Today is known as Endangered Species Day, a day not unfamiliar in Hawai’i where nearly one-third of every plant or animal protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act resides. Those Hawaiian monk seals I write about? Endangered. The short-tailed albatross I’ve written about? Endangered. The ālula, a plant I had growing in my yard until one night a riot of Giant African snails tunneled through it, killing it. Those? Endangered.
Here’s another thing: Places can become endangered. Ecosystems, too.
A couple years back, I found myself at a familiar haunt—Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. It was my weekly volunteer gig with my friend and fellow albatross advocate Hob Osterlund, author of Holy Mōlī: Albatross and Ancestors.
Seabirds were soaring from the high cliffs of Kaua’i’s North Shore. It was June, fledging season for Laysan albatross. Laysan albatross are not listed as endangered; however, as a family of birds, albatrosses are imperiled. According to BirdLife International, there are 22 species in the albatross family and 17 are globally threatened, per the IUCN Red List.
On that day with Hob at Kīlauea Point, the poet Donald Hall died. His passing is another kind of fledging. Hall is known for his poem, “Names of Horses,” a touching tribute to working horses. It made me cry, reminding me of the worn spot on our copper railing where our dog Nickel used to rest her chin. She had recently “fledged” herself. Is that what we leave behind when we die? Words and worn spots? Poems. Essays. The dent in the cushion of our favorite chair. A shiny spot on the railing.
On this other day, as a Laysan albatross circled over Kīlauea Point, lowering in altitude with every completion of the circuit, not a single wing flap, I said to Hob, “That’s not a chick,” This one has mastered the art of moving through air and space.
“No, it’s not,” Hob agreed.
Right about then a woman teetered up to me. She looked quizzical.
“Have a question?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” she said, and I sensed she was uncertain how to verbalize what was on her mind. Finally, she managed to say she was looking for someone named Kim Steutermann Rogers. She struggled a bit but managed to say all three of my names correctly.
“That’s me,” I said.
That surprised her. She stumbled over her words some more but managed to say she’d read something I’d written long ago, maybe 15 years ago. Something about how my favorite thing to do on Sundays was drive to Ke’e, a beach at the end of the road on the North Shore of Kaua’i.
“I did?” I asked. I can hardly remember what I wrote last week much less a decade or so ago.
“Yes,” she continued. “And I thought to myself, ‘She just went and ruined it. She ruined Ke’e. Ke’e will never be the same.”
Donald Hall had his poem. Nickel had her well-worn chin spot. I guess my legacy will be that I ruined Ke’e.
The thing is words are tricky. You never know how someone will respond to them. The good news, though, is Ke’e now governed by the new Hā’ena State Park master plan that limits the number of people who can enter, reducing the load from several thousand to 900 per day. Of course, nowhere near that number are entering now. Kauai’i visitor counts are down from thousands of arrivals per day pre-COVID to maybe a dozen. The park had been closed during the height of COVID-19 restrictions but re-opened as of May 1st. Maybe I’ll go for a drive this Sunday and enjoy the quiet that is Ke’e these days. But, rest assured, I won’t write about it;-)
Hawaii added one new case today to make its new total of COVID-19 cases 638. Kaua’i is still at 21 cases and friends are starting to talk about socializing—albeit distantly—and I’m not sure how I feel about that.