As I write this column, I’m being serenaded by a lone rooster somewhere beneath my balcony at the Sheraton Kauai Resort. More than 25 years have passed since I last visited Poipu, so I doubt that this is the same bird who nested outside our room when Barry and I celebrated our wedding anniversary here. He (the rooster, not my late husband) sounds lonely, and I’m sure he is, because he’s only the second chicken I’ve seen so far on this visit.
Before coming over to perform storytelling at The Shops at Kukui’ula as part of the annual Koloa Plantation Days celebration, I’d been to the Garden Isle only half a dozen times. I was around 10 years old on my first visit, when I nearly drowned in the kidney-shaped pool at the Kauai Surf. My mother saved my life.
Mom had never learned to swim, despite — or perhaps because of — the tragic deaths of her brother and sister, ages 7 and 4, in a Maui punawai (reservoir) a decade before she was born. She was adamant that I not inherit her fear of the water, so she enrolled me in the County of Maui swim classes at NASKA Pool.
Although I loved splashing around in the water, my swimming skills were practically nonexistent. With a lot of patient coaching by the county lifeguards, I finally learned how to dog paddle and even do a decent back float. I was anxious to show off my newly acquired skills.
“Watch, Mommy! I can go all the way across the pool on my back!”
“OK, but try the short way first,” she cautioned.
Full of confidence, I pushed off from the wall at the narrowest part of the pool. Propelling myself with gentle kicks, arms out at my sides, I fixed my gaze on the clouds, as the lifeguards had taught me. When I knew I was closing in on the opposite side, I stretched one arm up, in the direction I was headed, hoping to touch the wall with my fingers rather than the top of my head. After what seemed like an hour with no contact, I flipped myself upright and was dismayed to see that I’d been going in circles in the middle of the pool.
Panic and fatigue hit me all at once, and my desperate attempts to tread water were getting me nowhere. My mother was amazingly calm as I cried out to her, “Mommy, I can’t!” On her hands and knees at the edge of the pool, she commanded me to look at her and keep paddling. One stroke at a time, she urged me on, until I was finally close enough for her to grasp one of my flailing arms and haul me out of the pool. It wasn’t until years later that she told me how terrified she’d been during the ordeal.
My next trip to Kauai was with the Baldwin High speech and debate teams. We checked into the Tip Top Motel and, as teenagers usually do on school trips, we stayed up through most of the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn until the next morning that the motel regularly shut off the hot water after 8 p.m. Even in the tropics, a cold shower after midnight will chill you to the bone.
On both those trips, and on our wedding anniversary weekend, the abundance of feral chickens fascinated me. Visitor guidebooks and websites claim that Hurricane Iniki in 1992 caused the proliferation, when hundreds of domestic hens and fighting cocks were liberated from their coops by the storm. But we old-timers know better. Kauai was overrun with the wild birds long before Iniki.
The urban legend goes back to the late 1800s, when mongooses were introduced to the islands in an effort to control the rat population. Supposedly, the crate of mongooses destined for Kauai fell off the boat or the dock, and the authorities decided not to try again, as it was soon discovered that the mongooses preferred chicken eggs to rats, anyway.
But I was surprised to see, on this visit, only a solitary hen wandering around the Lihue Airport baggage claim. Here in Poipu, the egrets seem to have supplanted the roosters. Meanwhile, over the past decade or so, feral chickens have become an all too common nuisance in Wailuku and Kahului.
Is it coincidental? Or have the Kauai chickens started emigrating to Maui? I hate to say it, but I suspect some sort of fowl play.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o”
column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.