Vacation days

First day of vacation: The monkey mind is still alive and well, jumping from thought to thought. I wake with an undercurrent of dis-ease. What am I “supposed” to be doing today? My mind isn’t yet allowing me to surrender to the idea of slowing down and doing nothing.
So I get up and make a list of things to do. I write some emails. I find something to clean. I sit in the sun and try to read. I start to doze off, the first moment of the day that feels lazy and luxurious. But soon I’m up again, going off to exercise. I believe in working out on vacation, but today it feels like part of my “organized” life, something I’ve scheduled, not something that says “vacation”.
Did you know that the majority of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days in the year, leaving billions of dollars of benefits on the table? Many don’t take vacation because they can’t afford a trip, but others are afraid for their job security if they ask for time off.
While most employers recognize the value when employees come back rested, refreshed, and more productive, many also expect their employees to answer emails while on vacation. In fact, more than half of the people in one survey said that they are expected to have email access on vacation. So while vacations usually enhance family relationships, work interruptions can actually impede that benefit.
Second day of vacation: I’m up early to walk the beach checking sea turtle nests. It’s light, but the sun isn’t up over the horizon yet, and the moon is still visible high in the sky. The shrimp boats are out on the water, and a group of deer graze on the dunes. They let me get amazingly close to them. I’m reminded that the only important things to do today are eating and spending time in nature.Kiawah 003
Psychology Today says that “Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle,” getting us off the merry-go-round of chronic stress, sleep deprivation and unquiet minds. Vacations are also good times to establish new health habits, especially around exercise.
Third day of vacation: I wake in the pre-dawn to the sound of rain beating on the roof. I drift back to sleep thinking about a day spent reading and watching movies indoors. But by 7:00 the storm clouds have moved out to sea and people start to wander onto the beach for morning runs and walks. What will the day ahead hold for me? Beach? Yoga? Biking? All three? Kiawah 006
While the joy of vacation wears off quickly when we return to work, people still say they are happiest having spent money on an experience rather than a material possession. Most of that positive feeling comes from being able to share the experience with friends or family. The vacation becomes part of the story of the social network.
Fourth day of vacation: Here’s the beauty of it — I don’t need to know what tomorrow will bring. Yes, there are are many more things to do, but there are also all the remaining vacation days on which to do them. It’s time to disconnect……

My week with sea turtles

For most of the year, I don’t willingly get up before sunrise. But for one week every summer, I gladly rise before dawn and leave the house while everyone else is still sleeping. I do it for the sake of sea turtles, serving on the volunteer turtle patrol at a South Carolina beach.

For me, being on turtle patrol means that I get up when it’s still dark, walk two miles along the beach, meet interesting people who also care about wildlife, watch the sun come up, and just maybe, give a few turtles a head start in life. That’s worth getting up early for.

Sea turtles are endangered, due to loss of habitat, fishing activity, predation and being hit by boats. In response, natural resource agencies and beachfront communities around the world have developed programs to give baby sea turtles a helping hand. Think of it as leveling the playing field to make up for the human role in their endangerment.

In my community, volunteers go out each morning during nesting season to look for mother turtles’ tracks and mark where their nests are laid. Then the hatching patrol takes over, checking the nests each morning to make sure they are undisturbed, and looking for signs of hatching when the time draws near.

This morning I was practically alone on the beach when I went out. It had been raining all night, but it stopped just as I got to the beach. As I walked along, I saw deer bounding through the dunes and ghost crabs scurrying into their holes. There were no signs of predators near the nests, but crabs, raccoons and coyotes are all potential threats to the sea turtle eggs.

As the nests hatch, the baby turtles have more hazards to overcome on their way to the ocean – they can be eaten by birds, fall into holes people leave in the sand, and go in the wrong direction toward  lights from houses.  Many don’t survive the trip across the beach to the sea.

After we see that a nest has hatched, we wait three days, and then dig down into the hole to see how many eggs hatched, and if any live turtles are still inside, perhaps too weak to dig their way out. Volunteers take these turtles down closer to the water, and let them crawl out until a wave catches them and they start swimming. Usually a crowd of people gathers, and everyone clears a path for the turtles, shoos away the birds, and cheers when the turtles finally swim away with their little heads bobbing up for air.

It’s impossible to start the day with anything but a smile after witnessing something like that. I head back to the house where others are just beginning to stir, ready for coffee and breakfast, sandy, sweaty and hot, but knowing that I might have just spent the most valuable hour of my day.