[Tweeters] Year of Adventure continued

Constance Sidles constancesidles at gmail.com
Wed Jan 1 05:33:24 PST 2020

Hey tweets, here is the latest installment from our Year of Adventure:

Passage to Paradise Past

Many years ago, I asked my quantum physicist husband to build me a time machine. He said he could probably build a television that would show the past, or at least one version of an infinite number of possible pasts, but that was not what I wanted. I wanted to travel back through time physically.

"Hmm," he said, "that would be trickier. But I think I can do it. I'll work on the theory and design in my spare time."

Since then, I occasionally remind him of his project. The last time I did so, he said he was going to get a tattoo on his forehead: Things always take longer than you think.

But last month, we did travel back in time. At least, that's what it felt like. John and I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii to visit what the native Hawaiians call the Wao Akua, the Realm of the Gods. This is the region on Mauna Kea where the human-centered world falls away. It is sacred ground.

Here, 7,000 feet above the clouds, where the air is cold and the wind is dry, grow the last remnants of a once enormous forest unique in all the world: the golden-flowered, poisonous mamane trees, and here dwell the only bird that can eat their immature seed pods and live: the golden-headed Palila.

Palilas are finch-like honeycreepers that used to be widespread at high elevations throughout the Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu. But as the mamane forests were cut down by ranchers and replaced with grasslands, Palila numbers decreased. By the 1940s, the birds were believed to be extinct, but a small population managed to survive in a scrap of mamane forest measuring only 30 square miles on the western slope of Mauna Kea. It is thought that 2,000 birds now live here in the wild.

I have long wanted to see a Palila and worried it would become extinct before I could. I am jealous that Roger Tory Peterson saw two Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Louisiana in 1941, years before I was born, and now they are no more. I want to see rare birds on the brink of disappearing forever from the Earth.

I have tried to explain this desire to myself, for it seems selfish, shallow, like being a spectator at some kind of gladiatorial fight to the death in the Coliseum of Nature. But I think it is my way of showing - and feeling - reverence for wondrous creatures who have been evolved into being by millions of years of sculpting in Nature's hands. Each species unique. Each one precious. Many at risk because of us. Many who need us to save them now.

And so here I was, sitting on my camp stool in the middle of a dry mamane-naio forest on a loop of the Palila Forest Discovery Trail, alone with the wind and the birds. John went off to hike the mile-long trail, but I wanted to stay still and blend into the trees, to wait for what might come.

After a half hour of silence, a Hawaii Amakihi showed up in the mamane tree shading me from the sun. She looked at me for a moment, then proceeded to pick mosses off the trunk of the tree. When her decurved bill was as full as it could be, she flew a short distance to a dense clump of naio leaves and disappeared. She was building a nest! Again and again, she returned to my tree to pull off more nesting material. On her last trip, I caught a slight motion at the top of her tree, and there, perched in the full glory of the sun, was a male Palila. His head and chest were golden, his eyes covered by a black mask, his back a glowing pewter, his belly ivory white.

He posed for a moment, and then he began to sing. His golden throat quivered with each note, and liquid song poured forth. When one aria ended, he would pause briefly to listen to rivals singing a few trees away. I listened, too, my head cocked like his. Then he would begin again, trilling his way up and down the scale, thrilling his way into my heart.

As he sang, a finger of fog inched up the mountain, seeking a path among the trees. Soon it was joined by other wisps of fog, then a carpet of mist rolled up from below and covered the Palila's tree. Still he sang, his notes bursting forth from the veils of mist, lost from view, like an echo from the past.

When John returned from his hike, he found me paralyzed with joy. He had found his own bliss on the mountain, as he hastened to tell me. He was walking along the trail, watching where he put his feet because the path was narrow and sometimes uneven as it cut through aa lava - chunks of angular rock. As he walked, he began to notice small saplings set in round holes of soil spaced about 6 feet apart: hundreds of saplings. He realized he was seeing the efforts of untold numbers of conservation-minded people who were in the process of replanting the mamane forest, one tree at a time.

My spirit soared with the Palila, and John's was uplifted by fellow human beings out to save the world. We both brought home memories we will forever treasure, lit by the golden glow of nature, both wild and human. And now I share that light with you.

Our next adventure will be a winter trip to Newfoundland. We wish you all a happy New Year filled with your own adventures.

- Connie, Seattle

constancesidles at gmail.com <mailto:constancesidles at gmail.com>
csidles at constancypress.com <mailto:csidles at constancypress.com>

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