Ode to the Beach Pier by Ryan Potter

Here I sit, atop the pier-shed roof, spellbound in a gorgeous scene that I could only dream of. To either side of me lay long, gently curving stretches of sun-washed sand gracefully hugging the vibrantly clear, turquoise water of the lagoon in front of me. Along the horizon, white wave crests fall and break as swells hit the outer reef set with a tranquil backdrop of slate gray and purple skyline above it. The air is filled with the sound of water lapping at the shoreline and the mellow din of albatross and tropicbirds calling off in the distance. Ruffles of sand flow out from beneath the tide-line as fish mill about in the shallows and shapely clouds amble on by in the sky. A cool breeze whispers at the back of my neck and I can’t help but wish that this very image, that this piece of time, would never cease to end.

I have always been fascinated with the ocean and it is at this spot of the island I find myself returning to both day and night. Looking out from the pier, there is something captivating in watching the bright ripples of the lagoon fade into the dark water of the open ocean outside the reef. Taking a step down to stand in the water sends an exhilarating rush in picturing you are the only person in the ocean for over a thousand miles in any direction (minus anyone at Midway or another Northwestern Hawaiian Island with field crews of course). On overcast days, sinking down to bring your eyes level with the surface leaves you in a shapeless world where the ocean meets the sky without any separation and you can sit immersed in a dreamlike state of weightlessness. You don’t get very many opportunities to experience these moments in the winter except when the winds and swells drop low enough so I try not to waste them when they come.

With the weather being near perfect conditions this week and last, I’ve made sure I’ve taken every chance to enjoy the beauty from on the pier and in the water. I’ve spent a number of hours sitting upon the little deck gazing at my surroundings but as it would be, even with all that I’ve painted, there is one thing more I believe is the most extraordinary part of it all. That thing is the flight of albatross across the atoll and it is as if it were by design that Kure was a theater for this very spectacle with the lagoon a perfect bowl and the pier set at center stage.

To me, albatross strike a sense of poetry in their motion. Being expert gliders, they use maneuvers that harness the wind to glide through the air cutting arching paths especially around the pier in front of me. Banking up from the surface to gain altitude, a Laysan Albatross flaps its wings to move higher before banking sideways to propel itself forward. As it sails downward, it cuts a hard turn just above the surface and repeats the process as it moves upwards once again. Flaunting their mastery of flight, a bird will occasionally dip the tip of its wing into the water, knifing the surface into a clean wake trailing behind. At high speed, they maneuver the foremost part of their wing under the quickest instincts to show off their gift and avoid flipping over from too much drag. I’ve spent countless efforts trying to capture a picture of the act but to be honest, it is too beautiful a sight to put a lens between it and yourself all the time.

With our days on Green Island quickly coming to an end, it is a spot on the pier I might very well miss the most. There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather spend each day than there watching albatross soar on by as waves roll gently beneath my feet. It’s these images I’ll drift off dreaming about when I return home and what I find an immense amount of inspiration from. The freedom these birds show, the grace and beauty of their lives, is something I wish didn’t have to end when we sail away from this enchanted island. But as I’ve learned, that’s the way life is when you give your heart to such far-flung places but I’ll have my memories and a few photos to remind me I witnessed it because it is everything remarkable and I’ll definitely be sharing stories about it for many years to come.

I’d love to stay and say more but a spot atop the pier-shed is calling and I must return to it for our days here are dwindling and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

DLNR/DOFAW Kure crew-member,
Ryan Potter

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