So we’ve been on island for over a week, and things are still going well. No one has died yet. We’re optimistic. But seriously, Laysan is beautiful in its own green, brown, and blue way. While it is not “home” yet, I expect that it will be by the end of my first month.
For our first few days on Laysan, we experienced a surprising amount of rain, about 5.5 inches over three days. It was gray most of the time and for two nights we had frequent thunder, lightning, and heavy winds (up to about 40 mph, enough to shake our tents). Since the weekend, though, things have cleared up and we’ve had calm, sunny, days since. The temperature hangs between 70 and 85 fairly constantly with a steady breeze to keep you cool. The ocean waters are cool and refreshing; great for a quick splash after a hard day of work, a bout of snorkeling over the fringing reef, or the regularly needed bath. Camp is located at the top of the hill/dune by the landing bay on the northwest side of the island. It is composed of ten weather-port tents (six personal, the kitchen tent, the office/communications tent, the RO [Reverse Osmosis – water purification] tent, and the pantry), a hurricane shelter, several pallet tubs, a couple solar arrays, the “Lua” (read: pit toilet), and many a bucket containing the wide variety of supplies that we require. My tent is adjacent to the kitchen tent and just uphill from the lone ironwood tree on the island (do not feel bad about it being alone, it is an invasive species and we just have not gotten rid of it because it is not spreading and many birds use it to nest). As I mentioned, on the stoop of my tent, a Brown Noddy resides. It is a juvenile and is visited by parents regularly enough. When not being fed, my stoop Noddy mostly just sits there, either with its head pulled in or tucked behind a wing, indifferent to my presence. Surrounding camp is large quantities of bunch grass, and some Goosefoot, and Sandalwood bushes, as well as some Morning Glory vines, but they’re mostly closer to the beach. To the west, or out my front door, the Pacific Ocean is a couple hundred meters away. To the east, or out my back window, is the Laysan Lake a quarter mile or so downhill, followed by another dune of grass-covered sand, and beyond that lies more of the Pacific Ocean. (In case you were wondering, the Lua faces west.) That, in short, is what will become home over the next six months.
Over these six months, I will do my best to introduce you to the various species that we work with and the changing environment that I witness, as well as the interesting things that us humans do to amuse ourselves with the 1000 acres the six of us have to share (with an abundance of wildlife).
This plant is one of the main reasons we are here. Introduced from India either by accident or on purpose by the various past residents of Laysan (sailors, guano miners, feather harvesters, biologists…), it is incredibly invasive now. If allowed to mature, it has a woody stem, serrated leaves, and small flowers. Fortunately, almost all (if not all) of the large, woody plants have already been killed on island. Now, the volunteer crews on Laysan regularly monitor the seven PLUIND (code for P. indica) zones around the lake with herbicide, spraying and pulling any and all sprouts we see. (Do not fear, the herbicide that we use, AquaMaster, is designed to be used in wetland areas, so it does not do additional damage to things that are not sprayed.) Most are tiny, two or four leaves peeking through the sand (particularly difficult to locate in a field of Morning glory), but some have been missed and are a foot or so tall, showing their evil faces. By repeating this effort approximately every month or so, we are slowly working our way through the seed bank that remains in the island’s sand even though we have largely prevented the plants from going to seed for a while.
I anticipate that this will be a recurring segment because it is both interesting (we brought all of the food we will eat for the next six months with us), many of the people that I know have developed a keen interest in food through their lives for various reasons, and food is awesome. So, recall last week’s unloading figures – 400+ buckets and 4 coolers, in particular. Probably 350 of those buckets were food and the coolers were packed as tight as we could make them with frozen food (meat, cheese, vegetables, butter, and egg beaters). Arriving on island, we fortunately found that the previous crew had left more in the pantry and assorted storage areas (there is a “Baking Box” behind the cook tent) than we had anticipated, so we feel like we’re in pretty good shape for our time here. Because there are six of us, we are on a six day cooking/cleaning rotation for dinner and a fend-for-yourself theory during the rest of the day. So far, I have been more than delighted with the cooking performances put on by my fellow island-dwellers, especially considering the challenges presented: almost entirely shelf-stable foods and a propane camping stove and a “Princess” oven that only really operates at 450F. And, we’ve only used one “fresh” item so far (ground beef for taco night). Rice and beans make regular appearances, as do various soups – Tuesday night had a garbanzo bean and artichoke heart soup with white and sweet potatoes, which was hearty and flavorful. Canned meats (tuna, chicken, corned beef, salmon, ham, and SPAM) all make the rounds, too. For lunch recently, we had SPAM slices baked with cheddar cheese and jalapeño rounds – also very good. As some of you may know, I enjoy baking bread, and the warm weather certainly makes at least rising a quicker process. Bringing the fellow volunteers into my baking circle, so far we have made a whole wheat loaf, onion bagels, and cinnamon raisin walnut bread. All of which have turned out delicious. The bagels were probably the most successful I have ever been with bagels.
That is right. I know I’m in with a good crew when two-thirds of are already fans (and I know the rest will be soon). At night, after dinner and clean-up, we will sometimes watch a couple episodes of a show or a movie. For the first week we were having a hard time finding the energy to stay awake for that much, but now that we’ve started, I expect it will be harder to stop. To go with the showings, popcorn is prepared (try it with Sesame oil and pop it in a pot, not the bag in a microwave…). So far, Scrubs and Battlestar Galactica have also been presented. We’ll see where else entertainment takes us.
Halloween is in less than a week! That should bring some exciting stories.