Fresh Living

mykayak.jpgI was having my usual vacation-planning tizzy. I have no dependents or partner, which makes planning both harder and easier. The world is open. And, the world is open. A friend sent me a bunch of links based on my vacation criteria:

– yoga classes

– a place to swim

– nature

– time and space to write

– good, clean food

– safe to be alone

– affordable

One of the links jumped off the screen and practically waved: Hollyhock, a 26-year-old holistic reatreat center in Canada, off the coast of Vancouver. The edge of the earth. But the photos looked beautiful. All criteria were met. The people on the phone were friendly, if a little clueless about guiding me there. And they had those cute Canadian accents. The kind where you can’t tell they’re Canadian until the last little swoop of a sentence, and of course the infamous, “Eh?”

If I had realized going in that it would require two planes, two cab rides, two ferries, and a shuttle, I might have balked, but I didn’t and I am so glad. My second ferry pulled up to the lush Cortes Island after 14 hours of travel 45 minutes late, but thankfully the Hollyhock shuttle waited. I had a pleasant ride with a naturalist named Brian who drives around actors on Vancouver film shoots when he’s not pointing out the Milky Way in the warm months. First thing I saw when we pulled in was a deer muching on the new compost pile. Someone had saved a plate of dinner for me–a healthy array of veggies and grains with my name stuck on it. Yum. And the view. Oh, the view. No cars, no sirens, no buildings, no so many things. Just water, trees, mountains as far as my eye could scan.

After sleeping in my perfectly comfy bottom bunk (you can book grander accomodations or stay in a tent) I woke to dash to 7 am yoga, padding along soft, piney paths, marveling at the lack of concrete. Still in mind-racey NYC mode. 

It took yoga and then breakfast and a hot tub with panoramic views and lush lavender bushes and a dip in the cold, thrilling water for my brain to begin to think about unwinding. It was the purple starfish that did it. Walking along the shore, I spotted the first one. “Hello! You’re a bright purple starfish! Purple! Starfish! Are you alive?” I suddenly kicked into a non-Zen worry. But watched, and watched. And slowly, slowly I could see one of its star legs (?) move. Barely perceptible. But certain. Whew. And wow. I walked on to find many more of them, some with little trails showing how far they had motored across the sand on their tiny suctioncups.

I saw hawks. I ate food grown in the lovely garden. I got a delicious massage. I re-taught myself how to do nothing, which is much harder than I remembered. “I’ve been watching you for pointers,” I said to a woman who was clearly luxuriating in the nothingness by the ocean each day, reading, iPod-ing, just staring at the sea. She smiled. “Yes, I’m here to do a lot of nothing.”

I booked a sailing cruise around the islands and saw seals lolling and a bald eagle perched. I stuffed fresh mint from the tea bar into my water bottle, talked to really interesting people–the group shifted midway through from mellow Joan Borysenko workshoppers about my mom’s age to younger folks at the cutting edge of sustainability, storytelling, and building community for an invite-only gathering. Coincidences and synchronicities abounded–my dorm-mate just moved to the block I lived on for seven years. I sat with people at breakfast whose son consults for my company, and many, many more of those “Oh, wow, that’s really weird” moments.

My last night, finally feeling softer and more liquid inside, I went on a kayaking trip at sunset to check out some rare bioluminesence. You can see it in a few spots a few months a year. As it darkened, the water turned into a pastel-colored milk of easy waves. We paddled through pockets of hot air. Saw deer, the occassional cabin, a lone seal’s head popping through the dusky waters, silhouetted against the pink and orange and blue sky. Then we hit a patch where Brian the naturalist told us we could see the dinoflagellates–essentially glow-in-the-dark plankton, fireflies of the sea. What we’d be seeing was a defense mechanism–the teeny tiny dust-sized creatures “getting scared” and lighting up as a result–to distract preying fish from eating it. Sad but cool.

I dipped in my hand and thought maybe I saw some glitter. But a few minutes later, I rustled the water and saw a whole ton of glitter, sparkling, glowing particles following my hand, as though I was running my fingers through a pool of stars. My paddles left glowing foam trails, Seaweed dragged across the water’s surface left a trippy path. And when I held up my hand after a swish and waited about 10 seconds, I saw a few dots of blinking glitter on my hand.

Back at my desk, vacation bliss is evaporating, as is natural. But when I close my eyes I can feel the cold water and see the meditation sanctuary, a sacred-feeling room that looks like a home for Buddhist hobbits, remember fingers kneading my muscles, absorb the alive energy of the garden, and take in the expanse of silently rippling sea. Sigh. Lovely.

Have you had any peaceful vacation moments this summer? Do share.

[Image via: Me, while kayaking into the sunset]    


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