22 December, 2011

Great Expectations

It has been brought to my attention on more than one occasion that - for varying reasons - I have not managed to live up to someone else's expectations of me. More often than not, this news has come as a complete surprise to me. A couple of times my fault was in not recognizing that a dear [male] friend was secretly harboring romantic feelings for me, and so I only ever treated him as a dear friend. Let me reiterate that these men never actually expressed their romantic interest in me to me. And so a friendship was wounded and disfigured and died.

Other times my fault has been having too-high expectations for another. Usually this has been in the form of my wanting someone else to want to spend more time with me, or to share all of my interests, or some such nonsense. Inevitably, in these circumstances I would end up feeling more invested in the relationship, under-appreciated by the other, and would harbor a growing resentment for continually being betrayed by my own unrealistic expectations.

Now, I am finding myself on the other end of this 'great' expectation caper. And, just as before, it is taking me by surprise. Someone -a considered friend – who, apparently, had higher expectations of my own investment in our relationship has charged me with being a bad person, and worse friend. And so another friendship dies.

This situation saddens me and perplexes me. This whole question of expectations has been plaguing me for years. It makes me sad to think I have unknowingly hurt someone I care for ... just as it makes me sad when someone I care for hurts me ... probably unknowingly.

So, what do we do about this? How do we open a clear and honest dialogue around expectations with the people in our lives? And when do we have this conversation? When we first meet? Before we even know if we'll grow to care about someone? When we notice the first signs of being invested in a particular relationship? Or after our expectations have gone unmet for so long that we no longer care to share the same air as the person who has failed us? Or … never?

And once the subject is broached, another important question must be asked: How much are we expected to compromise ourselves in order to meet another's expectations of us? When does healthy and respectful compromise become a mask of false representation?

There seems, to me, a fine line where compromise is concerned. Yes, I do believe that a great deal of good can come from someone making positive personal changes in the spirit of Self-Improvement. And these changes, of course, are usually made possible by frank, yet compassionate, discussion with friends and family who are willing to bring a perceived shortcoming to one's attention. The key here is that this information is given with one's ultimate well-being in mind.

Yet, often, in relationships of all kinds, we tend to hold our tongues until we are so wounded by another that we let loose accusatory assaults on the other's personal character based on how it affects us adversely ... with little consideration or hope of serving anyone but our own bruised egos. (I do not separate myself out from this phenomenon, by the way, despite really wishing I could.) This kind of assault does one of two things (from my experience):

1. It invalidates the accuser's argument in the eyes of the accused; or

2. It leads the accused down a path of inauthenticity in the hopes of appeasing the accuser.

Since true and lasting positive change can really only happen when one truly wants to better oneself for one's own Self, these [latter] attempts are usually met with failure, and thus begins the negative feedback loop that started the whole thing. Argh!

So I ask again: How do we constructively manage and communicate expectations?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Even if your thoughts involve your communicating how I've not met your expectations.

06 December, 2011

Bon Voyage, Sister!

I just dropped my sister off at the airport for her very early 6am flight. We had to rent a car, which we picked up at 4:30am - that's right - AM! Then I used the car to haul a bunch of stuff between our two apartments.
I miss her already. She is off on her own adventure: Three weeks in Pohnpei with a brief stopover in Hawaii (where she will join in the celebration of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor). Send her good travel vibes if you get the chance.
Now I'm off to bed to get a little nap before work. (Three hours' sleep does not a happy and healthy Melanie make!)

Happy Tuesday!

25 November, 2011

giving thanks











Hoping you and yours had a delicious Thanksgiving celebration! I give thanks for all of you taking this journey with me. Happy and merry!

xoxo,
Melanie

All Work & No Play Makes Melanie a Dull Girl ...

The holiday season is reaching full swing, and I can already see the blur of calendar pages flying past my periphery with a locomotive’s speed. As usual, I am over-committing myself with work obligations. (I really must address this problem soon.)

The chaotic whirls of busyness that keep me teetering and reeling during this time have me, for the first time since my trip, ruing the absence of reliable and ready transportation. Convenience, which I have been eschewing as much as possible, is suddenly looking pretty good to me. Still, I remind myself that this is a fleeting moment, and when it passes, I will, once again, be living happily sans car and cell phone and such.

While I am loving my new jobs, I must admit that I am feeling a little overwhelmed by them at present. This is my own doing, though. Ever desirous of being helpful, I have agreed to work several extra work shifts over the holiday season so that various co-workers can have some much-needed and well-deserved time to relax with family and friends. I was especially loath to decline such requests this year since my family will all be far away this December. While I enjoy some alone time, I am not so stingy with it that I would deny others the opportunity to be with family during the holidays. So, now I am already looking forward to the slowing of the season, the deepening of winter, and the increase in down time it will afford me. Sad that I am already looking beyond the merry and bright to the darker and more solitary, but it is more the rest I crave rather than the isolation. I am afraid I may be too busy to even enjoy the company of friends very much during the celebratory time, so I suppose it makes sense that I’m not dwelling upon it too much. In any case, I do still love the anticipation of this season – the buzz of excitement in the air, and the images of camaraderie, and cheer, and merriment. I will ride this wave of energy, and allow it to keep me light and motivated through this busy time.

I am looking forward to getting into the kitchen any chance I can. I’ve already made a list of several treats I’d like to try my hand at baking/making. I will let you know how they go. Some of these are already gluten free recipes, and others will be gluten free adaptations of traditional recipes. I am excited to begin experimenting with new ingredients – different flours and flavor combinations and pastries that I’ve always wanted to try, but which seemed too intimidating to me before. Hopefully I can get some good solid recipes under my belt before my Winter Solstice Soiree in December. Wish me luck!

But before that … Thanksgiving! I was going to do a lovely six course meal for my sister and myself. I spent countless hours carefully selecting my menu, only to decide a couple days ago that it would be a little too extravagant for just the two of us. So … I scrapped it. Sister wasn’t even all that concerned about the meal anyway. She was just going along with the idea because I was so excited about it. So, now it’s just a simple roast turkey with roasted root vegetables, Clementine-currant-cranberry sauce, gravy, and green salad with Honeycrisp apples and goat cheese. Sister will be baking a knob of bread for us, too. Very simple and traditional. I will whip up a butternut squash tart with brown sugared apples for dessert. (And there’s ice cream, too, of course!) Then I think we might even go see Martha Marcy May Marlene at The Carolina Theatre in the evening. I think we could both use a low-key kind of day.

Sister is leaving for Pohnpei very soon. Her departure date is fast approaching! I will miss her, but I think she is going to have a spectacular time. She’s only going to be there for three weeks, but I’m sending a list of recommended things to do from which she can choose during that short time. She’s also going to stay an extra night in Hawaii during the transit. Will be good for her to get some R & R. Oh wow. Just realized I’ll be caring for her dog while she’s gone. Whew! It’s gonna be a busy December!

I would love to hear how you manage to take care of yourselves during times of stress and overscheduling. What are your tricks for staying healthy and sane during the holidays, or any really busy time? Inquiring minds want to know. (I want to know.)

So Happiest of Thanksgiving celebrations to you! There’s a lot to be thankful for in this life. I am thankful, among other things, for your company on this journey. Thank you!

Xoxo,

Melanie

20 November, 2011

Nostalgia and Loss ... blah, blah, blah

This turning autumn begets a burning deep within me: in my gut or my soul, I don’t know. I feel hungry and sense a growing dissatisfaction bordering on anger. It’s no stranger, this. I’ve felt it before. It haunts me most when days grow short and nights grow bitter cold, when leaves take their fatal falls and breath lingers on the air in heavy fogs. And now it’s back. Gnawing at my nerves, seeping into my consciousness. If left unchecked, it will surely drive me mad. Yet, I always manage to check it. I always talk this frenzy of longing down from its ledge. And this, I wonder, might be my problem.

I feel so soft and weak when I recognize that I am complaining of a life that from many perspectives is very rich, indeed. And, in fact, I do not wish to complain of the life, but, rather, what I have done, and still am doing with it. At some point in my past I took an irrevocable turn. I veered from my Self in order to sample the roads that others were building. By some rudimentary scale of comparison I began to feel ashamed of my own road. So I neglected my road and thumbed rides on sleeker highways. But when it was time to return to my road I found it was in need of some major repairs. I took to the task, and my road is now passable, but it was made in the image of those roads I experienced. I didn’t take the time to map out all those lovely roadside attractions that make a road really worth traveling, and I don’t know how to find, or even build, those attractions now.

What happens to people with patchy roads? What becomes of their maps when they are missing great stretches of road from their highways? Important Rites of Passage not fully realized or fulfilled leaving a gnawing feeling of … what? … not regret, nor shame, but rather a sorrow for something missed and a burning need to DO something that cannot ever be done. The time for those Rites have passed and cannot be recaptured. Holes in the road. Blank spaces on the map. Empty places in the soul. Where is the balm for such wounds? What will suture such tears in the fabric of a life?

Yes, we regroup and begin building new roads. Bigger roads. With smooth, dark, shiny pavement. But there will always be pieces missing. I know there are some who will suggest that forward movement is all that matters … that looking back serves only to stunt progress. But the early work is what informs the current style of the master. Without the trials and experiments of the formative periods one cannot walk forward with sure footing. But, this, perhaps, is the point: Perhaps what I missed is a moment of fearlessness and derring-do … a moment in which I am willing to take some stumbles. In fact, eager to leap into the Unknown and ride the wave of whatever should happen to greet me there.

I suppose it’s time for more experiments.

16 November, 2011

INDIAN SUMMER DAY WITH A HANGOVER

EXPERIMENTS IN BLISS: BAKING + SELF-CARE {Recipe below!}

TODAY WAS A BEAUTIFUL BALMY DAY. SEVENTY DEGREES IN A SOUTHERN AUTUMN BREEZE. I AWOKE TO A SLOW, SLEEPY MORNING FILLED WITH ACHING HEAD AND GAUZY MOUTH. TOO MUCH PROSECCO AND ME AN ACCIDENTAL GLUTTON LAST NIGHT. SO THE PRICE WAS PAID IN BEAUTIFUL DAY HOURS SPENT IN BED WITH COVERS DRAWN HIGH.

EVENTUALLY I GOT MY SORRY CARCASS OUT OF BED AND SET ABOUT MAKING THE MOST OF MY DAY BEFORE WORK RECLAIMED ME FOR THE EVENING. I FIRST ENJOYED A LIESURELY MORNING BREAKFAST OF EARL GREY TEA AND CLEMENTINES. THIS SWEET PETITE FEAST ACCOMPANIED BY THE GUILTY PLEASURE OF HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS STREAMING THROUGH MY COMPUTER SCREEN. NOTHING LIKE A LITTLE CAMP IN THE MORNING TO GET THINGS STARTED.

I SPENT THE REST OF THE DAY PLAYING HOUSE: TIDYING, STRAIGHTENING, MAKING THINGS PRETTY; AND HALF OF THE TIME IN THE KITCHEN MAKING FOOD. THESE ARE THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY. I IMAGINE THAT I AM BOTH GUEST AND KEEPER IN MY OWN LITTLE INN CALLED HOME. I CONSIDER INSTITUTING A TURN DOWN SERVICE FOR MYSELF, BUT SHELVE THE THOUGHT FOR NOW. MAYBE LATER. IT WOULD BE REALLY NICE TO FIND LITTLE TREATS ON MY PILLOW WHEN I FINALLY WANDER IN FOR THE EVENING’S REPOSE.

APRON STRINGS WRAPPED SAFELY AROUND MY NECK AND WAIST, I CHOPPED VEGETABLES, ROASTED BEETS AND SQUASH, MASHED SOME OF THE BUTTERNUT FLESH INTO SWEET AND CREAMY SUBMISSION. THEN I MADE SCONES USING MY TRIED AND TRUE RECIPE AND WHATEVER I COULD FIND IN THE CUPBOARD. I HAD TO PLAY WITH THE RECIPE A BIT, BUT THE FINAL RESULT WAS TASTY NONETHELESS. CHOCOLATE CHIP CURRANT GLUTEN FREE SCONES IN STARS AND WEDGES WITH A LOVELY EGGWASH GLAZE ON TOP. JUST THE PERFECT LITTLE BITE OF LUXURY ON THIS GORGEOUS DAY.

THE WALK TO WORK WAS WARM AND SWEET AS ANY CONFECTION. DUSTY PERIWINKLE SKY. COTTON SPUN CLOUDS FILTERED BUTTERSCOTH LIGHT FROM THE AFTERNOON SUN. SULTRY BREEZE CARRIED WHISPERS OF SUMMER AND YOUTH AND WILD ABANDON. I PASSED BUILDINGS WITH OPENED WINDOWS AND TREES WITH FIERY GOLDEN WHISKERS. THEY REMINDED ME OF OLD SOUL SURFERS STANDING TALL IN THEIR GOLDEN GLORY DEFYING WINTER’S ADVANCE. THIS IS WHAT INDIAN SUMMER IS ALL ABOUT: A BRIEF FLASH OF LIGHT IN THE DEEPENING DARKNESS OF THE SEASONS. AND THIS DAY STANDS AS A BRILLIANT BEACON. I HOPE IT WAS JUST AS BRILLIANT FOR YOU.


xoxo,

Melanie







Recipe for Melanie’s Brilliant Scones:

Scant 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill GF Savory Bread Flour

Scant 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill GF Homemade Wonderful Bread Flour

Scant 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill GF All- Purpose Flour

2 eggs + 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

¾ stick butter, softened

1 cup coconut milk (or milk of choice)

Scant ½ cup superfine sugar

1½ T. baking powder

Add-ins as desired (dried fruit, nuts, herbs, chocolate chips, etc.)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

  1. Put all ingredients, less egg wash and add-ins, into large bowl. Mix together until all ingredients are blended together. (I do this with a rubber spatula first, then with my hands, but a stand mixer with paddle attachment would be fine, too.)

  1. Fold add-ins into batter, if using. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 2” thick. Use cookie cutter or knife to cut into smaller shapes.

  1. Put the biscuits on the baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. Chill scones for 30 minutes.

  1. Remove scones from refrigerator, and brush the tops once again with the egg wash. Be careful to keep the egg wash from dripping down the sides as this can hinder the rise in the oven.

  1. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. (Oven temperatures vary, so adjust baking time to your oven.) Remove from oven, and transfer scones to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an air-tight container. Enjoy!

07 November, 2011

settling in to my new life

So much has been happening since my return to life in the States. It's been a little overwhelming, but, to be honest, I haven't really had much opportunity to dwell on it yet. This is my first week in which I begin my new job at the inn, and, thus, my new work schedule. This schedule is unlike any I've worked in a very long time, if ever. I have alternating weekly schedules: Week A and Week B. Each week I have two free days. These are days I can choose to use for myself, or days I can schedule clients, or both. During B weeks my two free days are consecutive. This will be nice when I need to get myself out of town for a spell, but don't feel like arranging a big to-do. I think it's going to work out well once I'm used to it. My hours at the inn are 1p-9p. This is where most of the major adjusting is going to be taking place. Still, I was able to make a schedule that allows me to work several jobs I enjoy (the inn, The Carolina Theatre, my massage clients, my yoga class, and the farmers' market for Dolly Mama) with only one casualty: I couldn't fit my shift at the video store into the new schedule. I was definitely sad about it. It's such a fun place to be, and such a lovely way to get to know folks in my community. But, I am only one person, after all, so if only one thing had to go, I consider it a positive.

The house is starting to come together. It's still got work that needs doing, though. I still haven't painted the kitchen yet, or finished the trim work. And, sadly, in my zealousness to lighten my material load before my sabbatical, I let go of a great deal of kitchen tools that I now wish I hadn't. Oh well, c'est la vie and lesson learned: Kitchen tools are important to me and are not always easy to replace quickly. I certainly have enough to work with, I just don't have everything I want. After the kitchen, I only really need to do some more tidy organizing and to find a way to creatively store my crafting supplies and unused, but precious, family heirlooms so I can get rid of the leviathan of a bookshelf in the mudroom to make way for a washer and dryer. Then, once the insides of the place are in order, I will be able to start thinking about the outside.

One thing blocking progress lately is the fact that I got sick enough to have to relegate myself to bed for a couple days this week. It was really mortifying to wake up on the first day of my inn job - the day I'd been excited about for weeks - with a sore throat, runny nose and stuffy head. I went to work anyway: I couldn't not go on my first day! I made it through the entire shift somehow. That was Wednesday. Thursday was a free day, but I had a client already scheduled for that evening. Well, by Thursday morning my condition had worsened exponentially. I couldn't get out of bed. I was feverish and my joints were aching. No position was bringing relief. Sleep was fitful, but welcomed, and I was in and out of it in groggy intervals. I had to cancel my client appointment. By next morning, I hadn't gotten any better, so I had to cancel teaching my yoga class, and, regretfully, take a sick day from the new job. My second day there, and I had to call in sick. That made me feel even worse. Still, I stayed in bed. I drank a lot of water and brothy soups. My friend, Dolly, was kind enough to bring me some really delicious and healing spicy Thai chicken soup. (Thanks, Dolly!) I was adding cayenne to everything I could. The combination of spicy heat and hydration and convalescence must have done some good, because by Saturday I was at least able to make it in to work again. It was questionable how I would manage during the morning, but by the end of the day I was feeling a good deal stronger. I'll be going in again today, and while I'm still not at 100%, I am definitely feeling much better than I have been, so I feel like I am on the mend, and hope to be back to my healthy, happy self again very soon.

During some of my down time during my convalescence I began to think about all the things I want to explore in life ... all of those little sparks that pique my interest and set flame to my imagination. (This was probably exacerbated by the fact that I was reading Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids.) As my excitement was wheeling out into the Universe of Possibilities, my rational brain reminded me that my schedule is a lot tighter than it used to be. And, even though all of the things I'm doing are things I'm loving and from which I'm learning, I will never be able to fit all of my interests into my life. So, if I want to, practically, begin to explore my interests [outside of work], then I am going to need to pick a few favorites and try to work those in to my regular schedule. And if those few don't fit, then I'll have to cull the list even more until I have a manageable routine for learning and practicing new things of interest. (We'll see if I can maintain enough discipline to make this happen. It seems like such a simple arrangement, but discipline in these matters has never been my strong suit.) So, to start, I think I'm choosing these things to explore more actively: sewing, photography, drawing, writing (mainly the blog for now), baking/cooking, Spanish language study, and self-care. (The latter to incorporate things such as a regular personal yoga practice and hikes through the woods and time spent wandering aimlessly in bookstores and the like.) Eventually I would like the drawing (with which I have some little experience) to evolve into oil painting (with which I have absolutely no experience), but I will see about that at a later time. It's still a pretty large list, I know, but I am hoping that through creative planning I can make room for these passions. If you have ideas on how to create discipline for Self-pursuits, I would love to hear about it.

Okay, kiddos, it's off to work for me. Enjoy the last vestiges of your weekend!
xoxo,
Melanie

13 October, 2011

Please forgive me for being a Tardy Tammy ...

... but it's been a whirlwind of chaos and busyness since I last posted. I'll give you the quick version of what's transpired since our last chat.

My last couple weeks in Pohnpei were spent largely trying to make all the arrangements for my departure from the island and my re-entry into Durham. I had a stressful snafu with my flight reservation: When I went to check on it, I learned it was no longer in existence. I had to spend countless hours on the phone with both Continental and United representatives before being reissued another set of tickets for the same itinerary at an elevated price. (Stinking mergers ...) Still, it was good that I discovered the snafu before I was at the airport and ready to depart.

My last weekend on island was spent at The Village Resort. Saturday Dad and I booked one more snorkeling trip to Manta Road so I could try to snorkel with the mantas and actually enjoy the experience. (If you recall, the first time I did this, I was in the midst of a panic attack thanks to the whole "I'm swimming with sharks" knowledge.) By this last weekend I'd had more experiences in the water and was much more comfortable and ready to do the Manta Road experience right this time. The cruel joke was that it was chilly and grey and misty on Saturday. The first stop at Manta Road produced absolutely no mantas. Not a single one. So, our guides took us on to Mwand Pass so we could snorkel while the other couple on the trip with us could dive through the channel. This was a different section of Mwand Pass than the last one we visited. It was not at the wall, but at an area that was maybe 10-20' deep with large sections of coral dotting the sandy floor. It was nice, because we got to see some larger species of fish here than any of the other areas where we previously snorkeled. After this, we returned to Manta Road with higher hopes of finding manta rays this time. After several attempts to locate the creatures, our guide did finally spot one lone ray resting on the bottom of the ocean. Since we were all a little cold, and had all had prior experiences with the manta rays, we elected to just call it a day and head back to shore. I was sad not to get my chance at bravery with the rays, but it wouldn't have been the same under those circumstances, anyway, so I don't dwell on it. After Dad and I shared a lovely lunch at The Village restaurant, we got me checked in to my hut. (Mom and Dad gifted me with the generous and lovely gift of a night's stay at The Village. It was such a treat.) I spent much of my time lounging on one of the waveless waterbeds with my book. In the evening I went to dinner, and enjoyed yet another gorgeous island sunset and delicious Village meal. Then I retired to my bungalow for some more reading and relaxing until the cool ocean breezes, rhythmic lapping of waves on shore, and sounds of Nature in the darkness of night lulled me to deep, dreamy sleep. What a luxury! The following morning, Mom and Dad met me at the restaurant for a yummy brunch. It was a great way to spend my last weekend on island. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

In the true spirit of Travel, I had one more really stressful airline experience before my final departure. The airlines and their website(s) all told me to be at the airport an hour before my flight was scheduled to leave. I did. And it was too late for check in at the tiny Pohnpei airport. Apparently, they only have check-in during very specific times: 12n-1pm, if I remember correctly. This is for any flight leaving that day regardless of what time it departs. I didn't know this. There was no one at the counter. I couldn't find anyone to even ask for help. The plane was there, and had not left. It wasn't due to leave for another hour. But I had no idea how I was going to get myself and my bags on it. While I, my mother, my father, and a Pohnpeian that my parents knew who happened to be at the airport, looked around to find someone to help us, I was finally able to guilt the security guard into locating someone to help me. (I think he finally took pity on me because I was nearly in tears and on the verge of hysteria.) He returned with a woman who was kind enough to get me and my bags all checked in. I gave my parents the hastiest heartfelt goodbyes I could manage, then scurried over to board the plane. SUCCESS! I had made it. I was heading home.

Once back in Durham, I was elated to be reunited with my sister, who picked me up from the airport. We picked up a U-Haul, drove all the way to Carrboro to empty out my storage unit, drove all the way back to Durham to get me moved in to my new digs. As we take our first steps into my new home we discover someone is already in it. A fellow is there to begin work on the cleaning and painting of the place. That's right: to begin work. I politely kicked him out and contacted the property management company. Long story short, there was a miscommunication between the management company and the owner about my move-in date. We agreed that I would handle all the cleaning and painting (for a decent discount, of course), and that has been, in large part, how I've been spending my month. Apparently, the last tenants to live here were relatives of Pig Pen - the Peanuts character who is always filthy dirty with poofs of dirt and grime always in his wake. So, I've been cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning some more. I'm almost finished with the cleaning .. almost. I've painted all the rooms except the kitchen, which I'm hoping I'll get to soon. I've scoured all the thrift stores in the area for whatever furnishings I didn't already have after my big "get rid of everything" pre-trip upheaval. I've sewn curtains, removed blinds, hung curtain rods throughout the house. I splurged, for the first time ever, on a brand new mattress. (Now I understand why people are willing to spend the ridiculous amounts of money that new mattresses require. My sleep has never been more sound.)

I have also been trying to arrange employment situations for myself. I have not really been able to fully process how my travels have changed me, but I am aware, at least, that I am profoundly changed. I have been revisiting long harbored dreams of what I want to do with my life, and trying to figure out how I might make even small moves in that direction. To paraphrase The Alchemist, when one sets out to fulfill her deepest and truest desires, the Universe conspires to make those dreams possible. Thus, I find myself in the very happy position of having employment situations that are moving me closer to my dreams. I will write more about this in another post. Suffice it to say, that the Universe is definitely conspiring for me, and I am very grateful and excited for it.

So, that brings us up to date for the most part. Golly, the quick version wasn't really very quick was it? Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I'm hoping to have some more posts coming soon. Now that I'm not being blessed with the adventures that traveling offers, I will be setting up my own Experiments in Bliss here in Durham. I've already got several planned. Stay tuned to read about how they turn out!

xoxo,
melanie


22 August, 2011

Ode to Travel

**NOTE: This is a previous post that accidentally got deleted when the blog went on hiatus. I happened across it again today, and thought it a timely reminder of why I took this trip ... timely because this trip is very quickly approaching its end. I hope it serves some benefit for you, too, dear reader!**


Please let me be the five millionth person to use this quote from the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, Eat Pray Love:

“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call ‘The Physics of The Quest’ – a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you. Or so I’ve come to believe.”

This quote is referencing a phenomenon that can (and usually does) happen when one sets out on a personal journey. This journey can be a physical one in which the body travels to new geographical and cultural locations, but can also be a spiritual one during which the seeker leaves the routine of more familiar habits, patterns and perspectives. In either scenario, the basic outline is the same: one leaves what one has created as home (literal or metaphorical), in search of the discovery of a more profound, connective, or resonant incarnation of Self.

It is not imperative to take a physical journey in order to experience the spiritual. Though, from my own experience, at least, it can speed up the process. Travel, especially solo travel, can provide a more potent, saturated palette with which one can make those first fledgling strokes on a newly naked canvas. It is one thing to declare that Change is needed. It is quite another to exact that Change while entrenched in the routines of Sameness: Same living quarters, same work quarters, same faces and personalities and interactions, day in, day out, same obligations, same expectations, and so on, and so forth. To travel is to set oneself apart from all that Sameness so that one can more clearly recognize new people, places, ideas and needs. Without a removal from the confines of a daily structured existence, it can be nearly impossible to even notice that a Change is required. It is only when the time and effort are taken to notice the Self that one is able to recognize one’s Needs. And Needs are ever changing things. Of course, there are the basic, primal needs of water, food, shelter. But our more personal Needs – those things required for us to exist as healthy and thriving members of the human community – these Needs are not static. As we grow and mature, our Needs change. And the only way to know if our current Needs are being met is to be aware of what those Needs are at any given time.

When was the last time you asked your Self if your body was getting enough exercise? When was the last time you asked your Self what kind of relationships would be most beneficial to you at this juncture in your Life Journey? Do you really know what your Passions are? And can you separate your current Passions from hobbies you practiced in the past? It is not to preclude that the whims of youth cannot become the passions of adulthood, but, rather, that what ignites passion in a person can change as that person is exposed to newness in the world, and as she/he grows in relation to those new experiences. When was the last time you checked with your Self to ask what ignites your passion? And a bigger question still, might be: When was the last time you dove into your Passion? I know many a once-passionate painter who has failed to lift a brush in more moons than I can count. I have been one of these passionless zombies, and am only on the verge of revivification right now. How easy it is in the numbing routine of modern daily first-world life to get lost in the mundane, and to forget about the very kernels of Passion that give Life its flavor. How sad that so many of us lose our appetite for Self-Fulfilling Life, and replace it with the bland gruel of Conformity and Social Expectation. It is crap, in my humble opinion. And I believe most of us are in dire need of a big, fat enema. Let the Waters of Life whoosh in and clean out all the bullshit that is clogging us up so that we can once again assimilate the nourishment that full spectrum living can afford us.

This is why I travel. To cleanse my Self. To open my eyes to what Life really is, and who I really am within it. To change my perspective when I start getting stuck in the rut of a passionless life. I want to lust for Life. I want to live Life in high definition with surround sound. I want to really feel the earth beneath my feet and the breeze against my skin and the beating of my own heart as it swells with excitement or ebbs with contentment. I want to see the world and all its beauty and wonder, and I want to see myself mirrored in it so that the world is a reflection of me and I of it. I want to contribute something to my human community. I want to discover what it is that I can contribute that will be of value. And I want to savor every moment, every flavor that Life offers, be it bitter or sweet or both intertwined. This is why I travel.

And as I travel I grow. I step out of the hamster wheel of Same and onto a long and winding path of Newness. I am forced to pay attention on this path. I am offered the opportunity to make choices based on what pleases me in the moment within the confines of my available resources, even if my choice is to make no choice at all, but rather to let the path unfold and see where it takes me. Freedom is a wonderful teacher. She is at times lenient and carefree, and at times the headmistress of difficult Life Lessons. But every lesson is necessary and valuable. And I am only one of a great sea of students. One tiny pupil on a quest to find my Self. A perpetual student of the Academia of Life with infinite lessons to learn. I am hungry for knowledge. I am regaining my appetite. And I am gearing up to take a bite out of Life.


On that note, I think I’ll break for lunch. May you all enjoy sucking the sweet marrow out of Life today and every day! Xoxo!

18 August, 2011

More photos from Ant Atoll!


That's me gingerly gripping one of the coconut crabs at Ant Atoll. They are weirdly beautiful creatures.


A rainbow over Pohnpei. Who needs Oz with beauty like this?


If you look really closely, you can just make out the faint second rainbow in this photo. (I recommend clicking on the thumbnail to enlarge it, first.)


John Denver got it right when he sang, "Sunshine on the water looks so lovely." This was another view from the boat on the long ride back to The Village from Ant Atoll. How lucky are we?

Photos from Ant Atoll!


Dad, Mom and I on the boat ride to Ant Atoll. Notice Sokehs Rock just behind us!


One of Ant Atoll's famous sandy beaches. It was our own little paradise for a couple hours.


Mom takes to the water!


And we are so proud of her!


But after all that hard work, she needs a break. So, Dad fans her with a palm frond while she relaxes.

A few Black Coral Photos


Black Coral Island as seen from the boat ... a tiny treasure!


Another view of Black Coral island showcasing the variegated blues of the waters that surrounds it. I love this place!


This photo was from the first trip that Dad and I took to Black Coral. This is a little local boy named DeMarco. He followed Dad and me around when we first arrived. Shy ... and sweet ... and a snazzy dresser! I mean, check out that tie!

Kayaking Photos


Mom and I kayaking in the bay in Pohnpei ... it's a tandem kayak, so she's seated in front of me.


This is our neighbor, Ben, and his beautiful sailboat.


Dad kayaking around Mwand Island ... what a gorgeous view!


One of the many blue starfish Dad and I saw congregating in the shallow reefs surrounding Mwand Island


Here I am ... your intrepid experimenter ... blissfully kayaking around Mwand Island!

Water, Water, Everywhere ...

This post is overdue. I offer my apologies. I have been busy trying to make arrangements for my homecoming, plans for my last weeks here on island, and some sense out of the spin cycle of thoughts and emotions that are swirling around inside me. Thankfully, my great and powerful Sister has been providing me immeasurable help on the rental-seeking front. The thought of getting to see her again soon also helps boost my excitement about returning to Durham. Although, I really must admit, that I am looking forward to feathering a new nest for a while and welcoming in the approaching change in seasons. I may have a nomad’s wanderlust, but I also have a Southern Daughter’s inexplicable love of the American South. Of course, I romanticize it in that dreamy way that most Southern Daughter’s do, too. Anyway, I digress. Let’s see … we have some catching up to do, don’t we?

I think I left you stranded with unseen falls, a tragic fall, and the promise of a trip to Ant Atoll the following day …

Well, as it happened on that Saturday, our Sunday trip to Ant was also canceled … but not before we arrived at The Village all smiles and gear and eagerness to make the trip. The other folks scheduled to go turned yellow bellied at the arrival of rain that morning. The rain, incidentally, that was gentle and soft and that lasted about twenty minutes, max., after which the sun reemerged lighting up the blue island skies for miles. Oh well. C’est la vie! Dad and I decided to have breakfast since we were already at The Village, which suited me just fine since it’s my favorite breakfast joint on the island. After filling our bellies and rousing our spirits we singed up for the next trip to Ant Atoll (a week later), and rented two kayaks for a paddle out around Mwand Island. This course was recommended to us by Patty. (She’s one of the proprietors of The Village, and a stand-up lady, to boot.) It was a lovely day out on the water: Father and daughter just paddling along on a clear, salty sweet island day. The ocean was smooth and still. There was a soft breeze in the air. The scent of wild ginger would waft by us occasionally reminding us of the paradise of which we are blessed enough to be a part.

Like most of the small islands surrounding Pohnpei, Mwand is surrounded by a large skirt of coral reef that billows out all around it like a clog dancer’s petticoats. We just paddled around the hem of this skirt with our heads poised to take in the underwater marvels around us. We were given quite a show right there from our kayaks. Among the treasures we witnessed were gardens of cabbage coral in a rainbow of shades; a sizeable gathering of blue starfish; a stingray; a leopard ray; and a couple schools of fish that skidded and bounced over the water gaily before disappearing back beneath the surface. It was so beautiful. It wasn’t all so shallow, though. The passage to and from Mwand took us through a hopscotch of deep ocean and shallow reef. Gossamer ribbons of sunlight danced around nimbly in the deeper waters. And we could see the dreamlike blue-green outlines of the reef walls as we passed from shallows to deep and back again. All in all it was a pretty nice day.

My weeks here on island are not nearly as exciting as my weekends. Mostly I spend my days watching old movies or Murder She Wrote episodes with mom, or play board games or cards with mom, dad or both, depending on the time of day. The rest of the time I usually go online in search of rental possibilities and the like. I have been a little desperate for something to read since I finished my last book and exhausted the one magazine I brought here. But, to my delight, Mom discovered a little stand outside the supermarket with a couple bins of used books for sale. I got two: Bastard Out Of Carolina, and Memoirs Of A Geisha. I greedily sped through the former, and have just begun the latter. I hope I manage to find a few more books before my long flights home! I also managed to talk Mom into joining me for a paddle around the bay earlier this week. As we were just starting to paddle out, we happened upon our neighbor, Ben. He towed us out to his sailboat while telling the story of how he and his wife, who aren’t sailors, sailed from Hawaii to Pohnpei. He then set us loose to paddle our way around the bay. Mom was tentative being on the water, but I think she enjoyed it. I certainly did.

This past weekend, we had two fun family excursions on the books. I am happy to report that we actually got to do them both: No Cancellations! Hooray! Saturday, the three of us went back out to Black Coral island. Mom got to go this time. It was an overcast day, which worked in our favor keeping us from getting too sunburned. There were several different varieties of fish in the channel this as compared with the previous trip. The cloud cover may have played some part in that. It may also have been due to the fact that we were there under slightly different tidal conditions than last time, but I don’t know enough about such things to make a definitive statement. Of special note, we got to witness a school of long, slender needlefish lazily meandering through the channel. What a treat! Mom, feeling happy to be healed of those yucky old fever blisters, worked through her trepidations and did a good deal of snorkeling in the shallows. For those of you who don’t know my mother, this was a feat of near miraculous bravery and derring-do. She got to see some sweet, colorful tropical fish and numerous varieties of coral. And I think she even had a little fun in the water! In fact, we ALL had a fun time.

Sunday marked our journey outside the “big reef” to Ant Atoll. Mom wasn’t really too stoked about the trip, but decided she was going to go anyway. Turns out we were going to be making the trip with a group of Tuna scientists who were in town for a series of meetings. This was their day off, and they were going diving. There were nine of them, if I remember correctly. We were the only three snorkelers.

We loaded into two separate motorboats for the ride. It takes anywhere from one to two hours to get to Ant Atoll depending on departure point and weather conditions. I’m not really sure how long it took us, but it felt like maybe an hour and fifteen minutes or so.

We spied some dark clouds on the horizon as we began our journey. As the clouds started getting closer and larger, Mom started getting more nervous. It did rain on us. It rained quite a lot on the way to Ant, actually. And it was a hard, pelting rain that stung as it landed against our flesh, our eyes, our mouths. Luckily I had my rain jacket with me, so I was pretty well protected. Mom and Dad weren’t so lucky. They got soaked. (I offered my jacket to Mom, but she declined it, already soaked after a moment of rainfall.) Our intrepid guides/drivers moved us deftly through the choppy waters with very little disturbance despite the fact we were in a little motorboat traversing ocean peaks of growing intensity.

Before the rains came, we did get to see some schools of dolphins in the distance. I wish they had been closer, but I took it as a good sign, nonetheless.

As we arrived at the first of the islands we were to visit, the clouds parted and the sun smiled out at us. The sea settled down, and we forgot the little storm as quickly as it forgot us.

The way this trip worked was as follows: Dad, mom and I would be dropped off on a beach so that we could snorkel, relax, mosey, as we desired. Then the boats would take the divers out to the channel and stay there for the duration of their dive. It worked out well. We were gifted with our own private island to explore as we wished. And Ant Atoll is famous for its beautiful sand beaches as well as its diving and snorkeling.

On the first island, the beach was phenomenal, but the snorkeling was lackluster. It was mostly sand-bottomed ocean with patches of reef. The patches did host some lovely smaller marine life. This was a great place for mom to snorkel. She got out in the water and snorkeled all over the place … even by herself! She couldn’t be bothered to wait for us slow coaches! It is impressive how comfortable she is getting in the water. I think it helped her to have the sandy bottom because she could see the ground at all times and be certain of where it was, rather than looking through the maze of reef nooks and crannies. In any case, she certainly made excellent progress in the water.

Next, the whole crew was taken to another sandy beach on another little island for lunch. We ate, napped, lolled in the water and relaxed. (It was a full moon that day, so I was fasting.) This beach played host to hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes. I felt like I was at a hermit crab convention. One of the guides gave us a treat when he went in search of, and then produced, a couple of coconut crabs. Coconut crabs are the largest of the land crabs. Their claws are so strong and so sharp they can cut through coral like it’s melted butter. They use these claws to help them shuck coconuts and peck them open allowing the crabs access to the sweet meat and water inside. Fascinating creatures. One has to be very careful when approaching, and, especially, when snatching a coconut crab. One careless move could easily result in one less digit! We had a lively show and tell session with these crabs. I even held one for a while. Though, after a few moments of fascinated observation I began to feel really sad for the crabs having all these humans pawing at them and lifting them and shaking them about like toys from a Christmas cracker.

The third island we visited didn’t have a sandy beach. It was a thin strip of island with a beach made of coral and shells. Walking from the beach into the water, there were a few little white sand patches, but those quickly gave way to reefs. The reefs extended about a good city block (or two?) out from the beach where it then dropped off into the channel. As it did so, it created one of the beautiful reef walls for which these islands are famous. These reef walls are a snorkeler’s paradise. I explored the shallower reefs for a while, taking in the sights of the smaller reef fish and the abundant corals. I was planning to wait for Dad to swim out to the wall with me, as the deeper waters are more likely to contain sharks, and are therefore more challenging for me. (Read: I was feeling chicken.) But, in the spirit of Mom’s newfound bravery, I decided I was gonna go to that reef wall all by myself! And I did! And it was gorgeous!

The water in the deep channel was so clear and blue. The sun illuminated the underwater scene creating a soft, ethereal, watery Shangri-La. I could see the sandy floor way down below me. That put me at ease. The reef wall was amazing and teeming with all kinds of life. I had snorkeled a reef wall at Mwand Pass that first trip out with the manta rays, but had been so panicky that day that I didn’t really get to look around much. This was different. I was actually seeing this reef and all the fish swimming in and around it, and the intricate textile of shape, color, pattern and texture that each individual entity brought to the whole. It was like watching a beautiful symphony some to life in images. Floating out there in all that beauty I realized that I wasn’t even afraid. Not even a little. I even swam out into the channel so I could get a better look at the wall as it delved deeper toward the bottom. Mostly, though, I would just float at the edge and take it all in with awe and reverence and the most sublime joy. Once I even spied a large shark swimming around at the bottom just beneath where I was floating. Instead of feeling fear, I felt exhilaration. Everything about this experience was amazing. I took a few photos of the reef wall, and of dad, with the underwater camera we bought from The Village, but there’s no place to develop the film on island, so those photos will have to wait until I get back to the States. I’ll try to post some of them as soon as I can.

The ride home from Ant Atoll was a little rough at the start – no rain, just some rough, choppy waters. Once we re-entered the “big reef”, though, it was smooth and glassy again. The big surprise of the return trip was the double rainbow that followed us most of the way back. The lower rainbow was quite strong, but a second bow arced faintly above it like a wispy reflection of its brighter twin. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day!!

Let’s see … I think that pretty much brings us up to the present. Today is Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary, so they will be spending next Saturday at The Village for a romantic celebration. On Sunday, though, we’ll be going out for a hike along Sokehs Ridge and to explore some of the old WWII relics with friends of Mom and Dad’s. Should be fun. Here’s to having wind in your sails and the sun at your back until next we meet!

06 August, 2011

falls

Today was a strange day, indeed. Dad and I were scheduled to make a trip to Ant Atoll today with the folks from The Village. There were two other people signed up for the same trip – guests at The Village. Having concerns about the weather – which turned out to be unwarranted – the other folks canceled their trip at the last minute. Rather than pay the full cost of the boat ourselves, we canceled, too. (We are now slated to take that trip tomorrow … barring any unexpected snafus.)

This schedule change prompted us to bump our planned visit to the Liduduhniap (Twin) Waterfalls from tomorrow to today. Mom and Dad have already been to these falls, so we didn’t need a guide. We donned our swimming duds and set out for the river. We arrived, and had just finished reading the warnings on the shrine situated at the head of the trail to the falls, when a young American woman stopped us. She was shaky and frantic and choking back tears. She told us we shouldn’t go to the falls right then … that they had a medical emergency and were awaiting an ambulance. She and her party had been enjoying the falls and swimming in the river when there was an accident.

Apparently one of the two waterfalls has been deemed safe for people to climb up and jump off of into the river below. The other has been restricted and deemed very dangerous due to several accidents that have occurred on it.

This is the story the young American woman told us:

A woman today had been jumping off the safe waterfall. As she was climbing up for another jump, she lost her footing. She fell down the restricted waterfall. A young local boy who had been swimming with the American group located her after she fell. He told the Americans that he thought she was dead. Hoping that she was merely unconscious, they waited for the ambulance.

As the ambulance and police cars arrived, our car got blocked in, so we ended up waiting at the head of the trail as island paramedics went to tend to the fallen girl. Local people began arriving to swarm around the area as word began to spread. (The coconut telegraph is always the fastest way to spread news.) About 15-20 minutes later the paramedics loaded the woman (and the stretcher on which they were carrying her) into the ambulance. Her face was covered. She had hit her head during the fall. Her fall had, indeed, been fatal. The ambulance carried her away. As her party slowly paraded up the trail to their truck, we recognized them as the group of World Teach volunteers sitting in the row in front of us at the Presidential Inauguration. If I’m not mistaken, the woman that fell was the one seated directly in front of us that day. She was young … around 25 years old. I remember her laughing a lot with some of the other volunteers. She looked really happy to be here … so young and full of hope. I do not say this in an attempt to eulogize someone I never met. I just remember it striking me that day how hopeful and innocent she looked.

Needless to say, it was an awful situation. We, obviously, did not go to the waterfalls after that. The thought of the loss of this young woman in the flash of a moment has been lying heavy with each of us since.

I ask you to please send healing energy, prayers, positive thoughts, good vibes … whatever you can spare … to the friends and family of this woman; to the World Teach volunteers who witnessed and will likely be haunted by this event; and especially to the following: her parents in Maine (USA); and the person who has (had) to make the call to her parents to give them this horrible news.

And maybe after you read this, you can go remind those you love just how much you love them. And embrace them if they’re near enough. And really be present in that embrace. Savor it. And be reminded how each microcosm of life can change with the blink of an eye; the whisper of a wind; and, sometimes, the death of a child or a friend. I love you all.



05 August, 2011

Photos of Nan Madol

This was our first view of the Nan Madol ruins.


Welcome to the ancient and mystical stone city. Enter here.


We had to wade across a waist high channel of ocean water to reach the entrance. Inspired visions of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones among our intrepid adventurers.


This is a close-up of the stone construction for which Nan Madol is famous. No one knows for sure how (or from where) the stone logs were constructed or transported. Legend tells us the Saudeleurs used their magicks to build the city.


Inside the stone city of Nan Madol ...


I'll post more photos soon. It takes practically a lifetime for them to download, so I apologize for the wait ... Stay tuned!

More Island Photos!

This is a shot of Mom and Danny on the foliage filled trail to the Nan Madol ruins. The vegetation on this island is spectacular.


Mom is standing at the base of one of the biggest tree trunks I've ever seen. I couldn't even get a shot of the entire trunk base in one frame. A beautiful old tree .. in fact, it may have been one of those missing Entwives.


This was a pretty little pool surrounded by flora on the way to Nan Madol.


Another shot of Mom and Danny on the trail to the Nan Madol ruins. (They were in front of me in the convoy.)


A lovely curtain of hanging ferns ... pretty.

Island Photos!

A view of downtown Kolonia ...


Kolonia's Post Office


Kepirohi Waterfall: Mom, Dad and Danny frolicking in the frothy falls!


Look how high Danny climbs .. and this was a low post for him!

02 August, 2011

Weekend Update

This week’s end saw the Federated States of Micronesia’s (FSM) Presidential Inauguration. The actual ceremony took place midday on Friday. Dad was given the day off since he is an employee of the federal government, so we all three got to go witness the event. It was held in the College of Micronesia’s (COM) athletic facility, which is where many of the larger cultural events are held on Pohnpei. Slated to begin at 10:00a it, of course, began around 10:40. (This is a phenomenon known as “island time.” Most anyone who has ever spent any time on an island will be familiar with this concept.) The President, Manny Mori, was elected to a second term. FSM presidential elections are organized differently than those of the United States. Here, senators are elected by popular vote in each of the four states. Then, the elected senators vote among themselves to determine who will be President. Once the President is elected, another statewide election is held to determine, by popular vote, who will fill the President’s now empty Senate seat. Everyone still with me?

Like most political events, there was a great deal of pomp and circumstance during the proceedings. Many dignitaries and officials were introduced and welcomed, each in their turn. This was a national event, so there were representatives from each of the island states: Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap and Chuuk. There were opening and closing prayers by local men of cloth. Speeches were given by the governor of Pohnpei and by President Mori. I would like to say that I was both educated and inspired by these speeches, but the sound system wasn’t working very well, so I was only able to catch about every tenth word. I am sure that they were excellent speeches in content and delivery. There were also a few rousing choral performances by the Peidei Youth Singing Group. But the real fun happened after the official ceremony. Lunch was provided for everyone in attendance. As entertainment during the feast, different groups from each of the island states performed some traditional cultural dances and musical numbers. Most of these performances were really amazing to watch. They were also really nice reminders of the traditions that still exist within these island cultures.

The festivities eventually slowed to an end around 2:00 or so. Then came the mass exodus out of the COM campus and back from whence we came. Mom, Dad and I trudged along with the convoy back into Kolonia, and, then, back to the house. We didn’t really do much else the rest of the day. Mom has developed a nasty batch of fever blisters on her lower lip, and is suffering quite a bit from it. (Too much sun and surf last weekend.)

Saturday, we had all arranged a day of snorkeling at Black Coral Island. Mom, unfortunately, was still not feeling up to much of anything, so she stayed at home. Dad and I went with snorkel gear and beach towels in tow. We had to drive about 40 minutes to a place called Sen War where we would meet the boat driver for the carriage to the island. These were the directions we were given: “Keep driving until you see the two-story elementary school on your right, then turn right onto a road where they’ve been dredging the ocean. That’s where the boat will be.” In true island style, we had no problem at all finding the place. We parked the car, loaded our gear (and ourselves) onto the boat, and enjoyed the view as the boat sped us out to the little island. Costeln, our driver, deftly navigated the little motorboat through the channels and around the reefs. It continues to amaze me how rapidly and nimbly these folks can do this, especially during low tide when there are passages so shallow that one could wonder how the boat manages through them at all without getting stuck.

Black Coral is a tiny little atoll off the west-southwestern edge of Pohnpei. And I do mean tiny! The owner, with whom I spoke to secure the trip, told me the entire island can be traversed in five minutes. She wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, she might have been embellishing. It’s super tiny. And that is part of its charm. There are a couple of thatched roof huts, a central nahs, a little nahs that is more of an ocean overlook, an outhouse, and a couple storage buildings. In case you are wondering, a nahs is like a palapa. They are platforms with thatch or aluminum roofs where folks can gather to chew the fat, literally or figuratively. In simplest terms they are community or family meeting places.

Black Coral Island does not have sandy beaches. Its ‘beaches’ are composed of broken coral and shells. There are reefs extending out in all directions, making the water around the island very shallow. The one exception is a channel separating it from another small atoll (which is also, technically, part of Black Coral, but is owned by different people). The water here is crystal clear and a blue that could make Sinatra’s eyes seem the color of dirty mop water. The owner told me that this channel is a spawning area for grouper fish. It’s also a protected area, so fishing is restricted. All this makes for a lovely place to snorkel … especially for those who are new to snorkeling and who are trying to combat a fear of being in the ocean (like, er, me.) And it was a wonderful day of snorkeling. The channel is so cozy and so clear, that I felt totally safe there. I was even able to snorkel along the reef walls out in the channel all by myself. (Those of you who know me well will know that this is a huge accomplishment.) Dad had a good time snorkeling, too, though he managed to sneak in a few hammock breaks, as well. There were lots of fish to see in this spot. We saw varieties of triggerfish, tang fish, butterfly fish, angelfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and wrasse. We swam amidst a school of tiny silverside fish. I even spied a flounder hiding on the sandy ocean floor. There were some beautiful specimens of coral, too: Bright orange, cobalt blue, emerald green. Neon blue starfish were lurking everywhere. They are absolutely gorgeous creatures. And some of them were so big that each ‘finger’ was almost a foot long. I had a grand time.

At around 2:30p we finally decided we’d had enough fun for the day. The tide was coming in and the water was getting rougher, the current stronger. We’d had several hours of sun and snorkeling, and were getting a little tired. (It was the new moon, too, so I was fasting for the day. Lots of sun and surf and no food make for a tired Melanie.) We climbed back onto the island following our last round of snorkeling, and plopped down in our chairs to dry off and to watch the waves of the incoming tide roll into the channel. Almost as soon as we sat down, I spotted it: A fin in the water. And in the shallowest section, too, swimming exactly where we had been only moments ago. It was another young black tip reef shark. This fellow was only 3-4 feet long. I think maybe it got lost among the reefs during the tidal transition. It swam along the edge of the island and made its way directly out to the wider channel. I lost sight of it then. I didn’t see any others after that. I kept wondering if I was going to see any sharks during this trip to Black Coral. I was keeping my eyes peeled for them in the channel and in the half-hidden hollows of the reef walls, but didn’t see any until I spied this lone little shark from the shore. I wonder what will happen if/when I actually see a shark while I’m in the water? I hope that I will be able to control my panic instincts and appreciate the moment. But mostly I hope I don’t have a heart attack, or, worse, soil myself. I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it, eh?

This is probably the best place in the world for me to work through my shark phobia. The island is protected by a circumferential reef, which means that the only sharks that inhabit these waters are the requiem, or reef, sharks. These sharks are generally harmless so long as they are not provoked. They seem to have a symbiotic relationship with, or at least a mutual respect for, the islanders, and share the water with them freely. There are no known records of shark attacks on the island. Plus, these sharks tend to be smaller than some of their deeper water relatives. So, if I’m gonna hang out with sharks, these are the sharks with whom I wanna hang. Sounds pretty safe and simple, doesn’t it? Now if I can only convince that irrational part of my psyche, I’ll be in business. If any of you have any thoughts on how to work through phobias, I’d love to hear them!

The boat ride back was even more beautiful than the ride to Black Coral. The sky was amazing. A great expanse of clouds stretched out over the ocean as if they were trying to join Mother Ocean in a seductive samba. They were varying shades of white, gray and silver like abalone shells, and reflected in soft shimmers on the water’s undulating surface. I think it may have been the most beautiful daytime sky I’ve ever witnessed. Truly amazing. Sadly, my camera was stuffed way down in my gear bag beneath practically everything else, so I wasn’t able to capture this beauty. But photos of Father Sky never are as brilliant as the real thing, so I will let your imagination create this magnificent sky for you to enjoy when you need something beautiful to ponder. May it bring you joy.

Sunday Dad and I went to The Village for brunch. Unfortunately, Mom still wasn’t feeling too well. Then we went to the cinema to see Cowboys and Aliens. Hopefully Mom will be healed and happy by next weekend’s adventures.

All in all, another fun weekend in Pohnpei. Thanks to my parents I have been getting to sample some of what Pohnpei really has to offer. And, thanks to me, they have been getting to experience more adventure (and exertion!) than they’d likely do on their own. Stay tuned to see how we three misfits manage to forage and splash our way through this tropical paradise.