Island Wise: Lessons In Living From The Islands Of The World

Island Wise: Lessons In Living From The Islands Of The World

by Janis Frawley-Holler

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767912044
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/18/2003
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Janis Frawley-Holler is the travel and style editor of Florida’s awarding winning Sarasota Magazine and is a frequent contributor to Islands Magazine. Her work has also appeared in Travel and Leisure, Family Circle, Spa Magazine, Cruising World, and Sailing World.

Read an Excerpt

Set Your Clock to Island Time

Those of us struck by island fever yearn to live on island time—those delectable, unhurried days where even the surf seems to drift effortlessly ashore and those long arching fronds of coconut palms sway in a slow, sensual dance on the mildest of sea breezes. We fantasize about living as islanders do, envying their light and leisurely approach to each day, their patience with themselves, others, and the world in general.

Living on island time is something we envy because, in our mainland worlds, we travel at a dizzying pace, determined to keep up with the pack; we rush through stress-filled, jam-packed schedules with no thought of pausing to appreciate the quietly magical details of our lives. The whispers of our inner voice go unheeded, yet leave us with a gnawing sense that life is not meant to be lived as a race against time. So we are drawn to islands—those perfect spots that give us permission to drop out, slow down, and rejuvenate to their patient, waltzing rhythm.

Island time is the very soul of island life. From the hot, steamy jungles of Borneo to the snow-capped mountainous isles of Alaska's Inside Passage, islanders know how to live in step with their own innate tempo—a pace that fosters an ease of attitude, a warm feeling about life, a knack for delighting in simple pleasures, and time to tarry in precious places with cherished people. They see no merit in living weighted down by anxiety, urgency, and stress, for they learned long ago the lesson of Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare fable: "Slow and steady wins."

My husband says I'm a "steadfast tortoise," a name I relish because being an island-style woman blesses me with inclinations to linger and appreciate the good all around me, to stop and think things through and stay true to who I am.

When we visited the isle of Crete, one of my personal goals was to hike the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe. In the darkness of early morning, we boarded a tour bus filled with Germans and Scandinavians for the long ride up into the mountains as the trail (which takes six to seven hours to hike) steeply descends from the peaks of the White Mountains down to the Libyan Sea.

The minute we got off the bus—swooooosh!—the other hikers were off at such a manic clip that they left us, literally, in their dust. We walked on slowly because, looking up at the magical beauty of the mountains in the colors of dawn, we were struck with awe. It was a sight I doubt any of the other travelers had even noticed.

"If we don't speed up a bit," Darrel said after a while, "I'm afraid we'll miss the boat back to our hotel."

It was difficult, however, to speed up because with every few steps there was more and more beauty to relish: hot pink oleanders growing in the wild, Cretan "forest rangers" descending the trail on donkeys, ruins of ancient villages poised along banks of peaceful streams. We snapped pictures of artsy afternoon shadows on the rocky sides of cliffs and zigzagged across rushing waters atop massive boulders. The gorge was a never-ending masterpiece of more natural beauty than we had ever imagined, and we took the time to savor every new marvel.

And the hikers? It's a funny thing. We caught up with them each time they stopped for a cigarette break and passed them by so many times throughout the hike that I lost count. It was truly a day of the Tortoise and the Hare, for after seven hours of steady progress, we "tortoises" were among the first to arrive at the sea where the boat awaited. Our prize for hiking on island time was a treasured collection of memories highlighting some of Mother Nature's best works, lots of photos to add to our ever-growing scrapbook, and much healthier lungs!

Living on island time doesn't require us to pack up and move to our own most beloved isle. It's so much easier than that, for no matter where we live, we can simply choose to slow down and relish life. It's important to realize that this way of being doesn't encompass a lazy lifestyle, nor does it breed irresponsibility. Island time is simply about eliminating haste, chewing slowly to appreciate tastes, avoiding "too-timers" (too much TV, too many too-long phone calls, too much obsessing about work, etc.), and it's never ever equating time with "pressure." It is recognizing that time isn't the traitor of our day—the true archenemy is how we view the seconds, schedule the minutes, and live the hours. It's realizing that time can, indeed, be on our side, just by taking a deep breath and believing that the "time of your life" is truly a gift to be used in an island-wise way.

When we begin to break old habits of sprinting through life, it feels awkward, even foreign, at first. After a particularly harried few months, I sought solace in the serene aura of Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Yet after three days of doing nothing but yoga and taking long walks on the beach, I found myself feeling very emotional and off balance. I happened to run into a yogi who gave me an explanation:

"Think of yourself as a child's top spinning at such a high rate of speed every moment of the day that it's impossible to stay connected with yourself—with who you are and what you truly want. When the top begins to slow down, it starts to wobble. The slower it goes, the greater the wobble, until it breathes a sigh of relief and settles into its resting place. It's the eventual discovery of this peaceful place which is the ultimate gift of slowing down."

As you begin to find your own island-wise way of being, remember that setting your clock to island time is the most important step. It is the universal prescription that comes from all healing islands, from the Caribbean to the South China Sea. Living at a slower pace changes us. We're able to think logically and independently, remember our manners, distinguish right from wrong, and realize what is truly important in life. Slowing down allows us to go with the flow of life rather than always feeling as though we're swimming upstream. On island time we adopt the words of islander William Shakespeare as our model: "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast."

Taha'a, the Tahitian Islands

adopt natural pleasures

It's impossible to get up on the wrong side of the bed when you awaken each morning in a Garden of Eden encircled by a lagoon of calm waters graduating in color from a rich deep blue to a shimmering opal as it shallows up to the shore. The island's homesteads rest, relaxed and quiet, between the lagoon and the peaks and valleys of the mountains towering over it all in majestic green.

Curtains of bright colors float on the breeze, in and out of the unscreened window openings of the modest homes that look

out to yards so stunning they could be mistaken for botanical gardens. They're overabundant in the natural beauty of ultratropical trees—banana (of all kinds), breadfruit, mango, papaya, avocado, and grapefruit—and of flowers and shrubs ablaze in color—red and pastel pink gingers, multicolored crotons, snow-white gardenias, deep-pink frangipani, and every other tropical flower you can imagine. It's a vision, the kind we all fantasize about; it's Taha'a, an off-the-beaten-path island of Tahiti, shaped just like a hibiscus flower.

Edwin and his wife Jacqueline welcomed me, eager to share the best of their island's ways. He was playing a ukulele and singing a dreamy South Seas tune, decked out in freshly picked flowers woven into a crown around his head, a necklace of local shells hand carved into a big, bold chiefly design, and a colorful floor-length pareo wrapped and tied beneath his belly. Jacqueline, whose hat was encircled in a woven band of extra-fragrant double gardenias and deep-pink and pale-yellow lantanas, wore a brilliant blue-and-yellow-flowered floor-length dress.

Their four-wheel-drive was prettied up with flowers, too—a string of gardenias lined the dashboard and flowers were braided up the support braces of the canopy that shaded the back seating. Jacqueline offered me a snow-white tiare, the flower of Tahiti, to tuck behind my left ear (the married ear), which made me feel as special as a little girl playing dress up. Its natural, soft scent blessed me, and soothed me, for the rest of the day.

"The one thing you'll discover," an Australian who married into a Taha'an family said, "is that the people love to surround themselves in beauty and color every moment of the day. They look to nature to do that."

We were off, traveling a carless road that wound into the mountains, surrounded the whole way in tropical fantasy: forests abloom in hundreds of flowers of brilliant hues and the marvelous shapes of the gigantic leaves of heliconia, elephant ears, and white birds of paradise—tropically lush in their climb up the slopes. Cows and horses lazily grazed near rushing streams winding through coconut plantations; outriggers lay idle in the lagoon below, and, beyond, the thatched-roof huts of the black-pearl farmers stood guardian over the water.

When we stopped way up high near a mountaintop, it was a South Seas dream come alive: young men and women, clad in brilliant pareos and adorned in flowers (worn as crowns, leis, or tucked in their hair) sliced fresh papaya, mango, and green grapefruit, which they arranged with tiny bananas on trays artfully covered in folded banana leaves accented in red hibiscus. It was a scene that would have inspired Paul Gauguin to take out his brushes and paint the day away.

The men opened green coconuts with one island-style blow of their machetes, whacking off the tops to offer refreshing drinks of coconut water; then they opened the ripe coconuts, quickly grating the fresh sweet meat against a stick stuck in the ground. The girls sprinkled it over the papaya, made neat little mounds next to the bananas, and encouraged me to follow their lead. I broke off bite-sized pieces of the nutty-flavored bananas, pushed them into the coconut, popped them into my mouth, and smiled at the blending flavors.

Edwin grinned and strummed his ukulele, a woman with long dark hair danced, her swaying Tahitian hips and graceful hands signing out the stories of the ancient songs the young people sang. When the day was over, a girl put her lei around my neck, another put her crown of flowers on my head. I've seldom felt so special, prettied up in flowers and sharing the spirit of these hard-working, yet happy-go-lucky islanders who continually adorn their world in Mother Nature's most artistic treasures.

IT'S OUR NATURE

We sweeten up our life when we invite the simple beauty of nature into the intimacy of our homes and our personal spaces. It isn't difficult, nor does it take a lot of time, talent, or money. Just think natural—a single daisy in a bud vase, fresh herbs growing on a kitchen windowsill, a seashell as a soap dish, a sweetgrass basket overflowing in pineapples, mangoes, and apples adorning the dining room table, a natural sponge to trickle water over our body when we bathe, a wreath of deep-red chili peppers hanging on a kitchen wall. These are the thing that enhance our lives in the most positive of Taha'an ways; and these inexpensive practices energize the essence of our surroundings.

Native peoples have long had an enviable union with all of the offsprings of Mother Nature, acknowledging that each and every thing possesses a spirit, whether it be a thousand-year-old redwood tree or a honey bee. They have always acknowledged the interdependence of every single thing within nature. They respect nature, they learn from it, they lean on it. It's an innate element of their own spirit, of their beliefs; it's an important dimension of their protocol which directs morality and demeanor.

Children, too, naturally relish the comfort of the natural world. They're always eager to welcome nature by putting frogs in their pockets and fireflies in jars; by gathering wildflowers, collecting rocks, enjoying the warm, squishy feel of mud and the grounding power of handfuls of earth; and by finding solace climbing trees when they want to be alone to sort things out. As adults, we find it easy to forget how much simple, natural pleasures add to our lives.

So open the curtains, pull up the blinds, and let the sunny warmth of life into your homes and offices. Look out; look up. Take in the blueness of sky and its vastness, a symbol of infinite possibilities; look to the trees for consolation and strength and to the feathers of birds for a lighter attitude toward life. Set out natural wooden bowls of nuts in their earthy-toned protective shells as reminders to safeguard what's important to us, whether it be our children or our environment.

Scatter seashells around your rooms; they epitomize the importance of a strong, stable home, a sanctuary where we can simply be ourselves to laugh, play, love, and rest in safety. Seek the raw beauty of driftwood, so gracefully sculpted by just going with the flow of the sea, a suggestion to let things happen in their own time. Set aside time for sunsets, for the gorgeousness of each one is a daily sign that endings can, indeed, be new beginnings in disguise.

And then there are flowers. The famous impressionist Claude Monet once said, "More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always."

Fresh flowers, whether they grace a living room or bloom in our gardens, are healing. Their beauty is unsurpassed and they act as the supreme mood changer, chasing away the blues, perking us up when we're ill, adding a cheery sentiment to a regular day. They make us feel special, even if we give them to ourselves, for they've long been linked to love. We get married donned in flowers, we commemorate special occasions with them, and we return to the earth surrounded by them.

It's important to cultivate a relationship with the beauty Mother Nature provides, for without it, our spirits begin to wilt. It keeps us connected with the soul of the earth, it sets our moods swaying, it enriches our own private little worlds. As Madame Marie Curie said, "All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child."

* Be a flower child. The next time you have a chance to dress up, remember that there's nothing as elegant as a woman with an orchid tucked behind her ear, or a man with a fresh carnation in his lapel. Many little blossoms can be woven into chokers, made into bracelets to adorn your wrist or ankle or, for the ultimate, make an armband of little cascading orchids. A creative florist will be brimming over with ideas that can make you look Taha'an beautiful.

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