In Conversation with Nature

By Shyama Parui

Morning alarms, chaos at the breakfast table, drop off, pick up combined with the daily rigmarole of electronic messaging to and from various sources sometimes leaves me starved for calmer intermissions. Although not absent, they often present themselves in the most unlikely places. Like the other day at the traffic light, I looked up at the evening sky with the silver white, full moon staring at me. Those few seconds offered a timely distraction from the mental list I was making for a run to the grocery store, but the soothing image was worth it. We are enveloped by nature through its forces and phenomena and for this very reason, we often take it for granted. Our assumption is that things will last forever, and we will stop the car to admire the morning mist over Lake Norman some other time.

As cliched as it may sound, I am convinced that because our worlds revolve around our action items, we are robbing ourselves of a mindful interaction with the environment possibly feeding our apathy toward the natural world. It is easier to converse with nature when you are in a place that is bestowed by its many gifts. The 50th state of the US, Hawaii is one such place. After months of planning, we spent a few precious days connecting as a family and with Mother Nature. At the end of our trip marked by dreamy and imperfect moments, we brought home some important reminders.

Positive Change is Possible

I was filled with awe as we watched humpback whales swim, glide and dive in the warm waters of the Pacific. They didn't seem to mind even as we trespassed in their part of the ocean. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to get up close considering they had been hunted to the brink of extinction. That humans are greedy is known, but their wanton disregard for these gentle giants is too sad for words. What rebuilds my optimism in humans is our ability to change for the better. Restoring the population of humpback whales to healthy numbers is again a case in point. Let's hope that we continue to coexist with other species as our survival maybe tied to them in ways, we haven't yet deciphered.

Respect Mother Nature

On Christmas Day, when we woke up to the sight of a lovely rainbow, I thought “this day can only get better." I was wrong. We had everything planned for a day at the Haleakala National Park. Sure, it was a little cloudy, but hey, things are always unpredictable in the mountains, so we set out. On reaching 10,000 feet above sea level we could barely see anything from the viewing deck. To make matters worse 45 mph winds and cold rain lashed across our faces the second we stepped out of the car. Desperately seeking warmth, we thought the beach would be kinder, but no such luck. It was raining. Our next option was to catch a new movie but it was sold out. In the evening we settled to watch some TV and guess what happened?

The sounds from the show were drowned by howling winds, the coconut palms started swaying wildly and soon the lights went out. Seriously? Yes, seriously. After being plunged into darkness, we gave up. We went to bed early hoping we wouldn't get blown away by a hurricane. We can plan all we want but on occasions like these, we must humbly accept that Mother Nature still rules. Since natural phenomena don't occur on demand for the sole purpose of our entertainment, patience and perseverance is rewarded.

Thankfully the following day our wish to visit the House of the Sun (Haleakala National Park) was granted providing us with a unique, spiritual experience. Stark but tranquil beauty surrounded the trails as we hiked to the cinder cones of this dormant volcano. We came to appreciate why the native Hawaiians consider Haleakala as a holy place. The image of Brocken Spectre, the phenomenon when we saw our shadows cast on the clouds below surrounded by a rainbow ring, will forever stay in our minds reminding us of the exquisite wonders that exist on this planet.

Maintain Harmony

If you believe that the journey is more important than the destination, you will love the road to Hana enriched by 52 miles of scenic views, 617 curves and 56 one lane bridges, not to mention the natural beauty of tropical gardens, waterfalls galore and a bewitching black sand beach. The area's flora is marked by diversity as well as fragility. The Hawaiian Islands have seen its sandalwood trees get wiped out due to overlogging and have faced unfortunate consequences from the introduction of alien species of animals, like the mongoose. Wanting more than we need has drained several of the earth's resources, but it's a mistake that we keep making.

Nature's benevolence presents lush forests and fields, but underneath the beauty can lie a beast that may be awakened when the balance is tipped. Volcanoes clearly illustrate the power of creation and destruction. The ocean is another force to be reckoned with. A few minutes at Ke'anae clearly demonstrates this vigor.

The crashing waves, forceful wind, and the salt spray simultaneously captivated me and filled me with trepidation. I tiptoed close to the edge of the shore unsure if the water would rise to wrap me in a passionate embrace or fling me on the rocks with the fury of a scorned lover.

Learn from Our Ancestors

Often when we think of Hawaiian culture it conjures up images of hula dancers in grass skirts and luau theme parties with plastic flower leis. If we look deeper, the native Hawaiians probably have a lot to teach people about living in harmony with nature. Their ancient traditions may not have been perfect, but they fostered a cooperative society that recognized the connections of humans with the forces of nature and the need to care for the environment. They were also more sophisticated in their knowledge about navigation than previously thought by the Western world. I wonder what other mysteries can be solved by using knowledge from traditional Hawaiian chants and art.

Of course, it is neither practical nor affordable to get away frequently to exotic locations and frankly, it isn't necessary either. We can find opportunities to appreciate nature's wonders consciously or serendipitously in and around our current location. My hope is that everyday explorations will trigger environmentally responsible behaviors so that our future generations can enjoy Earth's treasures. No amount of legislation, being scolded by Greta Thunberg or lectures by our kids, can take the place of genuine care arising from self-motivation. When you return from a place where rainbows are a state symbol, optimism travels back with you as a souvenir so, I will remain positive.

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com