Vahine Tits in the Wind

Amelia and I settle into a quiet, spacious bay there’s a market, a few waves nearby, and good holding in nine feet of white sand perfect for living on the hook. It’s August 2014. I’ve signed a blog contract, and must leave the anchor down for a while in order to wrap my head around writing my story. It actually feels good to think about staying put, but the task ahead is daunting. I begin by sifting through eight years of journals, sea logs, and blogs. There’s Internet in the bay here, so I can also spread inspiration and environmental messages on social media. Being connected has other benefits too. I’ve been battling recurring staph infections for months, and after unsuccessful rounds of antibiotics and supplements, I sign up for Wim Hof’s online breathing course in hopes of strengthening my immune system.

As a kid, I was often sick. During the voyage I suffered through numerous fevers, rashes, bladder infections, sinus and skin infections, sore throats, and other bouts of bedridden illness. If it was catchable, I would get it. Spending lots of time away from medical facilities, I’ve realized that I have to take a proactive approach to my health. No vitamin or immunity-booster compares to simply changing the way I eat.

Since I embraced a mainly organic, whole foods, plant-based diet, my nagging injuries disappeared, my joints feel better, and the persistent acne on my face vanished. Colds and flus are less frequent. The stable flow of strong energy I have through the day cannot be compared to my old ups and downs. Alongside my personal health benefits, the animals and earth rejoice too.

Vahine Tits in the Wind Photo Gallery




I eat fish only rarely now, for two reasons: First, much of the coral is dead here, and there are noticeably few edible species around, and, second, after experiencing the fear and helplessness that I felt at times with Rainui, I can’t bear to inflict the same on any being even a fish. It triggers me to relive those feelings. Fortunately, plant food is abundant here. I don’t judge others for what they eat, as this has been a long, personal process, but it’s clear that for me, a diet in alignment with my beliefs is as nourishing as the food itself. I do struggle with how to feed Amelia sustainably, though.

In monitoring my patterns, I’ve noticed that illness and injury often follow bouts of negative emotions or times when my inner world is out of alignment. The episode with Rainui was the worst, but it was far from the only case. I see that forgiveness, positive thinking, and making choices that support my deepest truth also contribute to maintaining my health. I try to do more meditation, more exercise releasing stress in

between bouts of accruing it. Less stress not only seems to benefit my health, but it’s also easier to be self-aware in other words, I realize more quickly when I’m being an ass.

I putt slowly in the dinghy and appreciate the scenery. Amelia and I take long walks on the beach or in the mountains. I can spend half a day doing errands in town, moseying down the main road and practicing Tahitian with friendly older ladies. I think twice about who to spend time and energy on, often opting to be near kids. I enjoy cooking too it used to be that eating was a necessity that got me back to surfing, sailing, fixing, and whatever else my packed days entailed, but now my nourishment is sacred. I spend a lot of time naked, appreciating every lump and freckle of my body. (Plus, it’s hot, and wearing clothing only means more laundry.) I often sit up on deck, enjoying the breeze on my tits, and wishing every woman could revel in the same delicious feeling.

When I’m not writing, there’s music playing while I do dishes, clean the head, check the waves, sew repairs to my clothes, cook. Or while I prep extra line, chain, anchors, and shackles for the possibility of a big storm during cyclone season. When I’m finished with a task or just need a break I play with Amelia and dance I dance a lot sometimes while chopping veggies, sometimes in the rain, in the wind, or after dark my body and the moonbeams moving to the beat. I dance to connect to myself, and the heavens, and to ask for my continued safety through the cyclone season. I plan out a strategy for several different storm scenarios, because I’m scared at the thought of riding out a powerful storm alone aboard Swell.

Although at times I feel lonely, being single at this stage is giving me the time to explore who I am more deeply. I seek other ways to stay in balance and listen to my body: tracking my female cycles, rarely overeating, saying no to invites that don’t resonate, and fasting occasionally. When my Auntie Julie Ann sends me a vibrator and a harmonica for my thirty-fifth birthday, all I can do is embrace my crazy cat-lady tendencies, make that harmonica and my own body sing, and keep holding out for the man who will love all of me.

I continue seeking practical, immediate solutions to making a positive difference in a world where the mightiest powers seem stiffly resistant to bending from our destructive trajectory. I focus on what I can do, examining my daily choices and actions. Solar and wind power provide my energy needs, although I still cook with propane and use gasoline and diesel to power the dinghy and Swell when needed. I purchase a small canoe to paddle ashore when I don’t have a heavy load. I bring reusable shopping bags to the store, refuse unnecessary plastic, recycle, pick up trash, repair instead of buying new, and research the sources and ramifications of my purchases. I buy only eco-friendly soaps, and begin collaborating with a sunscreen company that uses only non-nanoparticle, mineral UV blockers. My Spanish girlfriends introduce me to a menstrual cup, and I can’t believe I’m only now discovering this amazingly comfortable and wasteless revolution in dealing with periods!

Food choices seem to pack the most punch, though. Three times a day, I can support organic farming, animal welfare, and local options. Eating this way is activism, and I feel

empowered with each bite. It doesn’t matter that the opposing forces are immeasurably bigger than I am, the problems endlessly more complicated than I can comprehend. My efforts need not be measured or compared; I feel their benefits in the fabric of my own integrity.

After cooking lunch one afternoon, I pile my plate with steamed sweet potatoes, fried red bananas, and local greens, then bring it up on deck to eat. Amelia rouses from her midday nap, and follows me up the stairs. She curls up on the life raft as I sit down near the bow with my meal and gaze up to where the surrounding mountains look like the form of a woman. Maybe she is part of a Tahitian legend, a goddess; I don’t know for sure. I just know I like being near her. The Vahine (Tahitian for woman) gives off a feeling of grace, strength, wisdom, patience, and power. Today she accepts the gusting winds and gray, moody sky with equanimity.

Looking up at her, I say a little prayer before taking my first bite.

Her magnificence reminds me that despite all my efforts toward self-improvement, I haven’t really changed that much. I am clearly aware of my weaknesses, though, which means many opportunities for improvement. The effort alone has earned me the selfrespect and confidence I hadn’t found in other ways. Sometimes I go backwards, but I realize this is a lifelong process. As Melanie pointed out, there will always be more adversities and precious teachers to help me practice. With persistence and repetition, it’s getting easier. I’m a hell of a long way from perfect, but I think I understand what works for me, and which way to keep walking.

AWOL

“Come down, Amelia,” I coax. “It’s okay. The dogs are gone.” She looks down at me and then away; she’s unlikely to descend from the tree anytime soon. “Just go ahead without me,” I call to the surfer who drove us to this spot on the other side of the island.

I walk over to sit on a log where I can see the water. Amelia looks quite comfortable where she is.

Two local guys are checking the surf, too. One of them heads out with his board; the other stays back. “Tu ne vaspas aller?” (You’re not going?) he asks.

“Well,” I sigh and reply in French, “My cat is stuck up that tree. And I was hoping to bring her to the break with me, but I didn’t realize I’d have to cross the lagoon to the islet to get there. So ” my words trail off. Spit it out, crazy cat lady! You could have just said, “No, I’m not going surfing.”

“Would you like me to help get her down?” he asks.

“It’s all right, thank you though. She’ll come down eventually. And when she does, I’m not going to make her paddle with me on my board out to the islet. She hates water. I’ll just wait here for my friend to finish surfing.”

I’m not sure if the look on his face is pity or wonder. “Well, I could bring her over in my canoe if you’d like.”

“Wow, really? Mauruuru (Thank you), that would be fantastic.”

While he sets off to his home nearby to get the canoe, I think of how my life has changed since Amelia came on board. In the several months since we dropped the hook, I still hadn’t found a better home for her. It wasn’t that I wanted to give her away, but she’s a wild thing and sometimes boat life doesn’t seem enough for her. I wrapped a yoga mat around the mast so she can climb, and tied up strings for her to play with around the cabin. But she still seemed bored. I worried that she missed climbing trees and feeling adrenaline; stalking and pouncing; and sharpening her nails in tree bark. Still, I wasn’t sure about bringing her ashore.

But one afternoon I decided to take her with me to a secluded beach. I figured if she really disliked life afloat, she’d seize the opportunity to run off and do her thing. She thoroughly enjoyed herself that day, and stayed nearby. Gradually we expanded to sharing mountain hikes and afternoon paddles. Soon, she started coming along to the outdoor restaurant by the water and to friends’ houses, other boats, and parties. She’s accustomed to riding in the dinghy, canoe, cars, and even on a scooter.

She isn’t always thrilled about the means of transportation, but once we arrive, she loves to explore. She roams and hunts every nook for something to kill. If she were big enough (or I were small enough) she would probably kill me, too. She might regret it afterward, but that’s her merciless nature. Since our land adventures began, she seems happier back on the boat. I cherish having her furry little heartbeat near.

Tropicat, as she has been nicknamed, charms most and ignores the others. She’s the star of her own never-ending mystery movie, until she’s exhausted and then she finds the most luxurious place possible to nap.

So far I have done more procrastination than writing, but a semblance of routine has formed a contrast to the past eight years. I surf early, write until midafternoon, and then let the local kids jump and swim off Swell or take Amelia ashore. She climbs trees while I do my breathing, meditation, or yoga on a beach or in the nearby mountains.

But with all the recent rain and my increased efforts to focus on writing, our afternoon excursions have been less frequent. When a visiting surfer asked me to join her this morning at a spot I’ve never surfed, I thought it might be fun.

“Bring your cat,” she said. “It’s a perfect place for her to run around. I’ll pick you up at 7:30 am.”

She somehow forgot that the break is on an islet, separated from the main island by 300 yards of water. I refuse to leave Amelia behind. She’s still sprawled out royally on the same comfy branch above me.

When the kind local guy returns, he leaps straight onto the trunk of the tree, and gently plucks Amelia into his arms, then passes her down to me. I hold onto the squirming furball, and we set her on the back of his canoe.

He tells me to lie on my board and hold on to the iato, which connects the hull to the outrigger. “She’ll be more comfortable with you near,” he surmises. I agree. He sets off paddling the three of us toward the islet with smooth, conscientious strokes.

But Amelia remains nervous about the whole thing. Instead of staying where she’s safe in the middle of the canoe, she walks out onto its thin tail and slips off the smooth fiberglass surface into the water. I quickly scoop her up, but she’s horrified and obviously wondering why the hell I thought this outing was a good idea. It’s definitely all my fault and it doesn’t help when I giggle at her skinny, drenched body.

I towel her off when we reach the islet, and she follows us out a palm-lined trail to the surf spot. I drop my bag and spread out my pareo so she’ll have a notion of home base. The waves are small, but the water will feel nice, and I haven’t surfed much lately. So I paddle out for a couple of quick rides.

When I come in twenty minutes later, Amelia is gone. I spend the entire afternoon tromping around the half-mile-square islet, calling her name and apologizing for laughing at her earlier. She never appears. It gets late. At least there are no cars or mean dogs on this speck of land, and there are plenty of rats and lizards for her to hunt. The sweet guy who helped me bring her over promises that he will ask the people living on the other side of the islet to keep an eye out for her. I return to Swell alone.

I go back the next day and numerous times afterward. I camp out where I last saw her, leaving my stinky clothes for her to smell, along with piles of cat food. Not a sign of her anywhere.

Back aboard Swell, I try to resist exploding into emotional smithereens, feeling painfully alone. Sadness overwhelms me, my abandonment issues triggered. Having recently learned about regression therapy, I decide to try it to address the deeper memories that might be linked to these feelings. Using a guided online video, I dive into traumatic memories but instead, imagine what I wish had happened in those moments. I feel instant relief, but I still can’t move on from the loss of Amelia. The litter box sits empty and her toys are still scattered about. Weeks become a month, and my longing to see her again pushes me to call a pet psychic.

Five weeks go by. No one has seen her, and I tell myself I must let go. I never owned her; the time we shared was precious. Her untamable spirit will always stay with me. I must stay true to the belief that true love means wanting for Amelia what she desires for herself. I wish my furry friend great freedom and fulfillment.

Unlimited

And then, forty-two days after she ran off, my wild feline friend reappears. The pet psychic was right: She was alive and well the whole time, just wanted the freedom to roam on land for a while. Since her return, I take her needs more seriously.

Today she stands precariously on the bow of our canoe as I paddle toward the shoreline across from Swell. She hops off and waits for me in the shade of a small palm that cuts the heat of midmorning. After I unload and secure the boat, she follows me across the street and we start the hike up to my new office on the mountain. When Amelia returned to Swell, the same guy who helped us over to the islet the day she went

missing offered to build a desk in the forest so I can work on the blog while Amelia climbs trees and chases chickens.

“Hello, mango tree,” I say to the gnarled old beauty that shades my open-air office. “Hi, wasp.”

I clear away the fallen leaves and debris, then heave my backpack onto the split branches that make the desktop. I pull out my laptop and hop up into my seat made of lashed branches. As the words hit the keyboard they feel healing, showing me how far I have come. I haven’t made it all the way around the world and I still don’t have that perfect partner, but it doesn’t matter. I have so much to be grateful for. The breathing technique beat the staph infections for good. And, after watching my health transform, Mom and Dad are now eating mostly plant-based diets and are both healthier than they’ve been in years. Mom has happily relocated to the Big Island of Hawai’i. And with the help of medical cannabis to ease him through the first few weeks, Dad has quit drinking! Miracles have never seemed more possible!

Two hours later, my stomach gurgles. I pull out my lunchbox. It’s been hard to find time to cook, between writing, hauling water, handling emails, juggling work projects, and constantly maintaining Swell. I mostly get by on fruits, nuts, coconuts, cooked roots, and a weekly bag of organic veggies. Friends drop off dinner once in a while, too.

I type until the mosquitoes start biting, around sunset, then pack up to head down the trail. Amelia leads. I’ve been in nature, but now I want to be with her. We near the bottom of the trail and stroll toward the water.

My bare feet thrill to touch the sand. I stop and feel the earth rejoice to be appreciated. Loose hairs tickle the back of my neck in the breeze. Inhale. Exhale. I gaze up. The highest mountain surrounding the bay says, “Think big.” The sky laughs down from above, and says, “No, think even bigger!”

We continue along the beach. Amelia dashes under my feet in pursuit of a crab. She’s clever, relentlessly determined, sensitive, daring, sometimes unpredictable and other times just plain terrible. She is wonderful just as she is, and so am I.

I’ve fallen countless times, only to rise again, cloaked in new strength, and determined to find my way to a mental horizon of unlimited potential again. I have wrinkles around my eyes and sunspots splotch my skin, but I feel beautiful. I still have little money in the bank. I only own three pairs of shoes, all of my clothing can fit in one duffel bag, and I still flush my toilet with a hand pump but I feel rich. I have spent the most energetic years of my life testing my physical, mental, and emotional capacities in pursuit of a dream. I have done it on a blank canvas, in a variety of backdrops, and with more time than most. We all deserve this kind of chance to spread our wings and learn to fly.

I have proven, at least to myself, that with plenty of hard work, choosing love will never lead to lack. It takes courage, but once the decision is made, doors open that seemed forever shut. Walking through them feels hopeful, exhilarating, and full of purpose. I am not the best sailor or the best surfer, or the most credentialed at anything, but chasing my dream has taught me that fulfillment and self-love don’t come from being “the best.” They come from pursuing our passions and connecting to our own spirits,

communities, and world. Being the best, or richest, or strongest, or sexiest without feeling connected doesn’t sound heavenly at all. The times I’ve stepped on people to reach the top, the view was chilling and lonely.

Connection brings me the most joy. It is communion in a wink from a resting tern a thousand miles from land, and comfort in shared laughter that transcends language barriers. It is the gratitude felt for a tree that offers shade, and a high-five with a stranger in the lineup. It’s noticing the signs and going with my gut, feeling Swell in perfect trim or making it out of a deep tube. A momentary meeting of eyes that needs no words. The first bite of a hard-earned meal. A transcendent moment of meditation. It is feeling sorry for the barnacle that must be scraped off the rudder, long-distance video calls with my sister, and earning Amelia’s trust. It’s picking up a kid who’s fallen down with the gentleness of his own mother, and the dignity that follows small victories in selfimprovement. These are moments that make me feel close to the Great Spirit that unites us all.

Bugs and beauty queens, immigrants and indigenous, rich and poor, furry and scaled; we are all struggling, striving, loving, and breathing on this green-and-blue ship flying through space each with a purpose that combines to form the incomprehensibly beautiful mandala of our collective meaning. Feeling closer to every being that struggles in the coarser, chillier, riper, naked, more startling layers of existence has made the whole planet feel like home.

I stop occasionally to pick up scattered chip bags, plastic forks, and empty bottles along the shore as the sun touches down on the horizon. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t my trash; it’s my Earth. And that’s the beauty of Oneness: Love has no borders.

Emotional isolation and separation cause most of our problems. We’re capable of creating a system that allows humans to live in harmony with each other and our planet, encourages our uniqueness, and makes us feel whole and united it’s time. May we find the fortitude to heal ourselves from within, because doing so heals the world. May we understand that our health and the health of the planet are inextricably connected. May we find a way to accept that we are multidimensional beings separate, yet at the same time, energetically, socially, ecologically, spiritually interconnected and dependent on everything else. Everything.

Even out there alone in the middle of the sea, I am connected to everyone who shaped me and my vessel. Barry is still with me through my every triumph and folly, and I feel his pride for my sailing accomplishments and for carrying on his environmental torch. I’m connected to both my grandmothers who left their hometowns in Kansas and Virginia alone to head to California in the 1940s; their courage meant I was raised near the ocean. My great-uncle Jim taught my father to sail, so his spirit sails with me, too. The children who gave me bracelets off their arms and unasked-for hugs kept me hopeful when I doubted. Countless people offered a warm meal, an extra hand, or let me fill my water jugs and do my laundry without any expectations. The dolphins singing to me from under the hull on night passages while I lay in my bunk convinced me that I was never alone.

We can’t do it all on our own. And if we think we already know everything, we shut ourselves off to unlimited possibilities and potential. If we leave it all up to the experts, we give up our power. There is more going on in this universe and beyond than humans have yet learned to measure. And more things with value than the Western world has put price tags on. It’s up to us to stay curious, keep evolving. And let go of what no longer serves us. It’s up to us to work together and use our unique callings and skills to get our planetary spaceship back on course.

The top of the sun melts across the horizon. The breeze has softened. I reach down to untangle nylon fishing line from under a rock. Amelia hauls a sea cucumber up from the shallows, leaping and batting at it. It lies in listless protest. I pick it up gently and toss it back to the sea.

“Good luck, buddy,” I call. Empathy warms my inner world.

I don’t know what’s next for me, but know I must keep one ear to my heart to stay in life’s sacred trim. I set out on this voyage with the goal of sailing around the world, but the truth is that I’ve found what I was looking for inside myself. It would be wonderful to complete the whole dream someday, but I don’t feel like that’s the objective anymore. Being true to myself was Barry’s only real expectation. I’ve learned that adventure is an attitude, not a destination. So, whether on land, at sea, or in line at the DMV, I’ll always be on an adventure. And whichever direction the calls of my inner voice lead, I know I’ll be taken care of. Faith is not inborn in all of us, but it can be built like muscle, living from the heart.

My trash bag is full. I set it down and lift my hands to the sky to move through a few sun salutations while evening’s purple curtain falls upon the luminous strip of horizon. I lie in the sand in savasana and let a few mosquitoes have dinner at my expense. When I sit up, it’s nearly dark.

“Amelia! Kitty! Let’s go home,” I call into the night. I retrieve my bag, dispose of the trash, and carry the canoe to the water’s edge.

The slow rise and fall of the sea on my ankles feels like the ocean breathing. Swell’s anchor light sways, shining boldly out into the darkness. Amelia appears, mewing and pleased with her evening’s escapades.

I load her into the canoe, and paddle us home through the morphing reflections on the dark, glassy sea. Once we’re aboard, I strip down to bare skin, then leap into my sublime, starlit bathtub and float on my back, dreaming.

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