There is nothing as golden, as delightful, as fleeting, as delicious, fragrant and precious as New England summers, and an ocean front July 4th with family and friends is the pinnacle of this! Salt and sea, fresh food and tipsy drinks, walks down memory lane and rigorous construction of new ones to be told in the future, and the colors of the world - the ocean - the food - the sky, are all the ultimate treasures of summer, captured only by our eyes and minds.
March 29, 2005
At least zoris float. There is an upside to every situation, if you look hard enough. I sat on the narrow rim of the 16 foot tall plastic catchment, hovering over my reflection in the murky water, my zori, thong or flip flop, depending on what part of the world you’re in, was floating just below the surface in the decidedly unappealing looking water. But then if the water looked unappealing for swimming, how was it okay that we drank this? Sure we boiled it, but judging from the other objects in the water this was probably not enough. And there was my filthy shoe joining the soup of the drinking water. Perfect.
I hung precariously over the edge and paddled the water to bring the precious footwear to me. At least I wouldn’t have to swim for it, as I first thought. This would definitely been a bad situation. The water level after our drought finally breaking was just high enough to drown in eventually and low enough to get stuck in, out of reach of the rim. Few islanders knew how to swim so they were unlikely to help with anything involving water. But the shoe was mine and back with its made, weakly protecting my foot.
The rest of the situation was less positive, if equally exotic. No exotic - sounds sexy, like a watermelon mint martini. My life was definitely not a martini, at this moment, or really this year on the island of Majuro. Odd, crazy and irritating were more apt words, more like the Micronesian drink of choice, kava. It looks and tastes like mud, makes your tongue tingle, feel fizzy, then go numb. Yeah, my life was Kava, but at least I wasn’t swimming in it.
The reason that my zori had fallen into my drinking water was that I was climbing up the outer cinder block wall of our house, plastering myself in chips of the cheap white paint, to inspect the hole ripped in the eaves of the metal roof. Never was the adage "idle hands…" and trouble, more true then in the Marshall Islands. (Unemployment rates here are far higher then employment, in a way that makes someone with a job the neighborhood cash cow, further dis-incentivizing paid work. Something like 88-12, 88% unemployed that is!) Travis had discovered the intruders in the attic space, confirming that I was not paranoid, and that there actually where people crawling around above us watching through the grates and cracks, that the noises I heard when I bucket showered were quite real. (Sometimes one would rather be paranoid and crazy than right.)
As it turned out our peeping Toms had ripped a massive 10 foot long hole in the eaves, way beyond what my basic carpentry skills with our small nails and a rock skills could manage to patch. But as the resident Mom and Dad, as in the doers and fixer in the dorm, it was up to Trav and I to get on this. Never mind that people were so freaked out that they were doubling up in their rooms to keep safe from the nighttime visits, we had to fix it ourselves.
But the floating zori was definitely a break. With the way life is here one would expect the zori to sink the bottom. Sitting on the metal roof, higher than I had been over the island since I had flown back from my escape to Australia I surveyed the flat slums below me and the endless pacific on both sides only feet away. You were constantly reminded here in Micronesia how small your environment was and how vast the world is. The breeze and clean ocean air from the pacific to the lagoon felt good, above the tight cinder block houses and sparse palm trees..
The past week has been a blur of migraines brought on by the repeated visit of a student beaten by her mother. The child would be a gem in any culture, and here she is rarer then high ground in Majuro, with her questions, ideas and insights. All her mother sees is someone too smart, too high. And I was furious with myself, brought low by it all like some Victorian lady with her smelling salts. I have never felt so inadequate. I fed her, listened for endless hours night after night to all of her terrifically sad stories told without self pity and let her cry. We watched the stars and talked about the world as we had in good times, about the universe, potential, big questions. Both of us knowing full well that I was almost powerless, but in a culture where rampant suicide rates are often attributed to parental cruelty and simple lack of love, a listening ear is valuable. Even if it kills me to be only that, I will see that she knows she is valued, that all of my students get that from me. I may not be the best teacher, but that I can give in spades.
A zori shoots up into my peripheral vision and I realized the roofing supplies have arrived and it’s back to work. No more resting on my perch taking in the sights, I need to tighten down the roof and lock down the fort, at least for a day or two.
We are soaking up every bit of hot salty summer air and time on, under and in the ocean. I feel so fortunate to be basking in summer after this winter that reminded us of all that New England can dish up! It is wild to think that Cape Cod bay had ice bergs only months ago. For all that I have have perpetual wanderlust, home right now is a pretty surreal and wild place itself, when you put all the seasons, nature and beauty together!
"And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came. "
— President John F. Kennedy
"Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim."
- Tyler Knott Gregson, a wise poet from Montana
"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied..."
John Masefield, Sea Fever
I wish upon you peace
I wish upon you grace
I wish for less of what you want
And more of what you need
I wish upon you an old life
With a heart that stays young
But most of all I wish upon you love
I wish upon you truth
When all you feel is doubt
I hope you know that an open mind
Still knows when to shut things out
I wish upon you a brave heart
That will always rise above
But most of all I wish upon you love
As the sun sets the moon begins to rise
So even in the darkness you'll find the light
You'll find the light, You'll find the light
Yes, even in the darkness you'll find the light
I wish upon you an easy life
I wish upon you hard times
I hope you know that both joy and pain
Each need their moment to shine
I wish you ears that are quick to listen
That you're slow to use that tongue
But most of all I wish upon you love
As the sun sets the moon begins to rise
So even in the darkness you'll find the light
You'll find the light
You'll find the light
Yes, even in the darkness you'll find the light.
lyrics from David Ramirez, "Find the Light"
Although Whitcomb, the house where we grew up as a tumble of cousins in, is long gone, this is the Minot I will always remember. And in the "Magic Hour" of New England summer nights it bring it all back to mind so perfectly.
When uncles goofed in the yard with photo gear balanced on a red jeep, shooting photos of nieces and nephews trailing sparklers and flashlights, laughing, the yard a circus-literally (trust me on this) and the house was always full, evident through paper thin walls of the old beach cottage style house. Aunts and guest coming in and out on the porches in a confusing but comforting whirl, and for reason still lost on me, the endless tableau of "weddings" acted out in the yard.
Conversations were constant, rapid fire and brilliantly witty-literature, history, nature - asking your childhood thoughts on something grown up, because why not, you had ideas! Fun and trouble constant, and interchangeable, often involving so called adults. There was no indoors or outdoors-life was lived across "the island" of Minot itself with chilly swimming classes, tennis, golf, sailing, climbing rocks, 'rescuing kittens' from the marshes and always making your way home in time for dinner. Bikes were our freedom, some days our horses, some days cars, and as we grew through the hand me downs, we proudly marked our progress, remembered other cousins having the yellow and black "hardcore" bike with the big tire treads or the grown up red bike with the hand breaks, and now it was our turn!
Living the childhood of bold rainbow twilights, neighborhood wide games in the dark with other families of cousins, an endless parade of animals-always returned to their homes or habitats, skinned knees and minor sports wounds, moonlight trails on the ocean when we were bold and snuck out. And always with cousins and siblings, family safe and close... the freedom and the security, the wild come and go as you like childhood, and beauty of our coastline and the "herd of cousins."
We were the lucky ones.
I love LOVE this in all its simple explosive accessible wisdom, and his perfect kicker!
"It is the questions we ask...shape our path"
"What is adventure... I'm not so sure we know these days.
Movie and magazines all scream extreme, goretex suits and vertical routes.
Foreign trips and big cliff hits.
But that's not the heart of it.
Adventure is curiosity.
The willingness to embrace uncertainty, wondering about the possibility of doing just one thing differently than before."
I am many things, a member of a lovely tight messy extended family, an restless explorer, a driven achiever, ocean lover in all seasons, a creative, and all of these personalities present external forces on me, and manifest from within.
And I have tried to live in the present in these personae, and I find that many push me to do so. It can be too easy to fall into the slippery slope of “when I graduation, when I get my big paycheck, when I get married, when I am on my next trip, When I - whatever,” and miss it all, the whole big messy journey.
This is a very “first world problem,” this phrase which is so often apt, though no less worth reflection. I know I have only dabbled in the third and second world in my habitations, but the words have a bit more meaning to me; knowing what it was like being chased by wild dogs, host bed bugs, wondering about when we would have fresh food, holding off on hospital visits due to a hepatitis outbreaks, and heavier things that do not deserve to be in a litany. So while the phrase both makes me pause and chuckle, it has a depth for me. I think for other people they mean it as a dismissal, I see it as simply a difference-different lives mean different blessings and different challenges.
In western India, as mid May’s almost visible desert heat permeated the city's market and pushed the temp to 125F, heat stroke’s clammy fingers grappling at my neck, the importance of the immediate moment almost took my breath away.
The crowd swirled around me, crushing in even as the roaring in my ears blocked them out. My vision narrowed into a black tunnel for a third time that day as I felt the world spin. It all reaffirmed what I had recognized in Indian on a deeply instinctive animal level, the understanding of why one might believe in many lives. Might need to in order to get through with the frailty of daily life. I was so breakable, I felt like a desiccated leaf that might simply collapse and be flattened in the crowd. All could be lost in one ill-advised choice or moment, or just bad luck.
India was merciless with life’s hard lessons. I was a human, but I was not especially valuable, however much I had been told it in America, or wanted to believe it. However much “value” I could create, in first world terms, it could all be gone in a flash.
In India I don’t think anyone, at least of a middle-lower cast, would ever have the First World expectation of 80 or 90 year life, planning out how they would live their entire life. People there seemed to grab every moment and live them, sweet, bright, aggressive and loud, often to my shock. There is no guarantee or time assurance on our wrapper, it is only this moment that we have. We might as well have sweet bright and loud.
When I chose to adopt Mia, I actively accepted this outlook, in a way, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. I didn’t know how old she was, with an absurd spread in ages from the vets. Her constant ailments leading her to be dubbed the "Lovable Lemon" three years later by one vet, because she was always so sweet in spite of ongoing illnesses. I knew she was a senior rescue, my "foster failure," although with love and care she has gotten healthier, and younger by all estimates. My answer to the daily age question is “8…for 3 years ;)”
Perhaps, just perhaps, she’s mellowing a bit, although she seems better than ever after surgery from blowing out her knee this past winter while gleefully snow diving when all her winter snow dreams came true as we humans sank into the depths of despair. But Mia teaches me so much, both her ridiculously joyful outlook in spite of a bad start in life, her love for everyone, but more, to live in the present with her because I truly do not know her age or her health. And there can be a gift in that when you bring gratitude for what is, rather than focus on what isn’t.
I think these emotions are a bit like that of New England August summer evenings. They cause your heart to ache, and you want the perfect pinks, oranges, purples and deep blue glow radiating off the ocean and the green of the land to last forever. It is all simply too beautiful for words, but a great part of this want and this ache, is because you know the moment is fleeting. June and July are gone, and you grab at August with both hands as summer will soon come to an end. You slow yourself down to absorb every emotion and sense; walking barefoot, inhaling coppertone, cut grass and salt sea, listening to the sounds of laughter around BBQs, skipping across lawns like a child, enjoying the ice cream, corn on the cobb and watermelon, and catching lightning bugs dancing out of the corners of your vision as the sky goes to a deep purplish blue. Everything is sweet and painful, precious because summer winding down. And also because there is still some summer, maybe even the best parts, for a few precious more days or weeks, and not a moment will be wasted.
I often have wondered if truly living, with awareness of the moments beauty and frailty is like an August twilight, so beautiful it almost hurts in the emotional depth and complexity, the experienced perfection and acceptance of loss, all in one moment.
And now again I find myself confronted with the emotionally challenging imperative of really living life in the now. Of giving love to someone, as they are here only now, and the timer has been set. Saying what is important now and simply being in that moment with those you are with, because that particular moment, will never come back again. Life never is perfect, but if we wait for the perfect moment we will wake up one day and whatever we hoped for, whomever we hoped for, it will all be gone. This can either be sad, and yes there is a sadness in really living admitting you only have today, just as it was terrifying in the market in India to realize I might collapse and simply disappear, but there can be a beauty in admitting the truth that all things are fleeting and to be grateful. To live like Mia, with wild joy and love in this present moment, for whatever time and whom, you have in your life. That is beautiful.
So Mia and I walk with her, strive to see the beauty, to pause and share those lovely imperfect moment with Her.
After arriving in an utterly perfect home, so zen and gorgeous, peaceful and meditative on a mountainside in Santa Barbara, I found the peace and quiet I craved after our endless winter, and the warm vibes and great waves one always needs down at the beaches of the region. But the stress of the last few months followed me into the surf, and I found myself wound up gunning for waves and messing them up in anxiety and a rush to get them, fear of failing.
I had to really stop and watch. Watch it all. The amazing porpoises, the sunlight on the water, the Channel Islands a misty vision 25 miles away or so, the surfers playing with the waves always ending with a fall. I had to let go, to realize that every wave they rode, these epic great local surfers ended with a fall. Of course. All waves end with a fall, in the end, no matter how perfect the ride, and it's ok, it's water. But it's the ride that counts. The smile on your face, the play with the wave, the euphoria rising in your chest and the out of body joy. Or if it doesn't go that way it's how you get up from the fall, laughing and ready for the next one, or shaking it off.
And so after a long while I returned to perhaps my Montana perspective, lost in the work life snow stress of it all, but a fresh perspective apt for that day, and every day, while sitting in the (warm-yes, guys) Pacific water. I had to let go. Trust in the waves. Trust in myself, to handle the awesome ride, and the fall, whichever whatever came, to know I am strong and playful at the same time, and that its all just life. You fall off every wave. In the end. It's about being totally present in the here and now, & just enjoying the ride while you're on it.
Sitting here now, it reminds me a bit of of "The Three Questions" from the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn, or Tolstoy's later take on it. Essentially, it boils down to is '"there is only one important time, and that is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important things is to do good for the one who is standing at your side." For these are the answers to the most important questions in the world.'
And for me in that moment it was kindness to myself, and acceptance of the inevitable failure, therefore free from it.
And suddenly surfing became a whole lot easier, because all of it is amazing, the ride, the fall, the light, the waves, the water...
A dawn surf report from my awesome 'surf guide' - "Actually there were a few people at Leadbetter this morning, just looked a bit gutless. Refugio might be a good call... Good luck hunting the wild surf...G".
I'm officially in love with this lifestyle, hunting the wild surf!
"Yes, I have a 'surf van! "I don't go on vacation often, but when I do I do it right"
I joined the Wednesday Wave Warriors at Refugio today, totally lovely gentleman in their 60's and 70's getting back into surfing after careers! We couldn't have had more fun whooping it up and cheering everyone on, each at their own skill level.
And when I caught those waves, arced into them, slowed sped up... I'm pretty sure I literally glowed with joy! The feeling is absolute perfection!
Sometimes natures is an escape, sometimes a muse and sometimes a mirror. But, wow, is it always breathtaking!
She had her doubts, but it was a grand success in the end. She was even up in the front like a figure head of an old boat.
A great precursor to our cross country adventure to come. Plus I have always wanted to surf with the pup. Next up waves!
(We might need to work on her center of gravity first next summer ;)
There are few things as sweet as a New England summer at the beach.
...wake up when it feels right.
Walk the dog on the beach, in pj bottoms, bikini top, coffee in hand, sunglasses on, greeting others doing the same.
Return home to complete the swimsuit and wash your face, grab some fruit.
Swim, maybe paddle.
Read some, but fall into naps often, let's be honest.
Eat ice cream or drink a beer.
Friends just show up, because they know they really can, and we all know we really love the place.
Make sure you always know the tide, are in, on or near the water, rarely go inland.
Walk and bike everywhere, drive only when absolutely necessary.
Go barefoot, never use a leash with the dog, always use a leash with your boards.
Watch the sun go down, the way the sea behaves at twilight, infinitely different each night.
See the stars come out and wind up.
Sneak down for a night swim when you like
“Come close, and I will tell you the stories of the ocean, what it is to twirl and swim under the waves… come close and smell my fishy breath for a birthday kiss!”