Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 3rd week in December - 'opihi

What's Happening in Hawaii 
During the 3rd Week in December

Kāpeku ka leo o ke kai,
o ho'oilo ka malama.
When the voice of the sea is harsh, 
the winter months have come.

 December usually brings the year's largest surf, generated by storms in the North Pacific. Kāpeku ("harsh") describes the thunder of big surf and refers to the ancient practice of noisily splashing the water to scare fish into a net. The winter waves have a similar effect, stirring the ocean bottom to depths as great as 240 feet, dislodging a variety of creatures and washing them to shore.
On the islands' northern and western coasts, this is a particularly dangerous time to pick 'opihi (limpets) but a good time to look for sea life on the beaches. In doing so, don't ignore the sand under your feet. The turbulence of storm surf helps create the beaches by bringing ashore the remains of millions of tiny organisms. Much of the white sand of Hawai'i is composed of shells of single-celled animals (Foraminifera, a kind of protozoa), which feed on oceanic bacteria. Some, like the "paper shell" depicted above, grow as large as a quarter of an inch across.

Images and text from "Hawaii: A Calendar of Natural Events"
published by the Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 2nd week in December - Mauna kea

What's Happening in Hawaii 
during the 2nd Week in December:

Mauna Kea
Photo by C. Tucker

The first snow comes to Mauna Kea about now, though it sometimes happens sooner. Snow may also fall on Mauna Loa and Haleakalā, but it lasts longest on Mauna Kea, whose very name means "white mountain." Poli'ahu, the goddess of snow and sister of Pele, was called  ka wahine kapa hau anu o Mauna Kea, "the woman who wears the cold snow cape of Mauna Kea."
Mauna Kea (foreground) and Mauna Loa. 
Photo by C. Tucker.

Generally ill-equipped for cold, Hawaiians stayed inside by wood fires when the weather got bitter. Naueue ka hi'u o ka i'a lewa i ke kai, says a proverb about this time of year: "The tails of the fish that move in the sea tremble." Even the fish are shivering.

Text taken from "Hawai'i: A Calendar of Natural Events" 
published by Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Week in Nature: The 1st week in December - Makali'i

What's Happening in Hawai'i
during the 1st Week in December (Makali'i):

According to one legend, this month takes its name from a great navigator who steered the first canoes to the islands. Maka means "eyes" and li'i is short for ali'i, so his name can be translated "Eyes of the Chief," indicating his importance and prowess at steering by the stars. The Pleiades are also called the Makali'i, perhaps because of their use in the ancient science of celestial navigation.

Ilima on Oahu.
Photo by C. Tucker.

It is said that the hero Makali'i was a great farmer as well as steersman and that his name was given to December because it is the month when he planted his crops. Tradition also says that it is the time when 'ilima (Sida fallax) withers and ko'oko'olau (Bidens spp.) blossoms. 'Ilima is a dryland plant famous today for the flowers it gives to the lei of O'ahu. In the old days, along with ko'oko'olau, it was equally valued for its many medicinal uses. A proverb says, Ola no i ka pua o ka 'ilima - "There is healing in the 'ilima blossom."

'Ilima at Mokolii on Oahu.

Drawn image and text taken from "Hawai'i: A Calendar of Natural Events" 
published by Bishop Museum and Kamehameha Schools in 1989