Every Journey Into Darkness is a return to greater awareness of self. Human existence is a profoundly existential experience; every human being is burdened, or gifted – depending on how you look at it – with a deeper sense of awareness of self. However, full consciousness is not handed to us. In our lifetime, we must seek it out. We must journey into the unknown, the uncharted territory, the shadow realm, and bring back with us our own awakening.
Sunday, August 19th
It was Wednesday evening and Old Matt was making dinner while we were hanging out at the picnic table outside the main house, enjoying the breeze and sights of ducklings running around. Nimz, the NOAA seal worker, and Naomi, our Kure manager, were sharing a conversation while I strummed on the guitar in the background.
August 11th, 2017
Kure Atoll. 3 Weeks left.
Morale is important in all fields of work. Gotta keep the busy bees happy to be productive. Morale is 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 morale can be difficult to recover deep into the season. 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 you’re 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, “let’s 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.
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.
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.
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 species 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.
Nesting on the island within Kure Atoll is 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. 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 a ritual. It is what works, allowing the species to continue to reproduce. The Black-Footed Albatross have their own distinct dance, and they do it for the same exact reason: it works. Same but different.
Fieldwork 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.
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
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!
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’.
Sunday Night. May 14th 2017
Sometimes, life works things out for you.
This weekend I was determined to finish a project I had begun a couple weeks back. I got all my things together and threw them into one of our many wheel barrels that we use to lug things around the island like rickshas, and headed out to the furthest extent of the island. South point. Landfill. The old dumping grounds of the coast guard base from the 60’s to the 80’s. Yes, sadly, even Kure has its own landfill.
Time does not wait for the ponderer. It rushes forth at the speed of light and all beings dance to its tempo. And so I must write about Kure without further ado.
We are in full force out here on the fringes of earthly delight. Our work is consuming us like salsa consumes a burrito like syrup consumes pancakes. Like the sun consumes the day, and the moon consumes the night. Our brains are packed full of the nuances of our day-to-day life and our bodies are humming with its habits. We arrived 7 weeks ago and have steadily been making this place home.
April 30th, 2017 – Kure. Hōlanikū.
The strong winds from the early week fade away and I awake to our first still morning in what feels like weeks. Itʻs Sunday, and I feel well rested. Slowly but surely, I am arriving. We have been on the island for five weeks and even so the transition from the normalities of my life back in Hilo, to the rawness of this faraway seabird colony, does not happen overnight. In fact, it is not even a matter of days. There is a kind of letting go process that must occur, and like any release, grieving is involved.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Day 5 on the Kahana
0330- sail past Lisianski, Ka Poʻo.
I wake up late, sleeping in my cabin as it rained all last night. As we approach Midway, our Kure crew sits down to work on some preliminary items before reaching our final destination. Today we spent the morning putting in all our data-collecting templates for our Field Books.
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Day 4 on the Kahana
E ala, e ala, e ala, e ala
E Hīkāpōkuakini, e ala, e ala
E Hikāpōkuamano, e ala, e ala
E ke akua, e ke alo, e ala, e ala
E ikauwilanuimākēhāi kalani
E ala, e ala!
[Nathaniel B. Emerson 12]
Awake, rise and come to consciousness
To you, Tittering-in-Profound-Awareness, awake
To you, Spreading-of-Ancestral-Influence, rise forth
To you, the goddess of timelessness, return to the present,
A call to the Electricity-swooshing-in-the-Heavens,
Jolt her back to life!
[Taupōuri Tangarō’s translation]
Another morning on the open ocean. Another full day casting away my thoughts into the wind across the vastness. I find Paul, the cook, outside. He’s a real genuine chef, originally from Texas, but now in his older years “a man of the world” having traveled nearly everywhere for work as an executive chef.
Hōlanikū – Week 2
The strong and cold winds from the north have returned, bringing a light rain that scatters with each gust. The birds perk up as the force of wind fuels their movement and freedom in the open sky. I had planned to sleep in today after a long week, but instead, I woke up early and slow like the sun as it sluggishly rose illuminating layers of clouds warming the sky one by one.
Kauai from the Kahana
My hips move with the ocean. Move with the ship. Move with the swells. Rocking and gyrating. I’m out on the big blue. Kauai is now in clear sight, gleaming pale light from the afternoon sun. Our crew has settled in on the Kahana, our first full day nearing the last hours of the day.