Surrounded by Air

May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9-15
John 5:1-9

by Eric Anderson

The young noio was confused.

The world was, let’s face it, a fairly confusing place, especially there on the ocean-fronted cliffs of Kamokuna. There’s a lot of wind down there, and that plays with your mind. There’s a lot of noise from the waves breaking against the cliffs, and that’s just distracting. And in addition to the things he felt most of the time – the warmth of his parents’ feathers, the ruffling of his own feathers in the wind, the warm sun of day and the coolness of night – there was the occasional spatter of wind-driven spray.

All that would confuse anyone.

His nest gave him a great view of his world. Perched on a rocky shelf, he could see far off into he distance where the ocean stretched away. He could see the other noio skimming the water’s surface and dipping their beaks in and sometimes diving in briefly before taking off again. As day began the other birds of the colony would take off and begin their fishing above the ocean. As day closed they’d fly back, landing at their nests and bringing food to their young – like him.

What confused him was… flying.

It didn’t frighten him, the way it did some other birds in some other stories I’ve told before. It confused him. He didn’t understand how it could work. He could clearly see that it did, but as far as he was concerned it simply shouldn’t work. How could gravity be so much a force here at the nest and stop being one when a noio had left it? How could his wings flap against nothing and accomplish something? What invisible thing were the other noio grasping – and wings can’t actually grab hold of anything – to change direction like that?

It was terribly confusing.

I don’t really know why he didn’t ask anyone about it. His parents were kind and caring, his grandparents wise and intelligent, all good qualities for someone looking for a good person to answer questions. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask his friends in neighboring nests, and he didn’t ask their parents, either. Maybe he was just trying to work it out himself. I don’t know.

So when the day came to take his first flight, with his parents and grandparents and friends and their families all watching in anxious pride, he was anxious, too. Could he do something he didn’t understand? Was that the magic to flight? But he stretched out his wings, did a hop or two, and the next thing he knew he was off the ledge and moving.

Somehow there was a substance to the nothing he couldn’t see beneath his wings. He could use his wings to shape it and push off from it, and there would be more when his wings came forward again. A subtle adjustment meant a turn. A greater adjustment made a tighter turn.

And since noio are members of the tern family of birds, turn about is fair play.

He flew back to the home ledge and successfully landed with a bit of a flurry of wings and feathers for that first attempt.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“You don’t understand what?” asked his father.

“I don’t understand how it works. I can see rock. I can see water. But I can’t see what I’ve been flying on.”

“It’s air,” said his mother, “the same air you breathe, the same air in the wind. No, you can’t see it, but it’s there, always there, and it will carry you anywhere you want to go.”

Watch the Recorded Story

This story is not told from the manuscript above, but from a memory of its composition.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Explain Yourself

May 15, 2022

Psalm 148
Acts 11:1-18

The mālolo is known in English as the flying fish. They don’t really fly, although I must admit that they fly better than, say, I do. They can get themselves moving through the water at near forty miles an hour, which is faster than you should be driving through the streets of Hilo. Then they spread their forward fins and glide above the water. They can stay in the air for about a quarter of a mile, which is about the distance across Liliuokalani Gardens.

I know I can’t stay in the air that far.

The mālolo didn’t always fly that far, or fly at all, however. They swam like fish do, and they swam in big groups, or schools, and they could swim really fast. That allowed them to get from one source of food to the next, and it also allowed them to swim away from fish that wanted to make them into food.

But there was a day when swimming fast just didn’t seem like it would be enough. Some great big ‘ahi had found a school of mālolo, and they were very hungry great big ‘ahi. Soon the school was scattered as the big fish charged through it.

One mālolo found himself pursued by an ‘ahi who was not only big and hungry but also very fast. The mālolo churned his tail and paddled his fore fins and he could feel the ‘ahi’s teeth getting closer and closer. A panicked curve of his fins brought him closer to the surface. The next thing he knew, he’d actually come right out of the water into the air and splashed down again. It confused the ‘ahi for a moment, so the mālolo put on as much speed as he could and spread his forward fins to curve him toward the surface.

This time when he emerged above the water he started to glide along with air streaming beneath those great fins. He held them stiff and kept on above the ocean surface, hoping the ‘ahi wasn’t following right beneath him. He stayed there as long as he could before he slowed and slid into the water once more.

The ‘ahi had turned aside. Perhaps it hadn’t seen him above the surface. Perhaps it had just thought he made a sharp turn in its confusion. It didn’t matter. It went elsewhere.

The mālolo went looking for his friends and family. The school was re-gathering. Some of them weren’t happy.

“What did you do?” they demanded. “Did you go above the water?”

“Well, yes,” he said. “I didn’t mean to.”

“We don’t go above the water,” some of them said. “We’ll die.”

“With the ‘ahi right behind me, I’d have died if I stayed in the water,” said the mālolo.

“How do you explain yourself?” the asked in the cold tones of judgement.

“I really can’t explain it,” said the mālolo, “except to say that it worked.”

I can’t say that the other mālolo took up gliding right away. They didn’t. Some of that generation never did. Others tried it but didn’t do it very well, and they ended up back in the water right in front of hungry predators. But each season more and more mālolo took up that glide through the air, for no other reason than… it worked.

Watch the Recorded Story

Photo of a mālolo by Mike Prince from Bangalore, India – Flying Fish, CC BY 2.0,

I Don’t Want to Try

May 8, 2022

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

by Eric Anderson

It was coming up to graduation day in the i’iwi school – why, yes, i’iwi go to school. They learn to fly from the nest, but there’s advanced flying techniques to learn, and flower identification, and how not to be where the i’o is hunting. These things are important.

One i’iwi was not looking forward to the final test. She was quite good in most subjects. She was a strong flyer. She knew the flowers of the ohi’a forest like the back of her… wing. She had learned to find sheltered places in the trees when hungry i’o were near. But… there was one thing she had not mastered.

She didn’t eat upside down.

That’s one of the things that i’iwi frequently do. They get to a flower, particularly those like the ‘opelu or ‘oha wai, flowers which sort of point downward from their stems, and they swing upside down so they can push their curved beak into the flower from below. They sip the nectar, swing back up again, and push off to the next flower. It’s a pretty basic way for i’iwi to eat.

For whatever reason, this young i’iwi found the whole idea incomprehensible. “I’ll get a headache,” she said. “I never have,” said her teacher. “I’ll miss the flower opening with my beak,” she said. “There’s always a second time to try,” said the teacher. “I’ll lose my grip,” she said. “That’s not likely,” said the teacher, “and besides, you can fly.”

“I’ll just sip ohi’a,” she said. “You can do that,” sighed her teacher, “but ‘oha wai is pretty tasty. And you won’t graduate from i’iwi school.”

She just set her wings and looked cross.

A little later, she watched her best friend sip from an ‘ohelu flower – upside down – and asked, “How can you do that?”

“It’s not hard,” said her friend. “How can you not?”

“I’ve tried enough new things,” she said. “I don’t want to try any new ones.”

“OK,” said her friend. “I guess you can live the rest of your life without trying anything new. I can’t imagine that will go well for you.”

She thought about it as her friend flitted from flower to flower, sipping the ‘ohelu nectar.

“All right,” she said. “I don’t want to try. I don’t really think I can do it or that it will be good. But I can’t live the rest of my life without trying new things. So I’ll try this one, too.”

She hopped onto a flowering stem, let herself swing upside down with a shudder, and poked her beak into the blossom. A moment later she’d hopped to another stem with another flower and did it all over again.

“Not so bad?” asked her friend.

“I guess I can try a few more new things,” she said. And she did.

Watch the Recorded Story

The photo is of an i’iwi sipping from a mamane flower. National Park Service photo. Public Domain.

The Time to Be Brave

May 1, 2022

Acts 9:1-20
John 21:1-19

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.

I’ll Catch Up

“…They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.” – Luke 5:6b

“When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” – Luke 5:11

“What the…? The net is full of fish!”

“How can it be? We fished all night.”

We both avoided looking at the Teacher/Healer sitting in the boat. He’d probably be smiling. We knew that he’d be smiling. He’d probably start laughing if we saw his face.

“Clap on that line and heave!

“I’m heaving, Simon! But we’re dragging the gunwale under!”

“We’ve got to get the fish into the boat!”

“Do we need to bring the water in as well?”

Oh, now he’s laughing. He’s ankle-deep in water and he’s laughing.

“James! John! Come help!”

“Are you crazy, Simon? They’ll laugh, too.”

“They can do all the laughing they like as long as they take some of the weight.”

They laughed, for sure, but they ran their boat into the water fast, and pulled like racers to our swamping craft.

“Hold on!”

“I’m holding! It’s not helping!”

They came alongside. The Teacher, laughing, tossed a line to them from the overflowing net.

“Haul away!”

“We’re hauling, Simon!”

“We’re hauling ourselves into the lake!”

We paused, panting, and considered our predicament. We hadn’t raised a single fish above the gunwale. Instead, the fish had hauled our gunwales down into the the waves. The water chuckled back and forth from stem to stern.

“James, take hold. John, take the oars. We’ll row back to the shore and deal with the net and the fish there.”

“Got it, Simon!”

“Andrew, row!”

I rowed. The Teacher’s mirth subsided, mercifully. James and John giggled between gasps. Simon’s arms could have been carved of stone. He might have modeled for a Greek sculptor interested in those ligaments and veins. I rowed, and each stroke carried us a fraction of what it should, dragged back by that overflowing catch of fish.

The net caught first, its bottom still beneath the keels. The boats grounded further out than we had liked, semi-swamped as they were. Simon shouted directions I can’t remember to roll the net’s silvery burden toward the shore. Eventually, the net and its wriggling contents rested on solid ground, except for those fish that had flung themselves back into the waves, where we, exhausted, let them go.

“Fear not,” the Teacher said. “I’ve got some other fishing for you to do.”

Simon, James, and John in bafflement stepped toward him. But… someone had to deal with all the fish, and clean the nets, and bail the boats.

“Go on. I’ll tend to this. Don’t worry.

“I’ll catch up.”

A story based on Luke 5:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany. 

The image is The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Joachim Beuckelaer (1563) – Own work, Public Domain,

The ‘Apapane’s Own Song


This morning’s story is about a bird, and I imagine that you can guess which one. What bird do you think it is?

[Chorus of “‘Apapane!”]

That’s right. This story is about an ‘apapane. I don’t know why I like these birds so much – it wasn’t the first bird I saw after I moved to Hawai’i – but I know I like them a lot.

When she was first hatched, this ‘apapane didn’t sing. Neither did her brother or sister. In fact, they made a squawking noise to show that they were hungry, kind of like this: [Pastor makes squawking noise. One of the children makes a squawking noise in response.]

Mother? I think somebody’s hungry.

As they grew older, though, even when her brother and sister started to sing, she didn’t. She remained silent as their song echoed through the forest. Her brother and sister encouraged her to sing, and her mother and father encouraged her to sing, and all her aunties and her uncles encouraged her to sing, and she just wouldn’t do it.

She just wouldn’t sing.

Everybody was concerned, so they went to the grandmother – Tutu ‘Apapane – because that’s who you go to when there’s trouble, isn’t it? “Tutu,” they cried, “you must help. Our little one won’t sing!”

Tutu cocked her head to one side, and gazed thoughtfully at the sky through the branches. Then she said:

“Her song is her song to sing, or not to sing. It is her song, and she may sing it when or how she wishes.”

With that answer they had to be content.

To everyone’s surprise, one morning a new voice rang out through the ohi’a trees. She was singing with all her heart and soul.

What she sang, though, was as surprising as the fact she was singing at all. It was a new song. It didn’t sound like the ‘apapane song they all sang. It didn’t sound like the i’iwi song, or the ‘amakihi song, or the ‘omao song, or any other bird they could remember hearing.

They tried to get her to sing the ‘apapane song, but the only sound that rose from her beak was the new song, the one she sang alone.

They were all concerned – her brother and sister, her mother and father, her aunties and uncles – so they went to Tutu ‘Apapane and said, “Tutu, you must help. Our little one is singing, but she is singing the wrong song!”

Tutu cocked her head to one side, and gazed thoughtfully at the sky through the branches. Then she said:

“Her song is her song to sing, or not to sing. It is her song, and she may sing it when or how she wishes.”

With that answer they had to be content.

As time went on, her song became, well, rather popular. Other ‘apapane started to sing it when they thought nobody else could hear. A few of them caught themselves singing in harmony. Sometimes they tried a little counterpoint with her song. Before anybody was quite aware of it, the forest rang with variations on the new song. Despite themselves, the flock grew very pleased.

Until the day she stopped singing.

“Oh, no!” they cried. “We love your song. Sing it with us! Lead us!” But she remained silent.

They were all concerned – her brother and sister, her mother and father, her aunties and uncles – so they went to Tutu ‘Apapane and said, “Tutu, you must help. Our little one has stopped singing!”

Tutu cocked her head to one side, and gazed thoughtfully at the sky through the branches. Then she said:

“Her song is her song to sing, or not to sing. It is her song, and she may sing it when or how she wishes.”

With that answer they had to be content.

It seemed like a long time, but it probably wasn’t so long before a new song echoed through the ohi’a grove. She was singing again, and she had a brand new tune.

Fortunately, the flock had learned Tutu ‘Apapane’s wisdom. They rejoiced in her new song, and they didn’t worry. They sang along – with their classic ‘apapane song, and with her previous melody, and with variations on her new creation. They didn’t even worry when she broke into silence once more. They just waited to see when and how the next notes would fly.

We each have our own song. For some, it might be a song. For some, it might be something you make, or think, or do. There is something unique and special that is your song to sing, your story to tell, your wonder to create.

And that is yours. You choose when to share it, and how. Nobody else can tell you, except if it is causing trouble for others.

I am not telling you that it’s all right to make lots of crayon marks on the wall, OK?

I am telling you that your special creation is yours to share when you feel it’s ready, and as you feel you want to share it. It is your song, and you may sing it when and how you wish.

Photo by Eric Anderson. It has been digitally enhanced to bring out the ‘apapane colors.

To Win or to Play

Green Die by Steve JohnsonA group of friends really loved playing a game.

I’m not going to use the name of the game here, but you’ve probably seen it and you’ve probably played it. It’s the one where you’ve got these pieces that move around an outside track, and then they go up toward the center of the board, and when you’ve got all your pieces there you’re the winner. You roll dice to see how far your pieces can move, and sometimes you can make your opponents (or they can make you) send pieces back to the beginning.

These friends loved to play this game. But one of them, I’m afraid, was something of a cheat.

He wasn’t a bad person most of the time. He shared his cookies with his friends, and he’d help them out when they were struggling to climb something. He didn’t call people names, and he did his homework with minimal reminders from his parents.

But he did like to win.

While the group was learning the game, he would play merrily along until it started to look bad for him. A few times, he stuck it out until the game was over, but at other times, he’d walk away. A couple of times, he jogged the table enough to displace all the pieces.

That didn’t go over well with his friends.

Since he still wanted to be with them, and he still wanted to play, he had to find some other way to be there. Some way to make sure he ended up winning.

That meant cheating.

He learned how to miscount his moves so that he could land on the “safe” spaces. He’d miscount other players’ moves so that they wouldn’t land on his pieces and send them back. He’d even try moving pieces while the others weren’t looking.

Sometimes he’d get away with it, but mostly he did get caught. They’d make him do it right. But that was nearly as dreary a way to play a game as with someone who’d give up when things looked bad.

Finally, one of them said, “Look. I know you want to win. I know you really don’t want to lose. Here’s the news flash for you:

“None of us wants to lose.

“More than winning, though, what we want to do is play the game. Just play the game. Winning is better, and losing is worse, but what we want to do is play the game.

“And if we’re going to play the game together, we’re going to have to play by the same rules. That’s what makes it a game, and not a fight.”

Well, he settled down. He had a few relapses, but fewer and fewer as time went on.

Because he really did want to play.

Photo by Steve Johnson, used by permission under Creative Commons license.

I’iwi Rules

'I'iwi_at_Hosmer_Grove,_Haleakala,_Maui,_Hawaii_4There was an i’iwi who was brave and creative and spirited. If she was a marcher, she’d have marched to the beat of her own drummer – and changed drummers at least four times along the course of the parade. The chances are good that only one of those five drummers would have been audible to any other marcher.

She was not a marcher, however, and had no intention of becoming one (since i’iwi never seriously consider marching at all). She was determined, however, to push the boundaries every chance she got.

It started when she realized that her long curved bill could be inserted into an ohi’a blossom from above as well as below. It worked as well from either side. She experimented with all sorts of perches, and all sorts of grips. Some worked better than others, but she never gave up trying something else.


If she could eat upside down, she reasoned, certainly she could fly upside down. Right?

This, it turned out, did not go well at all. Her body, which probably had more sense than her head at that moment, resisted even trying to fly upside down. She would flip over, and her wings would curl just a little more and complete the roll so that she was rightside up again. She tried left, and she tried right, and she went rolling through the sky.

With enough determination, though, she got her wings to stop making that extra curl – or make a reverse curl (she wasn’t sure) – and there she was, belly-up to the sky. And…


She flipped hastily over before she hit the ground.

A few more tries brought much the same result. An i’iwi’s wings don’t provide a lot of lift upside down.

“Well,” she thought, “how about if I try something else?” She gained some altitude, settled into a rhythm, and then tucked one wing onto her back. And then she was rolling and spiraling downward, head spinning, and only her body’s instinct to re-open her folded wing saved her from a nasty crash.

Several near-misses later, she flew wearily to a tree where her grandmother had been watching. She settled down on the branch to catch her breath.

“What,” asked her grandmother, “were you doing?”

“Trying different ways to fly,” she replied between gasps of air.

“Upside down?”

“I can eat upside down.”

“On just one wing?”

She shrugged. “I’m sure I can make it work.”

Her grandmother looked long and lovingly at her, and said, “If any i’iwi could do it, I’m sure you could, Granddaughter. But I’m afraid there are some basic rules to flight – not rules of what’s allowed, but rules of what’s possible. And one of them is that you’ve got to use two wings to fly.”

An i’iwi could explain the physics of it, I’m sure, better than I can. What I can tell you is that the grandmother gave her granddaughter enough of an explanation that her failures to fly on one wing started to make a lot of sense. It’s one of the rules that i’iwi live by.

For many centuries now, people have had a set of rules that make life better for us. We call them the Ten Commandments. They’re not laws of physics, but they do tell us how we can live well with each other and with God. If we don’t give our worship or give our resources to powers which aren’t God, we’ll do well. If we don’t break promises made in God’s name, we’ll do well. If we give time to God, we’ll do well. If we treat our parents respectfully, we’ll do well. If we don’t hurt one another, or steal from one another, or lie to one another, or break our relationships, or pay more attention to each other’s stuff than to themselves, we’ll do well.

Those are as basic to us as two wings are to the i’iwi. With those rules, we’ve got every chance to fly.

Photo by Kanalu Chock  – originally posted to Flickr as ‘I’iwi at Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Big Brother

Cookies by ZingyyellowThis story is about a little boy who had a younger sister. Do any of you have a younger brother or sister?

[Pastor, of course, knows perfectly well that some of these children have younger brothers or sisters. He had to suggest that elbowing little sister was not strictly necessary for the story.]

Well, when the little sister came along, he was terribly excited. She was a brand new addition to the family. She was smaller than he was, which was a new experience for him, and she was pretty adorable, after all. It was wonderful to have the new baby in the house.

Fairly soon, though, he wondered if she was going to be quite as wonderful as he’d hoped. She didn’t seem to do much, you see. In fact, all she seemed to do was eat, sleep, and cry. Sometimes it seemed that all she ever did was cry.

She’d cry when she was hungry. She’d cry when she wanted a snuggle. She’d cry when she was tired. And for heaven’s sake, she couldn’t even use the potty, and she’d cry when things were messy.

I mean, this was kind of hard to deal with, after all.

He was pretty observant, though, and he noticed something about all this crying. It worked. She’d cry, and she’d get fed. She’d cry, and somebody would pick her up. She’d cry, and she got put down to sleep. She’d cry, and somebody would take her off to get her cleaned up.

That was impressive. He didn’t get what he wanted as easily as all that.

So he decided he’d give her technique a try.

As it happened, he wanted a cookie. So he stood in the kitchen, and he started to cry. With any luck, he’d have a cookie before very long.

At the beginning, it looked like it was going to work. Mom came right away, and she asked him, “Why are you crying? What’s wrong? What do you want?”

His sister, however, never answered questions like these, no matter how many times she was asked. In fact, the adults usually answered them themselves: “Are you hungry? Oh, yes, you are!” without even giving his sister a moment to reply. So he didn’t answer, either.

He just kept crying. And the more his mother didn’t guess he wanted a cookie, the more frustrated his crying got.

I’m afraid this part of the story goes on for a while. Does anybody want to fill in with some crying?

The adults shook their heads, but one of the older brothers chimed in with, “Wah, wah, wah!”

Well, he finally stopped crying. By that time he was in his mother’s arms, snuggled on her lap, with his tears drying on her shoulder. He finally decided to answer the question she asked gently once again:

“What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

“Well,” he sniffled, “I want a cookie.”

His mother was baffled.

“Why didn’t you ask for one? Why did you start crying about it?” she asked.

“Well, my sister just cries. She cries, and she gets what she wants.”

“Oh, son,” said he mother. “She gets what she wants because, being a baby, she doesn’t need very many things. She needs to be fed, and held, and cleaned, so we don’t have too many things to guess at before we find the right one.

“You want many more things than that.”

He had to admit that this was true. His sister never seemed to want a cookie, after all. It was rather nice of her, in fact, to leave them all for him.

“Also, your sister doesn’t know how to talk yet. She has to learn.”

This was news to her big brother. He thought she could talk just fine; she just never did.

“She’ll learn to ask for things. It will take some time, but she will. You did, after all.”

“I did?”

His mother beamed at him. “Yes, you did. And you do it very well. At least, until just now. And I think it works much better for you than just crying. So you might try asking once again.”

Asking. Oh, yes. What was he asking for?

“Can I have a cookie?”

And now, what do you think his mother said?

The young people let out an immediate and unanimous chorus of, “She said ‘No!'”

Oh, my. Don’t you folks like happy endings?

Well, I like happy endings. And since this story didn’t happen just before supper time, mother was able to look at her son and say…


Photo by Zingyyellow. Used by permission under Creative Commons license.

The Manu-o-Ku Sisters

Incubating_white_ternToday’s story is about a bird – and no, I’m not going to ask you to guess which one. Today, the heroines of our story are a seabird called a manu-o-Ku. In English, it’s called a white tern, and I would think you can guess what color most of its feathers are.

That’s right. They’re bright white.

Like a lot of seabirds who catch fish and squid – er, calamari – the manu-o-Ku spends a lot of its flying time circling around and looking down at the sea. Since it flies straight so seldom, that’s why it’s called a “turn.”

[The congregation responded with not-so-muffled groans.]

This, incidentally, is why most people prefer that I use the Hawaiian names for creatures in my stories. I can’t pun in Hawaiian.

Well, there are three manu-o-Ku in this story, and the three of them were sisters. They were all grown up, each had a husband, and each would set out to lay a new egg and add a new chick to the family each year.

Manu-o-Ku are somewhat unusual among birds. They don’t build a nest for their eggs at all. They find a depression in the ground, or among rocks, or on a branch, and they lay a single egg in it. Both father and mother take terns (terns, get? take terns) keeping the egg warm.

These three sisters, however, had different ideas about where to lay their eggs.

The first sister was the one who wanted to get things over and done with. She would find a spot on the ground with only the barest hint of a depression, and it didn’t matter to her if there was a slope. In fact, when she and her husband would trade places, they’d sometimes have to hold the egg in place with their webbed feet.

There were seasons when the two of them went scrambling after a rolling egg and gently coaxed it back into place.

The second sister was the perfectionist. She looked high and low (literally, on the ground and in the trees) for the perfect spot for her egg. If the depression was a little to big, she moved on. If it was a little too small, she moved on. If there was anything even the tiniest bit out of place, she moved on.

She was always the last to choose her place and lay her egg, and she drove her sisters, her husband, and the rest of the family nearly frantic with worry that she’d wait too long and lay her egg in mid-air!

The last of the three manu-o-Ku sisters was careful, but not compulsive. She was decisive, but not slipshod. Her egg might rock in its depression, but it would not roll away. She turned away from plenty of potential sites that could put her egg at risk, but she found a good one in plenty of time.

There’s a difference between being careless and being too picky. It’s important to see that we meet our real needs, whether that be for food or water or shelter or, of course, a safe place to lay an egg. It can be nearly as big a problem, however, to require perfection for our needs, or confuse what we want with what we need.

We might find ourselves laying an egg in mid-air. So to speak.

Photo by Duncan Wright – USFWS Hawaiian Islands NWR, Public Domain,