Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
– Lao Tzu
It’s the strangest thing: all the time in Saint John, and most of the time just about anywhere else, keeping within the speed limit is an act of will. Not having to worry about speeding on the highway makes cruise control the one optional (assuming it IS optional anymore) feature that I cannot do without. I don’t think of myself as having a “heavy foot” but 50 kms at all times seems just about impossible to maintain.
Now consider Hawai’I or, more specifically, the main byway that runs from Keauhou Bay down to the Kona pier. It’s quite long – probably close to 8 kilometres end-to-end. The posted limit is never any higher than 30 mph and falls as far as 15 mph depending on where you are. And repeatedly, I find myself having to speed up.
It seems a kind of spell falls over you, a spell that so relaxes the muscles in your feet that, without noticing, your foot stops putting pressure on the gas pedal and you begin to coast ever slower. A quick glance down at your speedometer hovering around 20-25 reminds you to pick it up a bit. Call it habit but it is hard for me to imagine that the cars behind me aren’t wondering what’s wrong with the guy in front.
That being said, I suspect that’s more about a habit of mind than reality. I think colder climates can encourage speed. We need to get there faster to get out of the cold; if we walk faster, it will heat us up a bit; the more frantic the movement in general, the more we’ll begin to generate heat. It’s been noted before that northern climates tend to encourage greater productivity, something, if truth be told, that probably results from dealing with the need to work to stay warm during a good portion of the year.
Some years ago now, when I was in Ghana with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, a colleague and I observed one day when we were out tearing through the neighbourhood where we were staying (and sweating like crazy as a result) that we were outpacing literally everyone else walking on the road. It hadn’t occurred to us to notice that the Ghanaians around us uniformly took their time, sauntering along without a care in the world, or so it seemed to we hyperactive Canadians.
That’s when we realized that there was method in this particular madness. Ghanaians moved slowly because it was so damned HOT. One way to avoid drowning in perspiration was to walk a little more slowly. Truly, this was a revelation for us and from that moment, as difficult as it was, we slowed down and ultimately rejoiced in the benefits.
Now Hawai’I isn’t Ghana. It certainly isn’t as humid although at times the actual temperature might be comparable. But it does seem to have something of that same slow pace that we noted in Ghana, although perhaps for its own reasons.
Needless to say, I think, tourists are far more prevalent on the Big Island of Hawai’i than they are in Accra, Ghana’s capital. And there is no denying that the same consumer drive is evident in Hawai’i as anywhere else in North America: Costco is just up the road, the big malls are bustling and commerce is evident in everything from restaurants, to souvenir shops, to all the opportunities for “adventure” advertised in every publication and on a great many street corners.
Still, for all that, the urgency that feels so much a part of everyday life in my “real world” seems lessened here. I’ve been here for over a week now and been on the road every day, and I have yet to hear even a single horn honk. As I’ve meandered slower than the speed limit – unintentionally every time – I haven’t had a single impatient tailgater, finger-flipper or even an exasperated and impatient look from anywhere. Instead, people routinely slow down to allow others into traffic (commonly more than just one vehicle) and wait patiently while the guy up ahead slows down even more to see something or other.
When natural beauty is an easily recognized constant, maybe relaxing doesn’t require work. We in the frozen north know a blizzard has an undeniable allure but its beauty is easy to forget when you are shoveling snow and dealing with the many consequences of “after the storm”.
So yes, Hawai’i has signs indicating tsunami evacuation areas, and earthquakes happen here but somehow both seem very far away. “Paradise” can seem overused when describing tropical climes but I can’t think of a better characterization for the west coast of the Big Island. The climate, the pace, the people (universally friendly, it seems) all fit what I imagine such a place should be. It’s my last day here amidst the undeniable beauty of this place. I’ll take the ease of the moment – for the moment – because the blizzard’s terrible beauty and its aftermath is waiting for me. No need to hurry.