We Are All Phenomenal Women

This poem came serendipitously my way today. I love it because it’s so full of love! The most important love, the love that precedes all other love – self love. I think it should be the anthem of every woman and that if we could all feel this way about ourselves, we wouldn’t let, as she puts it, others violate that space inside us that needs to remain inviolate, the space where we meet God. Amen to that!

Phenomenal Woman

By Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

From And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

Trust

Le Petit PrinceI’ve had a while to ponder this the third in a series of posts (to start reading from the beginning go here). I meant to write it soon after the previous one, but If life is a box of chocolates, then I keep getting the really bad ones…you know, the ones no one wants…the turd-filled kind. These shitty circumstances, and, it turns out, some deep-seated misgivings, stopped me from continuing after I came close to finishing a first draft of this. Circumstances included a trip to San Francisco to attend the annual writers conference and then yet another illness – this time the flu with a fever that made my eyes feel like they were on fire and my head like it would explode, the worst I’ve had since contracting dengue in 2003. It put me in bed for five days straight. My misgivings – the greater of the two obstacles – stem from the delicate nature of the matter at hand and, honestly, much like the illness, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. But like they say, there’s nothing like baring your soul to heal the wounds therein. So here goes.

After my existence was referred to as “Bukowskian,” I thought it high time I schooled myself on what exactly that means. I bought of a book of his poetry and stumbled across a piece, called The Crunch, that contained this excerpt:

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant.

Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Those last two stanzas punched their way home, leaving me slightly dazed, but determined to extinguish the loneliness my soul’s been steeped in. I was over being Bukowski’s poster child.

I returned to the online dating site. As you may recall from my previous post, I’d avoided putting any money on the line. Now when a check finally arrived for some work I’d done months earlier, I took it as a sign that I should pay for a full subscription. When push came to shove, I found myself hesitating though, going back and forth from the page that would take me to PayPal, to the page displaying the names of lots of presumably lonely men. It took me another day to actually click on the “Pay” button.

I know I’ve said it before, but I was surprised how scared I was, how much courage I had to muster to open the door fully to the potential relationships on that site.  I wondered how I could be so fearful of exploring the online singles world and I was pretty hard on myself. Only now do I remind myself that I’d never done this before and I hadn’t dated for going on ten years.

Tentatively, I began the process of seeing who was out there. The first thing I noticed was that without exception everyone was “outside my match parameters.” I recalled the wine-fogged night I answered the personality profile and wondered if that wasn’t influencing the results. I also began to feel duped by the wily marketers who got me to part with my hard-earned cash.

The second thing I realized was that there were almost no surfers to be found. Not being a surfer was a deal breaker, much the same way being a smoker was. Eventually, it became apparent that I was limiting my options by nixing anyone who didn’t surf and focusing on guys from the west coast, so one day I decided to look outside those limits. I clicked on the photo of a guy I’d been intrigued by, one part because of his blue eyes, the other because of his nice suit. Unlike the profiles of a lot of men, his was complete and well written. He sounded like someone who cared a lot about helping others. I decided to reach out.

The process of getting to know him couldn’t have been more different than anything I’ve experienced before. Where relationships are concerned I’ve historically been a two-feet-into-the-deep-end kinda gal, but in this case our physical separation necessitated that we take things slow. I reasoned that this was precisely what the doctor ordered. Maybe this time I’d see the red flags when they were waving, rather than being blinded by proximity and, frankly, lust. We exchanged long letters – I have to call them “letters” because they were far too carefully penned and poetic to be lumped in with the texting-influenced one-liners that so many emails have become – they were heart-felt, emotions-on-the-page, revelatory letters of the sort I imagine people once wrote while courting over vast distances, long before the internet sucked up vast amounts of our time, back when people were promised to someone they’d never met. This guy could write! And he was opening himself up and being vulnerable in a way few men, in my experience, have been willing to do. My excitement mounted. And before I knew it, we were making plans to meet. I was headed home for Christmas and would be flying through San Francisco on my way to Canada, so once the craziness of the holidays was over, we would finally meet face to face.

I’m limited to a really bad internet phone connection from where I live, so I called him for the first time en route to Canada. Hearing his voice was unexpected and special in a way that comes from knowing a man’s dreams and desires, his heart, long before those words are associated with a specific tone and accent. It felt like we were doing everything backwards, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t managed to get the relationship thing right yet and this might be the way forward.

We talked for several hours many nights in a row, adding to the romance of our writings our individual voices and laughter. We discovered shared histories, philosophies, dreams that grew with each conversation. We anticipated our first meeting, planned romantic forays to points around the globe.

Along the way, there were plenty of signs that our meeting was not meant to be: his family life slowly revealed itself to be more complicated and drama-filled than I was comfortable with; his professional life seemed overextended; the head cold I’d picked up in November moved into my chest New Year’s Eve; the weather turned from frigid to freaky with talk of the here-to-for unheard of “Arctic Vortex,” huge accumulations of snow and blizzards wreaked havoc on airline schedules, delaying my departure by four days, exactly the number we planned to spend together.

What frightens me even now is that I didn’t heed all these signs even when, standing in line at the airport, shortly before learning I wasn’t going anywhere, he texted to say he had to cancel our meeting due to a family crisis.

We agreed our plans were on hold, not cancelled, and our conversations continued. But something had changed and when I returned to Baja, a gap seemed to open between us in proportion to the distance keeping us apart. I felt the dreams we’d co-created slipping into that gap.

 Like I said, communication is tough from where I live. Email is easy, but phone calls not at all and something seemed to be swallowing up his desire to stay connected. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to connect with someone who has decided to disconnect. I kept my frustration to myself, but I didn’t understand how or why all the promise seemed to be evaporating, I just knew the loneliness and its twin-brother sadness was oozing back up around my knees.

The days dragged on into weeks during which he sent only two communications: the first to explain how another family crisis was demanding his attention; the second, a week later, to say that recent events made it clear he needed to give his complicated family all his attention.

Yup, a “dear-Jane-I-don’t-have-room-in-my-life-for-you” letter.

To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. I was disappointed and angry. I wrote to a friend I’d been keeping abreast of developments, “It would have been nice had he done the work to figure that out before I spent the better part of six weeks getting to know him!” But it wasn’t just the time invested. It felt like he’d just blown a hole in the bottom of my lifeboat and the dark flood waters were threatening my new existence. Our collective dreams were swept away in the deluge and into the void crept that familiar feeling of isolation, joined now by a sense of abandonment. You know that picture of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince standing on his tiny planet? That’s how I felt.

For several days.

Then reality crept back in and I realized how wrong this man was for me. How by clinging to him like a lifeboat that I thought could lift me out of my unhappy circumstances, I’d managed to turn him into what I wanted him to be rather than who he really was. I’ve known for many years and several relationships that I have a tendency to do this, but it was more than a little unsettling to recognize how easy it was for me to idealize even a relationship that hadn’t involved so much as a face-to-face meeting, let alone the intimacy of a kiss.

As I wondered how I might control this tendency, I remembered something that happened early in the process of getting to know him. I was walking down the beach, trying to discern if I should pursue a relationship with someone who sat well outside several parameters I’d discerned were important to me, when the word “trust” popped into my head. I decided then that I would trust in the intangible universal forces of good to take me where I needed to be, trust in the process, trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be. So I did. And in the process, I learned that it’s up to me to listen to my intuition and heed the red flags that tell me when someone is not the right person or this is not the right path for me. Yeah, 45 and still learning to trust myself.

The Lonely Desert Dweller Club

lonely desert

(W)e humans need to love and be loved. We need and need to be needed. These are basic. We cannot be fully human unless these needs are met.
John Bradshaw

Some time last year I placed a few index cards strategically around the house on which I’d written “Happiness is a Choice!” I’d read somewhere that sadness and discontent can be nothing more than a habit and that like so many other bad habits, we can turn it around through awareness and practice. So I began to “practice” happiness. When prompted by a card, I reminded myself to be thankful for what I have and to actively smile. Research says that through the simple act of smiling we cause an increase in the release of the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness. Similarly, Brene Brown’s research has revealed that feelings of gratitude are actually a requisite precursor to feeling joy. So I began to practice smiling, being grateful, consciously embracing all that is good in my life. And I think it worked, when I remembered to practice.

Then I got sick.

There’s nothing like not feeling well to mess with our best intentions. Whether it’s a new exercise regimen or mindfulness practice, illness tends to halt our progress and cause us to slide back down the slippery garden path to our previous levels of dissatisfaction, whether it be with our waistline or our emotional state. To add insult to injury, my illness meant I wasn’t getting the usual regular doses of adrenaline and other endorphins from surfing and kiting, nor the vitamin D from being in the sun. What was a mild case of the blues began to spiral downward into the dark abyss of deep sadness (I’m reticent to call it depression, as I have no idea what my brain chemistry is doing, and on the one occasion in my life when I experienced true clinical depression the symptoms were much more pronounced, so for now let’s just call this some serious sadness).

I’ve been reticent to admit this, but the sadness I’m feeling is the kind that comes from loneliness, from not having someone to share the day to day ups and downs, the drudgery and special moments that make up our days, someone to join over dinner to share thoughts, dreams, quiet togetherness. I think you’ll agree that one of the things that gives life meaning is in sharing it with the people we love. Not having that special someone with whom to share all these tiny beautiful moments is what I’m missing. Like the quote above says, we need to love and be loved, to need and be needed. These are essential to our well-being, part of our core make-up as human beings. We are social animals. And forgive me those of you who have chosen otherwise, but I believe there is a certain pathology to not wanting to share your life with someone…not just anyone, but someone with whom you “click,” someone who gets and accepts you, wino-tendencies and all.

When I told a friend how I’d had it up to my eyeballs with being alone, he pointed out that I wasn’t leading a life or living in a location that lends itself to “waltzing into the traditional loving situation.” He continued, “You being in the desert is of course metaphorical. Some days, I’m sure, [must be] almost Bukowskian in bleak commitment.” So there you have it.

Current laments aside, I’m not one to wallow. I believe in taking action when I find myself pushing up against something prickly in my life. So when the spines of loneliness began to sting too deeply I acted.

One night a couple of months ago, after hearing from the umpteenth happy couple about how they’d met online and with my inhibitions erased by several glasses of cheap red wine, I bit the bullet and joined an online dating site. [You have NO idea how hard it is for me to admit that.] My actions that night expressed an attitude I’d begun to wear like a mildewed jacket. “What the hell,” I thought. “I’m never going to meet anyone as long as I’m in this place.”

Next morning when I realized what I’d done I felt a surge of fear, horror, and self-loathing rise bitter and acidic – not unlike the previous night’s wine – in my throat. I was consumed by doubts about the process, about putting myself “out there,” about admitting I was at the point where I no longer trusted that it would happen organically. It felt, dare I say it, cheap. And I judged it an admission of failure. Ha! “Yeah,” I reminded myself, “You’ve ‘failed’ to find true love among the illiterate Mexican ranchers, pothead surfers, and retired beer-bellied Ex-Pats that comprise the miniscule population of this bleak Baja desert.”

To say I was non-committal about the process at first is an understatement. My heart sank when I found out how much the service cost – on top of everything else, I was broke. Until I agreed to pay their extortionist fee, all I could see of potential suitors was their first name, place of residence, and profession below a shadowy outline of an “everyman” head where their profile photo would be if I paid up. I couldn’t even read the contents of their profile. To top it off, I’d completed the questionnaire designed to evaluate my personality and connect me with like-minded gentlemen the same bleary-eyed night I signed up, so a question nagged at the back of my mind, “Just how accurate can this thing be?” I figured it’d be my rightful comeuppance if all I heard from were W.C Fields bulbous-nosed drunks.

I posted a profile that I hoped was an honest reflection of who I am, sober, or at worst only mildly hungover. But by the end of that first day of exploration, I began to realize that the Lonely Desert Dweller Seeks Ripped and Ripping Surfer Project would require a significant investment of those precious commodities, time and money. I asked myself once again, “Is this really the solution to my discontent?”

To be continued…

The Real Dawn Revealed

Be free be yourselfNot until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve been struggling just to show up here and tell you what is going on in my life because it’s not been an adventure and it’s about as far from “cool” as the Baja desert in August. I’ve been struggling with whether to share what is happening or whether to struggle and suffer in silence, which is, after all, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way. I am slowly realizing, however that struggle is what makes me, makes us all, human. Despite trying to wear her mask, I am not Super Woman, I’m not perfect, and I’m definitely not always together and smiling, skipping down the beach without a care in the world. And along those lines, I think that in many ways this blog has been a front, a pretense, a misrepresentation of who I am.

In an attempt to be honest and real, I gave voice to my struggle last August and you responded positively. With words of encouragement and understanding. I was astounded that a blog that I had considered not publishing because it revealed too much got more comments than any other I’d written. Nevertheless, I figured that once was enough and I’d best tuck the “I’m not happy” line of discussion back into the cave in my heart where I thought it belonged. Hence the silence. It’s hard to maintain the party line about your adventurous life when it’s actually filled with chronic sadness bordering on depression, illness probably brought on by a weakened immune system the result of such sadness, and the literally mind-numbing sensation that you are all alone in that sadness.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve felt like I’m knee deep in liquid cow manure for the last year or so and then in the last few months, the levels rose to somewhere just south of my nose. Sure I’m still breathing, but from where I’m standing, life stinks.

I was literally sick for most of November and all of December, culminating in a serious sinus infection and bronchitis while visiting Canada during the coldest December and early January they’ve experienced in over 30 years. There’s a reason I moved to the tropics and it has a lot to do with those winters. Even if I hadn’t moved here to learn to surf, I would have moved somewhere warm. I was over being cold, catching cold, feeling miserable for so many months out of the year. Did I ever mention on here that I once frost bit all ten of my toes? They were black. Coal black. I gasped when I saw them. But that’s another story for another blog. So you aren’t left in suspense though, I will say I still have all ten of my little piggies. Miraculously.

Canadians who stick it out for the often six months of frigid weather are a tough lot. They grin and bear what for me has become unbearable. The warmth of Baja has made me thin-skinned, a wussy by Canadian standards, but that’s okay. Admitting I’m a wuss is a fair price to pay for sun kissed skin and wearing flip flops 12 months out of the year. But I digress.

My point is this – I was already feeling down and then I got sick with a mild illness that dragged me down another notch and it lasted for what seemed like forever.

I know, this is a bummer post…but I’m not going to apologize for that. I cannot and will no longer try to minimize and cover up what it is that I’m feeling in the deepest recesses of my soul. And I need to show up, I need to share what I’m feeling because I know that I am not alone and that there are countless people the world over feeling isolated, alone, and depressed. Why do you think Philip Seymour Hoffman shot tainted heroin into his veins on Sunday? Many people, like me, are beating themselves up for not being more thankful for what they do have. And I am thankful. I’m so very thankful for the many blessings that my life abounds with. But the reality is that at the end of the day there are some fundamental things that this life of mine needs in order for me to be truly and unabashedly joyful – yeah, that skipping-down-the-beach-singing-a-jaunty-tune kind of joy that I constantly try to convince everyone out there I’m steeped in. I’ve been operating under the premise that if you believe it that eventually I will too. But it’s just another front like the Super Woman mask I put on when I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable, which, to be honest, is most of the time.

I’m doing the work, I’m reading the self-help books that I hope will unearth the demons that plague me, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, getting in the water now that I’m no longer hacking up a lung. Admittedly, while visiting a friend on the west coast recently to get some surf and much needed social interaction, I probably had more tequila than was wise for someone balancing so precariously on the shadowy line between sadness and clinical depression, but the friendship was invaluable, the waves challenging, but fun. I believe it was Thoreau who said that when we are feeling down we must surround ourselves with positive people (I can’t find the exact quote). So I went and visited one of the most positive people I know, who it just happened was going through his own health crisis and is dry docked for a month in the middle of surf season on his side of the peninsula. Then he got a message about his cousin being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – two types no less. Nothing like a little perspective to make you see the silver lining around your own cloud.

So I don’t know if it was the perspective adjustment, time in the water, or just time, but I feel better now than I did when I began writing this post a few days ago. Nevertheless, I need to put this out there – sometimes my life sucks. To be more specific, often times, despite how together and happy we appear from the outside looking in, people are often suffering. I think that in North America we’ve lost our tolerance for suffering. The images of perfection we’re fed by The Media tell us to “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Tell us it’s not acceptable to admit our frailties, our fears, our weaknesses. Tell us to put the Super Man or Super Woman mask on and smile. But that’s a lie, one that hurts the liar and the deceived alike because it’s not who we really are, it’s not how we’re really feeling. If people knew how we were really feeling, they might reach out and offer us a hand – encouragement, a compassionate ear, a hug.

I haven’t shown up here for three months because I couldn’t muster the strength to dawn my mask. As I write these last sentences though, I’m feeling better, more honest, truer to myself. Ironically, it seems I’ve been made stronger by losing the mask.

Meet One of My Heroines: Annie Doyle

Annie%20Windin%27Sea[1]This is a quicky post to share a blog I wrote for Baja.com about a local female athlete whom I admire tremendously.

Annie Doyle may be married to Mike the legendary surfer, but she’s a pretty amazing athlete in her own right. Furthermore, she is so passionate about life and surfing her enthusiasm is infectious. I love surfing and kiting with her and her hubbie – we laugh our butts off and I learn so much from Mike. Sometimes at the end of the day we break down our kiting gear and, instead of heading home, the tequila and ukuleles appear and a party breaks out right there on the beach. Annie and Mike really know how to enjoy life to the fullest!

Kiting with friends - Annie far right, me on the left.

Kiting with friends – Annie far right, me on the left.

DSCF0754

The Doyles and me after a day of kiting.

Annie also charges waves of all sizes on a regular surf board and a SUP. She’s fearless. The only big wave gun I own, I bought from her – it came infused with her stoke and her bravery. It’s a magic board.

Annie Doyle Big Wave

Indo__Annie__003[1][1]

Annie charging in Indonesia and that’s the 8’6″ T-Boy gun she sold me.

Annie is also an award-winning Stand Up Paddle Board Race champion – she’s been a medal winner in all three Mike Doyle Los Cabos Classic Stand Up Paddle Races – taking 1st in 2010, 2nd in 2011, and 3rd in 2012. The only women who’ve beat her are full-time professional SUP racers! The training she does to race 12 miles on a SUP involves putting in a lot of miles. It was while getting in those miles that she started noticing a lot of big fish passing beneath her board. So she and Mike came up with a system so she could troll for fish using a hand line attached to her paddle. She’s so excited to get out there and catch breakfast that she’s been known email me at 4:30AM to tell me she can’t sleep from the anticipation! I wish I had half her energy!

So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the article I wrote about my hero Annie and her incredible SUP fishing setup, Get Hooked on Stand Up Paddle Board Fishing.

Fear and Kiting in Los Cabos

DSCN0401Parental Advisory: Dear Mom and Dad, please don’t read this. I know how you feel about me kiting and this isn’t going to help. Love, Dawn

I don’t kitesurf in the summer heat. I consciously decided that kiting is a fall and winter sport for me because it’s hell getting the gear rigged on the hot sand. I’ve come close to heat stroke a couple of times. But on my first foray out this autumn, I came close having a stroke for a very different reason.

It’s always difficult to motivate to go out the first time after my summer break; I know from experience that half my equipment is going to fail because it’s been sitting around for months in the summer heat. The glue that they use to seal the valves in particular is degraded by high temps so when you try to blow the kite up, one or more valves go “pop!” and you’re S.O.L unless you know how to do repairs, which apparently I don’t. I tried to replace a valve last year, followed the instructions carefully, watched YouTube videos on how to do it, but failed terribly. I can’t even tell you where I went wrong.

My neighbor Walker, who’s a kiter, was here this week and convinced me it was time to get the kites out. The wind was blowing a good 25 to 30 miles an hour, the water was crystal clear, and it seemed as good a time as any to get out there. And I was glad to have some company for the first foray in many months.

Walker is an enthusiastic kiter. He’s been doing it since the sport was in its infancy and went through the hell of using kites that didn’t have all the built-in safety features that those of us starting up much later benefit from. He’s got some great tales of harrowing near-death experiences that I’m glad I got to miss out on. His enthusiasm means he was down on the beach at the first sign of whitecaps. I dragged my feet, experiencing the resistance borne of the knowledge that it was probably going to be a bit of a nightmare figuring out which of my well-used kites was flight worthy. Sure enough, after I got down there and helped Walker launch his brand new 7M Sling Shot, I tried three different kites, including one of Walkers that he’d offered up, and none of them were operable. Walker had forgotten to bring the bar (essentially the “steering wheel”) down for his 6M that I was hoping to use and before launching he suggested I jerry-rig it with my own bar. I knew this was a bad idea and did it anyway. The kite is different than any of mine and sure enough, when I launched it, it immediately dove to the beach and crashed, flew back up and dove, over and over again as the lines twisted on themselves. Frustrating!! Not to mention not so good for the kite. Before I could get it under control, it nose dived into a sundried porcupine fish, which penetrated the heavy nylon of the leading edge, but thankfully not the bladder and a foot long hole tore through the canopy. That kite was out of commission until it could be repaired.

Meanwhile, as I struggled to get the next kite (any kite!) rigged, Walker was out there flying back and forth across the water, intermittently crashing the kite into the water’s hard surface and then struggling to relaunch because he was under-powered. It was apparent from the tangled mess of the lines on the bar I was trying to rig that I didn’t deal with that issue before putting them away for the season. My bad. Untangling lines requires the patience of Job and after trying to get two other setups rigged, mine was waning. Walker came in while I was deep in the tangles.

When I explained what the hold up was, he offered me his brand new kite. Although he’d been underpowered, we reasoned it would be perfect for me because I weigh considerably less than he does. After a half-hearted protest that the kite was new! I thanked him profusely and got out there.  Employing what patience remained, I timed it right to get out through the heavy shorebreak without mishap and was up and whizzing out to sea trying to remember the subtleties of the sport.

Fifteen minutes into my session, I’d just tacked, heading back out to sea, when I leaned back and took a look down to marvel at the crystal clarity of the water backed by the white sand bottom and contrasting black and mottled brown rocks. The water was so clear it looked like it was only a few feet deep. I’d begun to turn my attention back to the surface and the kite, when I sailed over the outline of something that resembled a shark.

BigMouthWait…WHAT?!

At first I didn’t believe my eyes, and started looking around at the white caps, hoping one would resemble a shark and I could laugh at my paranoia, but that was denial at work. I considered further what I’d seen: it’s shape was distinct–a wide body, tapering to a long tail with an upright caudal fin that only one type of fish in the sea possesses, light grey on top and white underneath at the tips of its fins and a as I passed overhead, it flicked that tail once to impel itself forward, an unmistakable motion. As the reality that I had indeed seen a shark, a rather large shark, slowly sank in, I felt the vice grip of anxiety rise and take hold of my chest. I began debating what to do. I was still on a course that took me out to sea, to deeper darker waters, but away from where I’d seen the shark. I needed to give him time to continue on his way North. Unfortunately, my mind then had him pulling a U-turn and coming to see what that “thing” was that flew overhead. I wondered Are sharks curious? The darkness of the deeper water was frightening because of all that it could conceal. I decided it was time to tack and head back to shore, but with all that anxious thinking I was distracted and blew my turn. I sank into that deep, dark blue water up to my neck, and anxiety turned to panic.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” I said as much at myself as to myself. Get up and get going! I silently commanded.

And so I did, saying a little “Thank you God,” as I got up to speed without the kite crashing and exploding on impact (not an uncommon occurrence where I am concerned). I was headed to shore.

This is where the way my brain works frightens me a little; on my way back to shore, it occurred to me that I’d only been out kiting a short time and I began rationalizing that the shark was long gone. He’d obviously just been cruising, there was no evidence of him being in hunter mode. When the time came, I did not go to shore, I turned that kite and me strapped to my board and headed back out to sea. True or not, I’d convinced myself I was safe above water and blocked out the possibility of kite failure, major wipe outs, the wind dying, and several other instances where I’d be back in the water up to my neck only minutes after seeing what I estimated to be an eight-foot shark.

It’s amazing what the human mind is capable of blocking out when it wants to ignore the facts. I’d almost forgotten all about that shark, when on my next tack, I lost control of the kite and it shot right to left, yanking me out of my board straps and flinging me a good ten feet downwind, before crashing into the water with a resounding WHUMP! Suddenly, I remembered Mr. Shark. Pushing the question of where my board was aside, I concentrated all my attention on the kite and after a few nail-biting failed attempts got it relaunched. I looked back hoping to see my board bobbing on the surface nearby. It was nowhere to be seen. Shit! Where is it? I could feel the anxiety putting its stranglehold on me again. Desperation wrapping its suffocating arms about me, I began to body drag upwind in search of my board. I recalled thankfully that it has red footstraps, unlike the two boards I’d previously lost in scenarios similar to this one – white, I’d concluded, is a STUPID color for a kiteboard; they just disappear among the white caps. The recollection of losing those two boards at sea taunted me now. Would I find the board or have to body drag all the way back in? Please God, no. A couple of drags of about 30 feet, first one way and then the other and I could see the board bobbing in the wind chop. I relaxed a tiny bit. Quickly, I regained the board, slipped my feet into the straps, and power-stroked myself up and out of the water. I could breathe again.

A few more tacks and I wiped out again, this time though I didn’t crash the kite and remained close enough to the board that it was visible. I decided I’d tempted fate enough and it was time to go in. I couldn’t relax out there except when within easy reach of the beach. But there was a big swell in the water that day, so every time I got close to the beach, a huge wall of water would loom up behind me threatening to send me into shore ass over tea-kettle like a big piece of flotsam wrapped up in my lines. I imagined myself riding those waves and pulling out gracefully by launching myself like a bird, as I’d seen advanced riders do on Maui. As I approached the shore, I got my opportunity as a wave began to grow behind me. I rode it partway in before pulling the kite up to stop my forward momentum and skidding to a remarkably graceful halt before I crashed on the sand. Using the kite’s pull, I exited the water in a series of small hops. The sand never felt so solid, so secure under my feet.

Walker was no longer on the beach, so I did a controlled crash to land the kite. When I ran over to deflate it, what I saw made my breath catch in my throat. The plug for main intake valve was open, probably popping under the pressure of one of Walker’s more dramatic crashes. The only thing keeping the kite from deflating was the stopper, a little plastic ball that plugs the hole under back pressure. I was reminded of one of the earliest lessons we were taught by the instructor at Action Sports Maui: Always rig your own kite and if you don’t for some reason, double check the rigging before launch. I’d been in such a rush to get out there, I’d forgotten an essential lesson. I was lucky the kite hadn’t deflated when I crashed it way out at sea.

The next day when I related this experience to my buddy Meisy, he laughed and pointed out that when I body drag using the kite to move upwind to retrieve my board, I essentially turn myself into big fishing lure. Thanks Meisy, the image of a shark clamping down on me like a baited line will haunt me every time I lose my board from this day forward.

Rats in the Barbie

Mickey MouseI’m a little high on caffeine as I write this. In fact, I’m so high on caffeine that my computer can’t keep up with the rate at which I’m typing (or at least it didn’t for that first line, now it’s apparently figured out that I’m hepped up on speed and it needs to put it in hyper-drive). I’m not supposed to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages of any type. They are too hard on my body, I am too sensitive to their effects, and my adrenal glands can’t keep up with caffeine’s adrenaline-induction demands. I tax my adrenals plenty with long surf sessions and an unnaturally high degree of self-induced stress and anxiousness.

So despite all that sensitivity and taxed adrenals, I’ve had two caffeinated beverages today. I’m allowing myself these normally forbidden drinks because I was up late last night. I stayed in town later than usual so that I could enjoy an incredible gourmet meal. I’d gone to town in the first place, to buy much needed groceries and to hit the hardware store where the following items were purchased: a rake, a brass hose bib, a large plastic rat trap, and three little sachets of red rat poison pellets. I find it interesting that unlike the brand I’m used to which is light blue, this rat poison is blood red. It’s like they are sadistically illustrating the fact that the little bugger is going to bleed out when he eats those things. I hate using poison. I know it is cruel beyond measure, but the reality is that I live in a place where the rats and mice will take over if you don’t keep them in check, especially after the rains we’ve had two summers in a row. All that rain means lots of grasses, grasses mean seeds, and seeds are the delectation of rodents.

Here’s the thing: for the second time in a period of less than two months, a rat has moved into the barbecue. It’s a big rat, measuring between six and eight inches long, head to butt, twice that measured head to tip of tail. It’s coat is the color of coal, its eyes jet black. I know this because it doesn’t run away when I open the lid to the barbecue. It scoots under the grill and lies there thinking I can’t see it. And I didn’t see it the first time I opened the grill. It’s almost exactly the same color as the char-encrusted grill under which it squeezes, but on closer inspection my eyes register what they are seeing and I invariably and instinctively jump back a bit and feel my heart clench in my chest.

I can’t have a rat living in the barbecue for so many reasons: Hantavirus, rabies, neither I nor my guests like the flavor roasted rat shit gives to meat, and the aesthetics of the situation, including the fact that the bugger is tearing up the barbecue cover to add to the nest s/he is building inside. Then there’s the whole potential for a family of rats to result from this single individual and the chaos they could wreak in a very short period of time. So no, no, we cannot have a rat living in the barbecue or anywhere else on the property for that matter. No matter how cute s/he is.

It’s worthy of note that not one of the dogs have taken matters into their own paws. They’ve done bupkis about this or the previous rat despite three of them being expert mousers. At the height of the mouse outbreak we had this spring, I found at least one mouse, dead, but intact, with fur soaked in slobber, left by the pantry door much as you would expect a cat to do. I think Millie was the most successful of the bunch, but I know she had help from Peanut and Friday corralling the little buggers. So with that in mind, I lifted Millie up to see the first rat that moved into the barbecue. I figured as soon as she smelled or saw it she’d go nuts and that she would hold vigil by the barbecue until that pesky rodent showed his face and she could bound in for the kill. It was only a matter of time, right? Well, she didn’t go nuts. She didn’t respond at all. It was like she had no idea what I was showing her and couldn’t smell it either. Like she had no experience whatsoever with anything bigger than a field mouse. That’s when I realized, with great disappointment, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

The first course of action was to borrow a live trap from a neighbor. I’d looked into that rat’s eyes and wasn’t comfortable killing her. I figured it was a her because she appeared to be making a nest and that is pre-natal behavior. Another neighbor, Dave, admonished me for referring to her as a “her.”

“How do you expect to kill it, if you assign it a sex? What next? Are you going to name it?”

He had a valid point, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d looked into her eyes and saw the soul within. She meant no harm. She was just doing what rats do. And she was kinda cute. Nothing like the sewer rats in the 70s horror movie Ben or the paper mill rats in a city near where I grew up that surely inspired Bowie’s Future Legend lyrics “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.”  I’m pretty sure that the image of Mickey the Mouse was inspired by this particular species of rat, so cute are they with their big Mickeyesque ears.

The next time I checked on her, hoping beyond hope that she’d moved on, she rammed her head between the grill rungs trying to dive beneath, did her best to wriggle through the small space, but couldn’t. She backed off and tried diving under a couple more times before giving up. Then she just sat there and looked at me with those big black eyes. That’s when I realized she was getting too fat to fit below the grill and her death sentence was commuted.

Rather than kill her, I decided to relocate her. I hatched a plan that involved grabbing her with tongs and putting her in a bucket to be transported several miles down the road.

I got my tools together: leather gloves, a towel to throw over her, tongs to pick her up with, bucket with lid. The next morning I stood there tools at the ready, psyching myself up and visualizing how it was going to go down. Lift lid, throw towel, grab with tongs, plunge into bucket, place lid on bucket. I took a deep breath and opened the lid.

She wasn’t there.

Later that same day I went back and looked again. This time she was there and she didn’t even try to run away. She was lying on her side, panting.

Jesus, she’s in labor.

I pictured little ratlings falling out of her as I grasped her with the tongs, shrugged, and picked her up anyway. To my great relief, no little pink, hairless rodents spewed forth from her nether regions. I placed her in the bucket and put the lid on.

Off we went for a ride on the ATV. I found a culvert and carefully dumped her inside, figuring that here she would at least have some protection from winged predators. I continued on down the road to surf, feeling a pulse of good karma wash over me.

On the way back from the surfbreak, I stopped to check on her and half expected to find her there, tending her brood. But I also had a sneaking suspicion she might be dead. I’d begun to wonder if perhaps her “labor” wasn’t in fact a sign that she’d found some of the poison I have carefully placed around the property in places frequented by mice and rats. My conscience demanded that I determine the end result.

Nada. Nothing. No rat in sight. I figured she either crawled away to a hole somewhere to give birth or was eaten by a predator. Either way, she was no longer in my barbecue. I breathed a sign of relief and within a couple of days stopped torturing myself with the lyrics to that annoying UB40 song that goes, “There’s a rat in mi kitchen what am I gonna do?”

Three weeks later, I had a group of people over to my house for an impromptu dinner party. A couple of the guys took a bunch of meat out to the barby and out hopped another rat. I’m assuming it was another rat because I don’t think there are homing rats and I doubt whether one could find its way back from a little over 2 miles away. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) This one does, however, bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor.

I’ve been trying to extirpate the little bugger ever since. It’s been a couple of weeks. This time I’ve resorted to traps, figuring it’s the most humane killing method and allows me to feed the corpse to the local vulture or owl population. But it springs the trap without getting caught every time regardless of what I bait it with. I’m at a loss. How do I get rid of it without using poison? There’s got to be a solution. One friend suggested I pour myself a good shot of Don Julio Añejo and wait by the barbie with a BB gun. Based on my experience with Angeles’ cat, I’m not convinced a BB will do the job. And furthermore, how do I prevent this from becoming an ongoing issue? I can’t be exterminating rats with regularity. The karma’s too heavy. And UB40 playing over and over in my head is gonna drive me crazy. What can I do to prevent this from continuing dear readers? I need your help!