Eat of the Birds of Koolau

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Eat of the Birds of Koolau

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Jan 24, 2011

Last week, I went for a walk on Kauai’s Aliomanu Beach at sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise. I mean, what sunrise isn’t, especially one that pokes her head above the Pacific Ocean as the warm sands of Hawaii prickle my toes? There’s something about that big, ball of fire, though, that demands our attention and makes us stop in our tracks. Or, in the case of last week, the sunrise made me stop in the tracks of some dog’s footprints.

But ask me about that walk later in the day, and I would have said, simply, “It was nice.” Apart from the dog tracks that seemed to pull me along, I didn’t encounter much of anything else on that walk. No beautiful shells. No whales breaching off shore. Not even the dog.

Today, I walked along the coastline of Ko'olau on Kauai’s windward shore and today’s walk turned out a little differently.

There’s a Hawaiian saying from Mary Kawena Pukui’s collection* about the area that goes ‘Ai manu Ko’olau. Its literal translation is “eat of the birds of Ko’olau,” and it’s said of a feast where delicious foods are eaten. My experience is that Hawaiian place names and sayings can be taken quite literally, that they served as verbal signposts in a time before the written word. So, at Ko’olau, I can expect to find birds.

And, indeed, I did.

There were Laysan albatrosses skimming the waves. There were nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose and Hawaii’s state bird. And, as I reappeared from skirting a row of bushes to avoid disturbing a sunning Green sea turtle, a brown booby buzzed my head. Undeterred, it dove into knee-deep water and stabbed a fish. Lucky for me that I had my camera around my neck, otherwise, I never would have had time to dig it out of my backpack and take a picture.  But, can you believe it, no chickens. But, to be honest, perhaps there were some of Kauai’s ubiquitous chickens clucking and crowing; however, after 11 years of seeing them and hearing them at all hours of the day and night, they are the proverbial snake for me. I probably even slowed my car to allow one to cross the road, but I cannot remember seeing a one.

A little further down the beach, I encountered an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. She was hauled out after a night of foraging and sleeping off a big feed.

When my husband used to run marathons, he had his own saying. “You have to put in the miles,” he said. It’s the advice of any athlete: train. Put one foot in front of the other. We writers say the same thing. It’s all a matter of sitting down and pecking out the words.

The advice transcends many endeavors.  When visitors at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge show up in winter and ask are there any whales, I say, “Sure, there are whales.”

“Where?” they ask.

“They’re out there,” I say. “All you have to do is wait.” All you have to do is put in the time. In our busy lives--checking email, posting to Facebook, tweeting, texting, talking--that's sometimes hard to do. But if there's anywhere it can be done, it's got to be Hawaii, where the wave--the shaka--is another way of saying, "Hang loose."

Some walks are nice; other walks are awesome. The more time I spend in nature, I am reminded again and again, the more rewards I receive. The buzzing and diving brown booby? It stopped me in my tracks and made me drop to my knees. In all the hundreds of walks on Hawaii’s beaches that I’ve made and the thousands of steps I have taken, today was the first time I witnessed a brown booby diving into the water and flying off with a fish in its mouth. The memory of the scene still makes my jaw drop, leaving me to catch flies with my mouth.


*Pukui, Mary Kawena. ’Olelo No’eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, Bishop Museum Press, 1983.

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