Hawaiian plants were as defenseless as the birds against continental competition. Warshauer asked Kluetmeier to take a photograph of a stenogyne, a native mint, saying, "A picture will be nice to have, once they go extinct."
In their mapping of vegetation, the botanists carefully describe damage done to the forest by animals. Warshauer has developed an 11-point scale of pig damage, from "untouched" to "rototilled." "Here, I'm noticing what the feral sheep are doing," he said. "The worst is that they eat the young trees. See how there are mature mamane and ohia but no saplings. The forest isn't regenerating with all these sheep here. Down below, the big koa trees are toppling and not being replaced. As the trees die out there are fewer to catch the mists, so the effective rainfall is less, and that changes the character of the land even more. Grazing is always incompatible with native forest."
Scott, whose point that comprehensive study—such as the survey—must be done before anyone can be in a position to make land-management recommendations is well taken, nonetheless is convinced that the feral sheep and goats have to go. "It's hard to think of them as game animals," he said, and the next morning would show us why.
We recrossed the malevolent a'a, where Kluetmeier discovered that the easiest way to fall is to try to stand still. Fortunately he fell on his pack. "There is no hope of firm footing," he said. "The trick is always to keep moving."
Once we had regained pahoehoe, Scott called from ahead, "Meadow maggots to your left!"
We heard barnyard sounds and suddenly the brush parted and 22 wide-eyed sheep came running through, including three black rams with great black curling horns. One had a silly white tail. Had I a rifle, I could have shot half a dozen and tracked the rest by their bleating.
The day's stations done, we hiked downhill. Tonnie Casey had covered the stations in the dull middle elevations, so we had to thrash seven miles down to 4,500 feet, with only a stop at Casey's Jeep to take on water and unload our extra sugar, tent, film and foot powder. Burr, who is 33 and a native of Kanoehe, on Oahu, is 6'4" and a powerful walker, uncommonly serene on his long-striding days. "That's because I can always remind myself I've been in worse places," he said as the forest deepened. "Old Transect 18, up in the Hilo Forest Reserve, that was the worst. Ten-foot eluhe fern for four miles, and no birds. You question your sanity hacking through there just to count Japanese white-eyes and cardinals."
"Nothing that bad on this side?" I asked.
"Supposed to be some ie ie. But if all else fails, we can go along on our knees and push our packs ahead of us."
We camped on rough pahoehoe, tent cord tied to rocks instead of pegs. Listening to the mist settling on the nylon, thoughts arose about the preciousness of the few Hawaiian forest birds, infinitesimal bits of color and movement in this sloping world, itself no more than a limpet on the spreading plain of the ocean. It seemed necessary to define their importance, to distinguish between the crass, supply-and-demand value taken on by anything that is scarce and a finer, intrinsic worth. It also seemed impossible. All of the reasons for the birds' importance—their fragility, their irreplaceability, their difficulty of access, perhaps even the ways they sadden us with their plight—flow from the brute fact of their scarcity.