Never been to Hawaii? This is for you.
I drove six miles into town today. I passed a burger stand, general store, post office and a beautiful beach that stretches along the coastline on Kauai’s East Side. And I don’t remember a thing about it. I don’t remember the cars passing me on the other side of the road, whether my friend Lois Ann was chauffeuring her children to school as she usually does this time of day. I don’t remember whether I had to brake for someone in front of me to turn left into the parking area above the East Side walking path. Or whether the ocean was glassy or the wind was blowing the tops off the waves at Kealia Beach.
I live on a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and as I drove, my brain responded to the other vehicles on the road, calculating distance and braking needs, scanning left to right for suicidal chickens thinking about crossing the road. But I didn’t really see any of it. My mind was miles away. I remembered that I had to check in for my flight to Honolulu, grateful that I could do so on my iPhone and not have to print a boarding pass, because my printer was out of ink. I remembered that I had to return a phone call from my mom and dad. That I’d promised to write someone a letter of recommendation. That the lawn needed mowing. The pantry needed filling. Several megabytes of vacation photographs needed processing. And, then, amidst all this, the first line of a new essay came to mind. I love when that happens.
Humans are amazing creatures. We can operate on two levels. And driving allows it—encourages it. After 35 years of maneuvering a mass of steel and electronics at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, driving has become both an innate and unconscious act. Except it wasn’t that way for me during my recent “holiday” in New Zealand.
My husband and I met on a beach in Florida. We took our first vacation together to sunny Acapulco, and we honeymooned in the Hawaiian Islands. When our 25th wedding anniversary rolled around, it was only natural that we mark the occasion with another adventure. We didn’t consciously select New Zealand for the same reasons we selected these other locales, but I see some similarities: All were foreign to what we knew at the time. But not too foreign.
New Zealand is an English-speaking country. Its indigenous culture shares customs, legends and language that echo those of Hawaii where we live. Many trees and plants look similar. Birds, too.
But plenty of differences exist, too. Like driving.
Not only do you drive on the “wrong” side of the road down under, but also the levers for blinkers and windshield wipers are reversed, so every time I wanted to make a turn, I switched on the wipers. I reached to my left for the seat belt and to the right for the gearshift. Then, there was the matter of the left side of the car. There was one. So, I found the edge of the road much more quickly than I expected and never hugged the centerline.
Driving in New Zealand forced me out of my comfort zone. It demanded me to be fully present in the moment. And while some might say it’s a good thing to go through life aware of your immediate surroundings, I realize now that driving is usually a wellspring of creativity for me. Words, sentences, characterization, plotting—all this often happens when I drive.
I remember a line of Mark Twain’s when he visited Maui in 1866. He wrote, “I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”
That was Twain’s reason for not writing while he visited Maui.
Well, I went to New Zealand, a place with strong ties to the demi-God Maui, and stayed nearly two weeks. I’ve rarely spent so pleasant a fortnight before, or left a place so regretfully. I didn’t give much thought to business or daily responsibilities or world cares. But I did grow weary with watching the center line in the middle of the road and the grills of cars in my rearview mirror and trying to figure out if the “give way” signs and their arrows applied to me or the driver on the other side of the one-lane bridges around every other blind curve on the peninsula. And the memory of it will remain with me always.
Twain had his excuses for not writing while traveling. And I have mine.
New Zealand gave me a heightened sense of awareness in other ways, too--namely, for my husband.
Our first hike took us through a forest, a cave and onto a beach, where I snapped an ultra-wide-angle lens onto my camera and started photographing panoramic landscape shots. My husband, on the other hand, put his head down and announced, “I found a sunrise shell.”
This wasn’t the prized Langford Pecten found in Hawaii and often made into jewelry, but it would be just like my husband to find a cool shell within seconds of stepping onto a beach. He’s observant like that. He was also the first to spot the bird that would become symbolic of our trip—the tui. His patient observance of the passerine that foraged in our yard would reveal its preference for the flowering flax plant. And my husband’s curiosity wouldn’t be quelled until he discovered a Maori legend associated with the bird.
Of course, I knew these characteristics of my husband prior to our trip. After all, I’d had 25 years to witness them. But sometimes we are blind to those things right in front of our faces and, perhaps, I’d let the rush of everyday life, deadlines, chores, a daily to-do list and who-knows-what else cloud my vision of late. Because it was refreshing to see my husband with new eyes again.
So here’s what I’m trying to say: If you haven’t been to Hawaii yet, go. If you think Hawaii is too far or too exotic or too intimidating—well, then, great. That’s a perfect reason to visit. All that will blend to make you more aware of what you’re seeing. It’ll increase your curiosity into the birds and trees right outside your window and return awe and delight to your life. And it just might make you fall in love with your husband all over again--or remind you why you married the guy in the first place. And if that’s not an investment into the next twenty-five years, I don’t know what is.
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