by the Earth's Umbilical Cord
Posted by Ann Bell Hudgins
left the sandy isles of French
Frigate Shoals last night and awoke next to the face
of Gardner Pinnacles,
the last volcanic remnant we will lay eyes on above sea
level as we continue our northwesterly voyage.
had the impression that Gardner was just a big rock. I contemplated
not going and felt my time could be better spent by staying
aboard Rapture, the vessel that has become our home
and office, and get ahead with my writing projects. As fate
would have it I ate breakfast across from one of few people
on board who had set foot on Gardner Pinnacles. I asked
him what he thought of the place, he replied, "To be
sitting on the top of Gardner Pinnacles is an awesome experience."
His words changed my mind.
minutes later I was headed out to sea in a rubber dinghy.
Upon getting closer to larger of the two Gardner Pinnacles
a curious Monk seal checked us out. Close by, two spotted
eagle rays were mating as another was trying to 'get in
on the action.' We were stunned at the physical beauty of
the moment -- the stark contrast between the cobalt blue
waters and the two black basalt pinnacles jutting out from
the bottom of the sea. Less than a minute later our senses
had to refocus. Wave sets and lack of flat space on the
rock dictated our safety. Looking ahead we noted we would
have to velcro our bodies onto a 45-degree rock face with
only a few puka (holes) to hold on to. Two at a time we
ejected from the boat guided by wave set intervals.
ashore we stowed our gear above the high-water line. Each
step we took required careful planning to avoid brown noddy
chicks. We soon realized the earth was not steady as it
crumbled beneath the shear weight of our bodies. Methodically
one by one we
reached to the top and slowly sandwiched ourselves in a
space about the size of a dining room occupied by 20 masked
booby couples, eggs and chicks. They stared in disbelief.
Humans don't come here often. After about 10 minutes everybody
seemed to get used to each other's company. Then the comedy
show began as the females loudly squawked and the males
made a sound like a broken whistle. Much of the ruckus seemed
to be focused on territorial rights issues.
this vantage point we helped biologists count the birds.
We noted on field pads whether they were adults, juveniles
or chicks. Then we took a breather and relaxed enough to
absorb the view. That is when an unexpected 'chicken skin'
moment occurred. This rock is ancient. This is it! It is
the last emergent volcanic remnant in the Hawaiian archipelago.
To the northwest are low sandy islets encircled by coral
reefs and underwater seamounts, to the southeast the islands
progressively became larger. I was sitting on the top of
a 200-foot pinnacle over 10 million years old that was attached
like an umbilical cord to one of the most massive mountains
on the planet. Eight hundred miles away Hawai`i island,
more commonly called the Big Island, was continuing to grow
as this small ancestral rock was fading away.
silence I wrote in my journal, then began the ascent. Along
the way I noted we left human caused scars on the face of
this rock. There were seams on ledges caused by the weight
of our bodies. Birds were flushed and frightened. Imprints
which were not natural to this special place. It was something
I did not feel good about. It was enough to cause me to
wake up the next morning and rethink my experience. Why
did I go? Was it right? What was I trying to prove? Two
maybe one biologist could have assessed the biological health
of this place. Was it critical I go?
know if I ever am blessed enough to see Gardner Pinnacles
again. I will not want to go ashore. All I can hope is that
I holdfast to the wisdom of this day. Many lessons can be
learned and can be just as powerful from observing this
magnificent symbol from afar.