Brother and Sister

Common_NoddyA brother and sister noio koha were fighting.

A lot of you have brothers and sisters, right? I’m sure none of you ever fight.

What’s that? Your sister likes to take your things and crawl under your bed with them. Oh. Well, the noio don’t do that. For one thing, they don’t usually have any space under their nests, and they definitely don’t collect stuff. Anyway.

The noio koha is a kind of seabird that fishes by flying over the water, and diving down to catch small fish and squid. Oh, I’m sorry. We’d agreed to call that calamari.

Anyway, there’s not much in a noio’s life that seems like it would call for argument. But this brother and sister had managed to find one.

One of them insisted that the proper way to catch fish was to fly high, and when you see a likely looking school of fish below, you make a steep dive down into the water. Then you can grab the fish or squid (sorry; calamari) before they get startled and swim away.

“A steep dive,” insisted the brother. “That’s the only way.”

“Oh, no,” returned his sister. “That’s not right at all. You spot the fish, and then you come around and do a shallow glide. That means you can swoop in, pick them right out of the water and be flying away before they even know what’s happening. That’s the only way.”

I have to give them credit; they were arguing, but they were using their words (well, squawks, actually) rather than batting at each other with their wings or their beaks. They were not, however, being quiet in the least. Soon enough the entire flock was awake and listening to the argument with noio expressions of puzzled amazement.

I mean, what really is there to argue about if you’re a noio koha?

Finally, one of the older noio stepped up between the squawking pair. “Stop a moment!” he shouted, and they fell silent.

“Each of you need to ask the other a question,” said the older bird, “and you need to listen to the answer you’re given. All right?”

The brother and sister said that was all right, even if they did say it with sulky faces.

Turning to the brother, he said, “Now ask this question of your sister: ‘Have you caught fish with your shallow dives?'”

With poor grace, the brother did as he was told. “Have you caught fish with your shallow dives,” he asked.

“Yes, I certainly have,” she said with pride, “and that just proves…”

The older bird interrupted her. “Now you, sister, ask your brother this: ‘Have you caught fish with your steep dives?'”

She was speechless for a moment, then turned to her brother and repeated the question.

“Yes, I definitely have,” he replied, “and that just proves…”

“That just proves,” the older noio interjected, “that you’ve both caught fish with your techniques. They both work. Neither of you is hungry. You both catch fish.

“So what are you arguing about?”

There are plenty of times in life where we can do things in different ways, and it really doesn’t matter. There are times when it does, like when we’re choosing to treat somebody well or badly, but much more often, it doesn’t matter whether we’ve got shoes that tie or shoes that slip on or slippers which are silver colored or slippers that are gold colored.

What’s important is that we catch the fish – that we show the love – that we make a better day.

Photo of a noio koha (brown noddy) by Glen Fergus – Own work, Lady Elliot Island, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=898797

‘Apapane Solo

Once a young ‘apapane learned to sing (which is not unusual).

He grew up to sing with his family, with his friends, and with pretty much any other ‘apapane around. They liked to sing to each other in the trees as they sought the nectar from ohi’a lehua.

Singing just made this little bird feel good. Hearing the songs of the other birds around him made him feel even better. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t forgotten. He was part of a flock, and they loved and cared for each other as they sang.

As ‘apapane go, he was an adventurous one. He would fly some distance away just to see what was there. He wanted to see new things, and discover new things, and (of course) going to a different part of the forest helped him find ohi’a that was in blossom.

The rest of the flock liked it when he’d explore, and they liked it when he came back, because he often could lead them to the next stand of trees bearing the bright red blossoms that sustained them.

One day, though, he went farther than usual. He was gone far longer than he’d been before, and while he was gone, the other ‘apapane realized they had to move on. The lehua on their stand of trees were going to seed. Making the best guess at the direction he’d taken, they set out after him.

They guessed wrong. Where he flew mauka, up the mountain, they flew makai, toward the lower slopes. They were sure he’d catch up, or they’d find him. But they didn’t.

When he made his long flight back to the ohi’a grove he’d left that morning, he found himself alone.

Sitting in the last tree with fading flowers, he felt very sorry for himself. He took a sip of the last nectar, and munched on some incautious insects, but mostly he felt alone. He opened his beak to make a sound something like a sob. It was a very sad noise.

In a moment, though, it shifted, because all his life he’d sung the ‘apapane song. His lungs and throat and beak all took that shape, purely by reflex, and he began to sing. He sang solo, no other ‘apapane replied, but in the song he realized that he still carried the ‘apapane music with him. His flock was with him, even if he had no idea where they were. They were with him in the song.

He carried on singing until he fell asleep.

The next day, he made a guess at which way the flock had flown, and they made another guess about where they might find him. They’d fly, and settle in the trees, and sing the ‘apapane tune. This time, good fortune was on the wing. He heard them first (there were more of them to hear, after all), but they soon heard his merry reply.

And so they sang once more together.

There is always something connecting us. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a feeling. Always, though, it’s love – aloha – that links even people who are very far apart. Even when it seems that we’re at our loneliest, there is always someone who loves you, and best of all, there is always God who loves us best.

The video comes from the American Bird Conservancy’s YouTube channel.

 

The Many Forms of the Land

20170727 Kamokuna entryA little boy came to his grandmother one day because he had an urgent question. He had to decide what he’d do with the rest of his life.

His grandmother thought he had plenty of time to figure this out yet, since he was only nine or ten years old, but there was no stopping him when he got going on something. So she sat with him and listened.

First, he wanted to become a race car driver, and get behind the wheel of a big and powerful car, and zoom around the track at incredible speeds, and win great big trophies beneath the waving checkered flag. Oh, how he wanted to be a race driver.

“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I’m tall enough. You have to be really tall to drive a race car, right?”

Grandmother tried to break in that he had plenty of time to grow, and she didn’t think you had to be really tall to drive a car, but he didn’t give her a moment to speak. He was off again.

This time, he wanted to be an airplane pilot. He imagined soaring high above the clouds, and seeing places far away, and looking down on the land or the ocean from his airplane above. Oh, how he wanted to be a pilot.

“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do it. To fly an airplane, you have to go really high. I don’t even like climbing ladders. I don’t think that will work.”

Grandmother tried to tell him that he might learn to be more comfortable on ladders, and she’d seen him racing along the upper levels of the playground equipment, but he didn’t give her a chance to say a word. He was off again.

Now he wanted to be an explorer. He wanted to meet new people who’d never seen other people before. He wanted to be the first to see rivers and waterfalls, and find new kinds of plants and animals. He wanted to wear a leather jacket and a big hat, and speak fifty languages to the people who marched through the wilderness with him. Oh, how he wanted to be an explorer.

“But, grandmother,” he abruptly said, “I don’t think I can do that, either. After all, I really just like to stay at home.”

Grandmother was quick, this time. She jumped in before he picked another thing he’d love to do, but for some reason could never do. I think the hug might have been what worked to help him listen rather than keep talking.

“Grandson, listen to me for a little while,” she said. “I want you to close your eyes and imagine the things I describe to you.

“Imagine the mountaintop,” she said. “You’ve been there. You’ve seen how hard and sharp the rocks are. It’s a harsh, rugged place. And that’s the land. Yes, that’s what land is.”

Going on, she said, “Now imagine the beach. On the beach, it’s soft sand. It settles beneath your foot, and it tickles your toes. You can lie down on it and it cradles you. And that’s the land, too. Yes, that’s what the land is.

“Now imagine the forest, with its soaring trees and ferns growing wildly everywhere. In some places there are rocky outcrops, and in others swamps and reeds. The trees reshape the land as time passes. And that’s the land, too. Yes, that’s what land is.

“And now, grandson, imagine the volcano. Imagine the hot, liquid rock flowing down the mountainsides. Imagine it pouring red-hot into the ocean, and imagine the way it makes new land where there was water before. And that – the liquid lava and the bursting sand, and the hardened rock of the growing shoreline, that’s the land. Yes, that’s what land is, too.

“Land is like all of that, and even more things. Land doesn’t have an imagination; it doesn’t dream of the things it can be, and yet it takes all these shapes.

“Now imagine, grandson: if land can take on so many forms without a will or purpose or imagination, what makes you think that you’re more limited than the land? You have a brain to consider all sorts of things that might be.

“And grandson, you might make any of them happen.”

The photo is of lava entering the Pacific Ocean at Kamokuna, Hawai’i, on July 27, 2017. Photo by Eric Anderson.

Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Fly

The koa’e kea (or white-tailed topic bird) lives on the cliff sides around Kilauea. Well, some of them do. Some of them lives elsewhere around the islands.

White-tailed_tropicbird by YooshauThe koa’e kea flies down to the ocean to search for fish in the tossing waves. It is a strikingly beautiful bird, with bright white feathers set off by jet black ones. Plus, it has a long, narrow tail – the tail is longer than its body! It streams out behind it in flight.

This one koa’e kea was a serious kind of bird. He wanted to be certain to take care of things that were important. That meant, first of all, keeping himself properly fed, so he was often found scanning the sea for signs of fish or squid (sorry, calamari). He did not want his energy to flag because he’d skipped a meal.

He also paid a great deal of attention to making sure he had a proper nesting place. He looked carefully for the best place, where the nest would be safe from predators (or from accidentally falling down the cliff side).

He paid attention to other important things, too. He knew the importance of friends. So he joined in the conversations and the controversies, and he was always there with a joke.

(I’m afraid I’ve never been able to properly appreciate the humor of the koa’e kea. It mostly sounds like “SQUAWK!” to me.)

He found himself puzzled by his friends, however. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, everybody would take off and start to circle around Kilauea’s summit. They’d dip and dive, and climb and soar. They weren’t hunting anything (food was four thousand feet below in the ocean), they weren’t telling jokes (since every conversation went something like, “SQUAWK!” “What did you say?”), and they certainly weren’t tending nests.

It was all rather baffling.

Worse, he seemed to be the only one who didn’t understand it. His friends did it, but so did their parents. So did their parents’ friends. So did his parents. Everybody, from time to time, would just soar about the volcano.

Everybody except him.

He asked his friends about it, but they were just vague. “Why fly about the volcano? Well, no reason, I suppose,” they’d say. He swallowed down his annoyance. And finally asked his mother.

“Son,” she said, “you’re a good son.”

He nodded his thanks.

“But sometimes I think you miss things from doing everything so seriously. Life is more than keeping fed; it’s also about enjoying the fish you caught. It’s more than having a nest; it’s also about rejoicing in the chicks you raise. It’s more than chatting with friends; it’s also about enjoying their company in silence.”

“Son,” she said, “I know you can use you wings to get from place to place. But did you ever just stretch them out and fly?”

He looked puzzled.

“Sometimes,” she told him, “you just need to fly.”

You and I, well, we don’t have hollow bones and feathered arms. We’ll have to fly in other ways. But when we do find those ways – a song to sing, or a hill to climb, or a picture to make, or a thought to think – that’s when we, too, can fly.

And I assure you that this koa’e kea: he learned to fly.

20170819 Kilauea panorama

Kilauea Summit (Photo by Eric Anderson)

Photo of white-tailed topic bird (koa’e kea) in flight by Yooshau – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18333581.

The Patient Honu

Honu swimmingThere are plenty of things to like about being a honu, a sea turtle. Just to start, there’s the joy of swimming in warm tropical waters, and of dipping down deep for the refreshing coolness, and rising to the surface again for a breath of air. Oh, yes, that’s something to like.

Swimming will also bring you down to the beds of sea grass, where you can nibble the tips from their shoots. Well, yes, I expect the honu would enjoy that more than you would, or than I would, for that matter. But we’d all enjoy doing acrobatics in the water, and when you’re ready for a rest, I know we share with the honu a huge affection for naps in the warm sun on the beach.

A young honu had done all this and more. Born on a beach on this island, he’d actually made a swim all the way around, and further, he’d taken a little expedition over to Maui. He’d seen different kinds of fish, watched seabirds float on the air, and tasted different sorts of seaweed. He’d sunned himself on white sand beaches, gray sand beaches, black sand beaches, and even a green sand beach. He rather thought he’d seen it all.

But he found one older honu rather puzzling.

He found her one day after she’d pulled herself up on a beach for a nap in the sun. The trouble was, there wasn’t any sun. It was clouds from one edge of the sky to the other. She appeared to take no notice as she lay there placidly on the beach, just as still and calm as if the sun were beaming down.

The younger one hauled himself up close to her and asked her what she was doing.

Then he asked again. And again. He had to tap her flippers once or twice to catch her attention. When this honu napped, she took her naps seriously. Finally she was awake enough to hear his question.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m napping in the sun,” she said.

He took another look about to make sure of his facts. No, he didn’t see any sun.

“But it’s cloudy,” he told her.

“I know,” she said.

“There’s no sun,” he said.

“That’s true,” she replied. “At least not now.”

“Then what…?”

“There are things in life that only come along once or twice,” she told him. “There are some kinds of fish you’ll see only once, or maybe even never, that your elders can tell you about. There are seaweeds that only grow in special places. There are friends who’ll decide to move about and you may not see them for years.”

“But there are other things,” she went on, “that come and go all the time. The kohola (humpback whale) visits in the winter, and swims away in the spring, and comes back the next year. You eat the tips of the sea grass, and they grow more. The tides roll up and roll back on the island shores.

“Sunshine is like that. It’s waiting behind those clouds. There will be sun on the beach.”

Sure enough, the clouds parted and a sunbeam glistened on the beach and on the water. Just for a moment, as it happened. And not where the two honu were talking. In fact, it disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared.

“It will be back,” the older honu sighed. “For some things — sea grass, rain, waves, tides, and sun — all you have to do is wait.”

And she laid her head back down on the sand, closed her eyes, and resumed her nap in the sun — the sun which would come as she waited.

Honu on beach

The Puzzled Nene

20170729 NeneThere was a young nene — that’s the Hawaiian goose, by the way, and did you know that it’s Hawai’i’s state bird? Good!

There was a young nene who lived on the slopes of Kilauea. Sometimes he’d be high up on the mountain, flying in search of ripe ‘ohelo or grass seeds or naupaka berries. Sometimes he’d fly makai, down to the rocky shoreline, where the other naupaka might be ripe.

It was on one of those days — when he was happily swallowing down the white ripe naupaka berries with some friends — when something unexpected appeared. A tall creature, standing easily five or six times his own height, came around a rock and stopped abruptly, standing on two legs. Three or four others appeared as well, stepping up onto rocks and coming into view.

The nene gave a small honk of greeting, but the creatures made no such understandable sound back. They did seem to be calling to each other.

They didn’t approach; in fact, they drew back some after the initial encounter. The nene found that puzzling. He was surprised that they didn’t come near.

Even more puzzling, they each produced flat rectangular objects that they held between themselves and the little group of nene. That made no sense at all to young bird, or to any of his friends. Did these creatures not want to look at them?

Most puzzling of all, after a time of box-holding, non-sensical noise-making, and back-drawing, the creatures turned on their two heels and walked away. Without eating a single naupaka berry.

To a hungry nene, that was the most puzzling thing of all.

If the nene ever learned what it was all about, I never heard about it. There were many things he didn’t know. He didn’t know that he and his friends were rather rare, and that humans had come to care about them. He didn’t know that humans aren’t supposed to approach nene, and if they do, they’re supposed to step away without troubling them. He didn’t know that humans are supposed to leave their food alone, so that the nene have enough to eat. He didn’t know any of that.

He didn’t know that there were people watching over him and his cousins, to see that they had every chance to live a good and healthy nene life.

Unlike the nene, we do know that God watches over us. We may not know precise how God is caring for us at any given moment, but we do know that God care at every single moment.

We know that God is always there.

Photo by Eric Anderson, taken with a flat rectangular object that shielded his face from the nene.

The Hungry Kohola

humpback calfShe was born in the waters that lie between Maui and the Kohala Peninsula of Hawai’i Island. At birth, she was already about twenty feet long.

Were any of you twenty feet long when you were born? No? Hm. I guess none of us are twenty feet long now, either.

She was, in fact, a whale. A humpback whale, a kohola. As she grew, she’d swim with her mother in the warm Pacific Ocean. She learned to eat the food that her mother and father and myriad cousins ate: She dive into the deeps, and open her mouth wide. As the water swirled in, it carried fish and shrimp and squid (it helps if you think of it as calamari) and tiny animals and floating plants. Then she’d close her mouth, push the water out, and sweeps everything else from her baleen plates with her tongue, and swallow.

Ah, now that’s a meal! If you’re a kohola, anyway.

But then her mother said it was time to leave Hawai’i and swim north to the Bering Sea. Away they went.

As they swam, the water got colder. The young kohola started to worry. The cool water felt fine to her, but what about the other creatures of the sea? More to the point, what about the ones she liked to eat? What if they didn’t like cold water? Would they still be there when she dove and opened her mouth wide?

What if there wasn’t any food in cold water?

But she’d follow her mother and the rest of the pod as they dove, and every time they did, they found fish and shrimp and squid (sorry, calamari) and everything else she liked to eat. They never had trouble keeping her growing belly full.

She rose to the surface to breathe, and sang, “They’re everywhere!”

Well, she was young. Fish and shrimp and squid (calamari) aren’t everywhere in the ocean, though it may seem so. What is everywhere, though, is the love of God. It always surrounds us, always feeds us, always sustains us, even when we don’t know.

The love of God is everywhere. You’ve nothing to worry about there.

The image of a kohola mother and calf was taken in the waters off Maui, and comes from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration collection. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79963