ESSAY- In paradise: And on the path to hell

Here we are, in the dead of winter, and there I was, in shorts, hiking on a skinny trail that rims a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Waves crashed far below on rough volcanic rocks, sunlight glittered on endless blue water – this was the heavenly Hawaii of my dreams. 

Never in my life have I taken a winter vacation to a warm destination – until now.  It felt like I was getting away with something, skipping out on my annual obligation to endure rough winter weather.

And then my sneaker caught on a rocky outcrop. I lost my balance, pitched forward and I knew I was going down. In one of those elastic nanoseconds that expands to hold a whole lot of reflection, I sailed downward and what went through my mind was this: 

Who do I think I am? Escaping the icy grip of winter, leaving family and friends behind to shiver and shovel while I sashay off to the tropics – even spending New Year's Eve in an open-air restaurant, wearing a skimpy, sequined tank top and sandals. A tropical trollop on the path to hell, that's who I was.

I'm from New England, descended from flinty Puritans who, after surviving their first wicked-cold winter, could have decided to get the hell out of Massachusetts and move to Florida. 

But, no, my people knew why God imposed harsh winter weather on them: Winter is penance for summer. It's the price we pay for that season of blessed basking in warm sunlight, for those months when the earth offers up every food we need to nourish our bodies. 

And so, they stayed. Chop that firewood and don't you dare whine about frostbitten fingers. Suck it up and get on with it. When summer comes back, you'll know that you have earned it. 

Now, it's bad enough that I've slid down the eastern seaboard to somewhat less brutal Virginia winters. But Hawaii? Where plumeria-scented breezes caress my bared skin – where juicy papayas and succulent bananas hang heavy and tempting on the deepest days of winter?

This is all well and good for Hawaiians. No doubt they have their own ways to honor and resonate with the rhythms of nature. But me? I should have known better than to fly out of the redemptive dominion of a bitter winter and deposit myself into paradise. 

Hubris such as will not go unnoticed.

So, as I sailed earthward and the left side of my face slammed into the ground, it seemed somehow fitting, a reminder that paradise is not so easily attained. 

And oh, how lucky I was that my fall from grace did not involve a tumble down the cliff onto those craggy volcanic rocks and crashing waves! 

Face, hands, and knees were covered in the red dust of Kauai, and I landed on top of my sunglasses. There were scrapes, and a few teeth hurt just long enough for me to be grateful I didn't lose any. But nothing was broken and I lived to tell the tale, so I think of this as getting off with just a warning.

As I write this, I'm back in frosty Virginia and the aches have subsided, but I still have a fat lower lip and a deep purple bruise below it that looks disturbingly like a soul patch.

And maybe that's the comeuppance my tough Yankee forbears would prescribe for my transgression: a soul patch – a bandage for my fractured, maladjusted spirit. 

Apparently, I need a reminder, because now that I've experienced the sweet escape from winter's frigid grasp, the memory of my tumble is fading, and all I can think about is going back to Hawaii– if I dare.


The author thinks the world's warmest place is actually Free Union, VA.