. A week has gone by since the Sette vessel departed with our crew member Tiana and we are all adjusting to our reduced numbers, learning to accept that we won’t be as productive with a five-person crew. Her absence is noticed like going a day without that habituated cup of coffee. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel right. It’s sorely missed. But she wouldn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t drink coffee anyways.
However, we stay head-strong, limber, and determined to get as much done before our season is up at the end of August. With the changing weather, the invasive plants begin to die off, a ripe opportunity to plant some new natives we brought from the main Hawaiian islands that do well in dry lowlands. Naio (Pea family), Nehe (Aster family) , A’ali’i (____ Family), and Pōpolo (Nightshade family) seeds, and I am more than excited to see these friendly allies successfully propagate all over the island. Only, giving the nature of seasonal work, I will see them sprout in our nursery but not out-planted in strategic locations around the island. That will occur during the winter season when the plants have grown large enough in the nursery; each plants duration of time in the nursery varying from a single month to up to a year. Instead, I have tasked myself with the responsibility of giving them a healthy start and making sure we have water catchment systems set up across island to help nourish them during the dry Ka’u season.
As the island of Kure has dramatically changed during the course of its restoration regime, the overall management plan has also. This summer marks perhaps even more changes. It is time to start focusing on what we are introducing to Kure, transitioning away from what we are removing. Conservation is a fickle field. It is not an exact science, rather it is an applied science, meaning we take what we know and put it into practice while simultaneously observing and monitoring the effects so we can make adjustments as we gain a better understanding of the ecology over time. It is an experimental process that allows us to evolve our practice organically. The greatest constraint against this process is continued financial support for such a extensively time-intensive project.
Efforts to eradicate immediate threats to the wildlife on Kure has overall been highly successful, but figuring out how to fill in the growing void of disturbed habitat is now the challenge. Ecology is the study of how life co-exists, and a healthy ecosystem is one that is able to do this naturally.
Currently, Kure is being kept in a kind of homeostasis only by the means of continued human intervention. We control the spread and growth of incipient species as well as the more established non-natives, but there is no reassurance that these plants would take over if we stopped treatment. There is much we still do not understand about ecological systems, even as simple as ones like an atoll which have little habitat and climatic diversity. Green Island, the name for the islet inside the protected waters of Kure Atoll, has a peak elevation of about 25 feet – which is pretty impressive for an atoll – but it also means this entire biome is considered a coastal lowland habitat. We make jokes about using makai (towards ocean) to mark our orientation on Kure since there is no mauka (towards mountain) to distinguish where we are (“I’ll head makai of that Naupaka bush and you head…well.. makai of the otherside… ugh never mind I’ll head north you head south…”) , but the joke is a reminder of how limited we are in our biological toolkit to out-compete the invasive characteristics of the non-native plants.There are only so many plants that can grow in such exposed dry and saline conditions, and even fewer that are native to Hawai’i. So bringing with us plants from the MH islands is new idea that could solve some of our new problems.
Without much topography, the range of niches and micro habitats are reduced significantly. I can remember sitting on top of the cistern with Steph during twilight recently after our own arrival to the island, and she stared out at the western dunes silhouetted by the failing light and she couldn’t help but see an illusionary mountain range as if the dunes were actually miles away on the horizon rather than the couple hundred feet in front of us. It is a strange sensation to come out here for so long where there exists a grave absence of geographical features. There are days when the ocean is riled up enough that waves can be felt in camp like tremors and seen breaking off the eastern reef half a mile away, towering 15 feet above our heads, creating the sensation of being swallowed up. There is also a lack of color diversity, a kind of deprivation that one begins to crave near the end of a season. Deeper shades of green, vibrant reds and oranges and yellows.
One of the things we have observed with the change in vegetation, as the infamous Verbisina has been heavily targeted, is that the invasive grasses and brassica have swept in and filled in the now vacant landscape. These varieties of introduced grasses grow fast, producing seeds quickly that seem to germinate even quicker, and the brassica: Lesser Swinecress, has a deep taproot that sucks up all the water during the wintering months and dominates the open-plain terrain on the island with its plethoric seed dispersal methods; preventing the natives from growing in during the summering months. It’s good news that the Verbisina Sunflower no longer dominates these open areas since this monotypic-growing plant was choking out the Albatross and preventing habitat for other seabirds, but this original treatment plan has now been met with an evolved problem. It’s the same old problem that human intervention in nature has been dealing with time and time again within the applied practice of ecological restoration.
Nature is constantly evolving, and never truly returns to a state it once previously held, for in the words of Newton: for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. Whenever we apply force to something, there is an equal response to that force hurdling a motion forward into new territory. The interrelating of all life works the same way, only in more complex and sometimes invisible ways. Nature is like a pool table with a seemingly infinite amount of balls that never stop moving because they are constantly being struck with just as many cues. It is impossible to keep track of what is hitting what because we can’t pause the motion. We can only react to it while still in motion and see what effect this will have on the rest of the balls. It’s dynamic systematics.
I remember learning in school the concept of the web of life, how each species is somehow connected to each other through a kind of predatory-prey relationship, forming a web-like structure. The web is strong when all the threads are connected through each species. But as soon as you begin removing species, the structure loses its integrity and starts to fall apart. In some cases, there are species that hold many connections to the rest of the web. These are called Keystone species, often either being a food source for many other creatures, or, they hold a unique balance between preventing one species from dominating others. But the issues with this model of life is that it is static; frozen in time. Ecologists use this argument all the time to fight for things like the Endangered Species Act which allot an abundance of government funds towards the protection of a single species. These policies have in a large way reversed a great deal of environmental degradation that would otherwise have occurred, saving entire pristine forests from industrial “economically boosting” prospects because of a single species on the endangers species list that exists in those forests. And these monumental policies were enacted through the tireless efforts of 1st generation conservationists who were outliers in society because they took the tremendous amount of time it takes to observe the intricate, dynamic, and reciprocal behavior of nature.
Time is the key to our blindness. To ignore the dynamic aliveness of time flowing through reality has become the normal and ritualized behavior of modern society. But it is only through the wholeness of time we can begin to better understand the consequences of our actions. Past, present, and future. Unfortunately, what is done is already done, and the waters of our relationship with the past as modern humans have become murky. Convoluted. Through our consummatory addiction we have nearly severed ourselves from our wise and resourceful foundational past, forgotten to the point of being ignored, and ignoring the past breeds ignorance of what is to come.
So as we continue to play with life out here and learn to sail the great vessel of ecological restoration in the most professional and scientifically agreed upon ways, we navigate through the cause and effects of our forward momentum and learn how our synthetic actions can synthesize with the actions of nature to produce desired results: an island that can sustain itself. And who knows, maybe we can help it do so better than ever before.
This is my dream, and it is the same dream that I envision for the entire planet: humans perpetuating life into greater and grander realms of existence. It is a dream I know not how to materialize, however, and as Kure represents a micron of this dream, I can’t help but notice the many personal barriers in my own personal life keeping me from realizing that this dream has any hope. The only clue I hold is that somehow the past is important in restoring as that which is enfolding into the future: that digging into the past will bring about the arrival of long-forgotten answers.

To Be Continued in Part II…

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Weekend Special: If You Build It, It Will Rain.

Sunday Night. May 14th 2017

Sometimes, life works things out for you.
This weekend I was determined to finish a project I had begun a couple weeks back. I got all my things together and threw them into one of our many wheel barrels that we use to lug things around the island like rickshas, and headed out to the furthest extent of the island. South point. Landfill. The old dumping grounds of the coast guard base from the 60’s to the 80’s. Yes, sadly, even Kure has its own landfill.
It’s astonishing how far this atoll has come from those days. It’s astonishing how quickly things can change. How us humans have the ability to tear through a place and change it so drastically. This island has buried memories, ruins of rusted metal can be found scattered across the island just a few inches below the sandy soil. We even name our restoration areas after some particularly concentrated scraps. Radar Hill. Landfill. Monument. The idea of burying trash seems like such a primitive use of our intelligence. It’s a bit insulting to the human race, like a ostrich that sticks it’s head in the ground. Oh – now we can’t see it, so it must not exist. Perfect. We’re so smart. Today, we place the trash we produce on Kure back into 5-gallon buckets and send it to Honolulu where it most likely will be incinerated. Another brilliant after-thought: shit, we’ve got all this trash on these tiny Hawaiian islands with no where to put it… what should we do…ah! Burn it! And we’ll use the power generated to bring electricity to our over-crowded city! At least it’s not all going to waste.
It never seizes to amaze me what can be found littered across this island. A great deal of it, the big stuff, is leftover from the past human use, but there’s also an impressive array of objects that make its way to island by a different means: seabirds. Albatross specifically. These seabirds are foragers, wandering the oceans for thousands of miles to locate potential food floating in the surface. In the modern era of humanity, what is floating on top of the ocean is more and more synthetic than natural. And so the Albatross eat it up, then fly back to where their chick patiently awaits for its next meal. Plastic.
And when the carcass of a chick decays, or a still living chick coughs up it’s bolus of squid beaks, there lays a pile of plastic along with it. Lighters, little plastic toys, fishing lures, walnuts, seabeans, oyster tubes, and of course fragments of tiny plastic from who knows what. Oh, and lots of toothbrushes.

So I walk out on Saturday, my day off, to finish what I started. I built a prototype water catchment system for these 250 gallon cubes the coast guard left behind in 2016. (to give them credit where it’s due, they funded a contracted clean-up project this past summer in which they dug up the landfill…. and brought it further inland where they, yes, buried it. At least it’s no longer seeping directly into the ocean. I guess). The prototype proved to be functional, but we didn’t need one in camp where I built it. I arrived at the spot on the point, where we could start planting natives on the bare ground where the landfill used to be. Out-planting is one of the great rewards of this job: getting to repopulate the island with native vegetation, often times working with rare species. It is, however, a restoration project that requires an essential ingredients for life: water.
I get started working under the blistering sun, the kind that is blinding against the white substrate of Southpoint. If I had forgotten my sunglasses, I would have assuredly burned my eyes. Black-footed albatross chicks are all around me crazed with heat and panic from this erect human being invading their primordial nesting space. The chicks stress out because they are nesting just a few feet from each other. Space is tight, and they don’t like to share it. So a big creature comes walloping in, causing their avian nervous systems to activate their flight response (except they can’t fly…yet), and then boom, they are all up in each other’s space. It’s one thing to install something in peace and quiet, it’s a whole other experience to do it while disturbing multiple wild seabirds nipping at your shins. It’s not fun, not so much because it is distracting me from being able to concentrate on my task as it is knowing that I am directly effecting these chick’s chance of survival by elevating their stress-levels. It’s not fun, and I set to work putting this thing together as fast as I can. It’s easy to become accustom to these conditions on Kure, and to be desensitized to the wildlife, but it is very important that our behavior adapts to the environment. We walk on eggshells. We never are not. It becomes our normalcy. We are listening and watching and feeling for anything we might be doing that could be disturbing the wildlife. The beauty of it is that it is an opportunity to train ourselves out of our anthropocentric ways, and see things through the lens of other creatures. For example: If I’m walking by a chick and it starts going nuts at me; clapping its beak and backing up getting tangled in the Naupaka branches, and I start talking to it to try and calm it down: “Hey there, it’s okay I’m not gonna hurt you,” That doesn’t help the chick. It helps me. It actually probably is worse for the chick if audible sounds start coming out of my mouth hole.

I thought it would be quick, I designed the catchment system that way, but there’s always something unexpected. The framing of the cube out on South Point was just a slightly different sizing than the one I used back at camp.

Sometimes you gotta work things out in life.

So with the sun beaming down on me, chicks stressing out all around me, and a Monk Seal mom slowly hauling up towards me with her energetic pup, I wracked my brain on how the hell I was gonna get this thing to fit. I didn’t want to leave unsuccessful. I was using my precious Saturday, the day I am supposed to be recovering from exposing myself to the harsh natural elements all week, to do what I thought would be a quick install. And I had dragged out all the supplies over the 2 kilometers. I sure as hell wasn’t going to drag them back.
I made some adjustments, it didn’t fit great, but I got the catchment up, just an old mesh tarp held together by flexible PVC pipe that washed up on the shores of Kure, string, and the golden ticket of them all: walnuts I had been collecting inland where Albatross had thrown them up. It was a good design: using salvaged resources, light-weight but sturdy so the frequent high winds we get wouldn’t tear it to pieces. Now all we needed was rain.
And that’s where the universe answered. Sometimes life just hands you lemons. I made it back to camp just in time for a delicious curry beef stew Matt whipped up. I watched an epic sunset that lasted for an hour with three acts and a crescendo. Like watching 2001 Space Odyssey and Macbeth all smudged and smeared together into a Van Gogh painting. I return to the bunkhouse in the darkness and join the chill vibes and talk story with my fellow bunkmates late into the night about desire and how we reflect ourselves onto others and attachment to life and fear of death and self-love, and I fall asleep easy dreaming of Kure becoming a futuristic space rocket launching site with massive sand dunes a mile high and journalists interviewing us conservationists about how these new installments are affecting the wildlife. I wake up to fading dream-images of Jack Black in Nacho Libre form making sweet love to some hotty, shaking it off as I pee into my pee jar (thanks Tyler for the idea), and rush to the kitchen to write my Mom a Mother’s day email hoping she’ll get it right as she is sitting down with her coffee in her home in the house I grew up in Seattle. And as I finish that email and pound my coffee and shove grains of cooked rice from last nights curry-stew thing into my belly to prepare for the grueling hours ahead for our next Monk Seal Survey (Mother’s day special: 3 new Mom’s with pups!), I see in the distance rain clouds brewing.
I flutter with excitement knowing that I was right to push through in my water-catchment installation determination. We were going to get rain today. And I smiled knowing that the universe answers only our sincerest calls. I smiled knowing that my inquiries to Graham about what rain has to do with barometric pressure not only lead to my greater awareness on how weather works, but also probably lead to Grahama’s great pleasure of explaining his most very favorite retirement hobby of meteorology.
It was all coming together. What it all was, I wasn’t sure, but I knew it had something to do with what Virginie and I talked about last night in the chill bunkhouse vibes: That we go through life trying to fulfill this empty feeling, that something is missing. And the thing that is missing is always right there in front of us, and we grab at it through the journey of life, using what it is we are interested in, what catches our fancy, what we desire, what draws our curiosity, to find this thing that is missing, and it leads us to the necessary experiences in life that change us; showing us that our wholeness was right there in front of us the whole time. That life does have a purpose. Each and every one of us, our lives are meaningful, it’s just that we have to give form to that meaning. We have to get out there and see who we are, see what we can do, what we can impact, what we can change. Just as our bodies give form to our senses, so does our actions give form to our purpose and meaning.
Another weekend of productivity. Another weekend of neglecting to catch up on rest. Another weekend of getting to know my fellow Kureans that much better, and them getting to know me. And as I write this, the rain has arrived, falling like nectar from heaven, filling our cistern, filling our sinuses and lungs with its moist scents after a cold dry spell, filling the soil with life conductors and filling my remote catchments with fresh sweet rain. Nature’s greatest distiller.
I had a desire, I acted on it, and I was awarded with it’s purpose: to collect the rain that was on it’s way: the last piece to the puzzle that reveals the whole image. It was there the whole time, but the puzzle ain’t gonna put itself together.

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Return to Po – May 10th 2017 Much Ado about Hōlanikū

Time does not wait for the ponderer. It rushes forth at the speed of light and all beings dance to its tempo. And so I must write about Kure without further ado.
We are in full force out here on the fringes of earthly delight. Our work is consuming us like salsa consumes a burrito, like syrup consumes pancakes. Like the sun consumes the day, and the moon consumes the night. Our brains are packed full of the nuances of our day-to-day life and our bodies are humming with its habits. We arrived 7 weeks ago and have steadily been making this place home.

We are in the middle of a Big-Headed Ant survey (BHA), a small break from our usual spray treatment. Today, the full moon – Mahina Hoku – was an eventful day. Each of us trudged across the island with buckets loaded with vials containing a bait mix of spam, peanut butter, and honey. I shoved my 5 gallon bucket into a canvas pack, slung it on my back, threw my phone in their on shuffle – the music amplified by the bucket’s cavity- and crept along my latitudinal transect, stopping every thirty meters to pop open a vial and place it on the ground in the shade all nice-like to invite any ants passing by into its wafting aromas of heaven.
The BHA survey creates a varying atmosphere. The six of us are each assigned a number of transects – a portion of the island – to survey for ants. It is the first work we do of the season that is independent. With most other tasks we are working alongside another, but the circumstances of transecting the entire island in a few days requires us to be spread out. Solo time. After 7 weeks of working nearly shoulder to shoulder, the contrast of distance in our proximity invites new and refreshing energy. It also creates a kind of rush mentality. I remember it very well from my last season: get the survey done, so we can get back to our RA treatments – our main and most impactful objective.
And so on our second day of surveying for ants, many of us attempt to place as many vials as we can in the short window of time before it begins to get too hot in the day and ant activity dramatically diminishes. I took it slow, knowing if I went too fast I’d begin to make mistakes. For there are many mistakes that can happen. And sure enough mistakes did occur amongst us. It is a very frustrating thing, to make a mistake out here, because everyone finds out about it and it gets talked about like over-chewed meat. A mistake equates to something out of the ordinary, and something out of the ordinary is stimulating conversation indeed.
Such is the life on Kure. There is no separation between work and life out here. 5 o’clock rolls around each day and we shuffle on back to camp, taking off our spray packs only to pick up another project whilst dinner is being prepared by one of the crew members. The week ends, Saturday greets us with an additional hour (at the most) of sleeping in before we grow restless and set out to find something to do. Perhaps it’s a Monk Seal survey. Maybe it’s replacing the davit on the pier. Or potentially rigging a catchment system for the 200 gallon water cubes out on the runway. Whatever it is, it requires our diligence. It requires prowess. It requires a shift in attitude. Work is satisfaction. Work is pleasure. Work is life. Work is our gossip. Work is our drama. Much Ado.
Living on a 200 acre wildlife refuge for half a year is a strange tale I still haven’t quite figured out how to tell, even during my second season. There is a monotony about it that could cause some to pull their teeth out. There isn’t really anywhere one can roam. It’s not like we have 200 acres to frolic upon. I can’t just go and find a lovely heliotrope tree to lay under with a book and drift into a dreamy nap. If I did, I would most likely be terrorizing multiple albatross chicks standing a few feet away who would be avidly clapping and pecking their beaks at me – gargling a deep glottal throat scream that means their meal is about to be thrown up and spewed across my lap, as well as a tiny white tern who’s precarious egg is resting on a limb above my head. And even if some how, miraculously, all the birds whose homes I just invaded calm down and accept my presence, it would only take a few minutes before I’d be covered in bird shit from the Red-Footed Boobies and Iwa nesting in the canopy. So camp is where we stay, when we aren’t working. The birds get the island. We get to pretend like we hardly exist.

The monotony only exists in stillness, when one does not have work that needs doing. Monotony on Kure only exists for the unbeknownst of the ever-shifting dynamic vibrancy of Nature. For Nature is not a thing, It is a process. It is the constantly evolving relationship between all lifeforms and the surrounding elements. In this sense, Kure is a remarkably stimulating experience.
I can recall once being laughed at by my family when I made a comment about how our Beagle’s licks are stimulating. I didn’t understand what was so funny, until I realized that the concept of stimulation can have a certain provocative connotation. Kure is a very stimulating environment, and perhaps there is a connection with procreative energies. The question is, why do we categorize procreation separately then, say, all other creation?
You see, ever since I moved to Hawai’i, my focus – my attention – has been steered towards the notion of creation. It’s hard not to when you live on an active volcano. The energy is all about creation and renewal in its most rawest form: land. That coupled with being the very ripe age of 27 and also the blatant obvious conditions of being so fully immersed in nature on this tiny island, well, one can only surmise that the topic of procreation heeds constantly in my life.
It is what Nature is. It is what life is. It is the very essence of arousal. It is the stuff of gods and goddesses, of stars and nebulas, and the conditions of a Kurean conservation worker is seeped in it. There are literally millions of birds crammed onto this small island making babies. Right. Now. Did I mention it’s spring time? In case you have forgotten, that packs an additional fruity punch. The monk seals are pumping out babies (we have 13 mom’s currently), and very soon the lagoon will be a milky color with the procreative juices of sea cucumbers. I kid you not. The hoard of Sooty Terns are settling down from their massive airborne gyrating courtship conglomerate to nest and procreate. The Iwa males are sticking their beaks straight up towards the sky and inflating their vibrant red throats like red balloons waving and wapping in the wind, yodeling their sweet muse at any female passerby.
And so with all of this “stimulation”, us human observers hold on tightly to our professional rigor like a stubborn captain to his sinking ship. We have a job to do, and it doesn’t involve the rites of spring.

But it does bring forth a vicarious tint. Today I discovered the first brood of Laysan ducks. A hen and her six ducklings, swimming in the Booby Acres guzzler over in the northwest quadrant of the island. I went to check the guzzler, a man-made pond that catches rain water and stores it in an open container dug into the ground for the ducks to swim about and drink from. I was checking for mosquitos, a new introduction to the island, most likely blown over from Midway. And as I crouched to peer under the roof of the guzzler, which only stands a few feet tall, I got to witness the group of energetic ducklings splashing and playing in the shaded haven. This news brings a new wave of energy into camp. The Laysan Duck population has been struggling to establish itself on Kure, suffering from multiple bouts of botulism. We have all been keeping our eyes peeled for any signs of ducks brooding, but had seen nothing until my discovery today. And the ducklings are already a mighty size, 13-18 days old by the looks of their prominent necks and developing tail feathers. This is cause for celebration, for it means they have surpassed the age of highest risk of mortality. It is the kind of news that brightens our week after endless toil marching through the thickets of this wild island, often questioning what good we are really doing with our constant bushwhacking onslaught of disturbance. But today we celebrate life. We celebrate that yes, we are having a positive impact. That today there is no doubt. Today our spirits are high and soaring with birds in the strong pacific winds.
Yes, it is fully spring. And as I watch the mother watching over her little ones, I think once again about this miracle of life. This speck of light shinning in a vast darkness. Life, it seems, is still so new to the universe. If it truly only exists here on this planet, then there is so much more darkness to fill with this light. A massive incandescent orb of scorching gas blasting a rock that is just far enough away but close enough to capture it’s heat and warm it to create breathing creatures. And I sit here now creating symbols that represent all that I am experiencing with this breath of life. What else can I create? What else can we create? If we can create symbols, if we can bring shelter to a hen and her ducklings. If we can restore a home for millions of birds, what else can we do? And what’s holding us back?
Our spring has been cold, the winds relentlessly blowing from the north. It is drying out all our skin and sinuses, and leaving us bundled up after the sun retires. Thoughts of home and loved ones easily permeate the quiet space of our bunk-rooms during the emptiness between work.
Nearly two months into our season and our meal conversations begin to lose their novelty as we search for things to talk about that doesn’t have to do with work. All we can do is get to know each other better, its just a matter of how much we are willing to share about ourselves. Judgment of character is like freezing water under a thin layer of ice, and we all take great care to tread lightly as we skate across, trying to steer away from any possible cracks.
For the most part, we find humor in our ways, laughing and teasing day after day. But I struggle with this kind of monotony, and find myself desiring a deeper connection, a more stimulating dialogue. But I also too easily find myself hiding in the cold, not wanting to share some of the deeper parts of myself. It’s that judgement of character I guess. When it comes down to it, I may be the most sensitive one out here, or perhaps just the most aware. Either way, there is much time to reflect upon my own waters. Sometimes too much time.
Tiana is leaving back to Honolulu in just a few weeks. She will be returning on the Sette, a NOAA research vessel which brings the Hawaiian Monk Seal workers out to Kure and the other NW Hawaiian islands for 4 months in the summer. Her time out here feels short lived, and I grow anxious knowing the dynamics of our group will change upon her departure. I’m not always the best at creating a comfortable atmosphere where people can feel relaxed and be their own self, and I’ve certainly been relying on Tiana’s laid-back vibes to house such comforts. The bunkhouse will surely lose some liveliness when she leaves. Her music that plays at the end of each day as we wait for dinner will be replaced with a hollowness. Her wild stories of adventures and mishaps will hang like mist in the morning, only to be whisked away every time we walk by her vacated room. We will all her miss, and I know she will have a hard time leaving once the day comes, but for now it seems her mind is elsewhere, thinking about home. Thinking about friends. Thinking about her job taking care of the Off-Shore islands of Oahu. It can be felt, by all of us, for when you spend enough time in close proximity with others, there is a certain resonating frequency we all become attuned to. It’s one of those things that can’t really be explained, but it doesn’t need to be because it is felt. And that’s real enough.
So as the dim light of my candle flickers a reminder that the night has grown late and we have a full day of work ahead of us tomorrow, I give thanks to the presence of each and every one of us souls living out here on this island for six months, regardless of any reservations we hold for ourselves or each other in the tight knit quarters of our living space. After all, it is only natural to hide and protect our most vulnerable sides. And in one way or another, we are all experiencing exactly what we are supposed to be, exactly how we are. Good night to the Wind that blows away each worry.
Good night to the Naupaka that keeps our limbs sturdy.
Good night to the albatross that give us love through curiosity. Goodnight to the lagoon like grandma watching over us idly. Good night to the stars that remind us where we are.
And good night to you, Full Moon, who listens from afar.

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