City Girl Gone Wandering
The entirety of one’s life can change with the blink of an eye and the soaring of a plane.
Ten days in Tahoe and the memory of soaking up the brilliant rays of a Hawaiian sun seems like a brilliant dream I once had. Here, my days are filled with icy mountain chills and lots of hot tea. I have traded in sarongs and swimsuits for sweatpants and scarves. What was I thinking?
On the night of the 15th, I watched the sun set over the Pacific on a beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I sat on some lava rock, sipped a coconut beer (or three), and prepared myself to climb aboard a plane and leave the island that had grown to be my home. With the salt of the sea still on my skin, I boarded the plane that would take me to San Francisco, and then the smaller plane that took me to Reno.
Flying into San Francisco at 5:30 AM Pacific Time (2:30 AM in Hawaii) was jarring. All of the faces that crossed my path were carved in anger and tenseness. Still in island mode, I smiled at strangers. They did not smile back. One thought kept circulating: Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Hawaii anymore.
In the Reno airport, I was accosted by the blinding light of slot machines. I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting that–after all, it’s Reno–but I had never before seen such blatant indulgence in an airport. I gave into the cheesiness of gambling culture and played five bucks on a machine. My quest to mindlessly pass some time was interrupted when the machine erupted in howls of excitement. I thought I had somehow broken it, but really I had won $20.
Because, of course. Because my Hawaiian luck followed me to the mainland. Crazy island of wonderment, thank you for the molecular karmic shifts you have imparted on my life.
A few hours later, after my coworker locked us out of the camp van, I finally found myself at the Stanford Sierra Conference Center in Fallen Leaf, CA. I met my new boss, settled into my cabin on the southern shore of Fallen Leaf Lake, and jumped head first into the last few days of orientation.
I have been going non-stop since then. Rooms have been cleaned, dishes have been washed, dining rooms have been set and cleared, beer and wine have been served, shirts have been sold, leaves have been raked, and I dominated my Disco Bingo shift by dancing and hula-hooping until my body ached. Today, I finally got a break.
Camp (as staff refers to it) has certainly earned its name. It is a strange twilight zone version of summer camp; a place in which activities are replaced by chores, but the gossip, giddiness, and adventure of youthful innocence still flourish. Strangers become intimates at light speed, and the time falls away into the abyss of the universe. I am working my butt off, but it all becomes worth it when I find myself snacking in the dining room at midnight with new friends—drinking wine and laughing until we cry.
But I cannot escape Hawaii; she is everywhere. Aloha Lake is a few miles away and there is a cabin at camp named after it. We serve Kona Brewery beer to guests. New friends who have never been to Hawaii talk to me about Nahko and the Medicine People before they realize that I’m the girl who came here from the islands. A coworker of mine also came here from Big Island. He and I sit around and reminisce about Hawaii. He plays ukelele and we laugh at the fact that I spent a weekend visiting his farm in the north while he camped down south. It’s a small world. A small island, and a small world.
Tahoe is beautiful. My cabin is right on the water and I see this view every morning when I wake up and walk outside to use the communal restroom.
Not too shabby.
But it’s not Hawaii. At the end of the day, nothing will ever be Hawaii.
About halfway into my island adventure I realized that I had, in some ways, made a fatal error. Hawaii is not the place where you start your travel journey; it is where you end it. So many island locals are people who traveled the world for years until they finally settled down in the land of Aloha. It is a mystical place that calls individuals to its shore and then traps them there because no other place will ever be as beautiful, as welcoming, or as magical.
I came to Tahoe on another one way ticket, knowing that I always had the option to return to the island that had stolen my heart. But I had set out to spend a year traveling the U.S. and staying in Hawaii would negate that journey and turn it into something entirely different. I figured that two months in Tahoe would give me the clarity to make decisions about when my return to Hawaii would occur. I thought that I’d stick around the northwest until fall–maybe spend some time in California, Oregon, or Washington. Maybe even go to New Mexico or Colorado. After all, Hawaii would always be there.
Then, I got to Tahoe, and within a week I knew that I’d left my heart on the aina. Hawaii was all I could think about. Visions of lava fields and sun-soaked beaches filled my every waking moment. Still, I hesitated.
A few days ago, I went into town (South Lake Tahoe, CA) with a few folks from the conference center. On our way back, we drove by the shores of Tahoe. Young families gathered around barbecues, smiling and laughing. The sky was blue, and the water even bluer. The green of the surrounding trees reflected in the glistening stillness of the lake. And yet, I felt nothing. Looking out from the back window, I settled into a realization: I have to get back to Hawaii.
Once I started articulating this truth, plans started to fall into place. I have two roads that I can follow to return to Hawaii. The first involves a full-time job, an apartment, and possibly a vehicle. The second involves changing my year of U.S. travel to a year of HI travel–hopping islands instead of states. The details are still figuring themselves out, but I am far more settled and comfortable now that I know I will be going home in a few months.
It’s funny how a place can become home in such a short period of time, but it really has. My island paradise home, filled with fresh fruit, blooming flowers, and infinite horizons.
As far as the blog goes, I will continue writing in my limited spare time. There are hundreds of Hawaii stories that have yet to be told, and I’m sure that Tahoe will reveal her own tales to me as well.
So, I am still nomadic, for now. In August, I will return to Hawaii for at least a year. And then… well, there’s still a whole lot of world to see.