The Song of The Islands

21 November 2018 Bequia, West Indies

We are eight days into our vacation. Longest one in years. We’ve been bouncing around a couple Islands down here and have just jumped to the small island of Bequia. Home to only 4800 residence. There is no fresh water on the island. The residence fill tanks during the rainy season and make it last. Similar to Bermuda. Strange…but a fact of life here.

I think we finally settled in, both mentally and physically. There’s a peace and tranquility that just wraps you like a soft blanket. Your breathing slows, you start waking up at dawn… because you’ve gone to bed before 9. You are just present in the moment…What to do or not do next? I feel like the days have finally slowed down. We take time to watch the sunsets, take a nap or just kick back and chill.

The Sweet Retreat: perched high up on the side of the hill. Built going straight up just like all the pieces of land here. It’s a gayly colored home three stories tall. There are many rooms, studios and suites. I love the layout of out little room. Outside there’s a full moon and all the night peepers are singing loudly. The anoles that sneak into your room and sing like a spastic smoke detector that the battery is dying on, you can never find the damn thing. The ceiling fan creeks as it spins around on its rusting components. The island breezes rustling through the trees and the passing rain showers. Finally the sound of the waves on the beach below and the faint music of the bars floating on the island breezes tops off the symphony.

The song of the Islands…

Escape to the Islands: A Journey of Peace and Healing

Part One

It has been nearly 3 months since I got sick. The last three months have found me working on my recovery and my well being on a daily basis. It took nearly 2 months this for me to regain my balance, my voice and my energy. I feel much more alive than I did before my illness. Much more at peace and much more grounded. Now it’s time for a much needed vacation. So off to the islands we go. First a few days in St Lucia to settle in and settle down. It’s said that it takes four days to relax, turn off and unwind. I guess that means my vacation can start today!

We left home four days ago. Chris did her best to stock up the store with great inventory. I made sure the house was properly prepared for a long time away. We made sure our guys were up to speed and had everything they needed to succeeded. What was left was only the unknown. It was time to go to catch our flight and start our adventure.

We chose to take the late afternoon flight than a stay over night in Atlanta before catching our flight to St Lucia, West Indies. Leaving a cold, wet climate to a warm, humid one will be a welcome relief. Enjoying the last of our “known” creature comforts to the unknowns of the Islands.

The Awakening

To say my life has taken a turn is putting it quite mildly. Over the last month I have experienced perfect bliss, extreme pain, illness, dis-ease, sadness, loneliness, fear and a greater awareness of love and compassion. All these exist within me. My physical being continues on its finite path of growing older yet I have awaken something dormant, something that has been there all along, but stuffed deep inside, buried under all the superficial pain and suffering, fear and longing. My soul, my spirit, my inner most aliveness. I have tapped into a wellspring of emotions and feelings and have made a safe place for these not so friendly parts of me. I have opened myself up to being mindful of all my surroundings, each moment as it unfolds, for good or bad. I have found a calmness that has long since eluded me. Through my practice and the teachings I have the tools to be content. I have found a silence that screams loudly yet does not break the peacefulness in my mind and heart. I am learning to make peace with my inner child, my fears, doubts and longings.

As my life unfolds in this new awareness, I am utilizing as many tools as I have available to try to incorporate this into my life. The silent movements of T’ai Chi, the quietness and inner searching of my meditation practice, taking in the beautiful world in my own back yard, all these are teaching me in their own way. The suffering of an illness way beyond my control and acknowledging the fears that it brought. The courage to put my unraveling life into the hands of caring professionals and friends who nursed me back to health, each in their own way. For all these things I have a grateful heart.

Everything that will happen today, that is happening in this moment, will all be gone tomorrow with just an imprint on my memory that will soon fade away into that which was my life, my past. I no longer need to make those memories, my past, my current life’s story or influence my path. They are just experiences that I have had, today is a new day, tomorrow is unknown, so I choose to live in this moment and make myself the best I can be for this moment, this day.

It is hard at times when I am bombarded with outside negativity on a constant basis. Some of these influences I can turn off, like the TV and social media. Others are present and part of my daily life and I am learning to listen with one ear and hear the lessons of my teachers with the other. I have chosen to stop internalizing those negative influences as this is like a cancer eating at my very inner most being, it is poison to my spirit which wishes to be free and happy. I am brought back to this moment by my puppy who sees me as perfect in all lights. He lives a simple life, happy just to get scratches, play, eat and sleep. Ah…to have such a simple life.

This is a second, third, maybe forth chance at this life. I have messed it up so many times before. I listen, learn, practice and then as time goes on… as life presents itself, I allow myself to get drawn back into the haste and forget to take care of myself and I end up in the same situation over and over again, with the same results. Some people call that insanity. So, as always, this new awakening I am incorporating into my “new life”. My intention this time is to cultivate it, nurture it and feed it on a daily basis with silence and practice. I choose to separate myself from the expectations of those around me that would love for me to be sucked back up into the games. This has to be about me this time and that needs to remain my constant focus. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance at another “do over”.

A Warm Summers Day

The dog fought me for my foot space. My partner lay beside me snoring. The pale morning light turned the blinds a rosy pink color. I turned over to see the blurry clock 12 feet away… 6:54am. Sigh…

I rolled over and kicked one leg out from under the covers. The air was cool, both from the AC and ceiling fan. Gandaulf lay horizontal across the end of the bed having little fits as he dreamed whatever dogs dream about. I listened to the crickets and birds from my iPads white noise app that I’ve listened to every night for over 5 years. I slid out of bed and made my way upstairs.

The day was splendidly blue and cloudless. The shadows grew shorter and exposed the vibrant greens of the aspens. I rubbed my eyes and went about making coffee. I opened the back door to free the stagnant night air and let in the cool morning. Coffee ready and I moved to the deck to begin my morning.

Welcome to July and a new start to my life.

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I sat on the edge of my chair and pulled the foot stool closer and crossed my legs, turned on some meditation music and began to breathe. With each breath I could feel a wave of calm come over me. I noticed all the tiny butterflies, the chickadees playing in the woods, the lazy lizards basking in the sun, warming their bodies from the night chill. The world around me felt a little more alive than I had noticed previously.

This is it. This is my new morning ritual. A daily awakening of the mind, body and spirit. It’s only one tool in my otherwise empty coping tool box. It’s about me and has to be. I’ve been down this road before. I know what needs to be done.

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I am beginning a new path of spiritual and mental healing. All that I took for granted, all I assumed would just be there, was gone but now is coming back and more real than ever. Like riding a bike, once I began to quiet my mind and began practicing meditation again, the peace began to flood back into me little waves at a time.

Zen on the River

The day started out cloudy with a slight hint of rain floating on the soft breezes. We went about our morning ritual of making coffee and playing with the dog around camp. The day was planned out to the very last detail. We were to blow up the raft, set up camp, get together food for lunch on the river, and get on the river by noon. The coolness of the morning made all these tasks easy and time flew by.

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Our rig is set up so that two women can load and unload our 14 foot Hyside raft, with frame attached, onto the roof of our trailer. There is a winch attached to the tongue of the trailer with a long, flat strap and hook. This extends over the trailers roof and to the back where we then hook it to the raft. One of us guides the raft and retrieval of the strap while the other helps the raft up and onto the rollers on the roof.  It is quite ingenious and we have done it hundreds of times. The guys are always amazed when they watch us heave the big blue boat from the river and up onto the trailer at the take out.

Chris was going to be trying something that we had never done before. Normally this trip requires two vehicles to shuttle the bus and trailer to the take out, then a ride back to the top and a short hike down to the river. Over the last months, she has been training to ride her bike from take out to put in. This is a nine and a half mile ride, most of which is uphill. Neither of us had a doubt, that we were willing to give any acknowledgment to, that she and her bike could make the return trip.

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We left camp at 11:00 and made the 5 minute drive to the boat ramp. Being a Saturday morning and school out, the ramp was a zoo. There were people in their own worlds rigging their rafts right on the ramp, others who don’t know how to back up a trailer, skeewampus all over the ramp. My task was to thread this maze of boats and trailers and get down the ramp without taking anyone out, as quickly as possible. No problem, even with the van and trailer. Five minutes later Gandaulf and I were on the river moving down to a quieter beach to wait for Chris.

Once free of the mayhem of the ramp, screaming children and bumper boats, the true serenity of this canyon can be absorbed. The shear red cliff walls shoot up from the cold green river. Majestic Douglas firs cling to their small purchase of land, soaring up to the brilliant blue sky. Poison ivy clings to the banks as well as red and yellow willows. Today the colors are a bit muted with the cloud cover but the grandure cannot be stolen nor the enormity of the canyon.

I set up the raft, put together one fishing pole and played with Gandaulf until Chris arrived. The skies broke loose a few times with little spritzes of cool rain, enough for me to breakout the rain poncho and long sleeve guide shirt. I spoke with the creator for a moment and asked that this day not be a total washout, not to get hailed on, and mostly not get a huge thunderstorm. We shoved off and began our float.

 

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It has been two weeks since I came to grips with my depression. Two weeks since I had to face the reality that something in my life just wasn’t right. Those two weeks have been spent  contemplating my life. I have been enjoying time to work on the van and planning for a spiritual and mental reboot of my life. I have worked only as needed, reducing the stress in my daily life to a more managable level. I have been tapping into my creative juices with design and build on the van and writing. I can feel the anguish and anger subsiding, perhaps with both the time and the little blue pill I swallow every morning so I can be “normal”. It is travel and being in the great outdoors though, that feeds my soul…the disconnect from the outside world…the silence.

This float will be a great escape.

There is a certain rhythm that you get into when at the oars of a boat. The water moving under the boat, the ripples around the rocks, the current as it flows down the path of least resistance. The sound of the Canyon Wren’s shrill calls, the walls of the red rock canyon kissing the sky, the verdant greens and yellows of the foliage, all combine in this harsh high desert environment to form a beauty that comes out of the struggle to just survive in this canyon. The cold green water that flows out of the depths of the resevoir gives the very life that can survive here hope. Off the front of the boat, the gental rhythm of the flyfishing line gracefully floating back and forth and lighting down on the surface of the water trying to entice the rise of a fish. The sound of the oars as they cut through the surface of the water. All this becomes a mantra for the day ahead.

Today, I found myself in a particularly strong bond with this environment. I found myself “one” with the rhythms of the canyon. I could feel the river’s flow and the calmness that it has as it moves through the channel it has carved over a millenium. I can feel the power and strength of the giant fir trees as they become the skyscrapers of the natural world around me. Each oar stroke makes me part of the waters life. I found that I was in a trance like state that was so calming it was bliss. Not only could I read this river but I had become part of it. I felt as if this canyon and all its life forces were welcoming me, holding me in it’s comforting arms and making me stronger and gentiler. It was food for my soul and Zen on the river.

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Island Life: Days 3-5

There’s something to say about island life. It’s kicked back pace. Long hours of scraping out a living… or doing absolutely nothing but digging your toes in the sand and sucking up some rays. That soon can growing quite boring, at least for Chris and I.

Day three started quite early. We had to catch the 7am ferry back to Belize City in order to catch a taxi and get to our meeting place by 8:30. Of course all of this is in Island time which means, a fifteen minute of error has come to be expected.

We had a golf cart taxi waiting for us at 6:30am. Chris was getting off at the Amore Cafe for some coffee and I was to go the rest of the way with our backpacks, check our luggage and wait for Chris. I began to worry when it was 6:55 and Chris was still no where in sight. There are times when that fifteen minutes comes in handy. She finally showed after walking all the way to The Split and realizing she had missed the docks somehow.

The ferry ride was uneventful, we gathered our backpacks and a taxi and met up with our group, with plenty of time to spare. We soon found out that the group had just come off the Glover’s Reef trip and were now known as the double atollers. For once it appeared we wouldn’t be the oldest in the group… as a matter of fact the group was an average of 55 years old, all professionals, all trying to get to a place in their lives where they can “retire”. We were on the perfect trip!

Most of the third day was spent on boats, getting from one island to another at the furthest eastern land mass in Belize. Arriving at our tent camp on the small island of Half Moon Caye, we were broken into our groups, the double atollers and the newbies… Our tents assigned and lunch served, our day could finally begin…nine hours after we awoke.

Impressions of Half Moon Caye:

Unlike many islands were have been on, these Belizeans care about the cleanliness of their little piece of sand. There was very little garbage littering the sandy white beaches and the windward side of the island, that would normally collect what the tides bring in was also devoid of all ocean trash. This is the rest spot for divers of The Blue Hole. This is also the furthest Belizean outpost for The Autobahn Society. They patrol the waters of The Blue Hole for illegal fisherman, help educate the visitors to this island and keep this turtle hatchery pristine.

Half Moon Caye is also a bird sanctuary. There are nesting colonies of Red Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds and Osprey. There are three predominant species of lizards and an exorbitant amount of Hermit Crabs. The camp actually uses the crabs as a form of composting. All the food scraps are put into a bin and the hermit crabs swarm the pile and become a moving, crunching mass of bioengineering, turning these piles into nothing overnight. Remember anything we create (trash wise) on this island must be disposed of, either by burning, hauled off on boats, or organically disposed of.

The air on the island is thick with salt, humidity and birds. It’s like a kite festival with thirty or fourth birds souring on the ocean breezes…silently swooping and diving, gliding effortlessly. On the windward side the breezes keep the humidity to a manageable level, although everything is soaked and wet in the mornings. The further you get away from the ocean breezes, the humidity gets quite unbearable and the turquoise blue lagoon becomes very inviting.

The frigate birds have huge thin wings and forked tail. They glide stealthy on the wind and watch for the boobies or osprey to catch a fish. In a second, the frigates go into action, diving in long swoops, weaving and turning gracefully in the air as they begin their assault on the fish bearing sea bird. They grab hold of the fish, lock talons and spiral towards earth. Eventually they hit the water or until one of the seabirds releases and flies off to hunt again.

At night the hermit crabs come out by the hundreds. The path ways from area to area become a seething river of these creatures. It kinda creeps you out at night when your flashlight accentuates the size of these crabs when walking to the restroom or shower. It reminds me of some alien organism out to snatch you in your sleep and carry you off. With no real predators on the island they thrive!

Most every activity has been centered around water. There is something calming about water. Whether submersed in it or floating on top, it has a magic over me that rocks to my soul. It can be gentle and calm or a raging surf. It has the ability to shape and reshape with little that can stand in its way. I feel fortunate to be able to see below its surface to its undersea world of bright colors. The fragile world that hangs in the balance yet is abundant with life.