All posts by jonerikjardine

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!

—-
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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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Return to Po – March 23rd, 2017 – Musings on Midway

April 30th, 2017 – Kure. Hlanik

The strong winds from the early week fade away and I awake to our first still morning in what feels like weeks. Its sunday, and I feel well rested. Slowly but surely, I am arriving. We have been on the island for five weeks and even so the transition from the normalities of my life back in Hilo, to the rawness of this faraway seabird colony, does not happen over night. In fact, it is not even a matter of days. There is a kind of letting go process that must occur, and like any release, grieving is involved. A bodily experience of death. Only then can we fully arrive on the other side. From one world to the next.
I have been so focused on this transition, giving myself the space and time needed to sink into the sands of Kure, that I have let some of my greater intentions fall away, knowing that there will be a time to pick them up again. My writing is one such intention. There is much to catch up on, much to describe, to translate into a language for the mind to grasp. To bring meaning to my internalized experience. And to share it. So with that, it is time to dive back into the journey. It is time to return to the Kahana, where our crew is preparing for arrival at Midway Atoll.

March 23, 2017 – Midway. Kua I He Lani

0600. Weve been jogging outside of Midway Atoll all night. With precise timing, Hanz turns the Kahana around for its last spin around the ol block. He sips his coffee and looks out at the darkness. Behind us there is not but a thin sliver of light on the horizon. Mario comes up thirty minutes later and takes over the wheel. Mario always has the sunrise shift. The coming into port shift. The captains shift.
He picks up the transmitter and hails Bob the Fish and Wildlife Manager on Midway. Not that Im expecting him to respond. He never does, He says, clicking the radio off and hooking it back to the receiver like hes done a million times before.
I hang around in the galley and watch Mario maneuver the ship through the dredged channel, a 100 meter wide gap in the reef. I scan back and forth between the Gps screen and the channel in front of us, watching our little symbol on the LCD point towards the way through. These days, computers really do handle most of the work. Mario doesnt have to make any calculations. He just looks at the screen which shows him if his angle is true, then makes adjustments accordingly. The day before I chatted with Drew about this very modern phenomenon.
Just imagine, today we have all these satellites in our orbit like eyes showing us the way. Its not so different from the stars really, like how they used to do it.
Yeah but you know why there were so many women who ended up marrying their husband’s brother?
Ok sure, people died a lot trying to sail across seas, but what about the birds? Theyve been doing it the same way forever. And they always know where theyre going.
Thats true, Drew confesses, popping a boiled peanut into his mouth while manning the wheel, which these days looks like putting your feet up and reading a magazine on sport fishing.
And I mean, what happens if our technology fails us, some big energy crisis, and it cant be powered. What then?
Well Id be screwed, even as a shipmate. We definitely depend on these technologies. Theyve greatly reduced the risks involved at sea, but they are also a crutch. No doubt about it.
We both think about that for a brief moment in our own heads, then Drew says, But Id still prefer the technology of today then having to navigate the old way. Without a doubt. And these ships, especially some of the newer ones, are nearly fail-proof.
But the Kahana is not a new ship and has some quarks that requires a competent captain of the old ways. The Bow thrusters have been acting up, so Im not always able to make the tight turns needed when coming into port, He explains to me as he shifts the thruster on. The boat begins to rumble as the lateral-pushing propellers at the font of the boat are engaged.
Also, you got a 5 degree starboard runner. When youre at the pier, you need to put it on auto, you need to put it on a course – youre not safe with the five degrees – you gotta go down the run, find the right pod and make your adjustment, otherwise, that thing is showing you straight you aint straight! Hanz and Mario laugh together, obviously speaking a language foreign to my own ears. Even so, Mario brings the Kahana into harbor and right up next to the pier like hes done a million times before. I step out onto the deck and wave at the workers all ready for our arrival. Theres Juan, sporting his usual NY Giants construction helmet. One of the more lively personalities on Midway.
First things first, The FAA contracted workers need to pump the jet fuel off of the Kahana, and unfortunately this means none of us can leave the ship yet, so, we sit in the galley all the way to lunch growing anxious to step onto land. We play cards. Tiana teaches us Trumps. We Play Hot seat. Steph laughs after each of her answers to our questions. Her face growing red.
The fuel is unloaded out of the giant tanks on the ship, Paul serves everyone Portuguese soup. Us Kureans scarf it down, grab our packs, and head out on our feet. Everyone wants to feel the earth with our feet. I turn around as we step off the boat and look up for the Pirate flag that Mario always flies at Midway.
There are bikes, beach cruisers, waiting for us on the pier, put there by the Midway workers specifically for our use. We start walking away, but Juan beckons us over. We insist on walking. A waving dance ensues; our party pointing to our feet, bending our knees and waving at the inland trying to act out our desire to regain our land-legs, the Thai guys waving towards the bikes smiling and shouting something we cant hear.
Everyone on Midway is accustomed to Midway, but we just arrived. And after six days on the open ocean, my body was accustom to the constant movement of water. When we walked towards the Midway town, I could feel my inner proprioceptors swimming and bobbing as if still on the ocean. The thing about being on a boat is that it messes with our perception of gravity, because the boat is constantly moving up and down. When it moves up, it feels like the force of gravity is having a greater effect, and our proprioception braces the increase of force, flexing our muscles and bending the knees, like when you jump of a ledge unto the ground. And when the boat comes back down, Gravity loosens its grip and the body suddenly feels light, feeling lifted off the ground, bringing the body up onto its toes. This is what it means to have sea-legs, simply put, for there are other variables. The boat can also bob side to side. It makes the steadiness of land feel stagnant and boring.
So we walk. Each of us having our own difficulty acclimating to land. I seem to have it worse. So does Steph, who cant stop talking about the sensation. She is thrilled, never having experienced an ocean voyage. She also is outwardly ecstatic about all the birds. Despite a large human presence, the seabird colonies here are massive, Midway having the largest Laysan Albatross colony in the world – 100,000 residents during nesting season, all singing and clapping and dancing, hardly noticing us humans. We trek along the dirt road leading to town. Most Albatross chicks are laying or sitting in the areas between roads, but a few venture across the edge, plumping their bowling-pin shaped bodies onto the hard packed surface.
A large construction vehicle can be seen heading towards us on the road, escorted by a golf cart driven by a man holding a long pvc pipe, like some college frat version of a jousting staff, extended out to gently prod any adult Laysans on the road. The golf cart reaches one of the downy chicks sitting in the middle of the road. It comes to an abrupt stop, and the man gets out of the cart, the giant construction vehicle looming over behind, and quickly picks up the chick who begins to squirm violently, snapping its beak at the man, trying to get some swings in. The worker shuffles over to the edge of the road where he puts the chick down, who claps its beak once last time, then runs back to his cart and takes off again, only to stop 50 yards ahead where another chick has decided to bask on the road. We let the escort and stevedore truck go by, covering our faces as the large wheels kick up dust, and continue our walk. The winds are strong, bringing rain to the island and strong gusts. Im hunkered in a scarf and raincoat to protect from the system heading in. Puddles form on the road, and the Laysan chicks also hunker down, reclining their long necks into their down feathered bodies.

Midway Atoll has two islands within its protected waters. One of the islands is dedicated to the wildlife, while the other island, Green Island, is home to an old military base that has been converted into living facilities for a much smaller population then once was. The base is left over from World War II; a strategic location in the middle of the Pacific. A large battle occurred during the war over these waters with the Japanese. As the vibrance of the war has faded with time, the relics from that era remain standing on Midway. Stepping onto to this island is like stepping back into time, or into a ghost town re-inhabited but never fully flipped. All the old buildings remain. Barracks, officer housing, bunkers, the one supply store (the majority stocked with booze), airplane hangers, a water tower, gymnasium, bowling alley, and a dining clubhouse. Most of the buildings have been decommissioned, or just plain forgotten. Only the inquisitive venture into these still standing structures: to explore the spaces where our great grandfathers and mothers were stationed to fight in a war that now only exists on the fringe of our nations memory.
But there are still some who remember. Those who were alive, who carry the memories inside of them, who feel deeply an attachment to this old military base. That fear if these buildings disappear, these physical memories, so will they.
And so they stand, a gym with electricity and a crumbling ceiling. A bowling alley with working A.C. and no bowling pins. A clubhouse with a drum set and asbestos.
Today, Midway stays operational for the sake of an emergency landing strip for any aircraft flying across the Pacific. Its federal, but no longer the authority of the U.S. Army. It is now the jurisdiction of Fish and Wildlife, part of the larger marine national monument. Its the strangest bird sanctuary, an awkward shared space between millions of birds and busy-body humans maintaining a mile-long air-strip and everything that goes along with it.
There is also a small team of wildlife management workers, the obvious minority on the island, who spend every day monitoring and caring for the wildlife nestled in every possible space that isnt occupied by one of the many buildings.
The Midway team deals with very different environmental conditions than us Kureans, but their work is essentially the same: promote the native wildlife by removing any threats to its habitat. But because Midways bio-quarantine level is not as high as Kure, there is constant potential for introduced species, and thus the island is covered with a much higher diversity of invasive plants, as well as animal species such as mice and mosquitos. In fact, Kure Atoll gets most of its introduced species from Midway just by being in close proximity, the wind and waves or even birds picking up seeds and critters and the like. Next stop: Kure.
We walk to the DOFAW office to meet and greet with the midway conservationists, a team made up of officers and volunteers. Also present is a wildlife ecologist hoping to implement some new management strategies that would be more effective. Midway is becoming a hotspot for research because there has now been very consistent data collection over a long span of time. This kind of information becomes highly valuable models that can be implemented elsewhere. The field of conservation is growing slowly, but evolving nonetheless. We are coming to understand the complex interrelationships between life and its environment, and we are able to use this deepening understanding to effect the direction of change of these environments. It is exciting work; to know we can have a positive effect on our influence on these habitats, reversing the wrongs that have been done during more ignorant times in our history.
Looking at the bigger picture, the value of these long-term studies is equal to gold for any natural resource manager attempting to propose a change in the regulatory use of any given parcel of land, for it provides the necessary justification as to why the human behavior within that land needs to change. It is unfortunate that we live in an era where in order to conserve natural habitats we have to kick humans out, but I strongly believe that this is only temporary, and someday human communities will once again co-inhabit the lands we worked so hard to protect from our very selves. And maybe one day in our golden future we can take what weve learned and bring it to other barren planets, create more and more Earth-like worlds. Not because we destroyed Earth. But because we saved it. And through the story of our success, we awakened to our higher purpose: to be a vessel for all species of Earth and spread the miracle life across the Galaxy.
But for now, we fight for our own planet. For the spirit that embodies us all, waiting patiently to be rediscovered. For now, we fight for Midway. No longer fighting for the men and women stationed on Midway, but for Midway itself. For Kua I He Lani. Now we fight for Kure. Now we fight for the life that still remains, still alive. For the birds. For the Islands. For the Oceans.
We gather in the open presentation room of the DOFAW building, the Kure and Midway teams united. We smile at each other and see that familiar look in each others eyes. That look of longing. The look of sacrifice. That look of not wanting to be anywhere else. So far away from loved ones, so immersed in the wildness of nature.
When I meet new people involved in field work, I always wonder what their true and hidden intentions are for working in such isolating environments. What is our common thread? Is there a spiritual undertone that propels us into some of the furthest reaching zones of our planet? Why do we push ourselves into this difficult line of work? Or are we being pulled? Does the middle-aged man who quit his job as a consultant to come and volunteer on Midway for six months have motives besides just needing a break? Does the young intern who signs on for a 11 month position believe she is doing it to seek a closer oneness with life? Are conservationists spiritually motivated? Or is it just me?
Christina, the volunteer field crew leader, approaches, inviting us to a house party she is hosting tomorrow. She just begun her position as a paid intern, having volunteered herself the previous year. Its a new position, and it seems to fit her well. During Robs presentation on Wildlife Management, Christina was able to answer or confirm many of Robs questions. She carried a confidence in her work with comfort, sitting slouched on the couch set up besides the t.v. screen displaying Robs Powerpoint. I wondered what brought her back. Was it because she was asked? What had she experienced during her volunteer experience? What relationship had she formed with the island? Can we love a place more than we can love another human?
After our illuminating discussion with The Midway team, comparing and contrasting our methodologies and strategic approaches, we decided to set a meeting the following day to discuss even further. There was much to learn from each other, or at least to bring new and refreshing energy to each others work. It was very apparent that we were natural comrades, each of us devoting many hard hours to conserving an island along the Hawaiian chain.
We returned to the Kahana for dinner, then headed back out, this time with the bikes. Tiana and Naomi stayed behind on the boat with Kekoa and Mario, while the rest of us went out on the town.We rode to cargo pier to watch the sunset. I lingered a bit longer than the group, catching up with Matt, Virginie, and Steph later at the Gymnasium where the new volunteers had set up a pickle ball net. We played a few rounds, until the volunteers told us they were meeting some folks at the Bowling alley. So we left the old gym behind, crossed the street and walked into the bowling alley where someone was playing hard rock music on a portable speaker. This Bowling alley had been converted into a kind of recreation room, with two pool tables, fuse ball, ping pong, two shuffle boards stretching down the bowling lanes, and a skee ball table. The Kahana crew trickled in after us and we all indulged in some friendly competition before calling it a night and meandering back to the ship. The crewman let me hold onto their golf cart on my bike as we drove back in the night, trying to avoid the bounty of Petrels flying in the darkness.
We arrive at the ship in high spirits, and join in with Paul, Kekoa, Tiana and Naomi. Mario had already gone to sleep, and kekoa asks us to move our congregation out to the deck, In consideration of the captain, he gently remarks to us as our voices reach a volume that only Kekoa knows can reverberate up into the captainss quarters. Im feeling hungry and asked chef what he had for me in the kitchen, and with a smile he busts out the gorgonzola and a whole red pepper, which I chop up, put some on Chefs homemade rolls with the cheese, and the rest out to the deck where I offer them to everyone. Kekoa takes one, crunches on it, then sends me back into the kitchen to add some zest to the pepper. A little oil and vinegar will do. I oblige, happy to satisfy the group as they relax under the stars. By the now the winds have died down. We sit chatting and laughing, one by one retiring into the late night.

17 April, 2017 22:04

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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Tuesday, March 21st 2017 – Encroachment

Tuesday, March 21st 2017 – Encroachment.
Day 4 on the Kahana

E ala, e ala, e ala, e ala
E Hīkāpōkuakini, e ala, e ala
E Hikāpōkuamano, e ala, e ala
E ke akua, e ke alo, e ala, e ala
E ikauwilanuimākēhāi kalani
E ala, e ala!
[Nathaniel B. Emerson 12]

Awake, rise and come to consciousness
To you, Tittering-in-Profound-Awareness, awake
To you, Spreading-of-Ancestral-Influence, rise forth
To you, the goddess of timelessness, return to the present,
A call to the Electricity-swooshing-in-the-Heavens,
Jolt her back to life!
[Taupōuri Tangarō’s translation]

The night before, at 12:49am, spring begins. With the equinox, the sun reaches its path along the equator. And at lunch today, our clock will be set back an hour as we pass into the Midway pacific time zone. It is a day of timelessness, as we play with time, changing it at will and floating in the balance between night and day. The days on sea are beginning to blend, my thoughts start to wander incongruently. I sit at the front of the wheel house to match this equinox of the sun with the symmetry of the boat, with my body. The island is my canoe. The canoe my island. The canoe my body. My body the island.
The swells are coming straight at us. I’m feeling restless. I focus on the movement of the ocean as my body lifts and falls with the vessel. I sit in that position for what feels hours, staring out at the blue. Desire begins to seep into my consciousness from deep within. It always starts with the desire for love; to love, to be loved, then broadens and expands into the desire to know place, to know myself greater. I pick up my small pocket journal sitting idle by my side and write:
 We know ourselves by knowing place.
We know our place by knowing our ancestors.

It’s another day of whales. A day of passing by Maro reef, Kamokuokomohoali’i, named after Pele’s brother, the shark deity. This submerged land mass is known for its high presence of sharks. It’s an overcast afternoon, silent, with clouds stretching across the entire hemisphere. The whales fade away with the morning, but the graceful Moli are still in flight, swooping so close to the the ocean’s surface. One by one Virginie, Tiana, and Steph make their way up to my sitting spot, and we share the space with the silence of the ocean.
My heart expands again with desire, as I sit and watch and feel the ocean below me. I want to know the ocean. I want to know the wind. The clouds. The sky. I want to know it all like the Albatross, who uses the wind to dance with the ocean, who uses the clouds to return to her children. Who uses the sky to roam in freedom. All day and into the night I’ve been watching this grand ocean, trying to see. Trying to build a relationship with the ocean as it is moved by the wind, by the moon, by the sun. I am moved by the ocean, and the ocean stirs desire within me.
I can sense it before it arrives, like a slight tremor in the deep, growing and growing with intensity. I can feel it filling me and consuming me, and I can resist it like a dam on a river, holding the river, holding her waters, but stagnant they become. I can flee with an open heart, dashing through the forest, wet leaves clutching the soles of me feet. I can gaze upon it like water as far as the horizon, with a depth unseen, but my dreams will always remain, filling me with it, rising from the deep. A tremor, before the eruption. The ocean speaks of desire in all its ways, in its harshness, in its calm. It breeds awakening found only in the tremor of desire, in the solace center of a hurricane born upon the great ocean.
But today our waters remain calm. As night reveals the longing of darkness, as our world faces the dark vastness of the heavens. We keep heading forth, and I sit here clutching my heart’s desires, awaiting the shores of Hōlanikū. I rub my Kupe’e shell and let out a sigh, coming up for a breath of air. Like the whales, like the dolphins, like the Kupe’e on the night of a waning moon setting in the dark.
My daily routine in the ship is now established. I get up before the sun, coming down into the galley where I usually find Kekoa, who is the only crew member from my last trip with the Kahana (besides Mario), and Joe, sitting waiting for breakfast. I grab a cup of coffee and head back out to watch the sunrise. Today I sing E ala e to the sun, adding my own melody, encouraging our humble star to rise and awake and bring light to our day. Just as Hi’iaka awakens her older sister. The coffee wakes me up, but leaves my stomach feeling unsettled, as coffee does on open ocean.

The voyage up the chain has been a delight, and by now, our fourth day at sea, we are all feeling rested. However, there is small tension in our future as we try to convince the resource manager on Midway to allow us to switch some plans around. The conversation includes Mario, Matt and Naomi, Cynthia back on the Main Hawaiian islands, NOAA, and Bob the DOFAW Resource Manager. Everyone has a stake in the Kahana’s operations on Midway and Kure. Graham, who we call our Grandma, is our unofficial meteorologist. A retired successful engineer who took up as a hobby studying weather patterns. Somehow he became connected with the Kure Conservancy and elected to be our eyes and ears on the outside world. Every week he sends us the weather forecast, with an update in the middle of week. It is extremely useful for us, because much of our work is contingent on the weather. And it is especially useful for our day of offloading on Kure, a not-so-simple task. Today, he sent the Kahana the latest forecast for Kure, and it isn’t looking good.
High pressure from the Aleutians is expected to mix with a low pressure around Kure, causing 35mph winds and NE swells up to 20ft on the day we are supposed to depart from Midway to Kure, lasting through the weekend.
These conditions are too rough for us to actually do anything out there so we’d be stuck jogging back and forth for 24-48hrs waiting for the conditions to calm down, a waste of our time and an unpleasant one at that within such topsy turvy swells. Instead, Matt and Naomi are proposing we spend those days at Midway and get some other things done that involves picking up and loading marine debris onto the Kahana, paid for by NOAA. It makes sense, just switching the work around. The real issue has to do with labor costs that pile up whenever there is a delay. The part Matt and Naomi are trying to communicate to Bob on Midway is that he won’t be effected by costs because Kure will be paying for the additional days docked at Midway, and NOAA is paying for the Marine debris work. It’s just a matter of flexibility and clear communication, which may not occur until we land at Midway. So with two more full days on the Kahana, we prepare for our original plan still, begrudgingly.

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