Category Archives: Nature

Nature Therapy

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Sunset at Ocean Beach. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017. 

Northern California has had so much rain this winter that it’s been in the national news. After five years of drought, the last one finally bringing water use restrictions, record-setting rainfall has caused flash flooding and has compromised the dam at the state’s second largest water reservoir.

This past weekend brought a welcome break in storm systems. People, my husband and I included, came pouring (pun intended) outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. Ocean Beach in San Francisco was busy with people strolling on the sand and dogs chasing seagulls. We were soaking up the sunshine and storing away vitamin D as fast as we could. At the end of a wonderful day, we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

For me the day was a metaphorical respite from the current political climate in our country. With each day bringing heart-stopping headlines and Twitter battles, it feels like ominous clouds never give way to blue skies. If only our country could catch its collective breath like I did. My beloved land of the free and home of the brave needs a day of sunshine.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

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Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2016.

Work periodically brings me to the city of Martinez, California. On my last trip to this city, I learned that naturalist and conservationist John Muir, the first president of the Sierra Club, lived in Martinez with his wife and two daughters. This might have triggered a subconscious craving for some one-on-one time with nature.

Fighting a growing sense of burnout, I fled to Napa Valley this weekend. On a mission to flush out the crud in my mind, I purposely drove down roads I didn’t know. In my search for places I hadn’t seen before, I also rediscovered places I hadn’t seen in more than 10 years.

Pretty views from the car weren’t going to cut it, so I trekked through mud in search of vistas that would make my brain fire up synapses and light up like a Christmas tree. In my knee-high leather boots with rubber soles I was undaunted by the feeling of squishy earth rising up to meet my ankles.

Gradually receding into the far back corners of my mind were news stories about sexual assaults and building walls; discussions about emails and private servers; worries about what the future holds for some of my clients; and reminders to pick out new cabinets and counter tops for my kitchen update. None of these things were going away, but they were being relegated to their proper places. A healthy perspective was being ushered back to the head of the line.

In the peaceful, open spaces of hills and vineyards, my mind quieted and emptied itself. My reset button clicked. Problems and crises shrank down to their real size, ceasing to be the giant monsters that were stalking me. My body purged the toxic chemicals caused by tension and worry. My muscles loosened, releasing their grip on my joints, and allowing my body to flood my lungs with air.

John Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (The Yosemite, 1912.) These words proved true for me this weekend, as they have countless times before, and as they will for countless times to come.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Can High Tech Do That?

 

Dock Piling

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

In this high-tech obsessed world where toddlers have computers and grade-school kids have cell phones, I often feel like the only person on the planet who can still be impressed by things that don’t require a battery. I took this picture of a piling at a San Francisco bay pier because I was astonished that a plant had turned the piling into its own pot and decided to grow.

You probably recall from grade school science that birds eat plants with seeds and redeposit seeds at new locations when they poop. The organic matter of the wooden pilings, water from the rain and air, and sunlight gave seeds in bird droppings everything they needed to take root and grow. This micro miracle was brought to us by nature – no battery required. As I took this photograph with my digital single-lens reflex camera, I thought to myself, “Can high tech do that?”

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

The Greeting of Love

 

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Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Punalu’u, a black sand beach on the southern tip of Hawai’i Island, is one of my favorite beaches, and I go there every chance I get. During one visit, I came across a crowd of tourists huddled around honu, green sea turtles, sleeping on the sand. The tourists kept a few feet away from the honu as they took pictures, but they were still closer than the 15 feet required by law. I watched from a distance, hoping the honu would stay asleep so the crowd wouldn’t stress them.

Close to shore, a honu peered its head above the water. Moments later another honu did the same. A receding wave revealed the first honu on the sand, and I smiled. The tired little creature waited at the water’s edge for its companion, and together the pair started their slow climb up the beach. Instantly charmed by them, I took a picture with my phone.

With the sleeping honu resting peacefully, I gave my full attention to the new arrivals. The pair could have veered in any direction on that beach, but, to my surprise, they headed straight toward me. Each time the honu got close to me, I walked back and to the right or to the left to get out of their way. I moved several times, but each time the honu changed direction and continued their deliberate walk toward me. It felt wrong to keep moving, so I stopped.

One by one, the tourists noticed the honu appearing to follow me, and I could tell they wanted to swarm the pair as they had the sleeping honu. Standing firm, with my eyes locked on the honu and the wind blowing fiercely through my wild mass of dark wavy hair, I thought, “Leave them alone.” To my relief, the tourists stayed put. With the tourists at bay, I sang “Mele Aloha” to the honu as they approached me. This song is a welcoming chant composed by the revered Mary Kawena Pukui.

Onaona i ka hala me ka lehua

He hale lehua nō ia na ka noe

‘O ka’u nō ia e ‘ano’i nei

E li’a nei ho’i o ka hiki mai

A hiki mai nō ‘oe

A hiki pū nō me ke aloha

Aloha ē, aloha ē, aloha ē

Fragrant of pandanus and lehua blossoms

This is indeed a house of lehua shrouded in the mist

It is the one that I am truly longing for

Yearning for the arrival

And you have indeed come

Arriving indeed with love

Love, love, love to you

The honu finally stopped a few feet away from where I stood. My heart spilled over with love as I gazed at the honu in wonder. The wind swirled wildly, blowing back my hair, whistling in my ears, and wrapping my body through my clothes, but never drying out my eyes. I waited until the honu fell asleep before I left them.

Since that day I have never doubted that the universe notices, feels, acknowledges, and returns the love in my heart. People may be indifferent to love; they may choose to ignore it; they may mock it; and they may even hate me for it. But the spirit of love that permeates all of creation greets love with love.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

His Voice and Touch in Nature

Who covers the heaven with clouds,

Who prepares rain for the earth,

Who makes grass to grow upon the mountains.

Ka Mea i uhi i ka lani i nā ao,

Ka Mea i ho’omākaukau i ka ua no ka honua,

Ka mea i ho’oulu mai i ka mau’u, ma luna o nā mauna.

Psalms 147:8

I never regret taking the time to stop and admire nature’s beauty and power. No matter how tired I might get during a drive, no matter how much I want to maintain a certain pace during a walk, no matter how anxious I might be to get to my destination, the magnificence of Creation is always an open invitation worthy of acceptance.

Nature has the power to take my focus off whatever worries I have. It resets my perspective to a healthy balance. It gives me an opportunity to appreciate and to be grateful that I’m breathing, that I’m walking, that I can see, that I can hear, that I can touch.

These pauses are important moments of reflection and connection. I focus on what’s vital in my life, and I connect with the Creator who made everything and everyone, the Creator who does not lose sight of me despite the unfathomable vastness of His Creation.

© Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2015. Photograph of Emigrant Gap, CA, by Writing Wahine, 2015.

Ku’u Home

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1.6.15: No matter how many beautiful and intoxicating places I visit and fall in love with, and no matter how full and meaningful a life I build where I am transplanted, my heart always turns to look back toward Hawai’i.

Is home where your dearest loved ones are? Where your life’s work happens? Where the majority of your life plays out? Where your most precious memories were born? The place that nurtured you during your formative years?

What if home is where you can be the best version of yourself? The best you according to your own standards, not the world’s. The version of yourself that you sense exists deep inside you, but that you are afraid to let live because you fear it will cost you something you can’t let go.

There’s a side of me that loves creature comforts, glamour, designer things, and posh places. It’s the same side of me that loves drama and power, being in the know, and feeling like I appreciate culture displayed in museums, theaters, and concert halls. I’m the darling of capitalism: a materialistic consumer.

But there’s a side of me that knows better and deeper. It’s the side of me that knows the most important things in my life are few, close to my core, and have nothing to do with consuming materialistic goods. It’s this side that makes my heart look back toward Hawai’i, where I feel connected to the past and the future, where I hear the wind whisper in my ear, where I feel energy rising up from the soil, where I feel embraced in the rain, and where I feel like I’m touching life itself when I enter the ocean.

So I’ll keep visiting seductive places, and I’ll keep looking at pretty, shiny things, but I’ll always look back at the place where I know the best version of myself exists. I’ll keep checking the compass in my life, the beacon that keeps reminding me to stay true to the best in me.

©Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015.

Be Still

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When I was a child on O’ahu, the Ko’olau Mountains would always make me freeze in my tracks. No matter what I was doing in the car, the first sight of the mountains would make me stop and stare out the window. I would stand at the foot of the mountains and turn my face up until my neck could bend no further. I would look at the mountains, the sky, and the mist for countless moments and say nothing. Although I had no words for what I was feeling, even as a child, my soul was reacting to the majesty of God’s creation. To this day, when I return to the Ko’olau Mountains, I am quieted and humbled. I am still and I feel the power of my God.

Copyright: Living off Island, writingwahine, 2014.