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.
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.