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April 2007

Learning by heart

Heartberry

Above: Strawberry on my plate from lunch, photographed and then consumed last Tuesday in a redwood forest near Santa Cruz, CA.

Below: A small but satisfying nibble of Taoist philosophy offered by my teacher Miles before qi gong class this morning, consumed and then photographed today in the same redwood forest.

Hsin_fa

I'm currently finishing up a week-long seminar with Herbal Aba. The closing ceremony is tomorrow. My brain is full and my heart is open. More details to come.


La'aloa Hawaii

Tinyshells

Here is a collection of shells and shell fragments from Kona's La'aloa Beach (la'aloa means "very sacred" in Hawaiian) carefully arranged on my beloved Lugh's steady hand. I wish I could show you the original high-res photo so you could marvel at their tiny perfection as I did. Notice that the only complete shell I found was the itty-bittiest one -- the brown Wentletrap cradled in the crescent-shaped fragment. Just think: each of these shells was once home to a diminutive creature, whose life's events are known and recorded only by God. Very sacred indeed!

This was my second time to Hawaii and my feeling that I could live there and be very happy was only reinforced. I find this easier to explain than the irresistible pull and peaceful 'home' feeling I have when I am in England. I have tropical blood and enjoy warm climates (in fact according to traditional Chinese medicine, I need warm climes), so on a physical level Hawaii feels very comfortable to me, plus when you are out of the major metropolises the feeling is very ohana (family) -oriented, and no one walks around with all the weird body-image crap we are trained to have on the mainland (and as a rule of weather we cover it all up with more clothes, so what the hell are we so uptight about?!).

Speaking of the "mainland," so many native Hawaiians I have met have a very island-centric mentality and think of the mainland as just that -- a big homogenized chunk of land someplace else. In fact one woman commented in conversation to me that one native musician she knows travels to "weird places, like Illinois!" Another lady didn't know the difference between the Mississippi River and the state. On the one hand I found this mindset odd, but then I thought, hell, if I lived in paradise, how much incentive would there be for me to leave?

Next year we will probably spend most of our time on Maui (Lugh and Briccriu will probably return to perform again), but I hope to return to Kona to stargaze from atop the now-defunct volcano Mauna Kea, which offers one of the finest (if not the finest!) spots in the world from which to see the stars. When we walked to our car from Pele's la'aloa home in Volcanoes National Park,
only the breathtaking astronomical display could divert our attention from the lava stream on the far hill.

That's just the thing about Hawaii (particularly Kona, which contains 11 of the world's 15 temperature zones): you can stand on a beach, or a mountain, or even your lanai and feel a perfect balance of all four elements. You have the ocean before you, land underneath you, the sun (and possibly an active volcano) above you, and a fine breeze circulating around all. It's a perfect place to come to an understanding about the elements and see in a very explicit way how their interaction creates our world.

Click here for a short pictorial narrative on our time in Hawaii. Aloha!


Easter (on the Big) Island

Hibiscus
Greetings from Kona!

I had all sorts of grand plans to blog at least every other day while on vacation here in Hawaii. Alas, due to unreliable (or expensive, or hassle-laden) internet access, plus the fact that we've been having a very fun, activity-rich time here, I am only getting around to this now as I have a free hour or so (and wi-fi in our condo!). I leave tomorrow, and only half of me is ready to go back to cold and snow and work. The other half of me is convinced that I could live here, as my physical conformation was made for warm, tropical climes.

My husband was here to work, so we had to schedule our time around his performances. Gratefully, he didn't schedule that many on this trip, so we had some significant chunks of time to spend together, which is something we don't normally enjoy. It was great.

The single thing I most looked forward to on this trip was the snorkeling. I got hooked on it last year when we honeymooned in Kauai, and we went almost every chance we got. So I put my fins and goggles on and dove into Waikiki beach ready for some fish-seeing. The first time out was fine, but the waters were not as clear as they were in the protected cove, surrounded by dozing monk seals, that we frequented in Kauai. We came out, warmed up a little, and went back in.

I made this big speech about not needing to swim with a 'buddy' because we always seem to bump into each other or lose each other anyway. I like to go where I like. (You can see where this is heading, can't you?) So I let my husband go ahead and waded out after him. We were still inside the jetty but on the other side, where the waves were a little stronger. So after swimming away from the jetty I popped my head over the surface to discover the shore was a lot farther away than I thought -- this of course can happen easily if you're following a pretty fish. I tried to swim toward shore but found that the undercurrent was so strong, I couldn't make any headway. No matter how hard I paddled and kicked, I was still looking at the same collection of rocks beneath me. My heart started to beat harder and I felt I wasn't getting enough air. I panicked, came up above the water, ripped off my mask, and found that I had nothing to stand on -- I was in too deep to even hit the ground and jump back up. Meanwhile the tide was coming in and going over my head. I flailed around and gasped for air, then went under taking in a few big gulps of salt water.

I should add here that I can't swim, and I never quite learned to float.

The whole experience was so bizarre -- a combination of utter fear, panic and enough self-consciousness to think, "Oh my God, I am such a loser. I can't believe I'm going to die out here in what appears to be shallow water." The lifeguard post was empty. Finally the waves carried me forward enough so that my feet found a pointy rock upon which to perch, and I stayed there long enough to rest and catch my breath.

When I made it to shore I played the experience down to my friends, feeling sort of dumb about the whole thing.

What followed was about 48 hours of building it up and up in my mind, repeating to myself and my husband, "I almost died!" and feeling a bit shellshocked. No one seemed to acknowledge the gravity of the event and I felt like I needed to cry in order to get over it. I didn't, but eventually the brush-with-death feelings wore off.

Waikikisparrow_2

We have since left Oahu for the Big Island and have gone snorkeling twice off Kona, once via catamaran ride to a protected cove near where Captain Cook bit the dust (or the lava rock as the case may be). On this trip I had no qualms fastening one of the crew's many unused yellow flotation belts around my waist before going into the ocean. I may never snorkel another way again! At its deepest, the water in our area was 100 feet deep. I wanted so much to swim down into it, confirming my suspicion that the element of water is much more seductive when it is an endless myterious blue beneath an unsinkable you. The highlight of the hour-and-a-half swim came when I noticed something on the bright rocks below fluttering in shades of gray, white and silver. I 'swam' toward it and discovered that it was an octopus (and not a small one, either!) putting on a show of colors. It appeared to be moving but in fact it was giving me an incredible light show, and almost instantly changed its appearance to match the coral around it, in  wavy spotted pattern of black, bronze, brown and gold. These colors continued to ripple and light up as I turned to my husband to point it out to him; when I looked back I could no longer distinguish it from the ocean flora.

To see this unbelievable creature and keep the sight for myself was certainly a sort of secret gift that I shall treasure always. (Perhaps it is not a coincidence that I was admiring a crew member's octopus tattoo just moments before putting on my goggles.) I can't say that witnessing this animal erased the near-drowning experience on Waikiki, but it certainly makes me realize that when you are in control you will be able to see many more magical sights.

Speaking of magic, I am in my Water Degree of training, which makes all of this either cruelly ironic or totally appropriate (most likely the latter... but why?) On my to-do list this year: learn to swim. Until then you will recognize me as the woman with the yellow float-y belt in any body of water outside of the bathtub.

Stay tuned for more on my Hawaii trip -- brush-with-death free!