by Sonja Stone
LOCATION, COMPANION, OR ATTITUDE?
|The Four Seasons, Bora Bora|
I’ve written before about my favorite vacations—a week at Miraval Resort, a full-service spa tucked in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona. Survival courses conducted by sandal-wearing field guides in the Grand Escalante Staircase. The sun-kissed Mediterranean cruise I took with my mother. These vacations, extraordinary and meaningful, aren’t typical getaways. Not for me, anyway.
I live in the Sonoran Desert, and our summers are brutal. It’s God-awful hot all the time. You wake at four in the morning to go on a run and it’s already ninety degrees. It’s a good time to travel, and for whatever reason, I always seem to head east.
I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Minnesota. I traveled with my boyfriend and his daughter to a family wedding. It was my first time in Minnesota, and the climate surprised me. The air along the Mississippi River, humid and thick with cottonwood dander, reminded me of my college days. Washington College, located in Chestertown, Maryland, is nestled along the Chesapeake Bay, where the air smells briny, fishy, full of life and possibility.
Over the course of the weekend we hiked several times, through tall fields and hardwood forests, alongside meadows and rivers. The leaves on the maple trees were as big as both my hands. The oaks and aspens felt like old friends. I’d forgotten how green summers can be. Pink peony bushes in full bloom, hostas lining front walks, irises flowering in the local parks.
|What’s a vacation without a walk in the woods?|
I don’t allow myself a lot of down-time, so a favorite part of vacation is reading something just for fun. A hot, humid summer day begs for a book. This past weekend, I reread THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. I was so engrossed in the novel that I kept thinking I was in Mississippi, not Minnesota; Jackson, 1962, on a cotton plantation with mossy oak trees and waves of heat shimmering off the fields. Or standing with Minny in the farmhouse kitchen, frying up pork chops in a sizzling cast-iron pan.
As a writer, the aspect of the craft I most struggle with is description and setting. I’ve always been told I’m good at dialogue, but when it comes to sketching a sense of place, I fall short—horrifically, dreadfully, consistently. I’m like that in real life, too. I rarely notice my surroundings, the vistas, the sweeping views. I notice the minutiae: the crack in the restaurant table that’s caked with grease and dust, the tiny albino spider crawling inside the jagged white crevices that make up Death Valley, the honeybee whose legs are heavy with yellow pollen. I also notice people: body language, posture, nonverbal communication, aberrations. I think this is why I’m so drawn to espionage as a genre. Words laced with supposition and innuendo; truth portrayed as relative rather than absolute; motives determining the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. People interest me.
Ironically, my dream vacation involves no people. I’m picturing a tiny hut with a glass-bottom floor built over a turquoise sea somewhere in the South Pacific. There’s a constant breeze, an endless supply of mangoes, no bugs, and a few quiet guests.
|Manhattan, July 9, 2016|
On the other hand, last July I attended ThrillerFest in Manhattan. I thought I would hate New York—the crowds, the noise, the constant stimulation—but I absolutely loved it. Of course, any vacation that involves learning totally turns me on, and ThrillerFest provides amazing classes. I attended lectures by D.P. Lyle, MD, Meg Gardiner, Gayle Lynds, Steve Berry, David Morrell, and Walter Mosley, just to name a few. I’m saddened that I won’t be joining my blog sisters at this year’s ThrillerFest.
Come to think of it, my boyfriend accompanied me on that trip, too. He has an adventurous spirit, which is a lovely contrast to my excessively cautious one. He’s an extrovert, and so strikes up conversations with strangers all the time. I find this taxing, but he’s also really good about not taking it personally when I need to slip away for a few hours to recharge (in this case, with Kathryn Stockett and her imaginary friends). He’s spontaneous, but knows that I’m not, so he thoughtfully schedules our spontaneity. I receive ample warning that in three hours we will be venturing out into the world; I have time to prepare snacks and bottles of water. Last year, he presented me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received: a shoe box filled with packets of nuts and jerky, tissues, water bottles, and hand sanitizer. He keeps it in his truck, so if our adventuring takes us too far from home, I always have emergency rations.
I can honestly say that if I make it to the hut in Bora Bora, I hope he’s by my side. With snacks.
So what do you think—what makes the vacation? The location, the traveling companion? Or are those things irrelevant—is it all about a positive attitude?
Photo credits: http://www.fourseasons.com/borabora/