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.