I was on a Rockjumper birding tour of the South Pacific. From the
start I’d weighed the fun of finding birds against the pain and fear of
falling with each step. Six weeks earlier I’d dislocated my left hip for the
fourth time while cycling back home. The hip could pop out again at
any moment, without warning, so I was favoring my right side, but my
right foot still had two huge screws in it from an ankle fusion surgery.
Bones had stopped fusing, and one screw was migrating, the head digging into my heel. On the island of Taveuni in Fiji, up a mountain that
locals called Devil’s Peak, a guide heard an orange dove inside the forest. I doubted I could hack the trail—overgrown, mud-slick, steep—but
two sturdy guys prodded and yanked me along
until we’d tracked down the dove’s knocking
tock tock. Behind me a woman clutched the
neck of a grinning Fijian who’d piggybacked
her up the trail. The dove was screaming orange, loud as a prison jumpsuit, plump, with a
tiny olive-green head. Flitting through the un-derstory was a rare silktail: small, lava-black,
flashing a silky white rump and fine satiny iridescent spangles on its head and breast. For
moments, pain vanished.
“I’m proud of you, John,” said our driver, Solomon, back in the van.
“Brave man.” It can be embarrassing to be saluted for bravery. I wasn’t
returning from battle. I’d been birdwatching. In three days on the mountain I’d become buddies with our Taveuni crew. They were all somehow
related, from a village along the road up Devil’s Peak. Fiji is a rugby-mad
country, and Solomon dreamed a young man’s dream of playing in a big
sevens tournament in Hong Kong. Music had bonded us: he beamed
when I recognized South African singer Lucky Dube on his reggae mix.
I’d tried to tell my Fijian friends that I wasn’t some time-defying phenomenon. Most members of our group were around my age; they were
merely less ruined. Solomon laughed. “You don’t complain, John.” Fijians learn the lesson young: if you hurt, keep it to yourself.
At dawn, hundreds of flying foxes glide toward their canopy roost below the Dave Parker Eco Lodge. “The forest echoes with sacredness,”
wrote a Samoan poet. “The morning is silent with dew.” Pacific flying
foxes, black with white necks and elongated wings, forage at night. Their
cousins, Samoan flying foxes, have evolved into daytime feeders. Both