hawaii volcanoes national park

One of my favorite spots I visited on the Big Island was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. At the same time desolate and lush, it was a place unlike any other I’ve laid eyes on. Only a short walk separated tree-filled rain forests from vast rocky expanses. The air is thin and wispy and filled with steam; heavily-scented with earth and sulfur. The impact of volcanic activity is obvious all around the island — from its craggy beaches to the swirling prints of lava left on walking paths — but nowhere is it more apparent than in this home of the craters.

20151009_10393420151003_11422420151003_09453520151003_09501420151003_09491820151003_09572920151003_10083320151009_10511620151003_11265920151009_10454020151009_12173820151009_12183720151009_12174320151009_12440920151009_12324920151009_12291620151009_123748

 

Advertisement

on being alone

20151209_133241Last summer, I decided I wanted to spend the fall in Hawaii working on a farm. I’d never thought much about Hawaii previous to this realization; I just knew I wanted to be somewhere warm where plants would be growing in December. It was surprisingly easy to find a farm and my travel plans were quickly set.

Very intentionally, I decided to take this trip alone. (Though even if I would have wanted a companion it would have been difficult to arrange — it turns out not so many people can/want to take a three month break from their life to move to a farm in Hawaii.) This was supposed to be an opportunity for me to be with myself. I wanted to spend my days in the garden. Reading and writing. Thinking. I wanted the space.

Upon arriving in Hawaii, I had a very sudden change of heart about this whole ‘solo’ thing. Though I thought I was prepared to be by myself, the level of alone-ness that greeted me was far greater than I’d anticipated. I was the only worker on the farm.I was living in a barn in the middle of a field with a horse as a next-door neighbor. The nearest town was more than ten miles away and my transportation was limited. I was very literally by myself 85 – 90% of the time and I needed to figure out how to deal with that.

It’s such a funny thing in life when you get exactly what you’ve asked for and then have no idea what to do with it. I’d thought at length about the free time this experience would grant me and how I’d spend it. I’d considered and re-considered the duration of my stay with great attention, determining three months would give me enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to. I had personally and solely planned and put together every bit of this trip, and now, on day two, I wanted out. I looked at one-way flights home for the next week. I used my phone’s limited data plan to search such entries  as, “i have three months off of work what do i do with it”; “how to fill time by yourself”; “what to do when you are lonely”. I then indulged in a large dose of pouting and wallowing and feeling generally very sorry for myself and went to bed before 8pm.

The next day, I decided that I had to get it together. I still wasn’t thrilled about this whole arrangement, but I’d yearned for this trip, so I was going to make something of it despite the unexpected circumstances. Naturally, I wrote a list. On that list was every single thing that I could think of that I might be able to do during a day. There was also a list for what I could do once the sun had gone down. The lists contained such items as: “go look at plants and locate them in an ID book and find out what they are and how they work”, “make a cup of tea and read”, “play with the dog”, “make jam”, and “work on crossword puzzles”. I wrote a note at the end that read, “The action is here.”

A few days passed. Being by myself continued to feel really hard. I looked again at tickets to fly home. I slept too frequently. I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed and felt an unfounded resonance at the thought of being trapped in the woods.

And then gradually — so gradually that I didn’t notice it happening — everything was ok. I was still alone, but I didn’t feel lonely. I would look forward to waking up early to watch the sunrise out of my east-facing window. I cooked nice meals for one. I journaled about my day instead of talking about it. I went on a lot of walks. The time passed, and I felt myself learning and expanding. The reasons I went on the trip in the first place were making themselves known.

Not every day was easy. There were still many many times when I wanted nothing more than to transport myself out of my often uncomfortable circumstances and into a bustling cafe for a coffee with a friend. But by day 90, as I was preparing to leave the farm at my pre-determined date, I felt a distinct sense of nostalgia creeping in; I knew before I’d even stepped foot off of the island that in so many ways, I’d dearly miss the small and solitary world I’d built for myself.

20151217_042239

first week of 2016

The past week has been filled with many of my favorite things: Time spent with infrequently seen friends, days packed with hiking, exploring, reading, hours driving through beautiful countryside with my favorite co-pilot listening to CSNY’s greatest hits on repeat (2,400+ miles, 9 states + D.C.) I am thankful.

Here are some snapshots from our Midwest —> East Coast (and back) adventure. Next week I’m going to start this thing in earnest with a recipe for Tuesday on Tuesday and another post on Friday. Cheers to 2016!

201512269509450320151226_09594720151228_11165720151228_115644201512319511551320160101_15302320160101_15473620160104_16050120160104_142020

a bountiful harvest

20151103_150657

I’ve just arrived back in the chilly Midwest after three months in Hawaii. While there, I sowed a lot of seeds. I planted kale, chard, bok choy, black-eyed peas, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, and amaranth. I’m probably forgetting a few.

To thrive, these seedlings required my energy in various forms. First, they needed to be planted. Then they needed to be watered and weeded and fretted over. They needed to be hilled up. They needed heat. They needed fertilizer. They needed an XL dose of my best and fullest patience. (You may be realizing that these babies were some high-maintenance little punks).

Of course, these sprouted seeds will die if proper care is not taken. And if they don’t die, at the very least, neglect will cause them to shrivel. They will sit in their droopy-leaved discontent and wallow. But amazingly, when you go through the motions and put in all of the ingredients and think and consider and ponder and do it every day and waitwaitwait, one day you’ll walk out to the garden to take a peek after a time away and POW! There will be the fruits of your labor. Those sprouts will have become glorious! They will be craning their necks toward the shimmering sun. They will be stretching out their newly developed stems and branches as wide as they can reach. Like gems, there will be glittering flowers of pale pinks and yellows and creamy silky whites. And some of those flowers will have even turned into itty bitty versions of what will one day be an actual edible vegetable. And you’ll think to yourself, “Well holy shit! How in the world did this happen?” And then you’ll step back to think for a moment and the truth will come creeping into your consciousness, “Oh. I did this.”

That is, in a metaphor, what my nearly hundred days in Hawaii were. Not regarding the vegetables, (though everything is always a little bit about the vegetables) regarding me. It was about taking this confused and downtrodden and limping-along person that I had become out into the big world and sitting down with her. She and I had a lot to discuss. We planted our fears and insecurities and uncertainties and discontent and exhaustion. And then we tended to all of those things. And over time, just as in my garden, the uncanny happened. I grew and changed and blossomed. With hours spent listening to my own beating heart, practicing all the kindness I could conjure up, and daring to dig into and smooth out some murky and uneven terrain, the “seeds” that I planted turned into something else entirely.

Certainly this process is not finished yet. Just as I will each year go back out into the fields and till the earth and plant the seeds and care for them season after season, I will do the same with myself. It turns out that flourishing takes a lot of work! But it is certainly well worth the effort.