The Disappearing Act of Time on Vacation

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The Disappearing Act of Time on Vacation

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Aug 13, 2013

As I write this, sitting on my lanai on Kauai, the northwestern-most inhabited island in the Hawaiian Island chain, the sun shines at a slight angle. Leftover clouds from yesterday’s rains--thanks to the one-time category two hurricane, Henriette, passing due south of Hawaii Island right now--landscape the sky. My iPhone tells me it’s 82 degrees, with an expected high of 90 and low of 66. It’s 2:05 p.m., according to the time-stamp in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen.

Down the road, Auntie Angeline Locey, whose home is the site of a traditional Hawaiian healing center, once told me that the town in which we live, Anahola, is known as a place where no time exists.

I’ve often pondered this, as I’ve rushed around the house, trying to get somewhere, namely the Lihue Airport, to catch a flight, as a clock ticked loudly in my mind, admonishing me for my poor time management skills. At hectic times like that, I would swear time existed, since our world seems to revolve around it--even more religiously than we understand what we’re really revolving around is the sun.

Last week, I took my first real vacation in 13-and-a-half years. Not a long weekend. Not a visit to see family. Not a few days tacked onto a work thing. By vacation, I mean a trip in absolutely no way connected—with work, with responsibilities, with email. 

I had to win the trip to do it. Last November, I thought I was just purchasing a few raffle tickets to help build wells in Haiti on behalf of Passports with Purpose, a fundraiser by a group of travel bloggers intent on giving back to the places we, as travelers, visit. I wasn’t expecting to receive an email informing me I’d won a five-night/six-day trip for two with O.A.R.S. Rafting Company. But that’s exactly how my husband and I ended up rafting down the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah, a place devoid of cell phone towers, a place where no-wifi signal reached the smart phones turned off and tucked securely in our dry bags, a place, you could say, where no time existed.

That’s not to say time wasn’t on my mind.

We started our adventure by floating through the appropriately named Meander Canyon. 

The morning breezed by, as we, alternately, reclined on a rubber raft, paddled a kayak or tried our hand at stand up paddling. I was surprised when our guides tied up our rafts mid-day. “What time is it?” I asked.

“Lunch time,” our trip leader, Lars, said.

That was the last time I asked what the numbers on a clock read, but I still wasn’t done with time altogether. At some point, someone commented that the exposed rock of southern Utah and the chocolaty brown waters of the Colorado River were a far cry from the lush tropics of Hawaii, and I said, “Actually, the west side of Kauai looks like this--dry, rocky and red. Even the river is the same color as this one. Its name, Waimea, translates to red water.”

And that’s where the comparisons between the desert of the southwestern U.S. and the leeward side of Kauai ended for me, because in the afternoon, we took a geology walk to see petrified wood. 

Petrified wood, of course, isn’t really wood. It’s rock. The petrification process happens underground, the wood buried in sediment in an oxygen-free environment. Over time, mineral-laden water deposits minerals in the plant’s cells as it decays and a stone mold forms in its place. Unlike other fossils, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. It looks like the real thing with age rings and everything.

“How old is it?” I asked Lars, our trip leader, a tall, lanky man whom we would only stump with two questions the entire trip. 

“Two-hundred-and-ninety-million years old,” he said.

My head snapped up faster than a snake strikes its intended target. “Did you say two-hundred-and-ninety-million years?” I asked.

In Hawaii, we have drift wood, flat gray, the gun metal color and texture of a sleek battleship. We do not have petrified wood, aged two-hundred-and-ninety-million years old and flecked with reds, yellows, oranges and greens. Heck, we don’t even have two-hundred-and-ninety-million-year-old land. Geologists tell us that Kauai first poked her head above the seas some five to six million years ago. Fossil remains at Makauwahi Cave Reserve have dredged up evidence of life along the Mahaulepu coastline going back 10,000 years. That’s like a blink of the eye in geologic terms.

Time. It’s a slippery thing. I can grok five or six million years, and I can practically touch 10,000 years. But two-hundred-and-ninety million years? That’s way beyond my comprehension.

The interesting thing about my week’s vacation was it might as well have been two-hundred-and-ninety-million years in length and two-hundred-and-ninety-million miles away. My every day, regular life—as good as it really, truly is—couldn’t reach me in a tent on the Colorado River where our biggest, and, indeed, most important, concerns were where to set up the Groover, the port-a-potty, each night and whether to install the rain fly on our tents before we went to bed. And when I came upon this realization, I knew I’d hit upon the measure of a successful vacation. The actual number of vacation days doesn’t matter. The actual distance traveled doesn’t matter. What matters is the distance and time felt. 

Floating on a river, detached from the ping of text messages, the avalanche of emails, the wall of Facebook posts and a long list of things to do, my focus shifted beyond my own fabricated world to the natural one right before my face. I was able to spot a raven perched on a rock like a sentry at the entrance to a side canyon. I saw a family of big-horned sheep, a chipmunk dart across a rocky escarpment, a rabbit camouflaged among Russian thistle, whiptail lizards scurrying under rocks. Beavers and river otters. And myriads of faces and designs carved by wind and water in the bare rock walls surrounding me.

Athletes might call this experience being in the zone. Artists would say they’d slipped into the right brain of creativity. Zen practitioners would say they were living in the here and now. In Hawaii, there is a concept known as “Hawaiki,” the mythic homeland of the Polynesian people. For some reason, my time on the Colorado River felt like Hawaiki to me--a coming home—to the natural world and to my natural state.

How do you experience time on vacation? Tell me about it. I’d like to hear.

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George Miller | Aug 14, 2013 01:39 AM

When I vacation in Hawaii, time seems to speed up drasticly. It is probably because I want to cram as much of the beauty of Hawaii into the two weeks I usually spend there. Aloha

Michael | Aug 14, 2013 07:01 AM

What a coincidence, I started reading Hawaiki Rising last night. Say hi to Steve and Yumi.

Kim | Aug 14, 2013 07:39 AM

George, I've definitely experienced that trickery of time, as well, on vacation. And, Michael, you guessed it. I am reading Hawaiki Rising, as well. In fact, I gifted the book to our river guide last week, because he was big into stars;-)

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