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


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.