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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/disharmony/


Ship Logs

Disharmony and the Fairy Tern
Written by Carlos Eyles
September 20, 2002

Midway beach with turtle.Passage last night was tolerable, that is to say no one was tossed out of their bunk. We arrived at Midway on schedule around 7:30 am, only to learn that we had entered another time zone and it was actually 6:30. But time for all intent and purpose had lost its meaning somewhere between Nihoa and French Frigate Shoals. Most have no clue of the time, or the day, I know I don't. We only know when we have fifteen minutes left before launch and how long we've been down on a dive, after that it's anybody's guess.

It is one of those pastel mornings, soft light and colors in tangerines and pinks. Sparse clouds on a flat sea, petrels on the wing as we approach Midway's channel. Upon entering the channel the first thing I notice is a rusted out shipwreck protruding fifteen feet out of the water. The island itself is a green sea of iron wood trees, red and white checkered fuel storage tanks, and a checkered water tower. Barrier reefs exposed themselves in white water waves on either side of the channel. We turn a corner and a breakwater comes into view then a pier with two big tug boats at rest, it is jarring to see man's presence, unlike all the other islands we have visited. It has a military feel to it, though there is no direct evidence, no uniforms, no naval ships, I don't even see the American Flag; perhaps it's the ghosts of its history that manifests the atmosphere.

Spinner dolphins jump on the bow and ride our wake to the entrance. Large buildings come into view, one as big as a gymnasium, more trees and illusion of tranquility. All is orderly and clean. All is quiet. There is a weird feeling to the place. I suppose it's because we have been traveling in such a vast wilderness and here we are so very far from anything and civilization emerges out a bunch of ironwood trees.

A tour is set up for us and after all forty of us collect bicycles we peddle our shaky sea legs away like a bunch of drunks out to explore the island. What I am struck with first is that this island is much like a war memorial for the sea battle that was named after the island, and was a major turning point in the naval war with Japan. In fact, the island is officially the National War Memorial to the Battle of Midway as well as the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. This island at one time housed nearly 5,000 military personnel, they had a K-12 School here, The George Cannon School, Mike May had a friend who graduated from this High school, we could travel to Morocco and Mike would know the butcher there. Midway was a complete village; with everything a village would have, a barber shop, a library, bowling alley, and of course bars. This island was many things at different times over the course of the last one hundred years. The Navy was the first to come in 1867 when Captain Reynolds of the Lackawanna took formal possession of the Atoll for the United States. Later the Commercial Pacific Cable Company laid their cable through here, which was a major undertaking. In the mid-thirties the rich and famous flew in Pan Am clipper air ships that had to stop here and refuel on their way to the Orient. They built a 40-room hotel with screened-in porches, solar-heated water, and electric lights and offered gourmet meals to their prestigious passengers. When the war broke out in 1941 it ended the short clipper ship era. Midway was attacked twice, first on December 7, 1941 and again on June 4, 1942 (there are still bullet holes in the seaplane hanger.) The military moved in full force and turned this atoll into a virtual fortress, the seabirds paid the price as did the monk seals and all marine life in general. The Navy remained here until 1996 when they turned the atoll over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Midway runway junk.Biking along the roads that crisscross the atoll I saw evidence of every undertaking by man in his intrusion on paradise. At the end of an old runway lies a beautiful white sand beach, fine like powdered sugar, upon which rolls lapping waves issued from a turquoise sea. Fairy terns dance in the wind, and rusting rebar and debris protrudes out of that same sea. Such contrasts are everywhere. The beautiful exists with the ugly, the wild with the tame, and the tranquil with the machinery of death. I struggle to make sense of it all and have come to the conclusion that this atoll is a microcosm for the folly of man in his mindless war against the natural world, against himself. All about lay the debris of failures, dreams, schemes, and war. All his arrogance is represented here, all his greed, his shortsightedness, and lack of humanity, his foolishness, and stupidity. Yet despite it all the white sand invites, the Fairy Terns fly in dreamlike loops, wings in a blur of perfect symmetry, the colors of the sea reflect off alabaster clouds turning the undersides the color of emerald green where they hover over the lagoon.

Like this atoll man has laid his heavy hand on this island earth. Only a few are keeping the gossamer threads of the natural world intact. If that thread breaks, if the few cannot keep it together, we will suffer the same fate as the rusted out machinery, the plastic shards. We will be the debris of another time that is no longer needed or useful. We will be cast upon shores of our own making, disconnected and in disharmony and the Fairy Tern will do its dance but there will be no one left to enjoy it.

Fairy Tern at Midway.  Photo by Jim Watt.

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