The girl flicked her head, tossing her ponytail at the teacher and performing a series of inelegant gyrations landed, rocking on the deck, her precious bird unharmed in her arms.
"Geez you were lucky sis."
"Nah," replied Avana stroking the back of her gannet, admiring the smooth transition from cream along the head to the chalky white of its back. "nothing to it. That Mrs Jennings is always stressing eh? I wasn’t going to crap out into the drink. Never."
"Yeah," giggled Sam, "she’s a stress bunny all right - ."
"Come on children sit down please. We're about to cast off. I don’t want any of the birds damaged. Sit down. Colin move along there, make room for Waireki. Yes of course you can fit in there Waireki. Here hand me your bird and sit down."
Waireki wrinkling his nose, handed over his gannet wrapped in his brother’s swandri, then elbows extended plonked himself down in the gap between Colin and Avana.
"Oi that hurt you little sh - "
"He elbowed me Mrs Jennings."
"Then move over. Now settle down." She gave Waireki back his bird and said, "Now, Mr Dave Macilroy from DOC is going to explain about releasing the birds. Now hush up!"
The children, all clutching their gannets, scuffled and muttered, quietening as Dave from DOC stood up. He balanced against a lurch of the boat as they started towards Mana Island.
"Okay guys," grinned Dave smoothing his beard. A couple of the boys in the stern mimicked him generating a ripple of giggles. Dave winked and carried on talking, "We head up single file to the cliftop, then we'll start the ceremony. I want you all, one by one to step forward and place your gannet on the ground."
Sam stuck his hand up, waving it like a flagpole in a force ten gale. Mrs Jennings fixed him with the eye, but Dave said, "Sam, my man?"
"Do you really think we'll be able to start a gannet colony Dave," his eyes flicked sideways to Mrs Jennings. "I mean Mr Dave." The kids laughed, watching Mrs Jennings who pursed her lips a little, then smiled.
"Well Sam, it could take a few years, but we hope to encourage a natural colonisation. Hopefully, passing gannets will see our colony and figure it is a good place to nest."
"But won’t the others be put off," asked Avana.
"Not if there’s enough food to go around," Dave grinned, patting Waireki’s sleeping gannet on the head, "and I don’t think that’s going be a problem."
"Choice," breathed Colin, "We'll be making an Easter Island for the gannets. "
Nearing the end of the ceremony, when all but three gannets were placed, Avana, with a finger across her lips, pointed skyward, her eyes shining. A pair of gannets, legs lowered, flew past inspecting with great interest the array of concrete birds, created in their image, set out in nesting formation below.
© Glynne MacLean 2004
Read our interview with Glynne MacLean.