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The ethereal voice of Mehana soared as I gazed over the expanse of Kilauea from the peak of Nihoku on our second day at Kauai. Aloha e nihoku is what we began to sing as we nervously, yet resolutely joined her in our oli praising the beauty and wealth of the waters of Kauai. Ever since then, I’ve continued to be awed by features of the aina no matter how big or small. From the blades of grass shivering in the gentle breeze to the ocean’s stunning mosaic of blues 500 feet below me, I’m constantly reminded about why and how important it is to protect our environment.

Cliff of Nihoku with ocean waves crashing upon it
Cliff of Nihoku

The views of the ocean standing at the peak of NihokuIt is true that I work directly with the aina at both the Kilauea Point and Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, and I am blessed by the beauty of it every single day. I do feel a connection towards it, a need to protect it, but I don’t know if I’m doing enough or understanding their culture. Because here, the land is the culture.

There is also this sense of alienation because I am not working with a community partner that interacts directly with native Hawaiians. When I see a tourist approaching an endangered nene (Hawaiian goose) too closely to get the perfect Instagram picture, I get annoyed and warn them to maintain a distance. Yet, I wonder sometimes if I look just like them to native Hawaiians.

I’ve also been reflecting on how I treat my land back home, and I feel guilty because I know I haven’t been doing enough back home. Last summer, I worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center for 20 to 40 hours per week, but this summer from the burnout from Duke, I kept pushing off going back to help. And I felt and continue to feel really, really guilty because I ask myself if I could muster the energy to help out here, why couldn’t I muster the energy to help back home?

I guess it’s weird for me to feel all these emotions because they are so often buried when I’m at Duke since I have no time to deal with them. In a sense, I feel more relaxed, but also more anxious and angsty (haha an angsty teen) because of the overwhelming swarm of emotions. However, the emotions underlying the above emotions are a mixture of pride and gratitude. I am grateful for the beautiful sunsets that somehow illuminate every part of my soul. I am proud of the invasive owl and cat enclosure we have reconstructed to help protect native species. I am grateful for the past work of native Hawaiians and rangers because I can enjoy the stunning diversity of birds, from the funny steps of the Hawaiian coot to the majestic flight of the ʻIwa (Great frigatebird). I am proud of inspiring awe and appreciation in elementary school students as we explore a 39-foot inflatable humpback whale together and helping with an annual, statewide nene survey. I am grateful for the support of my cohort, my site coordinator, and my program director and proud of the conservation work they have done and continue to do.

Conducting the annual nene survey in Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge
Conducting the annual nene survey at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

So why the title of this blog post? When I absentmindedly stared at my acai bowl, I noticed an unusual connection between my emotions and my dessert. The bananas, papaya, and the lilikoi syrup were drizzled on top of the acai like my sense of alienation, uncertainty, and guilt on top of my pride and gratitude. So here’s a mouth-watering picture of it for good measure!

acai bowl