Yesterday we went snorkeling on one of the many pretty beaches on St. John, and I decided it’s just about the perfect vacation activity if you’re looking to relax and get away from whatever you’ve been doing back in the real world.
Snorkeling meets the minimum criteria, because it’s underwater — and therefore by definition away from email, computers, and offices — and you can’t take your cell phone, either. But there’s more to it than that. You’re floating effortlessly in warm salty water, propelled by only a few desultory movements of your flippers. When you’re in the water, you can’t hear much but your own steady, regular breathing through the snorkeling gear. It’s almost the definition of calm and serene.
And as you float and breathe, you’re focused on that totally different undersea world, where even waving fronds of seagrass or drifting strands of seaweed are interesting, and every fish is a darting and exotic sliver of color. Yesterday we saw regal sea turtles slowly munching their way along the ocean floor, a stingray, some barracuda, and zebra fish, sponges, sea anemone, and many other species of fish, large and small, that I can’t identify.
They’re living in their own corner of the vast undersea world, untroubled by government shutdowns or stock market plunges or the other real-world developments that might affect our thoughts. And when you’re there with them, you’re not thinking of those things, either. It’s a pretty good escape.
Kish and I are off to the shore for a quick weekend visit. I love the colors and designs that you see in shoreline cottages and cabins — the yellows, the greens, the nautical grays, the checkerboard tile patterns, and all of the other little touches that tell you that you’re in a place where nobody gives a crap about formality and fun and whimsy can come to the fore.
It’s easier to mentally relax when all of the visual, physical cues are sending that same, consistent message.
Today is one of those perfectly calm days, where the water in the Stonington harbor looks like a sheet of hammered silver and the boats lie perfectly motionless at anchor, as if they are moored in concrete. There’s only the slightest breath of wind, and it is so quiet you can hear the remaining dead leaves rustling in the trees, the cawing of crows, and lone human voices carrying from far across the harbor.
This gigantic lizard on the island of Tobago Cay gave all of us uptight travelers a lesson in relaxation as he lounged on a crooked tree. Not knowing how quickly he moved, however, I decided against an up-close study of his lounging technique.
The pace here on Peaks Island is slow, and therefore delightful. A bike ride around the perimeter of the island exposes the relaxed traveler to some beautiful scenes and some whimsical ones, too. You ride your rental bike, stand on the pedals to get up the bigger inclines, feel like a kid again in doing so, and feel the tension melt away.
This is a good place to relax. I’ll be posting a few photos of this lovely place over the next few days, in hopes of conveying a little bit about what it feels like to be here.
On Hen Island there is a huge tree near the bunkhouse. On one of its outstretched limbs a line has been hung. At the end of the line is an iron ring, hanging from a hook on the trunk of the tree.
The concept is simplicity itself. You remove the ring from the hook and pitch it out into the open space, trying to get the ring to swing out on the line, return toward the trunk, and land securely in the hook. Of course, it looks easier than it actually is, and trying to make the right throw, in the right direction, with the right velocity and speed, becomes an exercise in patience and frustration. But when the key lands on the hook with a satisfying thunk, the feelings of pleasure and achievement are as real as any.
It’s addictive, of course. And try to walk past it — just try! — when other folks are playing. You can’t resist the opportunity to take a turn and make your toss, and while you’re waiting kibbutz with your fellow players about the proper direction (should it be toward the laundry line, or the little tree?), the vigor of the toss (you don’t want to be short, you know), whether the ring should be thrown steady or slowly spinning (you can argue for hours about which approach increases your likelihood of success), and countless other fine points, like the coefficient of friction and wind gradients.
You take your turn, endure the close calls, lament the near misses, hoot at the successes, and enjoy yourself immensely as the hours slowly pass.
Everyone should go off the grid now and then — disconnect their technology, stop checking their messages and sending texts every five minutes, and sit in a rocking chair and read a book or have a good talk for a change.
Our trip this weekend up to Hen Island in Lake Erie took us into the “roaming zone.” When we landed on Pelee Island, in the Canadian waters, we promptly received a text message advising that we would be assessed the dreaded roaming charges for any calls or cellular use. I immediately turned off my phone. When we reached Hen Island we discovered that, oddly, some parts of it — miniscule as it is — are roaming, and parts have Verizon coverage. I nevertheless kept my phone off except for once a day checks to make sure that Kish and the rest of the family were okay.
What a delight to be unhooked from the grid and no longer enslaved to the phone! And what a treat to have a conversation without being interrupted by a beep or chirp — or noticing that the person you are talking to is surreptitiously checking their handheld for a text message that apparently can’t wait. Liberated, by necessity, from the reflexive, repeated phone checking, you have the time for a quiet walk, some exploring, a good read, or a silly game. Relaxation inevitably follows.
When we returned from the roaming zone and restored our phones to the grid, the world was pretty much the same as when we had left it. Astonishingly, it hadn’t ended because we were disconnected for a few days. It’s a good lesson to learn.