Books + beach + baby turtles = respite

Sometimes we need a respite more than we need a vacation, or even before we can be fully present for a vacation. What’s the difference between a respite and a vacation? The dictionary tells us that a respite is a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant, while a vacation is an extended period of recreation. When I left my home in Washington 10 days ago and headed for the beach,  I was fleeing from a stressful and frustrating situation. What I didn’t foresee was how many days it would take before I really felt like I was on vacation.

I knew I had to lower my stress level, and so I set some intentions from the start, the most important being to limit my email. I turned the mail function off on my devices and decided to only turn it on twice a day to check for things that were important. The rest of the time, I vowed not to check it at all.

Here are my other intentions:IMG_2188

I had been neglecting my yoga practice at home. In addition, I needed to spend some time learning how to use my new camera and updating my continuing education credits, as well as this blog. But it turned out to be many days before I could focus on the more mentally-tasking intentions.

On my first morning, I went to a yoga class and felt some of the stress begin to lift. On my second morning, I began a week of going out with other volunteers to monitor sea turtle nests on the beach. Each day at sunrise when we would begin our walk down the beach, a feeling of complete well-being would come over me and I would utterly relax. When we released some straggler baby turtles near the ocean one day, and people gathered to cheer them on as they made their way, I was filled with gratitude to be part of something so simple yet so much bigger than myself.


The remainder of my first four or five days was spent reading books. I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do much more than that. Overcast weather justified my couch potato tendencies a bit, but if I’m honest I admit that I just didn’t have the energy or interest to do more than that. I finished three books in rapid succession, and would have read more if they had been available. Other people’s stories have always felt like a refuge for me when I needed one.


By the fifth day, the sun came out, and with it my readiness to be “on vacation.” I finally felt like I could enjoy the recreation part of my stay — the swimming, boating, biking and other fun. I took my camera out and experimented with its different settings. I spent the hot part of one afternoon doing an online class to fulfill my CE requirement. I went kayaking with my husband, and enjoyed that wonderful feeling of physical tiredness that comes from exertion. It was such a welcome change from the mental and emotional exhaustion I was feeling a few days earlier.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that,

The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don’t know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left.

I feel lucky that I had enough time to give myself both that respite and a vacation. But what I learned is that I need to build in more respites for myself at home, and probably more boundaries to keep myself from getting to the point of so much stress. Time to set more intentions!


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.