Illumination – Fire

Dear Nature,
My trips to Kauai have given me the opportunity to observe a lot of Hawaii’s flora and fauna, leading me to create a collection of paintings inspired by those observations. I painted this rare native hibiscus, koki’o ‘ula. Its bright orange blossoms seem to be illuminated by their own inner fire. A rare gem that exists in the wild only in the northwestern highland forests of Kauai. 90% of the native plants of Hawaii are found nowhere else in the world and are some of the most endangered. Hawaii is known as the ‘extinction capital of the world’. The Hawaiian islands formed in isolation resulting in many species of flora and fauna that exist only in this island paradise. Some species, like the koki’o ‘ula, evolved even further into subspecies on the individual islands in the chain. Many plants evolved to specialized shapes to attract pollinators, setting up a future in which the survival of both plant and pollinator in the wild are inextricably intertwined.

With Love, Kelly

ʻAlae ʻula
Hawaiian Gallinule

Dear Nature,
There are birds on Kauai that look  very familiar, such as this Hawaiian gallinule, or ʻAlae ʻula. It resembles the common moorhen of the mainland, however, it is found only in Hawaii and is considered an endemic subspecies of the common moorhen, meaning it evolved only in Hawaiʻi. Today it is found only on Kauai and Oahu; it is extinct on the other Hawaiian islands. It is a federally endangered species. A wary secretive bird of freshwater ponds and marshes, I have been lucky enough to spot them often in the garden where I work when I am on Kauaʻi. 

In Hawaiian mythology, ʻAlae ʻula brought fire from the volcano home of the gods to the Hawaiian people. During his flight, the gallinuleʻs formerly white forehead was burned red by the volcanosʻ fire. 

With Love, Kelly

Hawaiian Stilt

Dear Nature,

Hānau ke kioea ka makua
Puka kana keiki he kukuluae‘o, lele

Born was the curlew, the parent
Out came its child, a stilt, and flew

–From the Hawaiian creation chant, Kumulipo, as translated by Martha Beckwith

Another bird that resembles a mainland bird is the Aeʻo or Hawaiian Stilt. It looks just like the black-necked stilt. Todayʻs Hawaiian stilts are descendants of a flock that found its way to the Hawaiian Islands eons ago and evolved into a distinct subspecies. They are listed as federally and state endangered, threatened by wetland development and predation by feral cats and invasive mongoose. They were also hunted for sport up until a permanent ban in 1941.

The Aeʻo are found in marshy areas and mudflats.  Though there are fewer than 2000 individuals left, I was able to find them quite often on Kauai, dressed up in their formal feathers and stalking the coastal wetlands on top of their bright pink stilts!

With Love, Kelly

Guardian Spirits of the Land

Dear Nature,  
The state bird of Hawaii is the nēnē or Hawaiian goose.  The Hawaiian name, ʻnēnē, comes from the bird’s soft, almost gentle call, a low murmuring ʻnay-nay.’ The literal translation of the word in the Hawaiian language means “to chirp, as a cricket; to croak … whimpering, as a sleeping infant.”  The goose has also been known to “moo” like a cow. Nene are mentioned in the Kumulipo (the Hawaiian creation chant) as being guardian spirits of the land. In Hawaiian culture, they are seen as a symbolic joining force between the mountains and the coast because of their seasonal movements. 

Nearly extinct in 1951, the nēnē population was estimated at only 30 birds. Captive-bred birds have re-established populations on several of the islands, including Kauai, where I’ve had the pleasure of observing them in their natural habitat. 

With Love, Kelly

Kokiʻo keʻokeʻo

Dear Nature,
The little white hibiscus or kokiʻo keʻokeʻo (hisbiscus white white!) is a native endemic species of Hawaii, one subspecies occurring only on Kauai, and the other on Oahu. Another species that occurs nowhere else in the world. I find that a breathtaking to think about and I am grateful that I have had the privilege of meeting this rare treasure.

The Hawaiian people are deeply connected to the land, the creative earth energy, so I tried to find if this beautiful little white flower is tied to any Hawaiian myths, but all I could find is references that it is often “mentioned in ancient Hawaiian songs and legends. I have wondered if the pull I feel for Kauai might mean I lived there in another lifetime. It that is true, I wish I could sit down with one of my ʻkupuna wahinesʻ, my grandmother, my grandaunt or one of my female ancestors (!) to ask her about the legend of the kokiʻo keʻokeʻo.

With Love, Kelly

ps – kokiʻo keʻokeʻo is the only native hibiscus with a scent

Old Frog

Dear Nature,
Happy World Frog Day!

From bogs old frogs command the dark

and look…the stars”

        – Kikaku, Japanese Haiku

Frogs are an incredibly diverse group, distributed all over the world. However, one-third of the frog and toad species are threatened with extinction. So, today is not only a day to celebrate all of the wordʻs amphibians, but to realize their plight and pledge to help conserve and protect them.

I came across this frog splayed out on its back on my daily walk this past December. It was a fair bit away from the swamp, and suspiciously near where I see the resident barred owl. I thought it was dead and went to flip it over, when it suddenly twitched. I gently turned it over and helped to rearrange its legs back underneath it. Then I carried it over to a tree and tucked it against the trunk and covered it with leaves.  I want to believe that I did my little part to save an old frog.

With Love, Kelly

Winter into Spring

Dear Nature,
The calendar has turned over to spring, a turning I always look forward to. The birds have been singing spring songs for a while now, but there are whispers of winter still lingering. The ‘snow birds’ and the white-throated sparrows are still here, but probably not for long. There is one small little hill of snow stubbornly clinging to icy life at the end of our driveway, where the snow plow pushed it when the sun still set before five o’clock. And for the last week or so, there has been a rare pair of tundra swans hanging out on a pond only miles away from my house. I’ve visited them a few times watching them feed; one keeps watch as the other submerges its head under water to find food. They must be on their way back to their summer arctic home from their winter ranges south of here. They will be leaving soon though, as winter melts into spring. Today my purple crocuses bloomed.

With Love, Kelly

ps when I stepped outside to photograph the card, there was still light in the sky @7pm and I heard the spring peepers for the first time this year!