I am isolated. There is nothing but ocean and desolate islands in every direction. The horizon hides any evidence of people and land behind the earth’s gentle curve. I am one of four, the youngest, the only one without an American accent and the newest to life away from those who I love. As my feet sink into Holaniku’s warm, white sand for the first time, I thought I would feel removed, far from the world and tossed into the abyss that is the ocean, but I feel alive. This is not the isolation I thought it would be.
The air and the ground is as alive as I am and with every step I am drawn further and further away from the fantasy of civilisation and into an untouched world, the real world. My old life seems to slip away with every passing bird and crashing wave. This is a place so untouched, so raw and so magnificent, that it fills my mind from the moment it grazes my eyes. The air I breathe is crisp and new. It flows over the dunes and fills all of my senses with its light, earthy smell and salty taste. When it settles in the valleys and in the trees, it becomes thick and warm, like a soup of strong, permeating smells from wildlife, and everything that they leave behind. But it is realm, it is natural and I am unafraid to open my lungs to it as it washes over me. I dig a hole in the ground and in it I place a young tree. Its leaves are long and spindly, a stitch in the blanket of green that covers the island. As its roots fill the ground, I give it all the love my heart can muster and clump the last few scoops of soil around its base. It will do well. Every branch, every unfurled leaf is a moment where it basks in the sunlight, absorbing every drop of shimmering gold into its slowly stretching veins, tickling the edges of its pot thinking ‘I’m ready for the world now’. My hands and arms are branches of my own, brown with dirt and sun, they caress the earth and are glad to have made it to the real world as well. My face is golden and speckled, the faint outline of my glasses etched in the colour I once was alongside my eyes. My hair is soft and hangs all over the place, growing as short or as long as I want it to without much thought or care, for it does not matter as long as I can still see. I am becoming as rugged and unkempt as the island itself. If this is isolation, I want it forever.
But there is a side to this, to isolation, that hurts deeply in a way that cannot be fixed. It is the fact that we are here, witnessing nature in its truest form, without the ability to interfere with its control. As my eyes find the runway for the first time since Hurricane Douglas, they settle on a white ball sitting in the very centre. I slowly venture down to investigate. Is it a rock? Debris? As I get closer my eyes struggle to focus on it and it grows fuzzier like a pile of cotton wool, but something black sticks out from underneath. It is a Red-Footed Booby chick, likely blown from its nest in the naupaka that lines the long airstrip. With nowhere else to go, it has crawled all the way out into the open, all the way to where I stand above it now. There is no way it’s still alive, not after the storm. Gently, I lay two fingers on its back and draw them down its spine. Its down is of pure white, a velvet cloud that could fit in the palm of my hands, its black eyelids and beak like pieces of coal stuck to the face of a snowman. As I stroke the lifeless creature, there is a sharp breath followed by a long hollow croak from deep in its tiny chest. It’s still alive. I wrap my hands around my knees and lean back on my haunches, the pace of my heart quickens as I think about what I have to do next. Unfortunately, my subconscious already knows. I look around for a nest, fallen branches, anything, but I know it‘s futile. The chick’s parent will never find it again. I sit on the ground and stare hopelessly at the tiny being, its chest heaving with the occasional croak and blink of an eye. It knows what’s coming, and there is nothing I can do to save it. To move it to the shade, out of the wind and sun, would only prolong its suffering. I want to scoop it into my arms and hold it close to me as it lives its last moments, but the human touch would do nothing more than terrify the already distraught creature. I can do nothing. ‘Go home,’ I whisper, ‘go home, buddy, go home to your parents.’ The tears are forming in my eyes now. I whisper to the bird as it lies in front of me, as it prepares itself, quietly, for death. When I can no longer form the words, I stand up and step back from the young chick and look at it one last time. It shines so brightly against the grey rock that it looks like the storm has left a piece of the sky behind as it passed through.
This is nature, I remind myself, it happens all the time. But it doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
That is isolation. When there is no one who can help and there is nothing you can do, it is the realm of the wild. A place where the human hand can lay down and encourage, restore and conserve the life around it, but everything else lies with the gusting wind, sifting sands, crawling undergrowth and flourishing trees. Isolation isn’t how far away you are from the rest of the world, but how close you are to it. Kure has made me older and wiser than time ever could and that is something I will never forget.