Story: The ‘Apapane that Didn’t Learn to Sing

July 17, 2022

Amos 8:1-12
Luke 10:38-42

The ‘apapane are known for their cheerful songs. Walk around in the ohi’a forests of Hawai’i Island and you will hear them. They produce all kinds of sounds, combining them together into a range of calls and melodies that make the forest ring.

But there was one ‘apapane that never learned to sing, and it happened in this way.

As young human beings, you learn a lot of things in schools, right? It’s somewhat the same for many kinds of fish, of course. A lot of them spend nearly their entire lifetime in schools, so they’re probably the best educated of the world’s creatures, don’t you think?

The ‘apapane don’t have schools. They have flocks, of course, and they have families. They learn to sing in choruses.

The year’s fledgling singers came together with one of the senior singers to form a new ‘apapane chorus and learn the basic melodies and sounds of ‘apapane song. They were excited and they were enthusiastic. Many of them had learned things from their parents and older family members, and they wanted to sing more and better and louder songs.

One ‘apapane turned up with so much eagerness that it just went running over. “Aren’t you excited?” he asked his fellow youngsters. “I’m really excited. What do you think they’ll teach us?”

The ‘apapane he asked opened her beak to answer the question, but he went right on to say something else to another bird that had just joined them. “I think singing is just the best part of being an ‘apapane. It’s like flying, but with your voice. Don’t you think so?”

The new ‘apapane started to reply, but before he got out a peep the excited ‘apapane had turned back to the first bird and continued, “I’m really looking forward to those really high sweeping calls. You know the ones? I’m sure you do. Do you think the instructor will know them? How could she not? Do you know who she is? Has she arrived yet?”

And it went on.

The instructor turned up and, for a moment, there was silence as she spoke to the new choristers. “Welcome, friends,” she said. “We’re here to learn the art of ‘apapane music. I hope you’ll all enjoy this. Let’s start with…”

“Oh, I will definitely enjoy this!” piped up our eager fledgling. “And so will he. And her. And that one over there. Are you going to teach us with the Kilauea method or do you use the Maui variant? Are there any specialty classes? How about song composition? And what about…?”

And it went on.

The instructor and the other students waited for a while to see if he would stop on his own. And… he didn’t. He just went on. Eventually the chorus teacher shrugged her feathers and went on to demonstrate some basic calls, and then some trills, and then some melodies. As the chorus grew in strength and confidence, there was this constant undercurrent of… well.

“I’ve been really interested in flycatching technique, you know? Sometimes that can improve the voice, right? And the different nectars produce different songs, I’m sure. I’d volunteer for that experiment. But really it’s the classic songs that impress me. Do they impress you? Of course they do, you’re here to teach them. Which one will you start with? I think it would be the Pali song, but perhaps you like the rising notes of the Pu’u Trill.”

And it went on. He never stopped. As a result, he never actually learned to sing.

Now, I know that not everyone is always interested in learning new things. I know that not everyone gets excited about learning to sing, or fly, or skip, or cook, or do any one of the many things that make up our lives. But there is something to learn from the ‘apapane that never learned to sing. The first step in learning is to stop talking for a moment and listen.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story as told is different from the story as written. You’ll probably notice that if you listen.

Photo of an ‘apapane – one who learned to sing, as much as we can tell – by Eric Anderson.

Story: How the ‘Akepa Began to Sip Nectar

July 3, 2022

Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

If you’re not familiar with the ‘akepa, they are another of the small birds who live in the ohi’a forest. The males are a vivid orange or orange-red with black feathers on the edge of their wings. The females’ feathers are gray-green, rather close in color to ohi’a leaves. Mostly they eat bugs. And spiders. And caterpillars, which are the early stage of, well, bugs.

They eat a lot of bugs.

From time to time, though, they eat a little bit of ohi’a nectar. The i’iwi sip nectar nearly all of the time. The ‘apapane mostly sip nectar but will also eat some bugs. The ‘amakihi like to mix up their meals, some nectar here, some bugs there, some fruit in some other places. And the ‘akepa… eat bugs.

They eat a lot of bugs.

But they do sip a bit of nectar from time to time, and this is how that came about. The first known sip was an accident. A bright orange ‘akepa was hopping about the tree, poking his beak into clusters of leaves, searching for those tasty little bugs and spiders. A somewhat careless poke with his beak came back with nectar, not a bug.

It was a revelation. It wasn’t a bug – wouldn’t make a meal – but it would be a tasty snack every once in a while.

He decided he needed to share the news with the other ‘akepa. He found the little flock he flew with picking over another tree and shouted, “Hey, idiots! Try sipping the nectar!”

To a bird, they gave him a look that said, “Who are you calling an idiot?” and went back to chasing bugs.

“Are you stupid? Try the nectar!” They ignored him.

He kept this up for quite some time, getting more and more insulting until sunset put an end to his harangue. All the ‘akepa in the little flock went to sleep pretty irritated, in his case with them, and their case with him.

In the morning, before he could get started, one of his friends, a young female, flew over to him. “Are you going to call us idiots all day?” she asked.

“But you are!” he said.

“No, we’re not,” she said. “What we are is insulted. Now if you’ve found something interesting, we might consider it, but not as long as you treat us badly.”

He opened his beak to yell, but something in her look told him that he shouldn’t. He closed his beak. He opened it. He closed it. He sighed.

Then he dipped his beak into a nearby ohi’a blossom and gave it a good, deep sip.

“You might want to try this,” he said. “It’s different. And pretty good.”

She looked at him. He dipped his beak again.

“You’re not playing games with us?”

“No. I’m not.”

After she tried it, other ‘akepa tried it, too. Mostly, Ihave to say, they preferred bugs, and they do to this day. But also to this day, no ‘akepa has liked being called an idiot, and I guess that’s true of a lot of creatures in this world.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story was told live from memory of this manuscript – with all the improvisations and omissions that suggests.

Photo of an ‘akepa by Melissa McMasters from Memphis, TN, United States – Hawaii akepa, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74469703.

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63637092.