All posts by jonerikjardine

Beer and chocolate: A User’s Guide on How to Give Up Control and Get on with Life.

August 11th, 2017
Kure Atoll. 3 Weeks left.

They don’t really go together, but out here they become a kind of rare commodity, some kind of gold. The kind of thing you don’t want to offer, and you feel bad about that, but there just ain’t enough to go around. It’s the kind of thing you crawl to at the end of the day and snap open or unwrap, and plop in your mouth or guzzle down. It’s the the type of pleasure you feel like opening more of, but think better. The kind of signal to your body that it’s time to relax and pull off the work mode and pull on the board shorts. It’s the glass the wine with the setting sun and your loving partner. It’s the walk you take with your dog. It’s the smell of garlic and onions sizzling in olive oil and the sound of Louie humming and singing on the living room stereo. No matter how hard your day was, you always have that comfort to return to, to settle the day and get on with the pleasure of living.
Morale is important in all fields of work. Gotta keep the busy bees happy to keep them positively productive. Morale is the source of productivity. It’s where it all begins. You cannot sustain productivity without positive morale. Without it, the energy is drained right out the bottom. Given the bombarding strains of our work on Kure, I must confess that it is fairly easy to recover from, given adequate rest. It is the psychological edge that cuts deep into our energy reserves. It’s the tiredness at the end of a long day when everyone is pushing to get it done and your struggling to keep up. You’re out of water, the sun isn’t getting any cooler, and you look over and see your teammates ain’t pushing to get it done, and all you want to do is scream out, “lets just get this over with and get the hell outta here!” It’s the penetration of negative thoughts that brood inside your tired mind, spinning useless webs, trapping you. And the more your fight to break free, the more tightly the web binds itself to you.

This last week has tested many of our own mental capacities, pushing our emotions to an outer limit of control. The kind where you can just see on the face of everyone the strain of holding on, that look like Frodo getting pierced by a Nazgul blade. That tension in a group that causes shoulder blades to scrape together. The end of a season offers a special kind of pressure for us environmental conservation warriors. Each day forward is one day less to get as much acreage treated. We are going through areas of the island that are now taking two to three times longer then they did our first couple cycles through. The ambition we harnessed at the beginning of our season, propelled by the nuance of that honey moon phase over first arriving to this magical place, has sputtered out, and we gaze down with craned necks at all the grasses still to spray ahead. An hour goes by and I turn around and see I’ve only progressed maybe twenty meters. My stomach gurgles and my shoulders beg me to take this god-forsaken spray pack off my back.
The screech of a Koa’e ula, Red-Tailed Tropic Bird, rockets over my head. I look up alerted to the chase of four maybe five determined Iwa pursuing their frantic victim. The Tropic Bird screams, cutting sharply right, angling away from the savage stealers, but one of the Iwa’s predicts this move, and with a more powerful and dynamic wing span, it snatches at the Tropic Bird, latching on to its feathers with her hooked beak. She uses her momentum and strong wings to lift the tropic bird out of it’s own flight. The tropic bird is overwhelmed and drops it’s food that was only seconds ago digesting nicely in the acids of its stomach. A decent sized fish falls from the sky, shining a shimmering silver as it catches the light of the early sun. The other Iwa are on it like flies to shit, another female snatching the half-digested fish out of midair just before hitting the ground. The Koa’e ula, free of panicked harassment but empty of sustenance, flies away to safety unnoticed by the Iwa.
I turn my head back to the grasses now that the excitement is over, letting out a big sigh and dreaming of that beverage I’ll be snatching out of the freezer in mid-freeze.
The Iwa, which means to steal, reminds me of fairness, and how we cannot get all hung up on the possessive control of our lives. We don’t actually own anything, and we can’t actually control what is going to happen, or even how it is going to happen. All we can do is be prepared, as best as we can, and act accordingly. Although we humans are aptly known for our ability to control the future by projecting the power of our mind into the realm of abstract, we can all too easily fall into the trap of thinking we have control over that realm. The Post-Modern human needs to get over its control issues and get on with life.

It’s our third to last week on the island, and most likely our last full week of island treatment. We started the week heading out to an area called Sector 5, a large area of 100% Naupaka bush on the south side of the old airway strip leftover from the coast guard days. We knew it was going to be tough and slow going, as the pattern of the entire island has been the rebirth cycle of the three infamous grasses, The Trio as we like to call them. But we were not prepared for just how long it was going take.
When we treat an area, our goal is to always finish the entire area, even if it takes a little longer. We usually are ready to spend a good 4 to 5 hours in the morning treating an area so we can get it done and cross it off the schedule. However today, we just weren’t getting through Sector Five at a reasonable rate. 2 pm rolls around and we’re right smack in the belly of this beast since 9am. I’m in the middle of our transect line, and my focus is starting to fade. I’m most likely dehydrated, and I’ve run out of the snacks I brought. We’ve been spraying a steady mat of grass sprouts hiding under the thick Naupaka for five hours straight. I whip out by Gps and look at the digital map to see how much we have left. My track line shows me the route I have taken since the beginning; a squiggly zig-zag bouncing between my neighbors, ending at the point I have made it to so far. I look beyond my track to the end of the restoration area, the west border, and see that we haven’t even made it halfway.
I turn and see young Matt next to me. He is standing there looking off into the distance, like he’s trying to sniff out a breeze in the stagnant heat of the Naupaka bush. He’s looking pale. A thin moist line of sweat droplets has formed where his recently shaved mustache once stood. One thing I’ve learned out here is that If I’m starting to feel it, then sure as hell so is everyone else. But the manager’s haven’t said anything yet about stopping. Which makes sense. We’ve never called it quits in the middle of an RA. It’s just not our style. But I have no attachments, and I’m sure as hell not crazy enough to believe we can bang the rest of it out and walk away with no casualties.
I slip my Gps back into its harness on my augmented fisher’s vest and flip my radio into my hand from it’s own harness clipped to the straps of my Spray pack. I push that button in hard, pause a half second to let the waves reach the other radios, searching for the most diplomatics words to use to tell Old Matt that we should call it, “Heey Matt, I’m just looking at our progress here and it looks like we still got quite a bit left. I’m also looking at the clock and wondering what’s going on in that mind of yours, what you thinking?”
“Yea copy that, I think we should call it if everyone can find a good stopping point. Just put up some purple flagging so you know where you stopped, and try and draw a straight line across as you exit towards the runway so we don’t miss any gaps formed along the way. Better to stop now so we have a good chunk to finish tomorrow morning.”
I’m glad he agrees, but I also know it won’t be a popular choice amongst the group. The other Matt, pale as he was had just mentioned to me on our last meet up that we should just charge ahead and get it over with so we don’t have to go back. He had a point, the thought of going back in there another day just didn’t sit right, and it is the only area we need to treat all the way down on the far side of the runway, one of the furthest points from camp. Granted, it’s a small island that only stretches a mile across, but wheeling eight gallons of herbicide out plus what we are carrying on our backs down the entire length of an old airway strip is not the most efficient way to spend our time. It takes about twenty minutes to do the walk from camp, that’s forty minutes round trip, and we are already feeling anxious about wasting precious daylight hours.
But Old Matt made the call, well, I made the call and Old Matt put the cat in the bag. For the first time, we were gonna go home to camp without a mission completed.
One by one we made our way awkwardly out of the Naupaka thicket between the beach and the runway, taking the path of least resistance; an old trample zone used over and over again by past crew seasons. The atmosphere in the air was of discontent, and by the time we all reached the wheel barrels stationed out on the runway for herbicide and water resupply, I could tell there were some who were non-too happy.
As we started to walk back, staggered as we were, Naomi finally expressed her true feelings. “I’m pretty dissatisfied.” I can sense conflict rising to the surface and I know I’m supposed to say something.
“What are you dissatisfied with?” I ask in response. I already know she doesn’t like the decision to come out, I knew it when we were still back in the Naupaka and her communication got all funky about vacating her line when we reached her on the way out. Sure enough, the emotions were starting to show.
“I just didn’t get closure in there. I think we should just finish it.” There it was. The second guess was out on the table, just as we were making our way back to camp. Everyone stopped walking, suspended between what we should do, stuck between a rock and a hard place. No one really wanted to leave the RA unfinished, but we were obviously all tired and needed some food and rest and we had just taken the effort to crawl out of the tangled Naupaka. But when someone steps up and voices a opinion that we should change a decision that was just made – well – it is usually the beginning of disarray.
And sure as rain, the six of us got all deliberated and we weighed the pros and cons. Then Naomi introduced an alternate plan: “Can we just go back for lunch and then come back out here in the afternoon?”
Now it was time for me to get all fussy. I exclaimed, “If were are gonna go back to camp then I see no point in walking all the way out here this afternoon. That just is an efficient use of our time.
And Naomi almost cried and said, “Well we have so much other shit we still need to do and I’m tired of how long it’s taking to finish these Sectors.”
Old Matt lost his patience next and said, “Well then lets just get it over with already!” The rest of us nod our heads in agreement and Matt continues, “We’ll take a break here before going back in, eat some snacks and then get back in there.” Everyone starts to strap their packs back up and reach for snacks.
I say, “Looks like we’re going back in,” And just when it feels like we flipped back to finishing the job, Naomi shoots back, “But we may not have enough herbicide to finish!” Matt smiles wildly saying, “Your the one who wants to finish!”
“Yeah well this is poor planning!” And she starts to cry. A brief moment of silence pervades the runway before I check my snack pouch on my vest and discover only empty wrappers. “Um, plus I’m out of food.”
“Me too,” says Virginie, looking up from her butt pack strapped around her waist. Matt laughs in disbelief and I put my hands on my head to show I’m over this silliness.
Finally, Stephanie steps up and says with conviction, “I think that if there is any risk of us running out of herbicide then we should just finish the job tomorrow because otherwise we are gonna go back in there today and be that much closer to finishing with that much less closure because we still won’t be finished and we’ll still have to come back tomorrow. And we’re all hungry anyways”
And with that, we all shrug our shoulders, Naomi storms ahead to collect her cool, and we finally trudge on back to camp, with Terns and Noddys galore flying over ahead.

Self Control is one thing: knowing your limits, being in check with you emotions, disciplined regulation of your temperament. But on the island of Kure, there is common theme known oh too well in the rest of the world: giving up control.
The beauty of nature is that there is no one thing in control. Every thing is just happening together. In the profession of conservation management, we are trying to control what is happening, but we try to do it with as little to no impact on the life that is already existing. That’s why it’s called conservation, coming from the philosophy of reducing human impact as much as possible in order to allow the rest of nature to continue to function as it does, well, naturally. We are not trying to preserve the wildlife because that too would be going against nature. Specie’s populations naturally rise and fall, and some species naturally go extinct. We are not trying to mess with that system. We are merely trying to figure out how we humans can coexist with a system we have so drastically removed ourselves from. How do we put Human back into Nature? It may yet be the biggest philosophical and scientific question of the 21st century as we watch our only home change quickly and drastically into an environment that may not be able support human life any longer.

For me, I think the answer might just have to do with control. We humans struggle so greatly with this ability of self-agency over our own lives without overstepping that power; believing that if we have power over our own lives then we can too have the power over other lives. Perhaps Peace is synonymous to without control. When someone experiences true inner peace, it is because they have given up controlling their feelings, their life. When a person dies, we say they are finally at peace, as the image of sufferable tension drains from their face; the suffering that stems from an inner entity which attempted to control that person’s entire life dying.
On kure, control is embedded in the very language we use to describe our work: control invasive species. In this sense we are borrowing a term and using it to best illustrate our treatment strategy with certain incipient plants that have made their way to Kure one way or another in the past fifty years, plants which we humans have observed to cause a reduction in overall biodiversity, a key component to any healthy ecosystem. Plants which have made it to Kure by means of Humans in the first place.
But for all the keen skills of the human observer, we still have’t quite figured out that many of our answers for how to undo what we have done unto the world, messing up the intricate and dynamic relationships in nature, lie within our own relationship to self; that our relationship to our environment is a direct reflection of our relationship to self. That if we continue to keep such a tight grip on the belief of self – the perception of one singular “I” in control of our own life, then we’ll continue to project the grip of control on to our work in whatever field we may serve.
On Kure, our service is to conserve, and our work is a frustratingly slow progress of controlling plants by attempting to kill them one by one, which I have to admit truly feels silly sometimes. And it probably looks even sillier for any bystander: a row of people staring at the ground moving incredibly slow like a sloth through jello, uncomfortably hot in full protective gear from the poisonous spray they are hauling around on their backs. To systematically target these plants one by one, one section of the island after another, and then do it all over again once the whole island as been treated, only to return to the first area treated to find a whole new bloom of plants growing there, well, it just seems a bit like we a cat chasing it’s own tail. But our Management plan has been carefully designed and proven to work over long periods of time, a series of phases that are implanted at different stages of the ecosystem’s restorative process. And as we implement these strategies that address the issues of past problems, we simultaneously must look ahead at the issues we will face in the future: climate change and rising waters.
Does my opinion matter that much? No, not really. I’m just a bio technician, temporary, with no outward signs of long-term commitment to the conservation project on Kure. But I am a part of the team, and I am a team player, and I certainly am cognizant of what it takes to be an effective team: do what your boss says, and don’t second guess the decisions the leaders have to make. I too have to learn how give up control and trust in the powers that be.
And so I found out here that just as important as questioning the world and the way things are is to make sure everyone is showing up ready and willing to work together and support each other in the work we do. So at the end of the day, when I kick off my sweat-saturated boots that have been rubbing holes in my heels all summer long, I pop open that carbonated feel-good beverage and plop a square of deep dark chocolate in my mouth and find the quickest-witted thing I can say to my fellow teammates to help wipe away any signs of defeat; to bring us out of our personal suffering and share it together as a whole, and through that wholeness find the joy of being a part of a experience that is shared by others. For tomorrow is another day, and we are all in this together until the very end. No one is ever alone.

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The Rest of the Weary

The sun is already shining brightly in the sky as I walk the path to the main house, passing by the White Terns and Brown Noddys nesting on corners of the concrete buildings. I’m heading to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, but as I look around I notice something is different this morning.
I make this walk to the main house every morning, waking up in the bunkhouse and shuffling over to have breakfast and coffee. I walk the 60 seconds it takes, glancing around to see familiar sights and sounds. It is always the usual scene: The same albatross chicks lying about or busy cleaning their feathers, Red-Footed Boobies gathering nesting material and croaking at each other, Laysan Albatross adults swooping low, banking across the air to find a place to land and feed their chick.
But today is different. It feels quieter. It feels empty. I take a look around, scanning a full three hundred and sixty to confirm what I feel, and sure enough, I see that there is indeed an absence of albatross chicks.
Matt is on the front porch of the main house, just waking up. His dark black hair is sticking straight up like it does in the morning after running his fingers through it to shake out the sleep. He too is looking out at the scenery. I say good morning and remark to him, “Hey does it look like there are fewer albatross?”
“Oh definitely,” he replies in his usual loud stature, putting one leg up on the bench, resting his forearm on his knee while holding a cup of drip coffee. “Must of been all that wind last night”
Bound to a tiny island there ain’t much to look at so we look at everything, all the time, and we don’t miss a beat. It’s a kind of intimacy with the land hard to match anywhere else. Or at least, a kind of relationship to the land found rare these days. Our lives are sucked up by the details of this small land mass.There is change occurring constantly, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly. We don’t just notice these occurrences. The occurrences effect us. Without the bombardment of modern stimulatives, our attention is captured solely by the imagery of this place. Our mood blends with the mood of the island. With the mass exodus of Albatross fledglings last night, there is a emptiness that resides in our hearts once filled by these feathery companions. Signaled by the changing weather and strength of their own wings and legs, the surviving Albatross are rapidly departing to their nature’s beckoning.
Back at home I’d always scoff at the predictable and boring conversation starter of weather. But out here, weather dominants everything. It’s easy to forget that weather is what causes the changes and dynamics of nature; that every living thing is responding to weather. The weather shifts and it’s a cue for the body to shift. Out here, weather is just about all we got to pay attention to, and because we work every single day outside, the weather is our god, deciding what we can and can’t do.
There are two seasons of bio-technicians for Kure Atoll; the winter and summer. I am part of the summer crew, and the conditions of our work is highly contrasted to that of the winter season. We experience the onslaught of the sun, but because of the summer’s tendency to bake the surface of this island, we don’t have to deal with the onslaught of invasive plant growth – which are generally starving by midsummer because of the lack of rain.
However, recently we were hit with a unexpected system which has been gyrating all around the pacific. When the weather is unstable, we bio-technicians grow weary. Our days are planned out based on following a cycle of treatments around the island, closely following the growth cycle of the Verbisina plant, our primary target. When weather obstructs our schedule and we cannot stay to our treatment schedule because the rain effects the herbicide, its not too big a deal, because there are many other tasks to do. However, when the weather becomes unstable and we cannot predict whether or not it is actually going to rain, it becomes a matter of frustration. The other day we tried to start a restoration area, but twenty minutes into it, it started to rain, and all the work we did went down the drain. We hover around during such mornings, pacing back and forth waiting to see what the weather is going to do.
The strong winds and stormy conditions have been a welcome relief for our bodies from what has otherwise been a hot and dry summer. Although our minds are not at ease because of how it effects our work progress, we at least get to enjoy more forgiving conditions. Our new worker Matt has had a rough four weeks trying to adjust to the work environment, struggling to keep up with a team of workers who have had months of conditioning before his arrival. But now with the new winds we are able to cool off easily as we work in the field. With passing stormy weather, we are left with sporadic rain squalls. We have been observing these giant plumes of clouds appear out of the eastern horizon where the wind has been steadily blowing from for over four weeks now. We watch them come towards us, taking only a moment to calculate whether it will pass south of the island, or north, or hit the bullseye and dump a short burst of rain onto our tiny island.
The countdown for leaving Kure Atoll has begun. The departure checklist has been printed out. Our last cycle of treatment is underway. More and more Albatross fledglings are gone with the turning of the season. We are being worked to our utmost limits, everyone dedicated to finishing strong and giving the incoming team a easy smooth transition as they arrive and get acquainted with the life of Kure conservation.
The weeks leading up to departure on Kure are a strange mix of feelings. Because of our unsustainable effort of work, we are all feeling the strain of this last remaining work cycle as we try to catch up after inevitably falling behind due to our small team, weather, and the unrealistic amount of acreage we must treat within a 4 week cycle period (the amount of time it takes on average for a new verbisina sprout to reach seed production growth). This strain is causing us to put our heads down and plow on through as many restoration areas as we can in a day, fueled by the notion that there will be plenty of time for rest once we leave Kure. But we are also aware that these are our last few moments on this island we have grown so close to, which we have become a part of. The light at the end of the tunnel is but a death to the relationship each one of us has nurtured in our own way with this place. A heaviness weighs on our hearts as we creep evermore closely to our day’s end.
My weekdays have become a blur as we push our work late into the day, taking advantage of our long summer days. After the rain from the week before, the moisture in the soil has invigorated the seed bank of invasive plants, and now our island is witness to millions of sprouts of the very plants we have been trying to control all summer. Sandbur grasses with spiky seed pods. Bristly Fox-tail grasses with sticky cat-tail like seed heads. Goosegrass that grows in clumps and requires a meticulous targeting spray method to effectively kill. And of course the Brassica Swinecress that I cannot fathom will ever be eradicated from this wildlife sanctuary as it seems to produce seeds faster then it grows.
Because of the seed germination response to the wet weather, our work efforts have been doubled to try and hit as many of these sprouts before they go to seed and bomb the soils of Kure with another bounty of kin. From a general perspective, we are really working against nature. From a shortened perspective, our efforts seem futile compared to the massively efficient system of plant propagation. Especially grasses, one of the most successful if not the most successfully dispersed plant on earth. But humans have their own gift from nature: the ability to endure, and to do so stubbornly. For years and years people have been coming out to Kure, slowly but surely reducing the seed bank of invasive plants. It’s a bit of a two steps forward, one step back kind of relationship. It’s very hard for any one season to see a big change, to see that our efforts are working. But, put together the persevering years of hard and unwavering work, the island is slowly but surely transforming back into a pristine and harmonious state for wildlife to flourish. Already the population of every single sear bird species that nests on this island have rebounded, some now at a population greater than has ever been recorded.
All of this knowledge propels us forward in our dedication to go out with a bang. When humans put their minds to it, we really can accomplish anything. My body is feeling the strain and reminds me every day of the stress it must endure for the sake of our work. I have had to put even more conscious effort into the physical therapeutics to maintain good health as we carry the heavy volume of herbicide on our backs for hours at end; climbing through Naupaka thickets and all the while bending our body’s frame downwards to gaze with intense concentration at the plants beneath our feet. My shoulders are painfully sore at the end of each day, the heavy packs pushing them forward, collapsing my lung space and causing shallow breathing throughout the day. My lower back suffers sharp pains as it bares the burden of weight as I bend my torso to hunt for invasive plants. My feet are reddened and blistered from shuffling around in big heavy boots for over four months. My knees ache from the constant squatting and climbing to grab the seeds of those hard to reach plants. My skin is itchy and oily from the rubbing of my salty-sweaty clothes with the exfoliation of dead skin cells. My eyes are pained by the reflection of the sun on the bright sandy substrate. My stomach is weary and my gut bloated from our dominantly canned-food diet.
All these stresses are endured day in and day out with a kind of satisfaction knowing that our sacrifice is our gift to a world in need of transformation.
My weekends have become a space for stillness, so I may truly savor these last moments of breathing in the island. I start my mornings early, heading out to the lagoon at the western end of the island, enjoying the still cool breeze while the sun has not yet begun heating the day. I watch the seabirds take off from their perches across the Naupaka and fly out to the ocean. I watch the Iwa spiral up the thermals now beginning to form with the steady power of the sun. I watch and listen to the Red-Tailed Tropic birds courting each other, and the Monk Seals shuffling back towards the shoreline from their hauled out wallow near the vegetation edge.
As the sun finally moves over the western dunes of the island, I myself head into the lagoon, submersing my body up to my neck into her cool glassy water. My body immediately awakens to her intimate shocking touch, then calmly relaxes into her weightless embrace. I feel the warmth from my core expand out into my extremities as the water molecules surrounding my body easily absorbs the thermo-reactive process of my cellular-combusting system. I sink into this exchange, happy to freely give up my energy to the mistress of the sea now that the rays of the sun are adamantly pressing against my face, still dry and untouched by the chill morning caress of the lagoon.
These days of rest have so fittingly become a time for me to awaken into my senses and fully feel this place as my body is meant to feel. I turn off my mind that has been driving my body to endure the sufferable conditions of our work, and award my body the gift of the sensual pleasures nature is always willing to offer. The sounds of the wind tossing the branches of Naupaka, the birds calling out to each other across the skies, the distant waves on the eastern side crashing against the reef. The sights of the birds sailing in the winds, dancing and flying in harmony with the makani. The ever-changing colors as the sun and filtered clouds move across the hemisphere. The constant soft feeling of the sandy-soil beneath my feet, and the refreshing drops of rain when they do fall upon us, scattered as it may be. The motion of soft currents in the lagoon. The sweet and subtle scent of the Naupaka kahakai lingering in the air before the wind whisks it away. All are gifts for the senses. All I will miss dearly, instilled within me as loving memories.
I have found balance between the satisfaction of hard work and the pleasure of soothing rest. I have found harmony in my way of life out here on Kure. But even still, the knowing that it will all end very soon beckons me into the preparations for what is to come next in life. The death of this harmony will come, as it always does, and I will be ripped away and propelled into the new yet familiar patterns and routines that await me back on Hawai’i island.
But for now, I will savor this harmony, breathing in the content of this unique life of remote conservation field work out upon the Northwestern reaches of the epic Hawaiian archipelago in the cosmic world of Oceania.
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Fledgling Season

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

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

Week 16

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

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

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

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

Death and Renewal Pt. III: Ducks of Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With death comes renewal. With renewal comes transformation.

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

Return to Po: Rivaling Arrivals Part II

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

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

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

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

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

Return to Pō: Rivaling Arrivals Part II

Rivaling Arrivals – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to 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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