Many people wonder, my mother included, why I had to move so far away from home to find my home--from Missouri to Hawaii.
A little over a year ago, I sat in my living room on Kauai watching history in the making on TV as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. President Obama spoke about community service. He spoke about volunteerism. In his inaugural address, he said we needed a new era of responsibility--"a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our Nation, and the world." And as he spoke, my phone rang. Mary wanted to know if I could monitor an Hawaiian monk seal at a nearby beach.
"Of course," I said.
It wasn't Obama's speech that got me to say yes. I have a hard time saying no to Mary, a delightful, retired woman, and especially to requests to go sit on the beach and watch a Hawaiian monk seal sleep. They are endangered, you know. Fewer than 1,100 swimming the waters from Big Island clear to Midway Atoll National Wildife Refuge. We have, on average, 30 cruising the waters of Kauai. When they sleep, Hawaiian monk seals sport a smile that reminds me of the Dalai Lama. A dose of that always rights my day. The beach helps, too, and all that vitamin D revitalizing my life. (I wear sunscreen.)
In addition to Mary and monk seals, I have a hard time saying no, in general.
But can you blame me? Who could say no to spending Friday afternoons at humpback whale or dwarf sperm whale or spinner dolphin strands itself? Or hiking to an albatross colony to collect data on how many eggs have turned into downy fluff balls? Or traipsing through Kauai's verdant mountains with distant oceans views training my dog to find potential lost people? Or pupsitting newborn Hawaiian monk seals, the most endangered marine mammal in the U.S.?
I suppose that's why I was recognized a couple weeks ago at the annual volunteer banquet at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. And based on the others who received awards, I am not the only one who cannot say no. We were recognized with The President's Volunteer Service Award. We were given a certificate, a pin and a letter from President Obama. (It would have been even cooler if the letter's signature was real and not digitized, but, oh well.)
I haven't always been this way. I did not grow up volunteering. It seems, though, that I cannot say no to the opportunities offered to me in Hawaii--the beaches, the mountains, the wildlife, the reef, the people. I get to do the coolest things here. But believe you me, I wouldn't do them if I wasn't getting something in return. I think I am a closet science geek, because I love this stuff. As President Obama wrote in his letter to me (and thousands of others), "These are duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit than giving our all to a difficult task." That's why I trek down to remote beaches in search of seals that scientists can tag with transmitter devices--all in an effort to, hopefully, reverse the 4% annual decline in the Hawaiian monk seal population.
And, I guess, that's why I had to move so far away from home to find my home.
Hawaiian Monk Seals, the Spirit of Service and a New President
In Search of Seals on Kauai
The Newest Cell Phone Debuts in Hawaii: The Seal Phone