New Travels, New Blog

It’s the journey, not the destination.

There has been a long, awkward and obvious silence here. I abandoned this blog while being occupied with taking some classes, moving from Kauai to Alaska and brewing new travel plans.

With new travel plans come a new travel blog: http://roadlessgraveled.wordpress.com/

Please check it out. I promise I will be more consistent in writing.

Happy exploring!

 

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An assortment of photos from the field. Starting with the native Elepaio, the Hawaiian Raspberry (akala), Becky recording field observations, a lilikoi blossom (passion flower), a tree tunnel on the 18-mile hike down the Waimea Canyon and last (but not least) the endemic Anianiau.

The honeycreeper hunt

Hawaiian rainforests are among the safest in the world. There are no native poisonous insects; no snakes, no large predators and even the plants had evolved without defense, including a raspberry with no thorns and a nettle that does not sting. Yes, the Hawaiian rainforest is intrinsically safe but as I hung off of an eroding cliffside, I begged to differ. Geographically, this place is treacherous.

With my face buried in Uluhe, my feet slipped on mossy footholds and my hands clawed at a matrix of dirt and roots. I honed my rusty rock climbing skills and mustered a burst of energy to pull myself up, trying not to think about the loose roots that could give way at any moment to certain impalement below. I was surveying a transect line that ran north, straight up a wall of dense plant matter and a tangled mess of ferns. These are not normal ferns by any means. Uluhe are sharp enough to cut flesh and pull at your cloths and hair while jutting towards your eyes. They are known as the “the fern of death” in native folklore and because they grow directly off the edge of cliffs, creating the illusion of solid ground underneath.

The "fern of death"

It will poke your eye out. Beware.

What am I doing here? I am searching for endangered honeycreepers, the Akikiki and Akeke’e. They are elusive, small and extremely hard to find. As I covered the rugged terrain, my senses were overwhelmed with while trying to listen for birds, my eyes scanning the canopy above and all the while trying to watch where I step as not to commit native plant homicide.

When you think of hiking, you imagine walking through a peaceful forest path to a beautiful lookout at your destination point. For me, there is no destination. Hiking on this project is more like crawling through mud and ferns to more mud and ferns. Sound appealing? It satisfies a primitive feeling of finding one’s way. Making your way through the jungle with a compass, without trail is the type of challenge that makes you feel you’ve earned the primal achievement of survival. The natural instinct to survive starts to rush through you and suddenly life becomes simple: don’t kill yourself. There are no signs of caution telling you to stay back from the ledge. Your senses become tools. Your mission is not complicated: hike north; find birds.

This time the rare honeycreepers eluded me, but at least I found my way.

Rain, rain. RAIN.

The only constant since we arrived at Halepa’akai is the sound of rain against our tent. Everyday our objective is different as we map out the lay of the land, gain familiarity of the terrain and learn about the native ecosystem. Although our tasks may differ from day to day, there is always water in the form of rain, river, moist moss and mud. The dew hangs in the air, coating our skin, the walls of the Weatherport (our cyclindrical tent home) and everything else that dwells in the rainforest. The rain started the morning after we hiked in and hasn’t let up for almost 2 days. The steady tapping outside is comforting but a reminder that you must be methodical about segregating your wet gear in order to stay dry.

I’ve got my wet clothes. I’ve got my dry clothes.

It’s a process in which I hope to become more fluent in removing my rain soaked gear without tainting everything I accidentally touch. One wrong move and I’ll be snuggling into a sopping wet sleeping bag for the night.

We are patiently learning to coexist with the rain of the Alakai. Today, our research was canceled due to the extreme high of the stream. Tomorrow we will proceed with our studies (given that the rain doesn’t keep falling,) but until then, our camp is probably the best place in the world to do nothing. I silently thank the rain for letting me read, draw, write and dream under the protection of thick layers of tarp and the sound of pounding rain. I know some wouldn’t enjoy being stuck in the wet misery of the rainforest but rain has been a reoccurring symbol in my life; to me, rain means growth. My Northwest heart feels at home in the drizzle.

Straight from the sky!

Photos from the field

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Preparing for the field: Mandatory slippers and flying food.

Almost a month has flown by since I stepped off the plane onto the most northwestern Hawaiian island of Kauai. I have been overwhelmed with nostalgia and immersed in my love of surfing and Hawaiian culture. Kauai represents a symbol of positive change to me. 4 years ago, I decided to aim my ambitions toward the field of conservation while interning for Save Our Seas, and now here I am preparing for an early morning departure to hike into the Alaka’i wilderness to study endemic birds. It seems I have come full circle. Progress feels good.

I have been itching to get into the field, quite literally. Mosquitoes plague the town of Waimea where our field house is located. I long for the cool mosquito-free air of the Alaka’i, where they have not adapted to living at higher elevations. We were warned that mosquitoes are the least of our worries. In Hawaii, it is custom to remove your rubber slippers (mainlanders call them flip-flops,) but not in our house. We have a ‘slippers on’ policy due to reports of centipedes and scorpions. I consider myself lucky to have avoided confrontation with the dreaded centipedes that are said to have a sting that feels like something between a bee-sting and a bullet wound. The only experience I had before moving to the Westside of Kauai with the nasty invasive insect was convincing the kids I used to babysit on the Northshore not to poke a dead one with a stick. During my first 2 days at the Waimea house, my luck with centipede avoidance ran dry. As I was taking the garbage out, one crawled up my arm, out from underneath the handle and I shrieked, abruptly decorating the lawn with trash. My roommate thought someone had kicked a dog, which is apparently the sound of my true scream of terror. The next day I was mowing the lawn and another ran across my foot. 2 centipedes in 2 days: I am not a fan of these odds. Fortunately, my recent days have been free of the little scaly creeps and I am yet to endure their painful sting (knock on Koa wood…)

We’ve been filling up our time preparing for the field: this included purchasing about $1000 dollars worth of food from Costco and packing it tightly into Action Packers for a helicopter to bring a “sling load” into our backcountry camp. This is greatly beneficial because it means we don’t have to haul 100 pounds of food each on our backs. I am thankful. Although they can be relentlessly annoying as they fly tourists around the mountains of Kauai, I personally have a newfound appreciation for helicopters. Packing all of our meals into a giant container sounds simple enough but planning out several month’s worth of community meals is challenging when you consider estimating how much people will eat and how long you have until perishable items go bad (unless you don’t mind eating beans and rice for weeks at a time.) I will eat practically anything but I need variety. I’m planning on making some gourmet field meals.

We leave early tomorrow to hike 8 miles into Halepa’akai camp where we will conduct surveys on 3 endemic species of forest birds. I will return in 10 days as a budding expert of Akikiki, Akeke’e and Puaiohi…that is unless I am severely attacked by a swarm of centipedes.

Muddy Boots. Birds. Big Changes.

I was recently offered a job with Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. This job represents a major turning point after a stagnant 5-month period of post-undergraduate unemployed disarray. After working with Cascadia Research Collective on surveys studying odontocetes off the coast of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, I felt I had nailed my niche. I loved the smell of the sea, the expansion of the endless horizon. I loved the thrill of encounters and the possibility of new discovery. When the field project finished at the end of August, I gave myself a tentative deadline to find another field job during September. 3 months and at least 50 cover letters later, I began to feel a little discouraged. But I did not lose hope. Patience finally paid off. Although my recent endeavors have revolved around the ocean, the field of endemic birds intrigues me; I am mainly interested in endangered species in any biological genre. I took some time to reflect on the catalyst of my pursuit in ecology; I recalled my time spent volunteering through Jatun Sacha at Bilsa Biological Reserve in Ecuador. My time tromping the muddy trails in Ecuador runs serendipitously parallel to my upcoming adventure working in the rain soaked mountains of Kauai. I will be working in close proximity of the wettest place in the world. Cheers to muddy boots, birds and big changes.