Happy Lei Day!

 

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Yesterday was Lei day and to celebrate, one of the Botanists here on island gave us a lesson in making leis with the plants found on the island.

Since I love nature and love arts and crafts-ing I was in heaven. I made one for myself and gave one to a co-worker who didn’t make it to the class.

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Hello, my name is Michelle and I am a Birdwatcher

Ok, I’m finally declaring myself a “Birdwatcher”. That’s something I never thought I’d say but I’m fascinated by these birds…the way they act, the differences between the species and sometimes they just crack me up. The “Gooney” bird (Laysan Albatross) especially. These guys are so goofy! Between their clumsy landings and the silly mating dances, they are seriously amusing. What I love most about them is their curiousity. Sure some of them will run away from humans but most are curious, especially the teenagers (1-4 year olds).

I was laying out reading on the sand dunes at the beach one afternoon and they kept coming over to check me out. This guy waddled right up to me….

Hammocking

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One of my favorite pastimes (here and back home) is hanging in my hammock. Reading a book, listening to music or just enjoying the scenery, it’s all good. There’s plenty of scenery to be seen here! Finding the right spot is the tricky part. The only vegetation native to these Atolls is Naupaka bushes, some grasses and a couple other native plants but not trees.  (Did you hear the gasp of my friends reading this?  That I would go to an island without trees?? This treehugger??? Don’t forget that I lived on a continent without any trees!).

Fortunately for me on this sunny day in 2018 there are some trees here.  They were planted when the Navy was here to act as a wind break.  Around these Ironwood trees that are a cross between what something Dr. Seuss and J. K. Rowling would conjure up are nesting albatross chicks, curious albatross “teens” and those darn petral burrows. Once I found the right spot I needed to make sure there were no widow maker branches above me (I don’t want one to fall on me with a big gust of wind). The other factor is sun… too much and I’m too hot, too little and I’m too cold. Same goes for the wind but vice versa. (Insert your favorite Goldilocks joke here) I’ve been known to enjoy a spot for a little, take down the hammock and find a new spot depending on the sun and the wind.

So I found this really sweet spot the other day, it was the second spot of the day (the first got too hot). I had a great view of Eastern Island from Sand Island, and could watch the albatross fly overhead. While they seem graceful, they can be somewhat clumsy with their take offs and landings. Unfortunately I would occasionally hear the wings of some clip the branches of the tree I had hung my hammock on. Don’t forget, these birds have been around a long long time and It is in their DNA to fly around these islands in their native states… without the ironwoods the Navy planted.

Check out this video of the birds flying by. I slowed down part of it for a closer look bath them.  It’s amazing how great their wingspan is and the pattern on the underside of their wings fascinates me. You can see the grayish-brown baby albatross blending into the foreground waiting for its parent (and it’s next meal).

When Life Give You Lemons…

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Those of my friends who know me know I love to cook.  No need to do that here with these great Thai chefs whipping up yummy Thai food that makes me turn bright red and sweat out of my eyeballs.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the spice!  It’s all very delicious or as I would say in Thai… A roi marrk ka (translation = very delicious).
And the salad here is grown hydroponically and is so fresh.  Only problem is… the salad dressing is the processed stuff.  So for the past several weeks I’ve made the salad dressings.  I made a maple vinaigrette (though I think it’s imitation maple syrup but still yummy), a ginger sesame vinaigrette and a lemon vinaigrette made from the lemons grown on the island. Sounds lovely to go out and pick lemons but it’s not so easy.  The island is for sure taking itself back over the years and being a bird refuge there are Petrel burrows everywhere.  I’ve mentioned this briefly before that if you step on a burrow you will sink into it and essentially kill the bird by suffocating and trapping it in there.  You have to step on the entrances of the hole because all the flat areas around it are the roofs and will cave in.  Of course the lemon tree is surrounded by petrel burrows and especially uneven ground.
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The National Fish and Wildlife people have created these sort of snoopy like snow shoes made out of plywood that disperse your weight so you don’t sink into the holes.  They work most of the time but are not easy to walk in and especially not easy to walk in a mine field of  petrel burrows with Albatross chicks snapping at you wondering what the hell you are doing.    So to make this vinaigrette I needed to first get to the tree and get the lemons which was the hardest part of all.   I had to strap on my plywood petrel shoes and step my way through.  It felt like a vertical game of twister.
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The lime trees are much easier to get to so I welcome any lime salad dressing recipes!

Midway’s Obstacle Course

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The fluffy brown ones don’t move but they snap at you, poop far distances and if scared could puke a stenchful bolus onto your shoes or pant legs. They adults could bolt in any direction though more often then not they just freak out and stay still. They don’t see you coming until you are right over them and can come flying down with their 3 foot wingspan right at you or from either side.

Creepy Places Part III – The Forgotten Room

I’m gonna say this one takes the cake.  Why??  Because it’s in the building I live in!  First, let me tell you a little bit about the housing here on the island.  Most people live in these remodeled houses that are really nice.  Others live in duplex homes, also nice.  Both of those have been around since the war but have pretty much been remodeled.  I live is what is called Charlie Barracks.  There is also a Bravo Barracks, a twin of Charlie Barracks, next door but that’s condemned and due to come down in a year or so (see the picture below, its exactly what my Barracks look like).  There are two other Barracks behind my office that are also condemned and no one goes in them.  There use to be other homes but they’ve been torn down in the past few years and though there’s sometimes still a cement foundation still there, those areas are being taken back by the island and covered in Albatross nests and Petrel burrows.

So back to Charlie Barracks, where I live, in this three story building with about 30 or so rooms and only one other guy who lives upstairs from me.  (Interesting that this was the last person for me to meet on this island and I didn’t set eyes on him for at least a week, he’s kid of a hermit).  Anyhoo…  its pretty quiet here in “Charlie” though on occasion I have heard some really strange sounds that I try to pretend I didn’t hear.  The walls are cinderblock and rebar is rusting from within.  It’s the last standing Barracks.  That said, I like my digs.  It has a living area, a full size fridge (who needs it with the great food here made by the Thai’s), microwave and a queen bed.  Did I mention the nice sized TV with the Air Force Network providing weather from around the world, Magnum PI practically around the clock, and the descriptive channel for the blind… “silver and blue lines form the profile of a cubby man” = Alfred Hitchcock intro.

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Bravo Barracks taken from my window in Charlie.  The beach is just on the other side of those ironwood trees, so I guess you can say I have a beach side condo.

One night I was doing laundry which is down this long hallway and down the stairs.  I sent a friend this pic on my way back to my room down the deserted hallway.  My room at that far left dark corner by the EXIT sign.

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But that’s not what my super creepy meter go off.  I was walking around one day, exploring the third floor, when I saw a door with a padlock on it.  THere’s plenty of locked doors around here , however this one had some slats on the door that were missing at about knee level., a couple feet off the floor.  So I squatted down to take a peek through the spot in the door with the missing slats and this is what I found.

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The Forgotten Room in Charlie Barracks (where I live!)

What do you think?  Where does this fall on the creepy scale?

April Fool’s Midway!!

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For an April Fool’s prank, I decided to put bicycle tassels on people’s bikes around the island!  You know, the kind we had when we were kids.  I couldn’t buy tassels since there’s no store here that sells them and ordering them would take a fair amount of time to get here, what with limited flights and ships coming out here.  Fortunately for this prank (unfortunately for the planet) there is plenty of marine debris available to someone creative and mischievous like me.   So using some of the marine rope that washes ashore constantly, I made some tassels.  I did recruit and island friend and co-conspirator to help me out.  Then, last night, we went out and put them on the bikes for people to find this morning.   It wasn’t hard for people to figure out it was me, they’re getting to know my personality by now.  We’ll see how long and who leaves their cute tassels on the bikes.   April Fool’s Midway!!!

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How to immerse yourself in your adventure 101

I don’t know why I find so much amusement in doing this.  I remember reading Endurance while in a wind storm in a deep antarctic field camp with the sound of the tent walls flapping a deafening sound, immersing me in what I can imagine Shackelton and his crew were experiencing.  Well, a much nicer version of it, in a world of C130’s and C17’s that I know will eventually come retrieve me from the vast white continent…eventually.   So when I found this book here on the island, a woman’s first hand experience living on one of these atolls in the northwest end of the Hawaiian archipelago, I knew I needed to take it out to the beach to read it.  I was reading the chapter she wrote about monk seals, while one was soaking in the sun, just like me, about 100 or so feet away.  I got a kick out of this, hopefully you will too…

 

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It reminded me of my backpacking trip to Patagonia.  I had just finished a hike and met a cool couple from Germany/Australia.  We got a box of wine and went to chill it in the glacial lake.  I opened my little pocket guide book to get ready for the next days trek and noticed this page…

 

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Its these moments where you just feel like you’re in the right place at the right time.  Like when I was at field camp and it was a “nice day” out.  When the sun was out and the wind was calm, I liked taking long walks down the empty ski-way where the planes would come in on.  One of those days I was walking, listening to my iPod shuffle when I looked around and with each step I took the light reflected off these giant snowflakes like giant diamonds all around me and in the distance for miles.  It was that moment I noticed the lyrics Bob Dylan was singing “I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it.”   I was like, “whaaaa???” what in the world was Dylan experiencing that he wrote those lyrics cause I was like totally on a highway of diamonds with nobody on it, and I’d put money on it that he wasn’t walking down the Ski-way at WAIS Divide Camp when he came up with that lyric. (Read that blog post here – A Highway of Diamonds)

 

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Its in these moments that I stop questioning life, I live in the moment and it overwhelms me.

 

 

Creepy Places (Part II)

I love going out to the cargo pier.  There’s a stretch of beach on either side that I scour for glass balls and pick up garbage.  On my way out there I always see this bunker/underground structure which has caught my eye.   There are trees growing on top, big trees that probably started growing long after this structure was built.

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It’s not exactly easy to just walk up to anything on this island.   There is a type of bird that burrows a nest into the sand and creates a tunnel under the surface.  You can’t tell exactly where this tunnel might be so you can crush the tunnel and get the bird stuck in there.  I’d say this was a booby trap but it’s not the Black Footed Boobies that make the nests underground, it’s the Bonin Petrels.  (Ya gotta know your birds living on this island).  The petrels are a sweet bird and I don’t particularly want to entrap one only to suffocate.  If you cave in a petrel burrow you are expected to dig out the tunnel and see if you see something moving.  If you do, you pull the bird out while hoping all the time that a giant centipede doesn’t crawl up your hand and bite you.  (I hear these bites hurt like the dickens!)  So, yeah, I don’t like crushing the homes of sweet little birds but I really, really don’t like centipedes.  I have seen these suckers and they average about 6 inches long!

Well in search of more creepy places for this multipart blog post, I have taken this chance and walked up to this bunker to take a better look.  There’s just this added level of spook when A. no one is around and B. when you know these bunkers are like 80 years old from the war and are haunted!

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I walked up to the entrance and to my surprise, I can see all the way through to the other side.  Sweet…two ways out if something jumps out at me or I totally freak out.  I crept further into the tunnel, slightly well lit yet I pulled out my cell phone to use the flashlight anyway.  There was some weird and like everything else on this island… rusty stuff inside the tunnel (a few sinks, fire hose, some engine like parts, etc).  About halfway through the tunnel there were two doors on either side, each with a little “foyer” and another door into a very dark, dark room.

This is where I chickened out and didn’t go any further, the creepy factor was just way too high but I got a good adrenaline rush just being in the tunnel.  It was a nice view through the other side but I was ready to get out of there.

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On my way out, with my back turned from the two doors, I hear a terrifying scream!!!  I turned around and this guy was sitting in the corner…

Red Tailed Tropic Bird

A Red Tailed Tropic Bird!  This one was probably nesting in there.  Oh and while I’m on the subject of finding creepy places… I was back in the Gymnasium tonight and in my search for a good adrenaline rush I went into the bathroom, using my phone’s flashlight instead of flipping on the lights I slowly found my way inside and heard a noise coming from further inside the bathroom.  I took a few more steps past the sauna and not only heard the sound again but saw the garbage can move in a slight rocking movement!!!  As I creeped up to it I saw that there was a Bonin Petrel Bird inside it and not flying out.

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So I took the whole garbage can outside and thankfully there was a Fish and Wildlife volunteer there who helped the bird out of the garbage but it was stuck to part of the garbage bag.  I tried to take it off but it was twisted around it’s little ankle.  Fortunately she was able to hold onto it as I untwisted the plastic from around it’s leg.  It didn’t exactly fly away but then again it was dusk and those guys really don’t fly around until after dark.  I went back into the creepy bathroom to return the garbage can with the volunteer right behind me.  While we were in the bathroom I went to check out the sauna and as I stepped in with my flashlight in hand and her watching me step in slowly I let out a big scream and grabbed the wall of the sauna… just to give her a little taste of the adrenaline!!  I’m such a devious troublemaker.

 

Love birds

Outside my office window is the sweetest bird couple.  I’ve watched them cuddle, take care of their little one together and I’ve watched them play (thought they could have been bickering, who knows).  I believe these guys pair up for life long monogamous couples so in honor of my friends Rachel and Vero who tied the proverbial knot this weekend, I dedicate this blog post them.  Mazel Tov!  I wish I could have been there, I’m sorry I missed it.