the high life

I have excellent friends.

I say they are excellent not only because they are willing to be friends with me but also because they invite me to concerts and cookouts and Hawaiian beaches. One of my excellent friends owns an excellent cabin up high in the Colorado Rockies and because he is a kind and good person, he loans his cabin out to pretty much everyone he knows. Including me. I’ve been going there for years and that cabin has seeped into my bones. It isn’t big and it isn’t luxurious, and it is absolutely perfect, perched above a mountain stream that flows between some of the tallest peaks in the lower 48. The sound of rushing water is constant and when the wind blows, it rustles through the aspen leaves. If there’s no moon at night, I like to lie out on the rock above the creek and watch the Milky Way swirl overhead. If there is a moon, then I watch it rise up above the lower ridge of La Plata, the same ridge that turns gold in the first light of morning and reflects the sun straight into the loft where I am lying in bed and listening to the jays and the juncos. I love that cabin.

So that’s where I was last week, out of the heat and up into the cool green mountains. Ryan came, too, and Frances, and we made a road trip of it.

Frances loves a road trip.

The drive to the cabin is long enough that sometimes we break it up with an overnight along the way. This time we opted for the Petrified Forest. We arrived in the late afternoon and made a tour of the major sights, which is basically petrified trees and rock formations, and the cumulative effect is far more beautiful than I’m making it sound.

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As the sun got low, we headed for the north end of the park and started loading camping gear into our packs. There are no campgrounds or motels, but backpacking is allowed if you’re willing to hike into the wilderness area. Which we were. We tromped down off the mesa and followed a wash out into the desert. After we’d gone about a mile, we found a great spot for the tent: on top of a flat rock ledge and low enough to not be a likely target for lightening but high enough to be out of the wash. And why do I mention those factors? Oh, well. Just because there was a little monsoon blowing in right around the time we started to make camp. As soon as the sun went down, thunder started crashing in the distance. By the time we finished eating our tamales, the rain was sprinkling and it came down harder as we scrambled into the tent. And then harder still. However, the electrical part of the storm stayed far above us, so we felt fairly safe, and I spent the next couple hours pretending to be the sort of person who doesn’t worry even a little bit about camping in the middle of a lightening storm. In retrospect, this was a bad idea. In further retrospect, this was a very, very bad idea. Don’t do it. But we did and we lived and it really was beautiful to watch the dark shapes of the clouds outlined with flashes of light and to see giant sparks flung into the sky. And in the morning?

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I drank my coffee out of a steel cup and watched the sun rise over the Painted Desert.

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We ate our granola while the rock wrens bounced around looking for their breakfasts. Then we folded up the tent, hiked back up onto the mesa, repacked the car, and drove to Gallup. Then Shiprock. Then Farmington, Durango, Wolf Creek Pass and so on all the way to paradise.

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Maybe it’s bad vacation style, but I had a little bit of an agenda for this trip because when we last visited at the end of September, we tried to hike Mount Massive. No, that’s not fair. We did hike Mount Massive. We hiked six miles in from the trailhead and climbed as high as the saddle, some 13,900 feet above sea level and almost 4,000 feet higher than we started. A pretty respectable outing, right? Sadly, the summit was another 521 vertical feet and half a trail mile away. Why didn’t we make it? Because the Rocky Mountains have this thing called weather and much like Arizona monsoons, it generally arrives via wind and the day we tried to summit Massive was the day a big ol’ storm was blowing in. We knew about the storm, which is why we were hiking a day early. But we hadn’t reckoned on the wind, which preceded the actual storm and started shoving us around as soon as we emerged above the treeline. At first it was just a gust here and there, but it got stronger and colder as we hiked. Except “hiked” isn’t the right word. I need some kind of war metaphor. We fought. We battled. We struggled for every inch of elevation gain because the higher we got, the stronger the wind got. I had to stop every few steps to catch my breath, partly because of the altitude, but also because as I tried to inhale, the air whipped away from me. This is not a metaphor: the wind literally took my breath away. Snatched it halfway out of my lungs. We added more layers of clothing but all that did was give the wind more things to grab onto. I felt like a punching bag for air currents.

At around 13,000 feet, we passed a trail crew of capable young men and women wielding pry bars and shovels. They frowned at us, looking doubtful. What little pride I still possessed considered telling them that I had hiked plenty of mountains in my life without dying even once and they probably wouldn’t have to carry my corpse off this slope either. But I didn’t. Instead, I forced my face into a wincey sort of smile and gasped: “Thanks! Great trail.” Then I trudged a few steps further and gasped some more. As we approached the saddle, we had to hike through patches of snow, which were only a foot deep but were icy enough to hurt Frances’s paws and make me waste energy clambering around on detours. Meanwhile, I was getting knocked sideways with each gust of wind and two really good blasts pushed me to my knees. By the time we reached the saddle, I could see two things: 1 – the final ridge was in sight (although not the summit itself), 2 – I was not walking one step further. We hunkered down in the lee of a boulder and dug out enough trail snacks to fuel our descent. As we gobbled brownies and dried cherries, we saw a solo hiker—a buff-looking guy outfitted with poles and gaiters—trudge on past us. We waved and he nodded, which I understood was all he could manage under the circumstances. He put his head forward into the wind and started plodding up that rocky, exposed ridge. I never saw any report of a fatality, so I assume he returned safely, but I had no shame as I trotted back downhill past that trail crew.

No.

No.

I had no shame, but I still wanted to summit Mt. Massive. Ergo, my agenda for this trip included an acclimation hike on Monday, a rest day on Tuesday, and a peak attempt on Wednesday. Thursday was for sleeping in, cleaning up, and cooking a big dinner because we had other (also excellent) friends coming to join us that afternoon. Friday, obviously, would be dedicated to showing them around and drinking beer.

Accordingly, on Monday we needed a hike that would get us up to at least 12,500—high enough for some altitude, but not high enough to sprain my lungs. And because I can’t get enough of mountain streams, I picked the Little Willis Creek trail.

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We followed the creek all the way from the bottom, where it feeds into Twin Lakes, up to its source in a small alpine lake near Hope Pass. And acclimation or no, it was beautiful. Lots of wildflowers, lots of meadows, and lots of water.

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lake from hope pass

The only water I didn’t enjoy was the pint that went cascading down my butt thanks to a leaky bottle. However, except for the soggy pants, it was a wonderful hike and at the top we checked out some other 14ers for a future trip.

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Mts. Belford, Oxford, and Missouri. Another day, my pretties.

Other than the water leak, I did have one eensy problem. Just a mite of trouble with my left knee, which started hurting on the descent. Kind of a dull ache at first, but over the last mile, it turned into a screeching agony of a joint. It hated being bent; it hated being straight; it hated being stood upon. And why was my knee hurting? Because I had bruised it a week earlier in Arizona when I slipped in the scree on top of Humphrey’s Peak. Which was the mountain I was hiking as preparation for hiking Mt. Massive. Let’s pause to savor my non-ironic annoyance at that irony.

Yes, I had bonked my left knee in an accident so minor that I didn’t even remember it until the bruise appeared. But I have a lot of bruises, so I didn’t think much about it even then. My knee didn’t bother me at home. It didn’t bother me while doing yoga or walking around the city or even hiking uphill. But after a few miles of downhill? Whoa, Nellie. Luckily, my powers of denial are strong, so I opted to believe that after Tuesday’s rest day, I’d be fine. Indeed, by the next morning, my knee felt almost normal.

Still, I opted to stay at the cabin while Ryan went into Leadville to check out a mountain bike demo. After he was done, he called to see if I wanted any groceries. The cabin doesn’t get very good cell reception, so my phone was propped on a shelf by the back door in the one spot that gets a single bar. I was surprised to hear it ring. So surprised that I ran to answer it. And ran straight into a wooden chair. With my left knee.

I don’t remember much of that conversation, because I conducted it while trying not to scream. If I had a lick of sense, I would have asked for aspirin, since I only had two in the first aid kit. But by the time I thought of that, it was too late. So instead I drank a beer and strapped an ice pack to my leg with a spare bandanna. By evening, I was feeling pretty spry. Spry enough for the uphill, anyway. So I made trail sandwiches and put the two aspirin in the pocket of my hiking pants.

On Wednesday we got up at 4 a.m., before the stars had even started to fade. We arrived at the trailhead just a few minutes after sunrise and early enough—we hoped— to get up to the summit and back below treeline before any afternoon storms blew in.

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Mt. Massive. It’s massive.

It was a lovely morning and my knee felt a little stiff but basically okay and the birds were chirping, so the first few miles of the hike were just a beautiful walk in the woods. Frances set a fast pace, even by her standards, and we made it to treeline in two hours flat.

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And? There was no wind. No wind! Lots and lots of flowers, but no wind. I still had to stop to catch my breath as we got higher, but at least it wasn’t running away from me. As we got closer to the saddle, I put on a windbreaker because of the occasional mountain gusts, but this hike was a very different hike from the first one.

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We paused at the saddle, which seemed almost cuddly compared to my first visit.

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From there I nearly skipped up the ridge—the one I refused to attempt in September—to the false summit. That ridgeline was narrow enough, rocky enough, and exposed enough that I felt quite justified in my previous decision to bail. But this time I followed it up and down and across a couple short snowfields and then I scrambled up—to what felt like the top of the world. It wasn’t, but it was the top of Mt. Massive.

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A few other people were already there, soaking up the sun and keeping an eye on the clouds gathering in the not-too-distant distance. We chatted with them and ate salted almonds and passed around a flask of bourbon and everybody took pictures of everybody else and then we pointed our boots downhill.

The marmots even came out to say hello. Or get off my lawn. Or whatever it is that marmots say.

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I made it almost back to treeline before I needed the aspirin and, as we ducked into the relative safety of the tree canopy, I heard the first thunder boom of the day. Perfect timing.

Everything else about the trip was also pretty much perfect, although I’d rather not talk about the last two miles coming down off Massive. Let’s just skip ahead. For the record, I really am fine now.

On Thursday we explored an old mining town where I failed to take any decent pictures but we saw a herd of big-horn sheep and I don’t care if this is a decent picture, they’re still cool.

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Then our friends arrived and they brought their two charming daughters and a delightful sampling of local beer. (Extra props to Crooked Stave for that awesome Surette saison. So, so good.)

On Friday we fortified ourselves with blueberry pancakes and then ventured out to the Continental Divide, where we hiked as far as the weather would allow and where the Arizona-raised children regarded a July hailstorm as a marvelous treat.

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Taken one minute before the sky started shooting at us.

Back in the cabin, we played Pirate Fluxx and told terrible jokes (From H, who is 10: “What do you call a chicken crossing the road? Poultry in motion.”) and watched the creek swell with afternoon showers.

Then, on Saturday, we piled the dirty laundry and recyclables into the CRV, waved good-bye and headed back to the desert. On the way, we drove through several storms big enough to make us grateful that a car works as a Faraday cage. Because we have learned our lesson about summer storms. Ahem.

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However, since the San Francisco Peaks seemed to be magically diverting the storms, we decided to stay there overnight. Also because Flagstaff is 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix.

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Eventually, of course, we ended up back in the valley, where we were greeted not with radiant evening light but with a plume of smoke billowing from the landfill. Which was on fire.

Oh, well. At least we have memories. And friends. I have excellent friends.

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Aloha, Yankee

Let’s talk Hawaii, shall we? Yes, I lied to you last week when I suggested in my pre-flight excitement that I would post updates while I was gone. I thought I would, and I’m sure it would have been fun to read, but I have recently learned that when I have only four and a half days to hike and swim and play in a beautiful place, I prefer hiking and swimming and playing to fussing with a dinky keyboard and hunting down WiFi passwords. Who knew?

Also, who knew that it is really easy to go to Hawaii?

I always thought it sounded like a beautiful place that other people went to. People with beach cover-ups and shiny luggage. I do not travel that way. I do not take “vacations.” I do not visit resorts. I take road trips in my truck. I camp with friends. I go backpacking once in a while. I fly for work or to visit family, but I’ve been lugging the same canvas carry-on for fifteen years and I don’t even own a beach cover-up. Nor do I intend to.

It’s not that I don’t like to travel. I quite love it. But I’m a Yankee at heart and I was raised to be frugal and also to believe that pleasure ought to be justified. You can go to a beautiful place, but only if you have a good reason. Or if it’s cheap.

However, my friend Steph—who is not a Yankee—has the kind of job that obligates her to do things like run a cocktail party at a resort in Hawaii, which is what she had to do last week, and which is why she called me up one day and said, “Hey, do you want to come to Hawaii with me?”

Right about now my pride would like for me to adopt the pose of a casual globetrotter. I would like to think of myself as a person who is pleased by waterfalls and volcanoes, but in a jaded sort of way. As if I went to keep Steph company, but I wasn’t impressed after all my camelback safaris and round-the-world sailboat voyages. Or maybe I would like to act like a hard-nosed reporter, unmoved by rainforests and coral reefs, but I believe in reporting the truth and the truth is that I reacted to Steph’s invitation pretty much like a small child reacts to the circus. And since I’m telling the whole truth, then I have to admit that I reacted the same way to everything that followed. I giggled my way through buying my plane tickets. I clapped my hands after I booked rooms for a couple extra, non-business-related nights. I nearly kissed the guy at Wide World of Maps who sold me the guide map to the Big Island. I was bouncing in my seat by the time the plane landed at Kona. Luckily, Steph actually has small children, so she’s used to this sort of thing.

But we’re home now, and I will attempt to make good on my promise, even though it’s not a live-blog. Sorry. And while I’m apologizing, I’ll point out that I didn’t notice until far too late that I had somehow switched my camera to low resolution. I’m not a great photographer under the best of circumstances, which means that what follows is going to resemble Blind Aunt Batty’s Slide Show even more than my usual travelogues.

Regardless, let’s go!

Friday afternoon: We land at Kona International Airport, which immediately tells me that I am in a whole new place because it is not a normal airport, with cable news monitors and recirculated air, but a cluster of little buildings scattered among palm trees. Very few of the buildings even have four walls. They’re more like open-front beach cabanas where TSA agents hang out. And little old ladies stringing flowers into leis. Furthermore, some of the people meeting our flight were wearing swimsuits and had sand crusting their legs, as if they were on the beach three minutes ago and intended to return just as soon as they fetched Uncle Bob. For obvious reasons, I liked Hawaii immediately.

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If you aren’t a seasoned Hawaii traveler like me, then you might appreciate a quick primer on the island of Hawaii, a.k.a. the Big Island. It is the largest and most southerly of the Hawaiian Islands and the entire island is volcanoes. As in: it was formed and is still being formed by five volcanoes, one of which is extinct, two of which are dormant, and two of which are active. The active ones are Mauna Loa and Kilauea and they are located on the eastern side of the island, but Kona is on the west side, so as soon as we got off the plane, we hopped in a rental car and headed east.

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Steph is driving. Steph had to drive everywhere because her company booked the rental car. I felt bad about it, but you don’t have to: she was in Hawaii, after all.

Notice the green outside the car? Since we don’t see much of that in Phoenix, we were both pretty excited. We were less excited to see the fog and afternoon showers, which were beautiful and not something we get much in Phoenix, but they made our drive across the island somewhat harrowing, especially when we missed our turn and then the game birds started wandering into the road. Francolins, pheasants, wild turkeys, all trying to kill us. However, we arrived in Hilo unscathed except that we were beginning to feel the effects of the three-hour time difference. So we found a comfy restaurant by the ocean and ate dinner (including coconut creme brulee) while listening to a ukelele player. Then I went for a walk in the rain. Because Hawaiian rain is different from other rain.

Saturday morning we woke up at 5, thanks to that three-hour time difference, so we ate enormous breakfasts at Ken’s House of Pancakes (motto: “Jammin’ since 1971”), which is open 24-hours a day but otherwise has so little in common with other Houses of Pancakes that somebody ought to change their name and I don’t think it should be Ken. That place was amazing. Coconut syrup, people! At 6 a.m.! This is what my life has been missing.

Thus fortified, we walked over to the Hilo Farmer’s Market, which is somewhat legendary and now I know why.

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The Hilo Farmer’s Market is just like any other farmers market, except that it’s really big (up to 200 vendors on any given Saturday) and they are selling things like this:

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Pineapple. Taro root. Mangoes. Papayas. Avocados the size of a small head. Did you know there are lots of different kinds of bananas? And that some of them have actual flavor? People in Hilo know. They also know about flowers with actual color.

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There was more, of course. Not just fruit and vegetables, but aloha dresses and seashell jewelry and handmade quilts and turtles carved out of wood. I bought a giant ginger root to bring home ($1.50 a pound!) and Steph bought pink muumuus for her children and we filled a tote bag with treats for lunch—sliced pineapple and spicy steamed buns and avocado rolls with peanut sauce and mango-ginger-limeade.

Thus re-fortified, we drove to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses Kilauea and Mauna Loa, which is just excellent because it means that we got to hike IN A LIVE VOLCANO. Although, sadly, the rangers wouldn’t let us anywhere near the lava. Here’s the view from the rim of Kilauea looking out toward the current volcano action.

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It was a cloudy day, so the colors are muted, but that place is a full-sensory experience. Wet rainforest above the crater, dry lava fields below, hot steam venting out of the earth everywhere, the stink of the sulfur banks, the calls of the Apapane and Amakihi and other birds. We wandered around, trying to find some analog in our experience by which to comprehend the things we were seeing. It didn’t work. Eventually we just resorted to grinning like fools and taking a lot of pictures.

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The Sulfur Banks. They look beautiful. They smell terrible.

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I have seen ferns, but I have never seen ferns like this. Sweet lacy little ferns you could hold in your hand. Ferns the size of trees. Ferns with purple fiddleheads. Ferns with furry fiddleheads big enough for a double bass. So many ferns.

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The hills are steaming.

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As is every crack in the earth. There are a disconcerting number of cracks in the earth.

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This is not Phoenix.

After walking through the rainforest for a while, we hiked down into the crater. And then things got really weird.

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Sure, Steph. You can go first.

Geology is just awesome. And evolution. And we could pretty much watch both of them playing out in front of us.

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An Ohi’a Lehua blossom. I saw hundreds of these trees, but I never did learn how to pronounce their name properly.

The Ohi’a Lehua is native to Hawaii and pretty much as soon as a new lava flow cools off, some of these trees will germinate on it. Native birds eat the nectar and seeds; and the bird droppings, as well as dead leaves and plant material from the Ohi’a, decompose to form a few scraps of soil that can support ferns, and so on and so forth until proper top soil and whole plant communities have eventually developed on top of what was once bare rock. The Ohi’a in the crater are shrubby and contorted-looking, but the ones that grow in deeper soil can be as tall as an oak tree.

I wouldn't grow there. But the Ohi'a will.

I wouldn’t grow there. But the Ohi’a will.

We walked across the floor of Kilauea Iki crater and up the other side, back into the rainforest. Then we ate our picnic lunch (oh, for more of those steamed buns right now), and drove the Chain of Craters road, which follows a series of lava flows from the crater edge all the way down to the ocean.

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This is fairly primal, no? The lava still flows into the ocean sometimes, but not right now.

And when lava meets ocean, some pretty cool things happen.

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Holei Sea Arch. Just to clarify: the arch was eroded by the ocean, not poured by the lava. I’m sure you knew that.

Since Kilauea is an active volcano, the landscape is changing even more rapidly than most landscapes. For instance, the Chain of Craters road used to continue along the coast for a few miles. Not so much anymore.

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We walked as far as seemed necessary to get the point across.

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And then we turned around.

After a short walk to see some petroglyphs and then a quick tour of a lava tube, we checked into a funky B & B and cleaned up, then went back to the Volcano House, where we ate dinner and watched the glow of the lava from Halemaumau, the active crater within Kilauea and the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. I didn’t even try to take a picture, but it was lovely in the same hypnotic way that a campfire is lovely. Except that instead of flickering embers, we were looking at a lake of molten lava. It was very romantic.

In fact, we were so smitten with the volcano that when we woke up Sunday morning (at 5 a.m.), we decided to go back for another visit before breakfast (not til 8 a.m.). We walked the steaming bluffs again, saw a flock of five Hawaiian Nene geese, and got as close as possible to Halemaumau by visiting the observatory.

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And then: Breakfast! Not as good as Ken’s, but few things are. We blew kisses at our volcano and drove back down to Hilo, where we found slightly older lava. And also the ocean.

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This is a public beach. One of many in Hilo. And I cannot imagine how anybody in Hilo gets anything done.

We splashed around in the warm Pacific waters for a few minutes.

Check it: that's coral!

Check it: that’s coral!

And then continued on our way. Next stop: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is overflowing a valley along Onomea Bay and where we found things I can’t even explain. I recall there was an entire walkway planted with varieties of wild ginger, but after that I don’t know. I am pretty well-versed in New England plants and Southwestern plants and alpine plants, but I just had no idea how to understand this extravagance:

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or this:

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Because I always understand water, I did appreciate this:

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And this:

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We wandered around the garden for as long as we could before our eyeballs started spinning and Steph’s impending afternoon meeting started making us worry about time. Then we found snacks. Because we do nothing without snacks.

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Yes, that is a coconut. And it was delicious.

We drove up the Hamakua Coast, which was as beautiful as it sounds, and stopped to visit Akaka Falls, which is huge and impressive, but maybe too huge, since we could only view it from a distance. Still, running water:

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And then we were back around on the west side of the island, which is the sunny side with the sandy beaches and also the fancy resorts. Now, resort vacations are exactly the kind of vacation that I don’t take. And it’s true that I would never have gone there on my own. But since I was there…

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It wasn’t so bad.

We swam a few lazy laps in the pool next to the ocean and ate dinner next to the ocean and Monday morning (5:30 a.m.) we had coffee on our balcony. With a (partial) view of the ocean.

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And then we went snorkeling, which involved a boat ride that bounced us down the coast at 20 miles per hour. We stopped at the aptly named Place of Refuge, which is home to important Hawaiian history, but also to a beautiful coral reef. I went with the reef.

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Can you see the snorkeler in the water? It isn’t me.

I had never been snorkeling before, unless you count that time when I was ten and peering around a murky lake in Maine  with a leaky plastic mask from K-Mart. This was different. First off, the water was clear as air. Clearer, in fact, than some air. And through it, I was looking at a living coral reef. Do you know how many kinds of coral there are? I don’t, because I lost count. And the fish! Yellow fish, black fish, yellow and black and white fish. Blue fish, rainbow fish, skinny fish, flat fish. Fish that swam right next to me without caring a whit. Black sea cucumbers and red pencil urchins and green sea stars with eighteen arms. I glided in toward the shallows to watch a big white fish dig a hole in the sand, then floated out over a coral valley to take in the big view of darting colors and light.

In short: I enjoyed snorkeling.

We climbed back into the raft and took a break for snacks (Pineapple slices! Guava juice!), then headed for another reef further north. After the second round, once we were all thoroughly water-logged, we explored a few sea caves on the way back to the harbor. And then it was party time.

Of course, it wasn’t my party, but I stopped by long enough to snag a cocktail and a lei, and to watch the fire dancers. Fire Dancers!

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Oh, for a D-SLR. And the ability to use it.

And then I wandered down to the beach and found a hammock and gazed at stars and listened to the surf break ten feet away. It still wasn’t so bad.

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It was dark. But note the shoes!

Tuesday, was (sob) our last day, so we drove up the absurdly beautiful Kohala Coast to the even more absurdly beautiful Pololu Valley. Well, strictly speaking, we drove to a parking area overlooking the valley. That’s where the road ends.

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And then we hiked down. The valley is almost unbearably lush, especially to people who live in the desert.

Very lush and very dangerous, or so I’ve been told.

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But somehow we survived, and at the bottom of the hill we found a black sand beach and a trail that led through the woods and up the other side of the valley. We followed the trail.

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Or at least, we tried to follow the trail. It zigged and zagged through underbrush so dense that for a while we had to go on faith that there was still something to follow. Then we climbed up through a forest that made all the crazy trees we’d seen before look kind of reasonable.

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And then we were on top of a lush ridge, which looked down into a lush valley, and beyond that to another lush ridge, then a lush valley, and so on for a long series of lush ridges and valleys that wrap around the lush north tip of the island back toward the lush Hamakua Coast. It would make an excellent backpacking trip, I’m thinking.

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But that’s for another day. We picked our way back down to the black sand beach, which was sandy and beachy, but possessed of ocean currents too alarming for a swim. Still, it made a nice walk.

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And I found my new house.

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But I couldn’t close the sale because it was nearly noon and we needed lunch (priorities!). So we hiked back up the hazardous hill and drove back along the coast to Hawi, which is a lovely old town that features the equally lovely and slightly less old Bamboo Restaurant. Considering the setting and that it was our last day, I ordered a Mai Tai. I’m not usually a fan of fruity rum drinks, but when in Hawi… Sadly, I didn’t have the sense to take a picture before stirring it up.

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Looks like mud, tastes pretty darned good.

After lunch, we strolled around town and got some homemade ice cream at Tropical Dreams (Coconut Cream, Kona Coffee, Tahitian Vanilla, Candied Ginger…how to choose?). Then we decided to find a spot for one more swim before we had to pack up and catch the red-eye home.

And so: Hapuna Beach. White sand, soft waves, and Hawaiian sun.

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Aloha, indeed.

Take a vacation. It’s easy, even for a Yankee.

even my people are dogs

Today is tax filing day and I—being an orderly and organized sort of person who plans ahead—did not have to rush to the post office to mail my taxes at the last minute tonight. Certainly not. I mailed them this morning.

But I went to the post office tonight anyway because I had to ship some time-sensitive packages of a non-governmental nature. Because I can’t plan ahead for everything.

From my vast experience with last-minute mailings, I already know that the only post office in Phoenix that stays open later than 6 p.m. is the main distribution center at 50th and Van Buren. That oasis in the desert has regular window hours from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday—just in case you ever need to know. For this reason, it is always the place to be on the evening of April 15.

So there I was, standing in line at 8:55 with all manner of kindred spirits. We last day folk are quite relaxed among our fellows, especially when the end is in sight. For the record, we were absolutely planning to file early this year, and also to mail presents early, but we’ve been very busy what with rescuing dogs and walking dogs and brushing dogs and feeding dogs and chauffeuring dogs to their appointments and meetings and we just didn’t have time, okay? But the dogs have been adopted by other people and the last one left yesterday, and the taxes are finally done and the presents are ready to go and we’re almost home free. Maybe the postal workers are a little judgmental about our organizational skills, but here in line we’re all friends. We understand. We don’t have to apologize or make excuses. We’re cheerful and chatty and the man in front of me is using the opportunity to gather opinions on how the Diamondbacks are going to fare this season. (Consensus: Keep your expectations low.)

The late crowd is a fun crowd.

And it got even more fun at 9 p.m., when a man walked through the door dressed as a dog. More precisely, he was dressed like a normal man from the neck down, wearing a blue camp shirt and khaki pants. But over his own head he was wearing a large furry grey and white dog head like a sports mascot. The dog had blue eyes, which reminded me of Luna. His dog mouth was closed, but I suspected that underneath it, the man was smiling. Wow, I thought. I’m seeing dogs everywhere anymore.

He was holding a stack of envelopes in one hand, but he waved at me with the other. And then he just stood there in line with the rest of us. He wasn’t as chatty, on account of having his head stuck inside a stuffed animal, but I liked him just on principle.

The line moved pretty quickly, so I got my turn at the counter a minute later and then I was headed out the door, mission accomplished. I waved goodbye to the dog-man and the rest of the crew.

While I was still in line, I had sent Ryan a text message:

There’s a guy standing in line wearing a costume dog head. Just the head. I think it’s meant to be a border collie.

And as I left the building, I saw that Ryan had texted me back:

Please don’t bring him home.