Unleashing the Writer: Switchbacks, Starshine, and Sunrise

I still exist, denizens. I haven’t holed up in a shopping mall to hide from the zombie apocalypse or gone looking for the Blair Witch or spelunking and never returned.

Apparently, I have been watching a lot of horror movies lately. What? It is October.

Things are running at warp speed on many planes of my existence right now, and sadly, I have had to reduce my time here at the lair in response. Only temporarily, though, I promise. I think about you all often, and I have been working on things to post here. I just need to find the time (and energy) to finish them.

Case in point? I’ve been working on this particular piece for an embarrassingly long time. It’s about our trip to Haleakalā National Park in Maui to watch the sun rise. It was one of the most beautiful natural events I have ever experienced, for many reasons. I desperately wanted to capture some of that morning’s events. I hope that’s what I’ve done with this piece. Even if it’s not that great, you at least get some lovely photos at the end, for your effort 😉

Eyelids begrudgingly slip open, pupils swiftly dilating, as my brain registers but refuses to comprehend the startling electronic trill or the cool blue glow against the otherwise perfect blackness of the room. The digital numbers pulse gently as my eyes struggle to focus and my brain drags itself from the shallows of an uncertain sleep. Those numbers: 2:45. In the morning.

In the morning.

Several fuzzy, futile attempts at addition and I realize that in “our time,” it’s really 7:45 a.m. In another world, thousands of miles out of sight and blissfully out of mind, I’d be at the office, pouring my first coffee of the day and mixing blueberries and cinnamon into my oatmeal. Morning rituals designed to ease my descent into another workday.

Cool blue numbers flicker to 2:46. Morning rituals are temporarily on pause and there’s no way but up today.

Roll out of bed and dress: T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, jeans, baseball cap, and hiking shoes. Pack a sweatshirt and a hoodie. Try not to feel utterly ridiculous at the incongruity of such a wardrobe when it’s still a solid 75 degrees outside. Paradise should not require hoodies.

She’s already packed Kashi bars and fruit strips in her backpack, plus the water bottles the hotel staff so kindly left when they prepared the room for our arrival the previous day, and is standing next to the door, similarly sleep-deprived yet incongruously wide awake. “Don’t forget your cameras. We’ve got to go.”

Hustle across the softly lit lobby to the sound of waves cresting and crashing against the distant shoreline. We marvel at the fact that we’re not the only ones scurrying about. Families wait in irritable impatience for the valet to pull around their minivans. Other couples slouch toward their self-parked rentals. One young woman unrepentantly drapes one of the hotel’s bed spreads across her shoulders as she traipses off into the darkness. It’s surreal and slightly absurd, but the night-shift staff all smile knowingly at us as we pass, completely unsurprised. Nothing more predictable than the tides or tourists, I suppose.

Finally in our rental car, top definitely up for this excursion, and out on the main highway, I settle into a comfortable speed, roll down the windows and listen to the cadence of tires spinning us toward our destination. No other sounds but that. No other lights but our headlights, piercing the nothingness of night. We’ve left the other tourists behind as I roll through the blackness in this still-unfamiliar beast of a rental that growls obstinately at the slightest press of my foot against the accelerator. He’s seen rough roads, this one, even for a relatively new model. I can’t help but wonder where those roads might be.

I’m about to find out.

The GPS finally directs us off the main highway and onto a narrow road barely visible minus the crisp British voice entreating me to “Turn here.” I obey, and the ascent begins immediately.

The rental’s four speeds dwindle to one–a churlish, lumbering grumble as I force it upward along a seemingly endless parade of switchbacks that float out of early mists and bend onward into blinding blackness. Only the distant glimpse of headlights far behind and below shatter the surreal solipsism of this long night’s journey into day.

The world diminishes to the breadth and depth of our high beams as we wind upward, stopping once to pay our entrance fee into the park (even this early, the booth contains a pleasant-faced ranger, donned in forest green and topped by Smokey the Bear headgear) before continuing on to the parking lot at the very end of the line. We glide past a sign that marks our elevation—10,000 feet above sea level—and slip into the first open spot in what seems to be a nearly full lot. Check the temperature gauge: 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty-five degrees colder than when we left the hotel more than an hour ago.

Twist of the key and the whisper of illumination inside the car falls silent against the indigo rush surrounding us. Already the cold presses in around us as well, and in only a few moments, the inside of the car matches the chill of the outside. In that instant, I make my choice: better to roam than sit and shiver. I am alone in this crazy bravery, and I slip out of the car into the shockingly cold night air.

Teeth chattering, I make my way slowly along the slice of sidewalk illuminated by my little LED flashlight. Several yards out and up, fingers so cold I can no longer feel the flashlight, I stop, fumble to click the light off, and look upward toward the night sky.

A misting of stars, like breath released from unseen gods in awe of dizzying heights and freezing winds atop a land forged by molten fire. Sharp, startled awakening within me as I stare upward, struggling to understand, greedily consuming every parsec that I can.

I have never seen stars before this moment.

I stand with head thrown back, no longer certain whether my shivering is from the cold or from the sheer delight of a night sky as I have never seen it…unsure whether my eyes water from the steady, sharp winds or from emotion awakened by this sight so inconceivable. Yes, Inigo, I finally understand what this word means, and my heart feels as though it will burst with the beating of jubilation at the beauty before…above…surrounding me.

Only at the realization that I have nearly lost feeling in all my extremities do I finally look away from the dazzling, dizzying night sky. I make my way back to the car. This beauty must be shared. I lead her back to the same spot, click off my light, and we synchronously stare upward. We came here for one light show and discovered that this morning was going to be a double feature.

Finally, we notice the faintest sliver of color along the eastern horizon, beginning to split the two sides of night right along the seams. We make our way along a lava-formed precipice, taking our place on a rock outcropping, snuggling together against the unrelenting winds, and wait. Let the main event begin…

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