May 1, 2022
by Eric Anderson
It was late April, and it was about to be May. The kolea didn’t know that. Pacific golden plovers, the English name for na kolea, don’t pay much attention to the calendars that people use. I’m not entirely sure what they pay attention to, but they do get a sense at about the same time, don’t they, that it’s time to fly from Alaska to Hawai’i or that it’s time to fly from Hawai’i to Alaska.
It was, in fact, about time to fly from Hawai’i to Alaska. One of the kolea was acutely aware of that, even though he was a fairly young bird. He’d only made the long flight once, from his Alaskan birthplace to the shores of Hawai’i Island. He’d really enjoyed the winter here, even if by our standards it was rather cold. The worms and bugs he ate had been more than plentiful, and the rains tended to drive the worms up from their flooded tunnels.
You and I might call that disgusting. The kolea called it lunch. Unless it was dinner. Or a mid-afternoon snack.
He knew it was time to fly to Alaska because his feathers had changed color. For most of the winter they’d been a dappled cream and brown, handsome enough but not dramatically so. Over the weeks of March and April (which he didn’t call March or April) he’d developed deep black feathers on his chest and face, set off by bands of white. His mother called him handsome. His friends called him handsome, though some of them teased him about it. There was another young kolea that he hoped found him handsome, but he was reluctant to ask her about it.
So he knew it was time to fly.
He just… didn’t want to.
His one trip to Hawai’i hadn’t been dramatically awful, but it hadn’t been great, either. It was just over two solid days in the air, beating his wings twice a second the entire time, with no place to land and rest and nothing to eat the entire way. His eyes had ached from holding them open so long and his wings hurt for days. Why would one ever want to do such a thing more than once?
Hawai’i Island, he thought, made a nice place to live. So he decided to stay.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” said his mother. “This isn’t where we have our families,” said his father. His friends just said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Only one young kolea asked him why. So he told her about the aches and the pains and why should one do that ever again?
“Because sometimes you have to be brave,” she told him.
That evening she joined a growing flock of kolea. They would leave together soon. When she turned her head, she saw a familiar bird. “Hello, handsome,” she said.
He might have blushed beneath his feathers, but who could tell?
“I decided that it’s time to be brave,” he said.
As the evening fell, the two of them were part of the flock that rose high in the air and began their long flight back to Alaska.
Photo by Eric Anderson.