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Living and Writing in the Natural World

A Hawaiian Interlude

Whenever the first cold, rainy days of winter hit—late October, early November where I live—I do the only sensible thing for someone not tied down by a job. I head to Hawaii. Not for long—two weeks, never more than a month. And here I am today. Now you can get outdoors and get your daily time in the natural world in the winter, for sure. But not wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and Teva sandals, which is my standard gear for most of the day in Hawaii, whether I’m here in November, December, or January.

And it’s not just me. Because I lose hours getting here, I was up at 5:30 this morning and in Ala Moana Beach Park, just half a block from the “Y” where I stay, by 6. It’s still dark, but it’s in the low 70s, and the place is crammed with people. Adjacent to Ala Moana beach (the favorite local beach in Honolulu, Waikiki being too crowded with tourists) is Magic Island, 30 acres of grass, picnic tables, and banyan trees on a peninsula jutting out into the ocean, the whole surrounded by an asphalt pathway around its perimeter. People of all ages thronged the pathway this morning, as every morning. Many were jogging, but most were walking, some very seriously, some in groups chattering away in happy social enjoyment. On the grass, people were doing T’ai Chi or various Asian exercises (just several years ago, the Falun Gong had their group here).

But my favorite “greet the dawn” folks are those who are in their swimsuits and wading into the ocean as the day begins to brighten. Me, maybe because I’m pretty lean, but I like to at least have some bright sunshine around me before I wade into inky water. Not these folks. Again, many are parts of groups, and they are happily exchanging jokes and friendly barbs as they wade up to their chests and then begin a long walk in the water towards the other side of the great bay at Ala Moana, some half mile away. Soon the swimmers are there also, starting conscientiously at one end of the bay and swimming the half mile to the other end—and back!—to start the day, some wearing goggles, some with full snorkles and masks to facilitate their breathing.

My favorite swimmer this morning, whom I often see, is an old codger who has to be 80 if he’s a day. He can barely walk down to the beach, progressing by stiff-legged lurches on pencil-thin legs. He drops his towel, cap, and plastic bag, then totters down the beach to the far end of the bay. As he staggers into the water, I look around, wondering where the nurse or companion is who’s going to get him back to the old folks’ home. Once the old fellow got waist high in water this morning, though, he fell forward, dropped half a century in a flash, and began swimming in fluid, precise strokes. I watched in astonishment as he made his sure, steady progress toward the other side of the bay, half a mile away. Go figure.

The joggers and walkers pretty much head back to their cars in the parking lot when they’re through, socialize a bit more, then head home. The beach crowd, though, head to the outside public showers at the bath house and proceed to lather up, complete with shampoo for the hair. Then a leisurely rinse under the cold showerheads, and after drying off they’re into the bathhouse to change, emerging soon after positively glowing with health and cleanliness. What a way to start the day! About half of these folks look to be retired, and in no hurry; the other half are clearly on their way to the job after their beach-time start to the day.

Me? You’re not getting me into the water before I see the sun and lots of it. I grab a hot tea, sandwich, and newspaper as I walk through the dark to the park, and sit on a bench on the east edge of Magic Island with a view of Diamond Head looming black through and over the barely-visible masts of Ala Wai Yacht Club there. I sip and eat and watch the clouds behind Diamond Head lighten up, then turn gloriously gold as the sun rises behind them. (Don’t wait for a clear sunrise over Diamond Head; it ain’t gonna happen.) When it gets light enough, I read the morning paper, which is always challenging given the ever-present breeziness of Hawaii.

Another session just glorying in the joy of being in Hawaii and viewing the clouds sailing from left to right over and past Diamond Head, then I’m off to Ala Moana beach on the other side of Magic Island. Lather up with sunblock (note to my dermatologist: yes, I used the spf 30), set up my folding tilt-chair (same one I take to the high Sierra), and thermoregulate like a lizard in the sun for nearly an hour. When it’s hot enough for me (by 8 or 9 it’s in the upper 70s or low 80s, topping off in the mid 80s in the afternoon) I wade into the water. I used to feel pretty good about my swimming 200 yards out and 200 yards back, until I saw the old codger doing half a mile (and back) this morning. But so I take a short swim, OK? Then back up to the sand for my favorite part of the morning: A long series of stretching exercises as I enjoy the view of the ocean before me, based mainly on a T’ai Chi set taught me by a Hong Kong master, liberally complemented by whatever I’ve ever seen other people do that looks right to me. Then more time in the beach chair, maybe a walk down the beach and back collecting bits of seashells. And before you know it, it’s lunchtime!

If you’re not in Hawaii with me, I can imagine you’ve heard just about all you want to hear about Hawaii and my leisurely schedule. I’ll be back in California in another week, so we’ll see then how you live in the natural world in the cold and the rain. Cheers!
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