Saltwater on My Wounds

August 13, 2010

The sun is just starting to come up over Hualalai (the third oldest volcano on Hawaii for those of you wondering,) and I can sleep no more. Our lanai is lovely just now – the birds are chirping without that sense of urgency that sometimes seems to echo in their voices later in the afternoon. The water in the bay is calm, the traveler palms jiggle just a bit in the wind and the plumeria off the porch are not yet affected by the heat and so hang tightly to their branches. But even still, it is entirely too early for me to be awake given that I am not out on a trip this week. My body must know that this is my last morning of “vacation” and so feels that I should be awake for each minute of it.

Of course, it would be a complete lie to say that I don’t enjoy the early morning, or that I am not a resident of it. By now I have surely driven my colleagues insane with my early wake ups to run or stretch in the early morning light when we already have a reasonably early wake up call to begin work. This is a mechanism that I learned long ago while we were living in Japan; when morning after morning, day after day I found myself without much human company (though Gunner proved to be an amazing compatriot and still is.)

Edwin Robertson said, For when a woman is left too much alone, sooner or later she begins to think;- And no man knows what then she may discover.” And that’s true. There were so many things that I did discover in those alone times abroad. About myself, about what I want and need when no one is around me. About what I find to be enjoyable and amazing, interesting and wasteful. I had the opportunity to pare down life to just ME and kept myself awfully busy doing it. These were lessons that I put into play now – they are, in a sense, my survival toolbox for my work. And, during weeks like this one past where I have nothing but time, a beautiful place to explore, and myself, this toolbox becomes a treasure chest.


I started out the week with so many lofty plans for SEEING and DOING and GOBBLING up this island. I did a few of those things;  Tried a couple of new restaurants, went paddlesurfing, snorkeling, took photographs of everything I could see, poked my head into shops, rented myself an amazingly fast time-trial bike and scooted it all over the island at amazing paces and then collapsed into the chairs of cafes to sate my hunger and congratulate myself with smoothies and Kona coffee. In fact, I did such an amazing job of reverting to my alone self that I might have spent a bit too much time in the sun on that fast bike – I managed to give myself a nasty sunburn, and a good reason to stop being a tourist or traveler here and start being a resident.

So, I began running this hills and beaches of our neighborhood. Hit the local market and started cooking. Became a regular at the coffeeshop down the street and went to the movies. Each day I would walk down to the beach park and pop my snorkel in my mouth, swim out to the rocky reef that forms the break off shore and wait for this little turtle that I befriended. Usually he is there, waiting for a school of purple triggerfish to give him a little bath – kissing, and eating the sea off his shell while he bobs just off the sandy bottom. He (or she) doesn’t seem to mind when I bob there next to him. I spent a good part of my week off just living here in Kona and it was lovely.

By now you’ve gathered that I am a good mix of intro- and extrovert. Sometimes a little on the former side. It turns out that as a traveler, a tourist I am excellent at being on my own – I need no one to entertain me, no one to show me the way or give me directions, and certainly enjoy spinning about the hills of this island racing myself. But when it comes to living here, things get quite lonely.

Yesterday, a good amount of work came across my strictly proverbial “desk;” it appears that one more month of work has been added to my schedule before I get back to Portland – to Derek, and Gunner, and our apartment, and my life at home – for a majority of the winter. My knee jerk reaction was to respond, prepare travel plans, and start thinking about what I would need to pack for this extra few weeks in the Canyons. Then, I headed out for the beach. As I was swimming out to the reef on my way to visit my turtle, I couldn’t help but notice the sea stinging the sunburn on my back, salting my wounds so to speak. Playing too hard? Keeping too busy. I had been too busy, so excited, completely preoccupied in days past to notice that salt does in fact burn open skin. Silly.

A life on the road can be a difficult one. Its true that the photographs, and adventures, and experiences are priceless. But in those few moments in between, where we all really long for a little groove in the world that fits us and us alone, a suitcase is not your best friend.

My sunburn is healing well. I’ve perfected the art of applying sunscreen to every inch of my skin now – likely due to the need to apply aloe to places I can see. So self-sufficient. But don’t think for a minute that it is more desirable to be flexible, and nearly invincible against the world (and the sun.) Life burns sometimes – it just does. And so I’m going to practice not feeling like I always have to grin and bear it.

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