Wednesday, March 22, 2017 – Branching Waters
Day 5 on the Kahana
0330- sail past Lisianski, Ka Poʻo.
I wake up late, sleeping in my cabin as it rained all last night. As we approach Midway, our Kure crew sits down to work on some preliminary items before reaching our final destination. Today we spent the morning putting in all our data-collecting templates for our Field Books. As bio-ecological technicians, there are a number of tasks we work on throughout a season, and much of that must be recorded and filed away to understand through time how effective our work is; to track the changes that occur on the island. The majority of the work we do – up to 95% – is removing invasive plant species. There is a grand total of 37 invasive plants we seek and destroy all across the island in a very strategic manner. We keep track of all the different plant species we come across within the restoration area the day of treatment. The entire 192 acres of the island is split into puzzle-like pieces called RA for short, so we can manage the entire island with precision. This requires each of us to be experts on identifying the plants inhabiting the island, in all their growth stages. For me, Tiana, Matt and Naomi, this ability is already well ingrained in us since we are all returnees. But for Steph and Virginie, these plants are all new. I remember how overwhelming it was my first time stepping into the field and having to use the keen skills of my eyes and the processing abilities of my brain to differentiate between the many plants, some just little sprouts only just germinated, hiding amongst a patch of natives.
Steph and Virginie have been studying up during their free time, and seem to be well prepared for the full immersion into the work we will start as soon as we land on Kure. The winter crew is already behind on treatment schedule (we treat the entire island in 6-8 week cycles, as this is the average lifecycle of our most targeted specie: Verbisina Enceliodes, a member of the Aster family.) because of a botulism outbreak amongst the critically endangered Laysan duck population, so it is important that the whole team is up to speed when we hit the ground, because we’ll hit it sprinting to try and catch up. I remember stressing to Virginie and Steph back in Honolulu the concept of one canoe, one stroke, the idea that we all have to work together, evenly, matching each other as if the six of us totaled a singular movement, like a canoe moving across the ocean. It seems this point was taking to heart.
It’s a blessing we get this week-long voyage up to Kure, I think to myself as we fill out our field books. The nearer we approach Kure, the more I am remembering my first time; how physically exhausting it was that first whole month. We are all already pretty spent from all the preparations back in Honolulu, which took about 3 weeks, and then as soon as we arrived at Kure we had to integrate all of those supplies into camp. This demand coupled with the environmental adjustment of just being dropped off on a tiny remote island had an affect on our bodies I have come to observe in myself and others that is very taxing. People get sick early on, joints become inflamed. Muscles ache. The work is tough, toughest work I’ve ever done, and I take pride in the discipline I have with my body, as well as the great care I return to it for all the hard work it endures, but even I felt spent of every last ounce of energy in my body. It was a humbling experience, just the mere arrival stage of Kure…
These thoughts of returning to Kure suddenly becomes more real than ever, and my body starts to feel prickly. Something deep within has been activated. I let the feeling run its course, as I flip the pages in my field book and add a new tab titled: BHA (for the Big Headed Ant monitoring we do once a season.). As the thoughts turn into feelings swimming in my introspective waters, my mind continues to tread evolving thoughts about the body…
When we come into this world and begin growing and growing, each of us develops differently, for our bodies are genetically different from one another and the environment our bodies are conditioned in are different; be that physical as in climate, social as in culture, or psychological as in the integrative internalizing of these conditions, which we can discern either way as the overarching phenomenon of the individual. And so each of us then not only develops a relationship with the macrocosm of the outside, but also the inside world of our identity, our psyche, our voice; our understanding of our very self. And the body, this vessel of mine, is like the bridge between these dynamic worlds, this conductor of energy that informs me of the world I am experiencing. The body is a container of life, and without the body, there is nothing for life to attach to. The body grounds life into existence. And so, if we want to live and effect the world, we must take care of our body.
An inversely and profoundly beautiful phenomenon is how my body is taking care of me. As a child, I played with the limits of what my body could and could not do. As a child, we are naturally curious; a mechanism for exploration and growth. But our body, like all physical matter, is a slave to the laws of physics; to the force of gravity, radiation; stress. And so through every injury and every mistake we learn, through the sensitivity of our body, we learn what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. And through this exploration, we come to know our own self. And through this knowing we build the most important relationship one can have: awareness of self.
I’ve learned to trust my body more than anything or anyone. I have come to deeply respect my body for my body is so much more than just physical matter. This body is inherited intelligence, refined mastery of movement and perception. In the end, it is all I have, a singular truth. Yet I have also come to understand that even my body I do not own. That beyond the end, my body is only temporary, that it is mine only within the illusion of time, that some day my body will fail me, and the me that I once believed was me will seize to exist, and my true self will detach and wander into the ether as an undying spirit.
I love my body, but I recognize now that there is a difference between loving something, and being attached to something. Attachment is like an addiction: something you cannot live without. And love is like a desire: something you live for. I live for my body. I live for the pleasure it awards me for the righteousness of my path. I live for the pain and aches I receive as direction when I am lost. I see the paradox of separateness and oneness with myself and my body, and my body with the world, and I feel the warmth of feeling fully alive when I can love myself; my life, without being attached to myself; to life. No longer then does life become attached to the body. Instead, it becomes bonded. The spirit of life does not suck the body dry, it is instead in a reciprocal relationship of love, and the two grow and experience the purity of the universe together, for however brief or extended. One does not control the other, they merely dance and let the force of each other’s form guide their joined movement and direction.
And so when I eat well, it is not to be in control of my health – for that is attachment. When I exercise it is not to be in control of my fitness – for that too is attachment. I do not climb a mountain to carry that achievement with me the rest of my life, that also would be attachment. I climb the mountain because it calls me, it beckons me. And sometimes it is not so easy to know when we do things out of love, or do them out of attachment.
I do what I feel inspired to do, what feels right in that moment. I watch an Albatross that is laying on the ground, resting, and then I watch that albatross stand up and look around and suddenly open her wings and start running, flapping, then pushing off to be taken by the wind, up into the sky. The Albatross does not do this for her health, nor to improve her well-being. She wills it out of a feeling, a desire that erupts and jolts her into action. She finds a mate and copulates and lays an egg and raises an offspring: she endures the great effort it takes to successfully raise a child not because she thinks it will make her feel better or be a better bird, but because it is what she feels inspired to do, compelled to do, from her body. It is her purpose.
Humans somehow have interrupted this body-soul relationship, and we’ve done it to each other across entire societies of people. And such bodies display this dissonance, this lack of reciprocity between the nature of our bodies and the nature of our autonomy. I think it is because we have somehow come to believe that our body is this physical object we can own. We have colonized our own bodies. A kind of perverse domestication. We have torn our bodies from nature. The oppressor becomes the oppressed. But we do not own our bodies. They belong to nature, as nature belongs to all of us. Nature speaks through our bodies, and we act in service to that nature. The Albatross takes off in flight because it is her nature. It is the will of the process of nature. And through her flight she becomes strong, and free, and able to live and live and live, even beyond death for she is not attached to life…
My body begins to feel tight as we approach Midway and the feeling of fluttering energy grows in my belly. I surrender to the feeling. I don’t try and force it down or ignore it. Nor do I let it consume me out of fear of not understanding. Instead I listen to it, I let it out and see what will come of it, what thoughts will enter my mind, what information will appear in the language of my thoughts. What inspiration will come, growing in my heart? What is my body becoming aware of? And how can I use this awareness to prepare for things to come?
Suddenly, the image of Hiiaka singing to her sister to wake up from her spiritual journey to Kauai enters my mind, and I sense some connection between this story and my life. That there is some connection between my body and my soul and Hiiaka and Pele. But it is only a sense, not fully clear to me.
I close my field book; the catalyst that sent memories of my past trip on Kure flooding into my vision; that triggered a deeper awakening, yet remains clouded like murky water. My field book is all filled out with the necessary templates for our summer work: RA data, Lasyan duck sitings, Monk Seal Survey, BHA, Mosquito seep checks, albatross fledgling count. I tell everyone I’m finished and walk outside to get some fresh air. My head is overwhelmed with the surfaced memories of Kure, mixing with my present experience and all of that being processed through the new contextual information structured in the form of the Pele and Hiiaka mythological story. It’s raining outside, and there is a new wind from the Northwest. I breathe it in, wondering if it brings any signs of Hōlanikū, which also lies Northwest from us.
The wind dies down through the afternoon, and by 5pm we can see Pearl and Hermes, Mana Wai. I decide to ground myself in the meaning behind the name of this reef. I look it up in Kikiloi’s article on the naming of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands:
“The name provides us with the imagery of the spiritual process of bending introspectively inward to reveal the inherent and unchanging nature of one’s true undying spirit.”
I smile and calm down a bit after a whole afternoon of holding tension in my body. What a beautiful name, I think to myself, as I and the rest of the Kure crew joins me on the deck to watch the islands go by across the horizon. We are close enough we can make out vegetation growing on the banks of the sand, most likely Naupaka, and Virginie says she can see Seals beached on the sandy slopes. I rub my Kupe’e shell and begin humming a whimsical tune, unbending from the introspective entrapment my mind so easily flexed into, and uncurling into the stunning turquoise colors reflecting off the clouds above Mana Wai’s shallow branching waters.
Tonight we will arrive outside of Midway, and tomorrow morning we will head into harbor. Our Journey to Kure is nearly over, but first we get to enjoy the oddness of this human populated and operated atoll. And for the first time since I left Midway a year and a half ago, I get to say hello to all my feathered friends.
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