The lone plumeria blossom on our tree just fell to the ground. A few stalwart stalks of ginger bear weary blooms in our backyard. Our neighbor's avocado trees stand barren of fruit. On a return flight from Big Island last week, when the flight attendant closed the plane's door, I spotted numerous vacant seats throughout the cabin.
Early November is not known for being a busy time in Hawai'i. It's like the pause between the in-breath and out-breath. That time right before the holidays when craft fairs, parties and concerts vie for spots on my calendar and when vacationers enjoy some time off from their hectic lives.
And yet, for me, early November is one of the most exciting times in Hawai'i and that just might be the best-kept Hawaiian vacation secret around.
Last Friday, at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge for my weekly volunteer gig, I spied my first nene goslings of the season. The two balls of grey fluff scurried after their mother as the threesome grazed for food. The father guarded the little family’s every move—protecting them from predators like me—as if he was the lone savior of this endangered species. (If you see a nene drop its head low to the ground, step back. Male nene are quite protective of their mates, young and nests during this season and will attack.)
As I spoke to visitors, answering their questions about the seabirds, the historic Kilauea Lighthouse and how I ended up on Kaua’i (I get asked that last question often), my eyes kept lifting skyward. Any day now—any second, actually—the first Laysan albatross will arrive from parts unknown to breed and raise a chick. Last year, females laid close to 100 large eggs in their ground nests. We volunteers take bets on the day and hour the first albatross will appear. (The winner receives a pint of Lappert’s Ice Cream.)
And when asked, “When do the humpbacks arrive,” I lifted my binoculars and scanned the watery horizon for the 45-ton marine mammals. “Soon,” I said. “Soon.” (They have already been spotted off Maui and further west along Kaua’i’s Napali Coast.)
All the while, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal snoozed on the rocks 150-feet below us, while at our feet, several wedge-tailed shearwater chicks emerged from their burrow nests to test their wings. The trade winds whipped around us, and I whispered, “It’s a good day to fledge.” None did. At least, that I witnessed.
There is always something happening at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge—especially in early November.
Back in 1984, when Kilauea Point Lighthouse was decommissioned, the 31 acres surrounding the historic structure—known as the northernmost point in the Main Hawaiian Islands—switched hands from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and in 1985, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was created. Since then, the refuge has grown to 203 acres, thanks to some insightful people, include Kilauea resident Gary Smith.
On days like last Friday, when I don’t know whether to look up in the sky for feathered friends or across the horizon for winged marine mammals or far below at the sleeping endangered seal, I am most grateful for public lands—protected places with rich wildlife and historical, scenic and archaeological significance.
Earlier this week, an article ran in The Garden Island newspaper about the 20th anniversary of the Kaua’i Public Land Trust, a non-profit conservation organization. The group is working with the County of Kaua’i to purchase a parcel of land in Hanalei to expand popular Black Pot Park. KPLT also helped the landowner of Kilauea Falls on the north shore enter into a conservation easement to protect the scenic land from future development. Another effort will acquire 20 acres of beach-front land near the mouth of the Kilauea Stream. All this, according to KPLT’s website to “preserve Kaua’i’s places of the heart.” The main idea is to preserve open and public lands for future generations.
I say, “Thank you.”
When I left the refuge last Friday, I had not spotted any whales, I had not watched any albatrosses land on the hill, I did not witness any wedge-tailed shearwater chicks fledge. Not yet. But, oh, the excitement of the possibility. And in November, no less.
As I left the refuge, my phone beeped. It was an email from my friend Susan, “Want to hike Sleeping Giant tomorrow morning?” she wrote. What’s “Sleeping Giant,” you ask? It’s a mountain behind the town of Kapa’a on Kaua’i’s east side sporting a popular hiking trail. And it, too, is public land.