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 than, 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 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 springtime? 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 rainwater 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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