A filly was born to a Spring Creek Basin band on Saturday, May 17th. That week I had been irrigating daily (still am), messing with the little gates on the gated pipe, opening them, watching the water shoot out, and tapping them closed to trickle size. With my long, skinny-bladed shovel, I worked on the “forks” coming from the gates. They might better be called tines, as they are the little ditches that carry the trickles of water out into the field and look more like what stabs your salad than what you hold in your hand. At any rate, as I spent the afternoons moving water, I kept seeing pictures of Hōkūle`a in my mind. Hōkūle`a, and all her people.
Hōkūle`a is a Polynesian voyaging canoe, the first of her kind to sail the open ocean in over 500 years. It’s true she’s a “replica,” as there were no actual canoes left from which to trace the exact design, but she bears the features of the original deep-sea vessels: double hulls, open deck, claw-foot sails. She was built to prove a point, and she did it well: A millennia before European sailors sailed off their coastlines, Polynesians had the means and skill to sail across uncharted waters, using the stars and the signs of the sea to guide them. Although this hadn’t happened for centuries, in 1976 Hōkūle`a sailed to Tahiti, the men on board using no motor or modern navigational equipment. Wind carried them, stars guided them, and thousands of people greeted them from the sands of Papeete when the canoe entered the bay.
History was changed that day, and history made. And still Hōkūle`a sails, carrying hundreds of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians across the sea. On May 17th, she set sail again, launching a years’ long international voyage: Mālama Honua, caring for the Earth, our communal island. Many people will sail aboard the mother canoe, and others will be on board Hikianalia, the newest canoe in the `ohana wa`a, canoe family, built to escort Hōkūle`a across different oceans as she visits twenty-six nations around the globe.
I saw the people of the `ohana wa`a in the irrigation water. Just pictures, faces, senses of people I know, people I love. I didn’t know I was even thinking about them as I pushed open little plastic gates, or tapped them closed, but faces floated in the streams I made, the majestic canoe their backdrop. As I left the fields, loaded my horse, and drove out to Disappointment Valley, I was aware down to nerve and bone of the preparations taking place on O`ahu to get Hōkūle`a ready for the next day, the sail to Hawai`i Island, the beginning of the journey. And aware, too, that while all preparations could be done impeccably, the ultimate director of when the journey would get fully underway was the wind.
From the corrals on Road 19Q in Disappointment Valley, I rode with members of the 4 Corners Back Country Horsemen into Spring Creek Basin to count mustangs. I was as tied to the land as I’ve ever been, my horse’s four legs connecting me to the Mancos shale that paved the arroyos and flats and hills of the basin. The wild horses grounded me, as well, as they moved away on a sea of cool-season grasses blowing in the wind, yet I was aware, so aware, that 3400 miles away across land and water, the canoe had started her journey.
When I caught up with TJ later in the day, she told me a filly had been born. By Chrome, out of Mariah, a delicate little filly had slid from the mother out into the grass sea. I hiked around the east side of Filly Peak in the twilight, Chrome, the band stallion, watching me from down in a little valley, completely still but for that long wild mane I love twisting in the wind. Finally through the fieldglasses I found the rest of the band, and there was the tiny little long-legged thing standing in the last evening light beside her mother, Mariah.
The wind had kept us cool that mid-May day. The wind had launched a canoe and an epic journey. The wind Mariah had birthed a foal: Makani. Wind.