First off, I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, I know I had a delightful one, despite (or perhaps because of) its uniqueness in the line of Christmases I have experienced.
On Monday, I had the whole refuge to myself! It was rather exciting. I checked traps, re-sighted Nene, and check their nests. All by myself. Damn straight I’m a big boy now. Mid to late afternoon, I drove down the mountain and met up with Hakalau’s Biologist’s house sitters in Hilo so that I could join them for the holiday celebrations. We adjoined to the house in near by Paradise Park (thankfully not Sudden Valley, but I would love to meet its realtors) where I got to meet Buster, the biologist’s 9 year old Siberian Husky. Buster is gorgeous and very friendly (especially with all of the love I show him), but scared of many things, including bubble wrap. He also has way too much fur for this climate, despite having been shaved recently. I helped take Buster for a walk around sunset along the volcanic rock cliffs which make up the shore south of Hilo. It was beautiful and he caught and ate a crab.
The next morning, Christmas morning, I called lots of people back home to get a feel for the Christmas I’m used to, then took part in a random assortment of non-traditions. For breakfast, the three of us had “Swedish” pancakes (although everyone besides the person that made them seems to believe that they are not “Swedish” pancakes – these were much like crepes and delicious) and brown sugar bacon twists. Mmmm. After lounging around a little, so that the goodness in our stomachs could settle, we drove back to Hilo to try to catch a morning showing of The Hobbit. To our surprise (and the surprise of pretty much everyone else in the line), it was sold out, despite being on Christmas day. Are there a lot of Jewish people in Hawai’i? Or is The Hobbit just that big? Instead, we revisited some lovely places in Hilo. First, the Liliuokalani gardens on Banyon Dr. (where all of the hotels are), which is a beautiful arrangement of bridges, japanese architecture and art, plants, and sea water ponds. It is a very peaceful place to walk around, despite all of the tourists. Hopefully I was able to distance photobomb one of them, but I took pictures for another couple. Rainbow Falls (we’d all been there before) and this time it was actually flowing, quite heavily. Very different from the last time I went, some number of weeks ago. I then tried to show the house sitters the swimming hole that we were shown the last time we went to Rainbow Falls, but the water was moving way to quickly for any of us to feel comfortably safe about not falling over the falls. Plus, we all figured spending Christmas in a hospital was less then preferable. So we climbed a large wet Banyon tree instead. Remember, tree climbing is always an acceptable adventure and should be engaged in at least annually. Preferably, one should climb trees on a weekly basis.
For the afternoon and evening of Christmas, we were invited to the holiday gathering of another one of the FWS office workers, who also worked with the biologist and the house sitters in Alaska. (Small world, Big Island.) I had brought a pear pie that I had baked Sunday evening to share. We also brought Buster in the car. The house sitters had decided to take some pictures in their Christmas attire by the ocean, so we left the car briefly, with Buster in the trunk and the pie in the backseat. We returned to Buster in the backseat and pie covered paw prints through out the car… Lesson learned. Once at the house, though, we had a much more successful time with foods. The host had a bunch of her family over, as well as another co-worker from Alaska and her partner, so they decided to make sixteen “traditional” Christmas pizzas for their Hawaiian Christmas. Close enough, and they were delicious. Besides, they had two flavors of homemade ice cream for dessert! The whole afternoon and evening there was just delightful. Got to hear and participate in all kinds of conversation, which was, for me, completely different from the holiday conversations I’m accustomed to, because it is somebody else’s family. New stories all over the place. I’ll remember that for the future and try to check out other holiday traditions with other families, but I just have to make sure I’m invited first. Otherwise its “creepy” and people call the “police”…
Anyway, I was back up the mountain on Wednesday, this time with other volunteers, and our work was back to good ol’ normal work, mostly focused on Vegetation Plot surveys, though. On Wednesday, we may have left the garage door open and an Erckel’s Francolin may have entered it while we were away, and we may have caught, killed, cleaned and cooked it. We also may not have. They are an invasive bird, and I also may have learned that they have giant sharp spurs/spikes on the back of their legs that will cut you if you try to grab them if you don’t have any kind of protection for your hands. Just saying.
This weekend, we finally had a group of volunteers again, a family that has had people coming up for over a decade. They were an awesome group of people. Arrived Saturday morning and spent a while working Haha (Cyania shipmanii) and Oha’ wai (Clermontia lyndsiana) transplants in the green house, and afterwards they got to plant their personal plants. The family planted an extra one in memory of their grandmother who died a year ago and had planted many trees up on Hakalau. The horticulturalist trusts us volunteers a lot now – I got to give the green house tour that starts all volunteer groups and we lead the bird walk Sunday morning. The volunteer groups are definitely a fun break from the work we do all week long. Plus, as I mentioned that first weekend here on Hakalau, they might feed us, which this family did! And they did very well. The best thing that I have noticed about these volunteers that have been coming up to Hakalau for a while, and will continue to, is how much they absolutely love the place! They care about it so much and really truly wish that more people would take the time to come up here and experience what the mountain has to offer. They bring their families and friends to make that happen, and they bring them year after year! The most amazing part, though, is just how grateful they are for the work that we do up here. They clearly feel that feeding us is the least they can do to thank us, where as I feel that really they’re the ones that need thanking – meals and goodbyes include about 10 minutes of “thank yous” every time. Its kind of awesome. So, if you’re looking for a way to give back this holiday season, maybe as a New Years Resolution, look for a local refuge or park or anything with a volunteer program and go check it out. It could be awesome, or it could be not your thing. If its not your thing, try a different one! I’m sure there is some fun way for you to give back out there. Clearly, the volunteers that come up have found their thing, and it is so much their thing now.