I spent two days out at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge area helping to train Federal land managers and others on Native Hawaiian culture, history and values as they relate to discoveries of ancestral human skeletal remains and the application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. I had brought my camera with me but was so busy and exhausted that it was only towards the end of our second, and last day, that I was able to take a walk around the Refuge to look for birds.
Unfortunately, I was wearing a bright red and yellow Aloha shirt and no matter how carefully and quietly I walked around, most birds could sense me coming from a mile away and skittish bird after startled bird would bolt off and fly away before I could even focus my camera. I would hear bird noises, and carefully peer around the reeds, only to see glimpses of fleeing startled birds.
It was hot and humid and I was worn out getting lost amongst the various pathways and ponds. I finally was about to give up when I came across the only two Nēnē on O'ahu. I had caught a glimpse of them earlier in the day but didn't have my camera with me at the time. I was elated they were still there.
Worried they would fly off, I walked slowly towards them, trying not to make direct eye-contact. They just stared at me. Watching me pretending not to watch them. I took some distant shots out of fear that they would bolt at any moment. As I walked closer and closer, they stayed put. Watching me intently. I got about as humbly close as I could without truly wanting them to flee, or feel threatened by my presence, and was humbly grateful to obtain some nice photos. It made my two days out there worth it lugging around my heavy camera seemingly for nothing prior to seeing them.
I thanked them and began to slowly walk away. They both began honking a little. I looked back and laughed and continued on my walk back to join the group. The further I walked from them, the louder they began honking. I kept looking back and laughing as they continued to watch me intently. Finally when I was almost out of sight from them amongst the vegetation, I heard flapping and they both took flight, arcing in a flight path that brought right in front of me allowing me to capture them in flight. I was so grateful.
They landed way ahead of me, on my same path, and I could see them bobbing their heads up and down looking at me as I slowly headed in their direction along my chosen path.
As I came closer, they began honking again quietly this time. I felt like they wanted more pictures taken so they flew ahead of me, awaiting my arrival. I couldn't help but laugh. I took a few more photos as I passed them and thanked them again for their kindness. They truly Gifted me such a Beautiful Memory of those two days.
It wasn't until after this encounter that I learned that their 'ohana was from Kaua'i. My kulaiwi, Kaua'i, where my 'ohana is from as well. I also learned that like my surviving sister and I, they lost their Mother and Father, and their Beloved Sibling as well. Maybe we understood each other more deeply than either of us realized...