The Virtual Vacation: Sunrise in Causarina: Australia, Day 3

Once again, I woke at 4:30 AM. Yesterday, I took an Ativan so I could go back to sleep and slept another five hours, until 9:30. This morning I decided I was done with drugs and that it was time to start following my body’s natural rhythms again.

It was pitch black out; I was wide awake and I had a decision to make. I could start reading Khaled Hosseni’s And the Mountains Echoed, which I’d downloaded on my Kindle. I could stay in bed and get my adrenaline pumping with another episode of Dexter, Season 7, a fix I’d purchased on DVD for the long plane ride across the Pacific. I could surf the web, go on Facebook, or read the responses to this week’s Writer’s Journey Roadmap prompt: Tell me about a time you broke the rules and had fun. There is reliable wifi here at Allison and Kevin’s house. I could easily have gotten lost online for a few hours. It would be easy.

Or I could rise quietly, get dressed and slip out into the early morning darkness. Remembering my #1 travel goal—to step out of the habitual and to choose adventure, I quickly dressed in a pair of pedal pushers, sneakers, two borrowed long sleeve shirts and my black Writer’s Journey sweatshirt. I shoved my iPhone (for the camera) in one pocket and a small pocket notebook and pen in the other. I left a note on the counter for Allison and Kevin, “Gone to see the sunrise,” and left as silently as I could.

It was pitch black on the street, but I have a flashlight app on my phone and it was just enough to guide me down the block, around the corner and onto the wooden pathway leading to the Tweed Coast Reserve. In less than five minutes, I was standing on the same stretch of endless beach I’d walked with Allison two days earlier.

My only choice was whether to walk to the right or the left, I chose left and walked in the darkness with the sound of the waves quietly rolling in on my left. Walking in the dark on the beach wasn’t new to me. There was a time five or so years ago where I made it part of my daily practice to do so.

It was deep dark, though, darker than any beach walk I’d ever taken in California. There were no lights anywhere—none. The dark enveloped me and took me in.

Walking comforts me. It’s familiar. It always feels safe. Still, I found myself remembering the argument Kevin and Allison had in the car yesterday about which deadly poisonous snakes live in this area. If there were any Aussie snakes that like to slither at daybreak between the dunes and the ocean, I’d never see them until it was far too late. I can’t say I felt physically afraid, but the random thought was there.

Random thoughts like that are always there. And now I could choose to focus on this one—an imaginary snake that wasn’t there or I could focus elsewhere. And I chose to focus on putting one foot ahead of the other, into the packed powdery Aussie sand.

As I walked, I began chanting my abbreviated version of the Buddhist metta prayer:

May I be happy

May I be peaceful

May I be connected

May I be free

I repeated it for myself and then for all my loved ones. My pace evened out as I moved forward further into the dark.

All was well until I remembered Bill Bryson’s A Sunburned Country and all his stories of all the hapless tourists who died gruesome deaths because of the stupid things they did while visiting down under. Another thought furrow I could choose to follow. And so once again I repeated,

May I be happy

May I be peaceful

May I be connected

May I be free

I flashed on how my son Eli used to sit on the couch howling with laughter as he read The Darwin Awards, out loud to us. The Darwin Awards is a series of books that record the really stupid things people do to die, not just in Australia, but all over the world. Like the guy who took on a dare to juggle chainsaws or the thief who tried to steal a live electrical wire or the man who peered in a gasoline can using a lighter to illuminate the opening. Was my early morning walk going to put me in The Darwin Awards hall of shame?

Actually, no, it wasn’t. I was just walking on the beach, waiting for the sun to rise. I was doing something human beings have done since the dawn of time. I was doing something beautiful and special and sacred. And I had no reason to be afraid. And so I returned to my breath and my stride and the sound of the waves.

May I be happy

May I be peaceful

May I be connected

May I be free

I tried to recall what Allison said about how far from the water you should be so that a crocodile can’t grab you by the leg and drag you underwater. But then of course, I remembered that crocodiles don’t live in the Pacific Ocean.

May I be happy

May I be peaceful

May I be connected

May I be free

Laura, I said to myself, you are doing exactly what you want to do—you are choosing adventure over routine, risk over safety.

sunrise in Causarina

The sky, filled with huge, black cloud banks gradually became streaked with light until I could just begin to make out gradations in the grey.

sunrise in Causarina

Ten minutes later, I could start to see the water and barely make out the foamy tops of the waves, but the sky was still a grey silvery fog of near-darkness.

Causarina Sunrise

Gradually the whole sky began to lighten and I saw a very pale yellow peek out at the horizon line around the edge of a huge sky filled with dark grey clouds. The sky seems to take up more space here than at home. It was so much vaster and bigger than the ground I walked upon.

I saw my first person on the beach—a man walking two dogs. “Hello,” I said. “G’day,” he replied.

Causarina beach

I sat down on the sand because I could, because I had nowhere to go, nothing to do. I had left a note for my hosts and I could sit here and watch the sky change as long as I wanted. I watched the low surf come in and the sky grow light. I’m on the other side of the Pacific, I thought to myself as I watched the waves. How strange is that.

I found it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I really was in Australia, perhaps because my mind was so full of “me,” my thoughts, my mind, my habits, my personality, my body, my way of moving and perceiving the world. It made me think of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are. The things that were weighing on my heart at home were still weighing on my heart in Australia.

And that’s exactly why I want to push my boundaries and step out of my comfort zone every single day I’m here. Because I want to do more than travel. I want something to happen to me while I travel. I want something—and I can’t even say what it is—to change.

Streaks of pink and orange were peeking out through small gaps in the overarching grey clouds. The sun might be rising, but it was completely hidden by all-encompassing clouds. And then I saw it. Finally, I was rewarded with a brilliant yellow slice of sun rising up directly from the ocean’s horizon. It quickly disappeared into the huge cloud mass above, but as I waited, it reappeared again, for a moment, and then later, again.

And then there is it was—at 6:36 AM. The sun.

On my way back, I saw more people out enjoying the early morning. A couple wrapped around each other. Another dog walker. Two fishermen, an older man and his middle-aged son, approaching the surf, barefoot, wearing shorts, carrying exceptionally long flexible fishing poles, with small fish for bait. “What are you fishing for?” I asked.

“Tila,” the younger man replied. When I got home and asked Kevin what tila were, he told me, “They were fishing for tailor, definitely. They’re running right now.” That damn Aussie accent again. And when I looked it up there it was: Tailor: an ocean fish found in the Southern States of Australia. I wonder what it tastes like.

I watched one lone surfer carry his board out to the sea and stayed until he paddled out through the haphazard break. This, I knew, was happening at home, 17 hours earlier, in my Pacific. There it was 2 PM on Sunday; here it was early morning Monday. How could that be? How could it be yesterday at home when here, now, I was already experiencing today?

A light drizzle began and I turned back toward home, some Aussie chai, a bike ride with Allison and whatever else today will bring. As the sky lightened and the day began, I could feel tendrils of joy, for no reason at all, bubbling up to greet me.

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