And on the other hand...

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Friday, April 24, 2009

No Time to Say Goodbye

It looks like my birds have flown. Saw the last kolea on my street last Wednesday. I was driving slowly along, looking for them to observe closely their breeding plumage because I'm trying to paint them in Chinese brush style, and there are no traditional reference standards for this bird. I thought they were all gone then, until one appeared pretty much right in the road in front of me. I stopped the car and took a quick photo; she seemed to have been waiting for me. Maybe that was her goodbye gesture. I hope to see her back on the street in August. I am calling her The Goodbye Girl. I know she is a female because the males are a bit more dramatic in the white and black feathering.

Since then, I have seen none, but it has been rainy the past couple days so I didn't even see the usual mynahs, bulbuls, pigeons, and doves. Tomorrow is the day the kolea are all ticketed for their Alaska charters. A few of them never leave for the summer, but these are birds that have not achieved their breeding state (as my Goodbye Girl has, judging by the white swashes and the black belly) or perhaps are too old. I wonder how they do it. At a specific mystical moment, do they all flap up to 3,000 feet, fasten their seat belts and just sit back to enjoy the migration flight?

While pondering the missing kolea, I was also thinking about a colleague who is retiring today (leaving me and another woman as les eminences gris in the office, although the other woman is blonde). How lovely to be able to say, today's the day, and just fly away. Although the kolea missed the farewell lei, the potluck and the pau hana* drinks at the sports bar across the street, within walking distance of the airport.

*pau hana (pow HAH-nah). Actual Hawaiian phrase. Means after work. Also after work drink. Junior wen bus up his truck. Get too many pau hana.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Going the Distance

The kolea are appearing a little more erratically each morning as I drive to work, either because of the ongoing "wintry" weather or more likely, because they are becoming agitated in preparation for their upcoming migration. No longer resembling nondescript heavy sparrows on long legs, they have been vividly color-corrected the way my Chinese painting master fixes my modest works, with bold slashes of white and black gouache, in their breeding plumage. Soon they will all take off, en masse, on or about April 25 for their long distance flight to Alaska. There they nest and raise young, before returning to Hawaii on or about August 25. In Hawaii they never leave their small grassy territories, except when they make that 5,500-mile non-stop round-trip* to Alaska. An enviable way to live really, a jet-set frequent-flyer lifestyle from one beach home to another, and their journey always astonishes me, much as I was impressed by someone who told me yesterday he'd shaved his head because he's in training to make a long- distance, inter-island channel swim, an equally daunting way to cross an ocean. (Curiously, now he looks just like Capt. Picard of Star Trek, another one who knows about long distances, albeit at warp speeds.)

The kolea's internal clocks are ticking just like the odometer in my beloved 1990 Miata, soon to make a serious milestone of her own. With 197,000+ miles on the dial, I believe she will make the magic 200,000 before my birds return. Not really paying attention at the time a few years ago, I missed the ritual I have enjoyed more than once in my life, of driving around in a parking lot until the odometer turns over to 100K and celebrating with a bottle of champagne. Although I did manage to have a drink with a friend when the roadster, as plucky and durable as a kolea, made 111,111 miles, my friend observing that TAO 61 had "achieved oneness."

I drive a little more than 200 miles Monday through Friday (rarely leaving home on weekends); that gives me about 15 weeks to make the milestone, maybe early to mid-July. By the time the kolea come home, I will have driven the equivalent of about eight times around the Earth, about 35 kolea roundtrips, or a good chunk of the distance to the moon (238,000+ miles), a new milestone to shoot for. All this with only one clutch replacement; my father would be proud of me! Although I did total the car once, and I blew a head gasket at 50K, but she still gets good gas mileage and runs as sprightly as a kolea across a field. And I can park anywhere, and I never have to pick up people at the airport; where would I put them and their luggage?

When you fly to Hawaii on United (and maybe other airlines too) from the U.S. West Coast, you can participate in a game to guess the halfway time based on calculations the airline gives you: airspeed, headwinds, distance, factors that kolea just know by instinct, but that actually bore me to tears. (I can buy my own champagne.) The closest winner, usually some honeymooning couple, gets a bottle of champagne, fresh from the first class galley.

Here's my game: to the person who most closely predicts the day I make my 200K milestone, I will send a bottle of champagne to drink in your own favorite parking lot in honor of TAO 61 -- and my faithful mechanic. I may even send you his phone number.

*Approximate distance, Honolulu to Anchorage and back; I don't know their individual itineraries.