Tag Archives: travel

Retreat. Renewal. Risotto.

In the last few years I’ve had a new yearning to travel alone.  Specifically, I’ve been daydreaming (for years) about taking a yoga / meditation / writing retreat up at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island.  Every time they host a retreat or a conference that would be right up my alley, I eye it, and decide not to indulge myself; balking sometimes at the price, sometimes for no reason whatsoever.  Until very recently, I’ve hesitated to schedule solo travel because of the hope or expectation of a partner; sitting here, writing that today, I don’t actually even really recognize the me who has thought that way since somehow she seems to have exited stage right in the last couple of years.  Now, I have the opposite: a hard time scheduling dates because I have so many solo commitments to myself that I’m not willing to negotiate away.

The most recent of which I’m freshly back from… a little long weekend up at Orcas.  There was no organized retreat, and my time was far too short: a day of travel, one day of retreat, one day of travel and suddenly I’m back in the city which seems, again, too noisy and fast-paced.  But man.  That one day of retreat.  So good.  So worth it.  So when can I do that again please?

I didn’t really have to plan anything, since Orcas is so familiar.  My first trip there (I think) was riding my bike there when I was in high school for a camping trip, so in some ways that island is more familiar to me than places I’ve lived much longer.  I usually stay at Doe Bay but they were booked up so I found a funky little Airbnb and mailed in a check for the deposit.  I figured I’d take Gibson for a good long hike (so I wouldn’t feel guilty abandoning her to) soak in the tubs at Doe Bay, do a yoga class then treat myself to a decadent dinner at the Doe Bay Cafe.  In between, I had plenty of reading and dharma talks to listen to, my meditation cushion, my paper journal, a bag of film and my analog cameras.  Since there’s little cell signal on the island, it was also a chance to unplug, which was glorious.

The last few weeks I’ve been really enjoying a mindfulness class at Seattle Insight Meditation Society and as I moved through the weekend the attention I’ve been paying to … well … attention … were noticeable.  On my hike with Gibson I noticed my busy brain.  Sometimes planning.  Sometimes judging.  Sometimes ruminating on the recent past.  At other times, though, I found myself stopping to take in the forest floor, nearly covered with thick, quilt-batting-like spider webs.  Stopping to gaze at the sun streaming through the trees and mist, since the morning’s marine layer hadn’t yet lifted.  Enjoying watching Gibson sniff at new smells, since the hike we chose made its way through about four different microclimates and ecosystems.  Feeling the heat of my body making my way uphill, and feeling the cool of the island air on the way back down.  And the hike did its job, tiring Gibson out enough that I didn’t feel guilty tucking her in while I spent a little time on myself the rest of the day.

After a little nap with her (the second time this weekend I fell asleep listening to one of the carefully-chosen dharma talks I’d packed), followed by a splendid yoga class (my intention: renewal), a soak in the pre-evening-rush hot tubs and an incredible dinner at the cafe, I stepped outside into the cold, fresh night air.

The sparkle of the night sky above literally took my breath.  The stars were SO bright in a moon-less sky — it was like that one time I walked by a pet store in Portland and saw kittens in the window and was shocked that I had actually forgotten about the fact of kittens.  It has been so long since I took in the night sky without the city’s contribution to ambient light that I’d forgotten about the fact of the night sky, covered in pinpricks of light, limitless, in perfect contrast.

I found the moon later, on my drive home, orange and huge and waxing crescent — it had been tucked behind the trees from Doe Bay.  And it too stopped me in my tracks.

After a second solid night’s sleep, this morning was one of the highlights of the trip. Gibson curled up on the bed after our morning walk, facing the windows.  She didn’t go back to sleep like she usually does.  She just gazed out the window toward the water watching, apparently, nothing in particular.  Her eyes were relaxed, her ears alert, and she looked completely content. She’s one of my favorite teachers. I took a break from the busy-ness of packing, and sat down on the bed with her and shared the view for a few minutes.  It had just started to rain. The muffled sound of the water lapping on the rocky beach wafted through the walls of the cabin.  And it was a perfect start to the day.

doe bay cafe breakfastI headed back to the Doe Bay Cafe for breakfast and it was perfection.  Sitting at the heavy wood table, watching the rain come down outside the windows, the mist of the marine layer heavy over the water, the coffee strong and the food fresh-picked and lovingly prepared, my journal entry for the day only just started, it seemed inconceivable that I’d be back in the city by dinnertime.  In less than a day I’d gotten so comfortable with being unplugged that I not only didn’t know where my phone was: I couldn’t have cared less.  Not having my phone on my person, it turns out, may become a new normal.

And that’s life.  Only part of meditation practice takes place sitting on a cushion, the rest happens while we’re grocery shopping or answering emails from work or stuck in traffic.  And only part of my self-care and renewal takes place on retreat; the rest is bringing my attention and awareness to the city part of my life as well.

So tonight I’m craving risotto and an untimed sitting and a sleepy puppy (which is hard to achieve since her dislike of the rain is indirectly proportional to my love of the rain) so two out of three isn’t bad.  And then this week I’ll navigate more change as I near the end of one job and gear up and set my intentions to start the next one and, as my meditation teacher would ask: “Is that okay?”  Yes.  It’s okay.  It’s all okay.

Austin, Texas

The breeze moves differently through the trees here… slower. The dry leaves rustle against each other in a way I only hear in Texas. A cicada sings, even here in this residential neighborhood. The slow, gentle breeze picks up the small, fallen leaves… skidding them across the asphalt in little whirls of movement and sounds. The sun shines cool-ly through the turning leaves. The scent of lemongrass is on my skin.

You are a good person.

My heart is an open book.

I’m in the OC today, where even the airport looks a little too new and shiny to be real… the schedule was a little too close for a wandery approach to lunch, and the hotel restaurant is too expensive even if my company feeds me.  I popped across the street for a quick sandwich.  

On entering the shop, the man at the counter smiled broadly and greeted me.  I smiled broadly back, and ordered my sandwich.  He smiled more broadly, and said, with far more warmth than in a typical human interaction,

“You have a nice smile.”

The only possible response, it seems, when someone compliments my smile, is for me to smile larger.

That delighted the man… who asked my name, and then complimented me on my “very good name.”  

I had a momentary flashback at the keyword phrase “good name.”  So many of my interactions in Nepal last year began with the simple question, “What is your good name?”  And, to this day, those words are like a red pill that instantly transports me to a faraway place.

I thought also of so many years ago, before I’d ever traveled outside the US, when I was a regular at a Thai restaurant near my old office.  Over a long number of visits, I grew fond of Chai, the restaurant’s host.  One dinnertime, in an unusual candid exchange, Chai said, “With a smile like yours, you must go to Thailand.  There, everybody smiles.  Here, nobody smiles.  No one there would believe that you’re an American.”

But, I snapped myself back to reality and the present.  Orange County and the sandwich-maker.  He went on — mostly to himself, and perhaps a little to me — “What a nice smile.  You are a good person,” as he handed me my sandwich.  ”See you tomorrow, Sara… very nice smile,” he said, as I turned to head out of the shop.

As I walked back across the sleep to my temporary overnight home, memories of the close openness of the trekking life flooded back to me.  I’ve always had thinner boundaries, when it comes to meeting and connecting with people… I am quick with honesty, and I have a difficult time not answering peoples’ questions openly (or, more accurately, I’m completely unskilled at it).  

I am two cliches in one sentence:  I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am a totally open book.

Somehow, those characteristics that sometimes make me so out of place here “at home” help me feel so very “at home” when I am away.  I am at my most at home in far away, wild places where I’m surrounded by other curious, unhurried people moving at the pace of their own heartbeats or the rhythm of the sunrise and sunset.

I could have argued with the sandwich-maker, that just because I have a “nice smile,” doesn’t mean that I am a “good person.”  But what would that achieve?  And really, I’d rather just accept both compliments as they are.  Perhaps the sandwich-man can tell who is a good person based on their smile.  Who am I to argue, or judge?

Customer Service

This morning I worked an event, and while putting up my pop up tent, something else popped too… my neck.  Ordinarily, I’d just boulder something like that out, but my back’s reaction to that little pop triggered the “get thee to the chiropractor ASAP” alarm in my brain.  

After work, I packed up and then headed for my hotel to see if I could check in early.  Mikaila at the Hilton Eugene (Priceline roulette WIN!) checked me in, and I asked if she knew of any chiropractors open on Saturdays.  She made a phone call, got a “no,” and said she’d call around and let me know what she found out. I hit Yelp and Facebook and Twitter, with no luck myself.

Before I’d even put my keycard in the door of my room, Mikaila called to tell me she’s found a place that was open and could see me, but that it was in Veneta.  20-ish miles west… no problem.  I drive for a living.  I dropped my bags and headed for Veneta — blown away not only that Mikaila had offered to call around; but doubly blown away that she called around enough to actually get me an appointment.

I set out for Veneta, and once on Highway 126, started to see signs for Florence.

Florence:  56 miles.

That meant I was a mere 56 miles away from the Pacific Ocean when I saw that sign.

I thought about that fact while the chiropractor got me back in line, and then decided that the whole thing had been a happy accident to allow me to go visit my old friend, the Pacific Ocean, today during my afternoon off.

My drive took me down new roads I haven’t driven before, to a destination I’d passed through many times.  I basked in the fall glitter of orange and gold leaves against the grey, storm-coming sky.  With the phone off, the radio off, the GPS off and no way to get lost, I drove up and down twisties, through replanted clearcuts, to the flat that precedes the coastline.  I thought back on a years ago conversation with my friend Andrew, about his theory that looking out over the vastness of the ocean opens our minds.  

At Florence, I turned north, aiming for Haceta Beach and a view of the ocean itself.  When I caught my first glimpse of the surf, it caught my breath.  You would think after 34 years of occasional visits, there would be no surprise left … it’s just sand, and logs, and water, and seabirds.  But the vastness… the knowing, that it all just goes on forever… out to somewhere distant where the objects of my maybe-in-a-past-life-ornithologist crush — the albatross — fly their massive migrations.  Those seabirds even put my annual mileage to shame.

I love being in constant motion… I can’t imagine living any other way.  The tradeoff is that with how much I am on the road, I am away from my friends and family much more than I like.  The interactions I have with the hotel staff, my breakfast waitress, the salesgirl in a shop I pop into, and the people I connect with through work are richer, for missing the people I love.  Those interactions are warmer, because for me, warmth must come from somewhere.

The quote “Work is love made visible” is attributed to Khalil Gibran; unless I’m remembering incorrectly, the variation “Work is love made real” appears on one of my favorite greeting cards.  I interact with people every day, who through their work, make love real.  And every time I see that, or am the lucky beneficiary of it, I am grateful for the lesson.

This evening, I am nestled into my hotel room… my hair a mess of tangles from the ocean winds, the scent of seagrass and salt and vastness still in my nose, and sand in the stitching of my boots.  All thanks, in large part, to the small kindness that Mikaila did for me this morning.  Now that’s customer service.

A waxing gibbous moon and a shooting star

I am not broken, or incomplete, for savoring being alone.  Most of my days are spent talking to people… some people I know, many I haven’t met before.  By the end of the day, or the end of a few days, when I go home (or to my hotel) and sit down in front of my computer (or my writing journal) I tend to lose myself in the happy world of words and images and stories that pour out of me.  I really like the not talking part of being alone.  I like the choosing whatever I want to listen to (or not) and whatever I want to eat (or not).  I like listening to what my body and mind request… considering their requests, and then granting them (or not).

Above all, what I might love most about being alone is driving alone, once I’m outside of the city.  I love long straight flat stretches of wide open space, with no sound but the wind rushing past my car.  I love winding up mountain passes and down the other side… stopping for snacks and coffee in some familiar places and some unfamiliar places.  I like thinking fondly of the friends and acquaintances whose exits I’m driving by, and mentally waving in their general direction.  I enjoy having songs come to me as I move, and listening to them in my head without actually hearing them.  I love watching the moon as it moves from my front to my back… waxing gibbous — tonight, 99% full and growing — having almost reached its potential for this cycle.  

After the moon went from my front to my back, the night sky ahead of me was dark but for the lights of distant towns and other vehicles on the road.  A shooting star slid brightly down the sky from right to left, reminding me to keep my eyes opened to the world around me… to take in the surprises of the world around me … and to choose which music I want to listen to (or not) whether I am alone or not.  It is a hard thing, for some of us, to listen to ourselves and honor our own requests of ourselves when other people are involved.  I feel lucky to be one of those people… I am aware that, just like the people in my life are a blessing to me, I am a blessing to them.  

I have eleven more hours of solo driving time in the next three days.  I smile, to think that I may have the pleasure of seeing another shooting star during tomorrow night’s drive.