I was in search of a story today, so I went on a walk.
Since you cannot lace up your athletic shoes at my house without this one giving you the eye, I happily said, “Wanna go for a ride,” and Lulu darted out the door.
We headed for the coastal path on Kauai’s East Side, where I usually ride my bicycle. At bike speed, I know I whiz by things, missing detail. But I also like the rush of air and sense of freedom that riding a bike brings, so I save the detail for other days and other outdoor pursuits.
About a half-mile into our walk, I saw something at the corner of my eye and turned to see three Ruddy turnstones fly around a corner. That was it. A split-second view. Just enough to see a flash of white and black. The chances were great that I would have missed them entirely on my usual bike ride.
`Akekeke, as Ruddy turnstones are called in the Hawaiian language, always remind me of another migrating wetland bird—the Kolea, or Pacific golden plover. Both migrate to Hawaii from the Arctic regions in August and stay until some time in April. I think of them as the “A” birds for the months they come and go.
`Akekeke and Kolea are some fascinating birds.
Both make the 2,500-mile-long journey from Alaska to Hawaii in two-and-a-half days, flying at similar elevations as the planes you and I fly to cross the Pacific. I wonder how the birds’ physiology allows for that—the oxygen depletion at 25,000 feet and all. Because that’s a whole heckuva lot of wing flapping in a short amount of time. In fact, plovers have been recorded to beat their wings, on average, twice per second en route without a single rest stop. There is, after all, little land between here and there to take a break and, more importantly, they do not swim. So, no water stops, either.
Both these birds have their place in Hawaiian culture, too, although in different ways.
Perhaps the first written record of `Akekeke comes from William Wade Ellis, the Surgeon’s Mate aboard the HMS Discovery. He recorded “several flocks of black and white plover” feeding in taro fields near Kealakekua Bay on January 27, 1779, a mere 18 days before Captain James Cook would die in the same place.
For their part, Kolea feature widely in the oral storytelling—chants and hula—of Hawaii. Their feathers were used in making cloaks for ali`i, royalty. Mythology associates the kolea with the god of healing. Some people say kolea were instrumental in aiding migrating Polynesians in the discovery of these islands.
The “A” birds indicate a change in seasons. For me, the return of the turnstones and plovers remind me that four months have passed since I quit “the best job in the world” in April.
I thought my all-important (to me!) manuscripts would fly from my fingers at speeds similar to migrating turnstones and plovers. But it’s taken four months for me just to find my new writing groove.
And with me, there’s no guarantee this groove will fly non-stop or splash into the sea. It seems my groove better matches a plover’s foraging behavior—darting one direction and stopping to stick its head in the ground for a tasty insect, and, then, dashing off another direction, coming to another halt, and stabbing at the ground again.
I suppose the message I gleaned from the turnstones today is to go easy on myself. Seasons change. Birds continually come and go. If I keep at it, the writing projects will get done in their proper time, and there will always be seasons of writing incubation and seasons of writing productivity. That’s life. That’s nature.