Impressions from Hilo, The First Two Days

Tom and I were walking through Hilo this morning, after our cup of coffee at his favorite coffee shop. He asked me what I had learned in the two days that I have been here.  For those of you that know Tom, you know that one of his gifts is pulling information and thoughts from you.  It would have been very easy for him to tell me what I was experiencing.  But that is not the kind of teacher he is.

So here, maybe more for me than for those who might read this are some thoughts and impressions from my first two days in Hawaii.

To my knowledge, I haven’t seen a single tourist.   By walking to and through town, I smell the flowers; experience the rain on my skin and in my hair.  This is not the place for blow dryers and makeup.  Light rain, and then few minutes later the sun is out.  We walk over bridges and stop to see the water coursing over the rocks.  We have spotted a few turtles swimming in the calm water at the foot of the falls.  Thick jungle right in the middle of town.

I’ve walked on lava. I’ve seen the plume of smoke and flare of fire from a volcano that has killed, and will surely kill and destroy again.  The sun was setting, clouds in the sky tinted with yellow, orange, and purple.  Black lava as far as I could see, I wondered if this is what the surface of the moon looks  like, hard, barren, surrealist shapes silhouetted against the sky.

When I turned around, and we walked back towards the road, bright green, red and gold lights were flickering between the palm trees.  The lights were strung around top of a simple bar, with no walls and no doors.  Nine bar stools, a few were occupied by men enjoying the Monday evening.  We could hear music close by.   Tom asked if it was a private party?  We were told that it was, but we were welcome.

We sat a picnic bench in front of a garage at the end of a road, the volcano within site.  Dogs and children played around us.  A sound system was set up, and we listened to native music performed by incredibly talented natives.  The audience?  Uncle Ralph, the patriarch of the clan.  He sat in a golf cart, his skin almost as dark and craggy as the lava field a few yards away.  A middle aged woman, several teen age boys and girls.  Perhaps eight little girls and boys under the age of 10 were scattered in the yard. 

Gabriel arrived a few minutes after we did, the only other Caucasian in the group.  Tom of course immediately asked for his name and engaged him in conversation.  Gabriel was originally from St. Louis, had bounced around, a few years here, a few years there.  He looked at a map a few years ago, decided he wanted to live in Hawaii, and here he was.  He works in a grocery store a mile up the road. 

When we ate, the teenagers were next to us.  They laughed and chatted, obviously happy to be there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the teenagers would have been doing on a Monday evening in Little Rock.  Plugged in by ear buds to music on iPods, on the computer, watching TV, playing video games?   Would they have been happy to be with family, listening to folk music and just talking?

The open walled garage was painted white, and decorated with street signs and prints of Jesus.  The smell of food wafted on the breeze, the Christmas lights of the bar were within site.  Music.  Dirt under my feet.   Another world.

Earlier, I had walked through a jungle, orchids brushing against my hair as we followed a narrow path.  We crawled through a hole into a cone shaped lava cave.   I’m not kidding, a lava cave.  A natural steam room in the middle of the jungle.   We sat on wood planks fashioned into benches on the lava rocks.  I look up through a small hole at the top of the hot lava walls and could see the blue sky.  Two days before I was in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It is almost more than I can comprehend

We went to a park, with coves and lagoons for swimming.  You’ve heard that expression “sink or swim”?   Tom handed me a snorkel mask and jumped into the water.  It took me a little more time because, yet again, I was walking on lava rocks.  I was being very very careful as I walked.  Once in the the water I put the mask on.  Or I thought I did.

Ummm….about snorkeling.   My last experience was very brief, and in Cancun about 15 years ago.  Needless to say I didn’t know what I was doing.  It is a pretty simple concept, obviously, but I still managed to screw it up. 

So picture this.  I’m in the water, Tom is already swimming around saying “look at that one it’s huge!” and I’m still trying to get the mask on.  I ducked my head under water and just about drowned.  Thankfully I could still stand up.  Tom pointed out that the mask was supposed to go over my nose.  Oh. 

Got the mask on correctly, and again put my head under water.  Right there in front of me was a humongous turtle.  Did you know you can hyperventilate underwater with a face mask and snorkel?  Did you know it is not fun?

All I could think about when I saw the turtle a foot away from me was, does it have teeth? Does it bite?

It drifted away.  Tom was like a little kid, pointing out more turtles, each bigger than the previous one, or at least that is what he said.  I was still adjusting to the snorkeling thing, but I did manage to swim around and follow a couple of the turtles. 

Coffee this morning.  While Tom was on the phone I talked to Jas.  Strikingly beautiful blue eyes with dark skin and hair, and a smile that light up the shop when we walk in.  She is 26 and works two jobs.  She lives a very simple life, as many in Hilo seem to do.   In her free time she surfs.  She named all of the beaches, her face and voice animated.  Work and surfing.  I thought about her counterparts in Little Rock.  Work and …what?  Kids?  Clubs?  What kind of car to buy?   How do I step up the corporate ladder?

Tom and I talked on the way back.  We talked about Jas.  There is a part of me that admires those that find joy in simple, that find joy in nature and just being.   I’m drawn to the concept of escape from the world as I know it. I’m drawing peace and strength from the air and water and soil of this place. 

But I also know that I would become bored and restless.  I have work to do.  I’m still trying to process what that work is, but I know that I want to leave some type of footprint on this planet when I’m gone.  Tom Callos is leaving not just one footprint, but many.   My UBBT team members are doing life changing work.  Brian, Rori, Gary, Joe, Dan, John, the list goes on and on. 

Lately I’ve become very aware of the passage of time.  My body may be edging towards the 52 year mark, but I don’t feel old.  Well, at least not very often.   But I am becoming more cognizant of the fact that I am very probably past my half way mark of time on this planet.  Am I being egotistical to think that I might actually be able to teach, inspire and motivate in some small way?  Am I going to follow a comfortable routine, safe and dependable?  Am I going to take a few leaps, knowing I could soar, or fall flat on my face?

 I want to leave a footprint when I’m gone.  It may have a couple of face plant impressions around it, but I want there to be a footprint to show that I have been here.

Climbing Pinnacle

This is what I learned Saturday:

I do not like rocks.  I do like dirt.

I’m afraid of falling..

It is good to stop to enjoy the view.

Realization hit that I am going to participate in a four day, 40 mile hike the end of July as part of my Ultimate Black Belt Test.  The flight has been booked.  I’m going.  And I’ve never spent the night outdoors in my life.  Nor am I what you would call an avid hiker.  Training for that event might be a good idea.

So I bundled up in layers, dusted off my LL Bean hiking boots, and drove over to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

As I started up the trail I was giving myself a little pep talk. Positive thinking. Telling myself that this was great, I was outside in the fresh air, beautiful views, working out, training.  I’d have a chance to think about some stuff… I was giving myself this pep talk because this was not something I was accomplished at doing.  I was getting outside of my little comfort zone/safety box.  Doing this because it was good for me, not because I really wanted to do it.  And it was COLD.  I hate being cold.

The trail is only 1 1/2 miles round trip.  The sign at the trail head says to allow two hours.  Of course I dismissed that time, the Park Rangers that wrote that were talking about the out of shape, the seniors, or the parents with kids.  I would do it in much less.  An hour, in fact, because I had to get home and meet some friends by noon.  That was the goal I had in mind, up and down in an hour.

10:20 am I started up.  Those of you that have climbed Pinnacle know that the trail at the beginning has a lot of dirt. Some rocks, but a lot of dirt.  I really like dirt. I like dirt ALOT.  Because then the trail  gets rocky.  And more steep.  I think it gets more steep, I don’t know that for a fact but it sure feels like more steep.

I don’t like rocks.  All I could think about was how much it would hurt if I fell, and how stupid I looked crawling up that path when it got a little tricky, holding on to rocks with my hands as I tried to figure out where to put my feet.  I sure wasn’t doing much soul searching change the world kind of thinking either, I was concentrating really hard on not busting my butt on those rocks.  It was scary.  Now that might sound a little melodramatic, especially for those of you that have climbed Pinnacle.  Especially for those freaks that I know that run up that sucker on a regular basis. But as I’ve gotten older, with the battle (surgical) scars to prove it, I’ve realized that I am mortal, and that just because my mind wills it, my body isn’t always capable of doing what I want it to do.  I’ve got a much healthier respect for pain.  Speaking of which, both of my hips were hurting.  The left hip, which is a metal on metal hip replacement, was reminding me that there were still some weak areas that I needed to strengthen.  My right hip, which Dr. Hefley told me four years ago was going to need to be replaced, was reminding me of that fact.  And what was up with my lower back ache?  My right knee was reminding me of the ACL surgery.  My nose kept running too.

A couple of times I stopped to enjoy the view.  That was the excuse I gave myself.  It really was so I could get my breath back.   I was so focused on where I should put my feet that I couldn’t look up from the trail in front of me.  Beauty was all around me, but I was totally focused on staying upright and moving forward.  The stops let me catch my breath, but also reminded me of how beautiful our state is, how fortunate I am to be able to drive ten minutes to get to a park and climb a mountain.  And while my body was screaming at me, at least I was able to climb.  To walk.  To see the view.  To hear the birds.  How blessed I am.

I didn’t reach the top.  The excuse I gave myself was that I had to get back down the mountain so I could make my noon committment.  It was 11 am, forty minutes to get to where I was, about 3/4s of the way up.  I sat on a rock for a while, then headed back down.  Hoping I could make it in 20 minutes.

Climbing up on all those rocks was tough.  Going down was easier, from a physical standpoint.  But I now could see the trajectory I would take if I lost my balance.  There were portions of the trail where the rocks were flat and I could easily step from one to another.   Other sections weren’t so easy, requiring big steps, or even a little jump.  Didn’t like those at all.  Several times I’d step and wobble a little bit, and it scared the crap out of me.  I don’t like feeling scared.

The only times I ever felt safe on those darn rocks was if I was sitting on one of them or holding on to a tree.  I love those trees. The ones that are growing right in the middle of all that rock.  The trees that have discoloration on them from all of the sweaty hands that have used them for stability.

I got to the bottom of the trail at 11:20.  An hour.  I don’t know if it would have been two hours if I went all the way to the top, but Ihave a feeling it would be pretty close to it.  So much for me being so much faster than the seniors, out of shape, and families with kids.

You know what was really humbling?  Getting passed going up by a young man carrying a baby on his back.  Seeing a woman that had to be in her 60’s gracefully jumping from one rock to another going down the mountain while I’m crawling up .  The couple that were climbing, each carrying a little dog.  The guy with a grey ponytail and a golden retriever that passed me going up AND going down.

There was a part of me, the Type A competitive Michelle, that was thoroughly disgusted with the fact that all these other people were better at this climbing stuff.  But there was the other Michelle, that was very aware of pain and fear, that was willing to slow down or even stop because it was the safe thing to do, even if it meant getting passed on the trail.  Of course, no one on that trail knew who I was, which I kept reminding myself of everytime I stopped or was passed.

I started to beat my self up for not accomplishing my goal of reaching the top.  For needing to stop.  For being afraid.

As I was driving home I realized a couple of things:

I don’t like rocks.  I do like dirt.

I don’t like rocks when I have to walk on them. It can be scary because I know I can fall and they will hurt.   However, I sure did appreciate some of those big rocks that I could sit on.  And the nice flat stable rocks that I could easily walk on.  So not all rocks are bad.  Navigating continuous rocks on the trail made me really appreciate the dirt trail. I LOVED those portion of the trail that had dirt.  I even made it a point to step in little crevices between rocks just to be on dirt.  I don’t like the rocky places in life, because I know I can fall and get hurt.  But if I don’t experience “rocks “in my life, I don’t appreciate the nice, easy “dirt”

I’m afraid of falling. Which means I’ve developed enough wisdom to understand the cause and effect of actions and consequences.  My heart skipped some beats several times on my hike.  When I was in that fearful state I was extremely focused on where I placed each foot.  I need to face that fear if I’m going to conquer it.

Stop and enjoy the view.  I couldn’t see the beauty that was all around me when I was focused just on the trail in front of me.  Stopping and enjoying the view let me get my breath too.  How many times have I missed the beauty that was right in front of my face because I had my head down?  How many opportunities to give love or receive love have I lost because I wouldn’t stop and enjoy the view, the person.  To be in the moment?

I’m going to give myself a day or two to recover, and then I’m heading up Pinnacle again.  Stay tuned.  If you don’t hear from me soon, check the side of the mountain, I may be hanging on to a tree looking for dirt!

View from Pinnacle
View from Pinnacle