Friday, January 31, 2014

Catching Rays

(Please excuse the more than usual typos, grammatical errors, missed editing, and lack of creativity- it's too beautiful to think much here. )

After 22 hours of travel, 6000 miles, 8 take-offs and departures, a boat ride, and stops at Los Angeles, Tahiti, Moorea, and Raiatea, we finally arrived at the motu or islet Tautau, just off the main island of Taha'a. The water glistened with at least six shades of blue. Hot and sticky, all I wanted was to jump into one of them. The baby blue color at the shoreline looked more than satisfactory. However, it's customary and a bit unfortunate, that when you arrive on a motu in the middle of the South Pacific someone expects you to check in with them. For the next 45 minutes, as I got hotter and stickier by the word, we learned about every amenity the resort had to offer, including the tennis courts, volleyball net, and horseshoe pits. Perhaps though, I shouldn't be so tongue in cheek; surely, the possibility existed that we would have an urge to throw iron horseshoes at sticks in the sand. There is a first for everything.

Finally, after a quick viewing of the ice maker on our dock, we arrived at our overwater bungalow. We were down to mere formalities now- sign here, initial there. Quite literally, the tennis courts were behind us. The big blue stretched in all directions. I was already picturing where in my suitcase I packed my bathing suit.

"Now, let me show you your bungalow......." What? The words teased more than the water rippling below our feet. I mean, the bungalow was one room with a shower and bathroom area. I felt confident in our ability to find the toilet when needed. Apparently, our hostess believed differently. So, a tour around the bed and bathroom it was. I guess it was a good thing though because without the tour, I'm not sure I would have spotted the bath towel sitting so close to the tub. I kept my impatience in check, however, and even managed to portray an acceptable wonder for the location of the TV remote tucked away in the most novel of places- the top drawer of the desk. Thankfully, the universe recognized good effort that day, and soon I was rewarded with the sweetest of words: "Maaruru. Enjoy your stay." I was free. Free to throw my cares to the sky. Free to let them drift out to sea with the soft Tahitian clouds. Free to do nothing with my time but think lazy thoughts and dream lazy dreams. "Na na, bye-bye" I said to my cares already floating with the clouds, "Don't come back with the tide." And from my experience in the South Pacific, they don't.

After swimming until waterlogged, Kimi and I caught some rays on the deck while our eyes caught rays in the water. Stingrays, one of the most graceful fish in the sea, were swimming along the lagoon floor right next to our bungalow. They would continue to do so the four days we were there. After a few failed attempts with timing and my camera, I finally got smart and set my gear in one place by the ladder.

It helped.

Later, another fish came to say hello. This one had sharper teeth and more cartilage than the rays. Also a dorsal fin. About 25 feet from where I stood, a Black Tip Reef Shark passed through the shallows. I called to Kimi to look, "That's a reef shark, right?" "Yep," she confirmed, "a black tip." Interesting. I didn't expect to have them for neighbors. I've seen, even snorkeled with reef sharks before, but always after a boat ride, a comfortably long boat ride, to reach them. Taha'a suddenly became a lot more exciting. My gear stood ready at the ladder.

Excitement is not usually the draw to Taha'a. It is off the beaten Polynesian path without even an airport of its own. The island has two resorts- one on the main island, and ours situated on the motu. There is a water taxi that will take you from our motu to the main island, but unless you have one of the two excursions Taha'a offers, your outing will be exploring the dock on which you were left. There are no taxis, restaurants, or malls. No movie theaters or shopping unless you want to buy fuel. Apparently, there is a gas station near the pier. Simply put, Taha'a welcomes tourists, but doesn't exist for them. And why would it? Of the 50 overwater bungalows at our resort, only 15 are occupied. Assuming two to a bungalow with a couple of kids scattered throughout, we are on a motu with perhaps 35 others. If Bora Bora is considered sleepy, Taha'a is comotose. Yet, the voice of the wild earth is awake. And awakens. Birds squawk at each other high over the lagoon, the distant surf pounds the sand, fish jump, and the ocean water will lap at your soul if you let it. In Taha'a, there is no other sound and no other moment. I'm not very Zen-like and even I understood that.

A stingray moving below the current caught my eye. Always in search of the one great picture, I slid into the water armed with mask, snorkel, and camera. There wasn't time for fins. I turned on the camera and looked for the ray. Instead, I saw a fin. A shark moved right in front of me. Surprised (just a bit!), I somehow managed to push the shutter button before it darted for deeper waters.

I'm reminded of another time in the islands when I was facetiming with my family in New York. My niece enjoyed giving me different directives as I jumped into the water. Jump backwards, Aunt Lisa, do a flip, put your mask on she instructed, but the cutest and most memorable was when she yelled in her sweet, excitement-filled four year old voice, "Catch a shark, Aunt Lisa!" Oh, how I wanted to catch a shark for my niece that day. I wanted to ride it into her heart so she knew deep in the place where things like this are stored, that I would do anything for her. However, the resorts in Bora Bora are crowded (at least compared to Taha'a standards) and the sharks know better than to hang around them. I did a few more jumps and said good-bye to my family sans shark, but those words became a part of my Bora Bora story. I don't think of my trips here without hearing their sweet music. So this picture is for Hayley: Aunt Lisa caught a shark!

Our four days on Taha'a were some of the most beautiful. The days stretched long and time was measured like this: time to wake, time to sleep, time to eat, time to swim, time to read, time to write. Time to be.

Peace out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An account of last night

As you may know, we haven't had much of a winter out here. The snow folk stand ready, but we stand in sneakers and lightweight coats because, as of today, Mt. Hood has only received 23% of its typical snowfall. However, yesterday's ski report from Meadows promised a blue sky and warm sun today, so last night I got all my gear ready for the morning to make my first turns of the season. I set my alarm early enough to take the dogs for a walk and feed them before hitting the slopes. The temperatures have been so warm that the early part of the day provides the best, although not quiet skiing (think: ice). Whatever snow there is turns soft by the afternoon, then freezes overnight, and is icy again by morning. However, this east coaster prefers ice over slush any day of the week, so early morning skiing it is. When you grow up on the slopes of northern Vermont, you quickly learn to ski ice. You must for your bones depend on it. These days, my bones have softened from years on the west coast and age, but tucked away, deep within their marrow and their matter, they still recall being 10 years old and flying down the ice, skidding into the lift line slightly out of control, hoping ski patrol didn't see, and if they didn't, ready to do it all over again. That's why they say you can feel it in your bones. Because that's where the things that count are felt. Are known. I'm not a diehard ski bum anymore, if I ever even was, but last night just before falling asleep, I dreamt of the slopes. But, what's that saying about the best laid plans? They often go awry?

At about 130 last night, I was awoken by the dogs going nuts. I mean, nuts. They were both barking and growling like crazy. I tried to get them to calm down, but they were too excited to listen. Eventually, I got out of bed and looked out the window to see if anything was going on here or at the neighbor's, but I didn't see anything. Again, I tried to get the dogs to be quiet, to let them know they had done their job. I was more than fully awake and alert, but still, they wouldn't listen. I looked out the window again, but didn't see anything. Then, just as I was about to turn to the dogs once more, to implore them to please shut up, I saw something in the road between my place and the neighbor's- a big, light-colored animal of some sort. At first I thought it was a dog and looked for a person, but didn't see anyone with it. As it stood in the road with its head cocked over its shoulder looking toward my house, I wondered if it belonged to the people who lived on the river. They have a big husky who sometimes gets out, but I didn't think they were up this weekend, and it was so late. The animal was a little out of reach for my eyes to get a good picture of it, but something about it hinted at the wild, seemed un-doglike, but the late hours can play those kinds of tricks. Then, before I could really make sense of it all, the animal darted into the woods. My dogs quieted down and I was left wondering what I saw. A coyote? A loose dog? A wolf? Do we even have wolves on Mt Hood, and if we do, would one be walking down my street? I couldn't sleep, so I did some looking around on google. We do have wolves on Mt Hood, but they're rare. In fact, they're very rare in Oregon overall, which surprised me. I chalked it up to most likely being a coyote, a big one at that, but I've seen plenty of coyotes and something about it nags at me. I wish I would've had more time to see the animal, even if only to find out it was a neighborhood dog who got out. Eventually, I fell back asleep, but you know how that kind of sleep is. A few hours later when my alarm went off, neither the dogs nor I budged. Actually, that's not true. I moved just enough to turn the alarm off before falling promptly back to sleep until 1015! At 1030, my neighbor called to ask if I heard the blood-curdling scream last night. She said she heard a scream at about 1230 that turned her blood cold. She wasn't sure if it was human or animal, but it made her get up, turn her outside lights on, and set her house alarm. I told her I didn't hear it, but shared with her my story. She said her dog was going crazy too. She wonders if it was a mountain lion. I think it's possible by the way she described the sound, and they have been spotted in the vicinity, but what I saw was definitely not a mountain lion. Also, whatever she heard happened an hour before whatever I saw, although it's hard to imagine the two events being unrelated. By the time we got off the phone and I had the dogs fed and walked, it was too late for skiing. However, there's a mystery brewing in these woods, and I can feel it in my bones. 

Update: The woman with the husky just walked by, so I ran out to ask her if it got loose last night. It didn't.