Writing got me through 72 consecutive days of the pandemic. Then, I stopped. At the time, with lives being lost to violence and violence erupting from the protests to the violence, it didn’t seem right to continue writing about something as regular as the white-rumped shama chicks fledging from their nest outside my office window.
With a pandemic racing across our world and, especially, in our country, and with people, including family of my friends, dying as a result, it seemed tone-deaf to write about the majesty of Laysan albatross skimming the ocean’s surface over thousands of miles to provide their chicks with a bountiful meal of squid and fish.
After 72 consecutive days of writing, it felt more important for other voices to be heard. Other stories to be written. So, I stopped.
Since then, I started a few essays, including one about the meaning of and finding home that I meant to publish last Friday, June 19, on World Albatross Day. I started another about abandonment. Another about bones.
Now, I find my days without writing and publishing my words in this form have changed. The truth is, for some reason, my days feel harder—even with the freed up time, an hour or so a day that I’ve gained from not writing and publishing on these virtual pages. The truth is the pull to this page is missing. But the truth is also there are other things missing from my life, too, since I’ve stopped writing and publishing here: a sense of urgency, daily discipline, and an order to my days.
Life in a pandemic is topsy-turvy in subtle and unrecognizable ways, no matter how directly we are impacted by COVID-19.
On our daily walk the other day, Eric said, “I haven’t seen any kolea lately.”
Kolea are migratory shorebirds that generally arrive in Hawaii in August and depart for their breeding grounds in Alaska in April.
“That’s because they left two months ago,” I said.
“Oh, right,” Eric said, and we laughed. At least, we can still laugh.
For most birds in the continental United States, nesting season kicks off with the arrival of spring. In Hawaii, where weather is less of a factor, birds nest year-round. Some seabirds nest in winter; some summer. In the wetlands, some waterbirds prefer cooler, wetter months; others warmer, drier. Because the passerines in my yard are non-native, likely coming from more temperate climates, they prefer to nest in the spring.
Birds may nest and fledge year-round in Hawaii, but they all are on their own timeline, filling niches in the ecosystem that allow for their survival. Right now, as we roll into summer, some chicks are just pipping out of their eggs, while others are already fledging.
Since the pandemic began, the resident pair of white-rumped shama in our yard have reared two nestlings to fledging and are now working on their second nest of four, fledging three in the last two days. I can hear the fourth in its nest, calling to be fed. Again. And again. And again.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve seen nēnē goslings find their wings.
Since the pandemic began, wedge-tailed shearwater have returned from sea to breed. They’ve re-claimed old burrows, spruced them up, and are now tucked away incubating their single egg of the season.
Along the coastlines of the island, since the pandemic began, the loud raucous calls of red-tailed tropicbirds could be heard and their beautiful aerial courtship dances could be seen. These acrobats are notable for their aerial maneuvers that include flying backwards. They’re now incubating eggs, some already feeding their hatched chicks, who are no more than a ball of fluff with a beak. Some of these fluff balls are already sporting the dark bars the will grace their white slender wings.
Great frigatebirds, and Red-footed boobies are busy, too, raising young of their own, but I’m not spending time in their nesting habitat these days.
Laysan albatross chicks had recently hatched when this pandemic began, their parents just starting to leave their chicks unattended while they flew to the waters of the north Pacific Ocean for squid and fish to feed their offspring. Now, those chicks have wingspans of six feet and are days—some maybe just hours—away from heading north over the ocean where they’ll live for the next three to five years.
The biodiversity of birds that exist around us is diverse, each unique in their own way, each finding niches to co-exist, survive, and thrive, among other birds. We could learn from birds.
Thankfully, the pandemic hasn’t caused the natural world to lose track of time. The order of nature continues. In future years, I expect I’ll reflect back on this time and mark its passage by the order of birds’ breeding, nesting, and fledging. Like, “The pandemic started right after albatross chicks hatched.” And, “It lasted through their fledging.”
Maybe longer. Likely longer.
In the days since I stopped posting daily, I’ve heard from many of you. Thank you. It’s feels good to know some thoughts or images I’ve shared here helped even one person on one day during these times.
Hawaii’s COVID-19 case count is now 872. Eighteen people across the state have died from the virus. On Kauai, after a couple months of no new cases, we saw a jump in the last week. We’re now at 35 cases; 14 of those are active cases.