On the Big Island

Posted on Saturday, October 01, 2011, under ,


By the coastal road
the large trees barely stand
wrapped and stifled
by the orange cobwebs
of Pele’s hair.
Like handsome Ohi’a
the trees look helpless
forever transfigured
by the outrageous
air plant from abroad.

I listen to tree frogs’
ko-kee, ko-kee
in darkness. Like me
they are guests,
albeit permanent.
I am a man possessed,
trying hard to pinpoint
the song’s source,
detect its distant
insular dialect.

Spanish moss is an epiphyte which absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall. Spanish moss is colloquially known as "air plant". Spanish moss was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century, and became a popular ornamental and lei plant. Recently it is occasionally called "Pele's hair" after Pele the Hawaiian goddess. The term "Pele's hair" usually refers to a type of filamentous volcanic glass.

When Coqui tree frogs accidentally arrived in Hawaii with shipments of plants from Florida or Puerto Rico, the response was ballistic. The mayor of Hawaii declared a state of emergency. Scientists feared the sky was falling, and that the coquis, which eat lots of insects, would decimate the insect population to the point of starving all other insectivorous creatures. The sound of the frogs, a two-toned "ko-KEE", was described as a "shrill shriek" guaranteed to keep everyone awake at night, run down property values, and drive away tourists.

Ironically, this same coqui frog is the national animal of Puerto Rico, its native land. In fact, Puerto Ricans love this frog and its chirping sound so much that it is honoured in local folklore. People describe the nighttime sound of the coqui as soothing and necessary for sleep, and Puerto Rican travellers often bring recordings of coquis with them when away from home to help them sleep. [http://www.hawaiiancoqui.org/]

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