In October of 2011 my husband and I thought we’d take a little weekend kayaking trip along the Carolina coast. One of those REI Adventure trips. I didn’t expect it to change my life.
At the time I was experiencing a very odd, very painful, shall we say “situation” on my face. The best way to describe it is like having five enormous boils on my face at one time, then having them extend beneath the skin until they joined, forming a grotesque roadmap across my cheeks. So yeah, it pretty much sucked. Physically, anyway. Emotionally, I was destroyed. My face, that had at one time gotten me modeling jobs, was for all practical purposes dead. I didn’t feel like the rest of me was too far behind.
We met up with our group along Shem Creek (near Charleston) at the headquarters of Coastal Expeditions. I kept to myself, my hat pulled low. My brooding over the fact that there would be no bathrooms, or trees for that matter, on the island we would call home the next couple of nights was second only to my rising panic that someone might actually talk to me.
Of course someone did, and of course I survived. Nevertheless, I was grateful when we loaded the kayaks, made the short drive to where we were putting in, and commenced our big adventure. The cool breeze was a balm to my wounded face and pride. It felt good to glide along the water, listening from a distance as our guide explained how an estuary is the nursery of the ocean and pointed out some interesting looking birds. I couldn’t tell you what they were because, frankly, at the time, I was too self-absorbed to care.
Once on the island, we set to building our little tent city. Or I should say, I followed my husband around like a lost puppy dog, obediently completing his step by step instructions. He was clearly in his element. And one look around me confirmed that all our fellow travelers seemed to be, too. So I just stood there awaiting my next set of instructions and feeling dumb. Dumb and disfigured. Yeah…good times.
A storm hit that night. Not a gentle rumble of thunder in the distance or a pitter-patter of gentle rain. I’m talking about a squall that sounded like Mother Nature herself howling, “How DARE you venture out of your pathetic little comfort zone!” I shrank further into my sleeping bag. The fine sand on which we camped poured through the fabric of our tent like water through a sieve, reconvening within its confines as a raging cyclone. As a spatula of wind and rain lifted the sides of our tent, I thought I sensed fear for the first time in my husband – the rock of my life. It wasn’t in his voice. It was just something I felt, which made it all the more disconcerting. Zipping up my sleeping bag the rest of the way from the inside, I cowered from the driving sand, the shrill screams of the wind, from fear itself.
The next morning, I emerged from my cocoon to find a coat of sand over everything in the tent, my husband and myself included. Distracted by the soft, inviting song of a flute, we quietly unzipped our tent and stepped out into a glorious sunrise. Then, sharing a knowing smile with our fellow survivors, we made our way to the water’s edge for sunrise yoga. Best. Sun. Salutation. Ever.
I don’t know if it was that storm, or the fact that we ended up battling the most horrendous current I’ve ever encountered as we made our way back to camp from Bull Island, or the way we talked and laughed like old friends around the fire in the evenings that made such an impact on me. Maybe it was the enormous human sail we made out on the water, the “big ass birds” we couldn’t remember the names for, or watching in collective awe as dolphins jumped and played around us, but something magical happened. I felt at home. No one was judging me. No one was expecting anything from me. No one was disappointed with me. And the funny thing is, no one even noticed my face. Funnier still, I’d forgotten all about it myself.
Home should be a comforting place, one where you are known and accepted, but also one where you strive to know your family on a deeper level. And so began my voracious appetite for knowing every bird, every animal, every tree, and every flower. I wanted to be able to greet them as family the next time I came upon them. I still do. It’s not the kind of appetite that is ever satiated, thankfully. I saw my first bald eagle in the wild on this trip, as well as my first Monarch butterfly. Both brought tears to my eyes. I look forward to seeing them again.
I made some forever friends on that trip, too. That’s where I met Mo, with whom I will share my Peru adventure. From the first, Mo intrigued me with her gentle, free spirit, her strength, her mindfulness, and her quiet self-assurance. She seemed so free of the chains I felt locked around my own soul. I was only around her for a few days, but it was long enough for me to realize that I could change, that it wasn’t too late, that I could take the time to get to know myself and remain true to that vision for the rest of my days.
Of course our little group parted ways after that weekend, but we still keep in touch. I was thrilled for Mo when she announced her plans to travel across the globe studying school gardens. An inspiration once again, she was living her passion.
In the first post on her blog, she said she hoped to see some of her friends with “gypsy blood coursing through their veins” along the way…
Let’s just say I took that as a written invitation!
That’s Mo in the front of the yellow kayak. Check out the amazing work she’s doing at http://www.itstimeformetofly.blogspot.com/