Learning to Read the 'Aina

Look at the land as if it were a musical score. Each part if the landscape is part if the musical staff: ground, water, grasses, low shrubs, tall shrubs and mid-story, trees, perches, canopy and above the canopy.

As a reader, you’re looking at plant and animal behavior. Looking for plant and animal hotspots is like highlighting the melody in a musical score. The ecosystem surrounding the hotspot is like the harmony that supports the melody.

Step 1: Look for behavior
Looking for the melody, find the solos and identify the harmony.

Spot the main characters and identify the supporting cast.

Look at the action, pull your perspective back and surround it by a 10 by 10 square.
We can call that the immediate habitat.

Step 2: Learn names of the main characters
Identify the dominant species species in that 10 X 10 square meter. This is the first step in learning to read the aina. Learning their names. The water has character, the soil has character. Each of the plants have a name which opens the door to their life story.

This 10 X 10 square meter is called an are. Also pronounced “air”. This is the basic unit of habitat. You could call it an "are-ya"—"airya"—area—arena—habitat unit—ecosystem unit. About 40 of these make an acre. One hundred of these make a hectare.

Each living thing has a beginning, They have the ingredients for a life story, a natural history.

For some observers, this may be enough information. Others may want to look deeper.
Step 3: Ecology
Observe how the soil, water, plants and animals interact with each other. Of special interest would be the native plant community. This could have been the garden before human occupation of the islands. There are reasons that it doesn’t exist any more. How does it behave? How do all the players interact? How do you keep an ecosystem alive? How to you make grow and become resilient in a developed environment? How can restore what’s left of the original garden of the these island?

Step 4: Affects of humans, culture
If there are stories attached, there is cause and effect, a beginning and one event leading to another. The beginning has a date—when it was first observed or identified by humans. Carbon dating allows us to go back in time before humans set foot on these islands.. This takes information and tools. This is mainly a sequencing task—making a timeline which include our effects on the soil, water, plants and animals.

We are placing a value on native plants in order understand and appreciate an ancient diminishing ecosystem.

Learning to read the aina, and better understand what we’re reading is a good start.

Posted on 21 March, 2019 02:42 by sgamponia sgamponia


Thank you for sharing these valuable thoughts! I read your post about the ipoemea crowding out the native pohinahina plants and knew it was a bad thing and yet it’s happening all around us everyday. Even the native people are being displaced. I like this website and I’m always on the lookout for interesting things to photograph!

Posted by atthebeach67 over 5 years ago

Thanks for the nice comment. iNaturalist is the perfect tool for nature journaling. You can make a quick observation, take a photo and spend a few days thinking about what you observed..

"Reading the land" is an art that's being revived. I've been a fan of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac. He encourages people to learn how to read the land in his David George Haskell's book The Forest Unseen talks about seeing a little patch of land like a mandala, a pathway to enlightenment. Haskell's latest book The Songs of Trees talks about the networking of plant communities. I believe that the ancient garden of the Hawaiian Islands before human settlement was spectacular and important--comparable to the Galapagos, New Zealand and Madagascar. I've become obsessed with any effort to restore native Hawaiian plant communities in the right places, and watch what happens. It might just be a path to conservation enlightenment as Dave George Haskell suggests.

Posted by sgamponia over 5 years ago

Thanks, I’ll have to find his books. I’m sure you’re right about how fabulous Hawaii was before humans arrived. There must have been many more species found nowhere else in the world here than the few we know of. I have read about how much damage the early Hawaiian population did. Good luck in your quest to restore the aina! Aloha to you : D

Posted by atthebeach67 over 5 years ago

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