Monday, April 30, 2012

Here Today, Gone to Maui

The waves were terrific on Saturday.  They destroyed our yoga studio.  Where one there was a nice bed of sand about 10' square, surrounded by lava rocks (see below), there is now only boulders and a bit of sand exposed above water.

Not that a lesson needs to be sought or extracted from every single situation - but, what happened to our yoga studio has been a reminder to me to enjoy something - whether it be a person, a place, a breeze, a scent or a sunset - while it is.  One is tempted to think one may have an opportunity to revisit the phenomenon - whatever it is - and this belief can lead to less than full enjoyment of the present.  But the truth is that a phenomenon can never be revisited, because the moment will have passed.  It must be enjoyed and savored now.

The sun was also fierce Saturday.  It was by far the sunniest and hottest day we have experienced so far.  I got a little burned on my face, so I started using the Amazing Maui Babe Browning Lotion that Mark had picked up.  

I've mentioned before how tanned I used to get when I was little.  My older sister Karen was the same way.  She'd lay out all summer when she was in high school and get very dark.  I think this is a trait she and I inherited from our dad, who tanned easily, and in turn from his father.  My grandfather apparently used to make comments about the "Indian blood in him."  I would have liked to have asked him about that.  He's pictured above with my dad on his lap back in 1926 at the "home place" in Southern Illinois.  

Grandpa's mother was dark-complected from pictures I've seen of her, as was her father, William Robertson, pictured below.  There's a family legend about some Choctaw or something back on that line somewhere.  Who knows?  I'm supposed to have Cherokee ancestry on my mom's side of the family, too.  I'd like to lay claim to these legends and this ancestry, even if I can't prove it.  

I wrote this post yesterday morning while sitting on the beach.  It was comparatively quiet.  By 9:30, we were still - as Mark put it - the only fags on the beach.  Actually, I was the only fag on the beach because Mark was out swimming a record number of laps at the time.

All by ourselves

The discussion above about impermanence which opens this post brings to mind some things that I have been processing the past few days.  I referred in an earlier post to a little breakdown I had Friday evening on the beach.  That was attributable in large part to expectations and anxiety about this trip.

As I wrote the other day, I was a little anxious about this trip for some time, partly because Mark had always come with his former partner.  There was a part of me that was always wondering how the experience Mark is having with me compares to that which he had with him.  Insecurity.

I was also anxious, I think, because we had been talking about this trip for months.  Since I had never before been here, I conjured images in my mind based on what Mark told me.  Once I got here, I felt a subtle but relentless pressure to enjoy it (which has not been difficult) and to mentally compare - albeit primarily subconsciously - my expectations with reality.

I also felt a self-imposed pressure to make the most of every day - to be "productive" even while on vacation.  Routines:  paddle ball, yoga, reading, writing, observing, making mental notes, etc., etc. 

What I started to realize in the past few days - and I think our little jaunt to Pa'ia was the initial turning point - was that what I needed to do was just sink into the moment and let it be.  I was, figuratively speaking, running around, trying to be "productive", looking for enlightenment and meaning in order to "make the most of this trip" - I suppose in no small part out of a desire to "justify" the trip in my mind.  And if I were to allow myself to go further, which I have, I would say that I was also trying to justify myself - period - i.e., my existence, my gayness, everything.

I had to allow myself a couple of days to really process and "see" all of this that resulted from Friday night's "breakdown" (my therapist says that breakdowns precede breakthroughs).  But I saw the effects of the "release" on Saturday.  For example, when I had the "Aloha Spirit" moment Saturday morning, which I described in yesterday's post, and when I gave myself permission to go down Saturday afternoon and simply sit in the wet sand at water's edge, soaking up the sun and allowing the water to cool me off.  It was glorious.

I am grateful that I have yet one more week to experience Maui through these new, more relaxed eyes.

On a lighter note, and speaking of impermanence, Mark and I were driving down the Pilani Highway the first week we were here, and I noticed a sign along the highway which actually consisted of two smaller signs.  The top sign read "Recycling Center" and the bottom sign read "Redemption Center," each with arrows pointing to the right.  This was the first time I had seen these signs, and a thought came to mind which made me burst out laughing.

"I guess the Buddhists go to the recycling center," I said to Mark, "and the Christians go to the redemption center." 

I kept myself in stitches for a good five minutes.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"They Are in the Water"

They are in the water and then out.  
They are coiled like springs in the sand.
Something in the approaching wave catches their eye,
and they uncoil, hurtling themselves into the breaking wave.
The board driven by the boy collides with the wave,
sending them both into the air in a rhythmic dance.

~ Mark Koepke

Mark wrote the 50-word story above to describe a scene we happened upon as we left the beach Friday evening.  We had stayed longer than usual following the sunset, talking, sharing feelings, embracing.  I had described the scene in my journal:
"I sat there on the beach, the sun setting, crying into his shoulder, not for the first time.  As the gloaming deepened and the shadows grew longer, then enveloped all, I shared my fears and my frustrations with him.  He responded - as always - with love, patience and kindness.  Finally, we got up, packed up our things and began the trek back to the parking lot.  As we came to the top of the spit, we could see a group of Hawaiian boys boogie-boarding in the surf.  It was a moment of charm and innocence."
I tried to capture the scene with my camera, but Mark has done a far better job, in less than 50 words, of describing the essence of the moment.

"I Give You My Aloha"

"I give you my Aloha."

We had passed their roadside stand every day on our way to and from the beach and had seen the large Hawaiian woman ensconced in her chair outside the old van.  Her hand-made jewelry was spread out on tables for the tourists to see and hopefully buy.  Next to them were pineapples and other tropical fruit that her adult son would sell.

The woman sat there, working on her jewelry, all day long.  We saw them setting up on our way to the beach between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning, and they were always there mid-afternoon.  This was their livelihood, their way of life.

We decided to stop a couple of days ago on our way back to Little Beach after our early afternoon break. I have been keeping an eye out for a necklace or bracelet for my teenage son and decided to stop and look over their wares.

My eye immediately fell upon a grey puka shell necklace, but right next to it was an angel whose dress appeared to be made out of a sort of papier mache and whose body and wings were made out of a finely woven straw material.  I was captivated and asked about it.  The woman explained that it was made from the bark of a mulberry tree and another plant, the name of which sounded like "lahavala."

"I learned how to make these from my mother," the woman explained.  I did some mental math and guessed her to be in her late 50's.  That means her mother likely could have been born in the 20's.  Perhaps her mother had in turn learned from her mother, and I thought of the mother and daughter whose picture I had seen the other day at the cemetery at Keawala'i Church.

I like to collect Christmas ornaments every year that reflect trips taken that year or other memorable events, and this angel would be perfect to commemorate our trip to Maui.  It was hand-made, it was beautiful, and it reflected the spirit of Maui.   After a bit of research, I confirmed that the angel's dress was kapa - paper made from wauke, a type of mulberry tree - and that her body and wings were made from lauhala fronds.

"How much?" I asked.

"Thirty dollar," the woman's son replied.  I looked in my wallet.  I didn't have that much.  I turned to Mark and said, "I don't have that much cash."

"How much you got?" the man asked.

"Twenty."  I said it as a statement, not a question, but that's how he interpreted it.

"Twenty okay," he replied.  He then turned to his mother, who appeared every bit the matriarch that she undoubtedly is, and said something to her in Hawaiian.  She hesitated a split second, then said, in English, "Twenty dollar okay.  I give you my Aloha."

It all happened so quickly.  I commented later to Mark that it hadn't even occurred to me to haggle.  It just doesn't come naturally to me.  But I had successfully concluded my bargain without even trying to haggle.  I handed the son the money and picked up our new delicate Hawaiian angel, as pleased as if I had just successfully acquired a rare antique at an auction.

I thought a lot later that day, and again yesterday, about what the woman had said to me:  "I give you my Aloha."  I had never heard the word used in such a way.  I had already learned that "Aloha" originally meant a lot more than simply, "Hello."  Of course, I have heard it used many times since arriving here almost two weeks ago, usually by store clerks.  I felt uncomfortable using it in return, however - mainly because of connotations associated with its use in church meetings back in Utah.

As I explained to Mark, one would occasionally hear a speaker in a Mormon sacrament meeting (a lay member of his or her local congregation) greet the audience at the beginning of his or her talk with "Aloha!", at which point there was an expectation that the congregation would in unison respond  by returning the greeting.  No matter that the speaker had only the remotest connection to Hawaii.  I always found such situations awkward and silly.

But since being here in Maui, I have learned the original deeper meaning of Aloha was "the joyful sharing of life energy in the present."  It was used to convey affection, peace, compassion and mercy.  In other words, its use was meant to bestow a blessing, much - apparently - as the word "Namaste" is used in India, acknowledging in so doing not only the sacredness of life but also of the now, the present moment.

So, when the woman said, "I give you my Aloha," she was doing much more than agreeing to the price.  She was pronouncing her blessing upon the transaction and, I felt, upon me.  The deal was done; it was an honorable one.  Neither of us came away disappointed, feeling that the other had been bested or taken advantage of.

Upon perusing the Internet the next day, I learned that, in traditional Hawaiian thinking, words have "mana," or spiritual or divine power.  Aloha and mahalo are among the most sacred and powerful, and the concepts represented by these words have been described as ineffable, indescribable and undefinable with words alone; to be understood, the Aloha Spirit - like a sunset or God - must be experienced.  "The wisdom of Aloha," one commenter wrote, "is a current of conscious and subconscious awareness in the mind.  It focuses on the now, not the past, not the future.  The wisdom, the energy, is in the now."

The morning after purchasing our Hawaiian Angel and receiving the Hawaiian grandmother's blessing, we arrived at the beach parking lot a little before 8:00.  As we walked onto Big Beach, we were amazed at the size of the waves crashing against the shore beneath a brilliant blue sky.  Nearly deserted, the only other people on this end of the beach were two teenage boys (pictured above) who were sitting on the edge of their surfboards, eyeing the tempting waves.

We passed them, and I took the lead climbing "Mt. Vesusvius," the name I've given the little hillock between Big and Little Beaches.  As I reached the top and turned to face Big Beach, I felt with a rush, the spirit of the Hawaiian grandmother's blessing:  the Spirit of Aloha.  It came unbidden, but was as welcome as my lover's kiss.  Suddenly, I smelled the fragrant air, felt the gentle breeze, was captivated by the beauty all around me and felt immersed completely in the spirit and peace in that place and in that moment.  The Spirit of the Now.  The Spirit of Aloha.

Later that day, I wrote in my journal as I contemplated the moment I have just described in the context of my life and what I have experienced on this trip: 
"I'm still trying to articulate what I have felt these past few days, as I've sensed that I am starting to relax [after almost two weeks!].  I think the lesson I am learning - again - is that I am in the middle of a process. I have the tendency to want to immediately go directly to the finish line, but I don't know where it is or how I get there or what I'm supposed to learn or achieve along the way ... Which brings me back to the hear and now.  I can only get to the finish line by staying where I'm at and focusing on the Now, relaxing into the Now, accepting the Now."
So, our Hawaiian Angel now has a name:  The Spirit of Aloha.  And Mark commented, even before the experience of yesterday morning, that we should not pack her away to be taken out only a once a year at Christmas time. Rather, he said, we should keep her out so that we can see her every day, to remind us of what we experienced here on Maui and to strive to always keep the Spirit of Aloha.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lava Rock

A couple of days ago, I took some pictures in and around the spit of lava rock that separates Big Beach (pictured above) and Little Beach.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Little Free-er

Both Mark and I, but especially Mark, woke up yesterday morning with a bit of gastrointestinal upset.  We suspect the Poke.

But, after a later than usual start, we still set off for the beach, though we didn't do any of our "usual" morning routines, i.e., yoga, paddleball, Mark's swimming, etc. We just sat on the beach and read. I wrote a little and dozed.

By late morning, Mark turned to me and said, "I'm on the verge of feeling bored." We talked about what to do. Mark said he'd like for me to see more of the island. We went back and forth, discussing various options, but just the act of trying to make a decision seemed exhaustive and simply beyond us. We were tired. Finally, we decided to go to Pa'ia and up the road to Hana.

My guidebook describes Pa'ia as follows:
"The town has accomplished something few Hawai'i towns can claim:  It has become an attraction without any attractions other than itself.  No great views, no waterfalls, no scenery, no big institutions like an aquarium.  Pai'ia's sights lie in its character - and characters.  The odd and bizarre add color to Pai'ia like no other Maui town.  An example - one morning we saw the following:  A guy with a feather stuck in the top of his head (not his hat), a 90-year-old couple on a Harley (she was driving), a woman whose entire body was covered with tattoos, one gentleman with more dirt in his dreadlocks than a medium-sized canefield, a guy have a serious argument with himself (and losing), and a man in a hard hat carrying a full-sized cross ... Welcome to Pa'ia, where it still is the Age of Aquarius ..."
This was a pretty apt description of what we experienced there, though the most "unusual" sight we encountered was a older middle-aged Hawaiian man walking at the side of a highway carrying a two-foot cross.  We later passed him on the sidewalk in Pa'ia, where he appeared to be blessing people as he walked by, cupping his hand over his mouth as he did so.  Who knows, however, maybe he was making rude comments about the way people did their hair.

We first stopped just outside Pa'ia at Ho'okipa Lookout, the view from which is pictured above.  Returning to my guide book, it states:
"[It] is a perfect place to watch the surf ... Breakers can pound with such ferocity in the winter that it makes the ground tremble.  Much of the year, expert windsurfers ride the waves ... often streaking faster than the wind, and it's quite a sight to see.  Wind is so predictable here that it's considered the single best beach in the United States to windsurf."

Back in Pa'ia, we found a place to park right on the main drag and went browsing in some shops.  Still feeling a little draggy, we stopped at Cafe Mambo for iced coffee (three shots) and a side of fries.

It was just what the doctor ordered.  Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, we went down the street where we saw a sign for a hemp store.  The photo op was irresistible.  But then we decided to go in and have a look around, and we ended up buying "his and his" hemp bracelets in our favorite color.

We left Pa'ia feeling happy, lighter and ready for the rest of the day, which would involve returning to the beach - which I'll write about later.  As we drove out of town, I was thinking about how far I've come since making the decision to come out 18 months ago, and indeed within the last six months.  I thought about old ways of seeing myself, of knowing myself, and I turned to Mark and said, "You know, each day, I feel a little bit free-er."

On the Road Walking Towards Us

I have been reading a book of short stories about travel while on this trip, entitled The Best Travel Writing 2011:  True Stories from Around the World.  I am enjoying it immensely.

The author of one story refers to a book entitled The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau, which I intend to read when I return home.  One of the quotes from this book that was included in the short story I read was the following:
"We learn by going where we have to go; we arrive when we find ourselves on the road walking toward us."
I have experienced a bit of that on this trip.  In some ways, this quote describes the process of coming out that I have been going through for the last 18 months.  I have gone to a "place where I had to go" in order to discover and foster my true self.

But this also describes what has been happening on this trip.  It was my daughter who commented, after reading my blog, that:
"Your time in Hawaii so far seems absolutely blissful. I feel that being able to take a 'break' from the normal pace of life in a completely new and inexperienced place would be so healing. And being able to just soak in the beauty and healing of the ocean just seems like the perfect opportunity for just that - healing. Wow - I just used that word three times.  I guess that's the word that just kept popping into my mind as I looked at all your pictures and read about your days there."
Going to a new place is about seeking and seeing new things and meeting new people.  It's also about learning about and soaking up the character and culture of a place, about eating new foods and about trying new things.

But it's also about meeting yourself.  And in ways that I, for the most part, cannot articulate right now, I feel that this is what has been happening to me here in this beautiful place.

True, I haven't done a lot of the touristy things that a lot of people do here on Maui, but I have seen and experienced much and have been an observer.  Part of what I have been able to observe and learn from is myself.

For example, I am more tanned than I have been since I was a child. When I was a boy, I used to get very dark by the end of the summer. But, from the time I hung up my swim team Speedo when I was 12 until now, I hadn't had or taken the opportunity to tan.

I was therefore surprised to see a birth mark reemerge as I was doing pre tanning prior to this trip, a birthmark which has become more pronounced here and that I hadn't seen for 40 years.
"He hadn't seen it since his childhood:  a kidney shaped birthmark at the very top of his right leg.  He remembered it being on his left leg.  Brought out once again as a result of tanning, it became a symbol of his soul that had been submerged for over 40 years."
The disappearance of the birthmark had coincided with my realization that I am gay. I covered up and submerged that part of my self for almost 40 years. But, like the birthmark brought out by tanning, my gay self has been emerging as a result of the permission I finally gave myself to come out.

Which brings me back to another very important purpose in travel - to spend time with the love of one's life. To bond. To share experiences.  

I have been keenly aware that Mark made probably a half-dozen trips to Maui with his former partner. They had created many memories together, and most of Mark's Maui memories involve him.  

But, we are creating new memories, experiencing new sunsets and nurturing the love we have for each other. And that is something that won't be found in any guidebook and is infinitely more important.

Beach Yoga and Scrabble

On Monday, we added another element to our morning routine at the beach - yoga.  After the hike from the parking lot across Big Beach, then across Little Beach, we set up our stuff, then go down to our "studio," pictured below, to spend 10 minutes or so doing various yoga poses.  So far, we have done Mountain, Half-Moon, Downward Facing Dog, Forward Bend, Left and Right Bend and Triangle.

Half-Moon Pose, with iPhone-in-Hand variation
Mark has done a lot of yoga in the past.  The first time I did yoga was last summer when I was visiting my daughter Hannah up in Vancouver.  She took me along to one of her classes at the West Vancouver Rec Centre, and I'm glad the teacher went easy on me.  After doing and holding various poses for 30 minutes, I was beginning to wonder whether I could make it to the end of the class.  Until doing it myself, I had no idea how rigorous yoga is.

Prior to our trip, we took advantage of a groupon for yoga classes in Salt Lake City, and I look forward to these upon our return.  

At the other end of the day, toward late afternoon around cocktail time, we sometimes play Scrabble Scramble - a travel version of the game that is played on a small vinyl "board" with the following major variation from the standard version:  after the second player makes a word using the first player's initial word, the letters of the initial word not used by the second player (to form his word) are removed from the board.

We spread out the "board" on my Kindle
And use Mark's iPad to throw the dice
Although, in a pinch, we just use the sand
The game comes with an hour-glass timer, which we initially used.  But we found using the timer too constrictive:  it required too much focus on the game, when we'd rather look around the beach or out onto the water and nurse our cocktails while playing.  It also made the game more competitive than we would like; so we decided to ditch the timer.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this word combination.

The night before last was so beautiful and peaceful.