words by RJ Roush
There is no satisfactory way to illuminate the ranges of emotions we go through while living here on Kure. Being in such a state of isolation, we not only run the gamut of ups and downs, but may experience them more intensely because of the amount of time left alone with our thoughts. Without the typical distractions of urban or city life, the mind wanders through recesses usually not touched upon; the results can be profound and rewarding.
I will admit that life on Kure has neither been the easiest for me nor what I expected it to be. I will preface with the fact that I have been studying birds almost exclusively for the last six years and, for me, Kure was like a holy grail of ornithology field jobs. I had dreamed of coming to the Northwest Hawaiian islands for years and this was my chance to make it happen. I had hopes of studying albatross molt, observing booby colonies, taking seabird diet samples, and mist-netting lesser-studied Storm-petrels even though none of these tasks are in the job description. So, in some senses, I think I had to lie to myself to really take the plunge and commit six plus months to the Kure project. I knew we would be spraying weeds for 90 percent of the time, but I ignored the fact and accepted the position with my false concept of how I would be spending my time out here.
And then I got here and forced to confront the truth of the situation. I was feeling cheated, and for the first few months I was not sure how to process my thoughts on the subject. I knew there would be hardly any seabird work this season, but I still had to reconcile my false expectations with my reality. I can honestly say that spraying weeds is not how I want to spend most of my time, even if it is for such a grand cause as the seabirds of Kure. I was not getting the direct satisfaction that I receive from my usual positions that work directly with birds. I felt horrible for feeling horrible. And when you are in that sort of situation, an isolated mind can easily turn into dangerous spiral of negative thoughts if left unchecked.
Eventually something clicked during one of the many hours I spent in my thoughts. I realized that my expectations were keeping me from seeing the island as it really is. I had grown complacent to the beauty and life that surrounded me and had foolishly taken refuge in my misconceptions. What a pity! What a waste! To let your idea of what something should be blind you from seeing the nature of things around you. Once I acknowledged this chimera and embraced the actuality of my life and time here, it really was like a sort of illumination.
And now if I get those negative feelings again I can realize it quickly, look around, and lighten myself, or, rather, let the island lighten me. I noticed a Bonin Petrel flying around mid-day and wonder what it was doing over land rather than foraging at sea. I admire the casual grace that a Ruddy Turnstone has while flying though ripping 40 mph winds. I watch the Kāwelu grasses dance like hundreds of whirling dervishes in the saline breeze. I look up from work more often and scan the skies for unique silhouettes in hopes of catching a glimpse of a wayward bird of prey. I take pride in the fact that I am here, that this whole team is here, making a difference on an island that many people have never even heard of and most will never see.
So, Kure is not what I expected it to be but now I am okay with that, because it is so much more in such a separate way. I regret any time I spent brooding in negativity of my own making, but I do not regret any of my time out here. I am profoundly grateful for this precious time that I have been able to spend here so far. And now that the season feels like it is passing more and more quickly, I wonder how I will be able to leave such a magical place–this bizarre home we share with so many awe-inspiring creatures of the air and sea.