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My Earth Day Celebration

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Apr 26, 2013

Hawaii is nature and nature is Hawaii. You've got your turquoise blue ocean with beaches of black, green and red sand. You've got your green mountains striated with hiking trails. Your rivers and streams ripe for kayaking explorations. Waterfalls. Botanical gardens. Nature preserves, wildlife refuges and national parks. 

With so many choices in which to spend Earth Day, how was it that on Monday, April 22, I found myself sitting in an air conditioned office building with fluorescent lights making my eyes burn?

I pondered this thought all week, even going so far as to post Earthy-related things on the OutriggerHawaii Facebook wall. "Mahalo Mother Nature," I wrote. And I noted all the other Earth-friendly activities that I missed--beach clean-ups, tree plantings, saying no to plastic and yes to bicycles for transportation.

When I played the word EARTH in game of Words with Friends, I knew it was time to stop thinking and start doing.

So, this afternoon, with no hint of rain in the sky to dissuade me, I headed north for Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. There weren't any organized events going on to celebrate Earth Day, per se. But there would be several hundred visitors walking the grounds, enjoying the views and--most importantly--in need of an education.

They just didn't know it yet.

I've been known to say, "When I get through with them, they'll be hugging trees and kissing the ground."

My point is that I can get a little passionate about the amazing and awesome ways of the natural world. And this time of year, our wildlife at Kilauea Point makes it easy for me. In fact, it's almost a well-timed performance, complete with practiced entrances and exits and, believe it or not, perfectly executed lines.

"What are those flowers?" a visitor asked, pointing across the cove to a cliffside covered in ironwood trees and dotted with white.

"Those aren't flowers," I said. "They're red-footed boobies, our only seabird that nests in trees here at the refuge." Red-footed boobies are primarily white, with black trim on their wings and, of course, their striking feet, for which they get their name. "Their feet are the color of a stop sign, and they wrap them around their eggs to incubate."

We stood on the edge of the peninsula that makes up Kilauea Point, where the nearly 100-year-old lighthouse stands. Naupaka bushes lined the steep slope to the sea. Beneath the bushes, in ground burrows that may extend four or five feet, another seabird nests. They have an unusual courtship call.

I can always tell by a visitor's face when they are working up the courage to ask me what they think is a silly question. I watched as a couple leaned over the fence. I watched as the woman bent down to ground level and peered through the naupaka. They looked at each other with concern, and I waited for one of them to turn to me. When he did, I said, "Wedge-tailed shearwaters."

"Is it O.K.?" she asked.

The call of a wedge-tailed shearwater cannot be described as a song.

"It sounds like someone's moaning in pain," he said.

Wedge-tailed shearwater are crepuscular in nature. They come and go at dawn and dusk. Later, after the refuge closes, when hundreds of wedge-tailed shearwaters return to their ground burrows to meet up and take care of the business of making new wedge-tailed shearwaters, the call will intensify. It will sound like a giant nursery of bawling babies. Or dozens of cats in an epic battle for survival.

Just then a rather large bird with a six-foot wingspan buzzed the point, so close it felt like we could reach out and touch it.

"Is that..."

"A Laysan albatross," I said. They have white bodies with brown-grey wings. They don't fly; they soar. They are the hang gliders of seabirds. "They'll fly clear to the Aleutian Islands, a couple thousands miles away, for a meal. Then, return here to feed it to their chick."  

In the span of, perhaps, sixty seconds, this couple had added three new birds to their life list. In the next second, they added a fourth.

In the past year-and-a-half, the historic lighthouse has been encircled by a temporary fence, as workers completed the renovation on the concrete tower that was, when it was built, made with pioneering construction material--reinforced steel. During this renovation time, our resident nene, the Hawaiian goose, figured it was a safe place to graze without being chased by toddlers or having to pose for keepsake photographs.

"And those are nene," I said. "Spelled n-e-n-e. A good word to remember for crossword puzzles, Scrabble and Words with Friends."

I looked up into the blue sky, shading my eyes from the bright sun. "Now, where is a Great frigatebird?" But, instead, I pointed out three red-tailed tropicbirds, performing their signature courtship dance--by flying backwards in a circular formation.

By now, I had them. If I had asked this unsuspecting couple, I am sure they would have wrapped their arms around the nearest tree.

It's easy to celebrate Earth Day in Hawaii. All you have to do is step outside.

This Wednesday, May 1, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of the Kilauea Point Lighthouse. For five days, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge will celebrate with tours of the lighthouse, a parade, an art show, special talks by lightkeepers and other activities.


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