We all have our most humiliating moments. Here's a major one of mine.
A few years back, I was lucky enough to be able to take three weeks off and head for the Hawaiian Islands.
For the first two weeks, I will be staying on the Big Island at a friend's (vacant) condo right on the beach outside Kona-Kailua. The third week, I already had my permit to backpack the 11-mile Kalalau Trail over on Kauai's beautiful and inaccessible Na Pali coast. Bucket list time.
To say I was super stoked would be a massive understatement.
Oh, you should also know that a long-term relationship with my girlfriend had recently collapsed. Unfortunately, as you will see, this status will become a major factor in my forthcoming destiny with total humiliation.
My first few days in Shangri-La are dedicated to acclimating to my tropical South Pacific environs as well as losing my telltale pasty Mount Hood rainforest pigmentation. There's nothing better than having your day planner read: "snorkel; lay on beach; body surf; lay on beach; take long day hike in the jungle." I was definitely due for such a baptism in totally for-pleasure-only pursuits.
After a few days, my good fortune included learning about a fairly well-kept secret beach that is regaled as one the most beautiful beach destinations in all of the Hawaiian Islands. There are absolutely no road signs directing you to this remote location. You had to negotiate a narrow, several miles of extremely bumpy dirt road to get there. But believe me, this junket's transportation hassles were well worth it.
On my first visit out to this secret seventh heaven, I absolutely cannot believe my eyes.
Where that primitive road ends, a small dune of sand rises up in a long, curving protective bank that—just like a luscious panorama in an epic Hollywood movie—holds a picturesque wall of tall coconut palms. When you walk the path up to the top of this little hillside and stand there beneath those palms, your immediate vista completely takes your breath away.
Out before you, a large cove with unbelievably truly aqua blue water — the very color of Paul Newman's eyes — laps up onto sand the color of pure powder snow. As your bare toes transport you down into the warmth of that remarkable sand and your lungs fill with a sweetness of banana plants and passion flower, you feel just like Robinson Crusoe.
During my two-week stay on Hawaii, I make several trips out to this clandestine paradise. Several times, often for entire afternoons, I am the only person there. There are never more than one or two other parties who share this secret South Pacific rendezvous with me. This welcoming cove with its alluring white sands beach is several hundred yards long. There is plenty of room for everyone lucky enough to venture here.
While I find tremendous inner joy in communing with this special beach, as well as with the other coastal destinations and jungle hikes that I explore, a constant undertow of negativity also keeps surfacing.
I am lonely.
Because the condo where I am staying has a kitchen, that's where I'm eating all my meals. Solo Suzuki time. Every new morning I tell myself: "OK, tonight after dinner, you're going out and check out the night life."
But every night after dinner, with the wonderful smell and sound of those warm waves massaging my senses through my open windows, it just feels right to stay put, to read, to write on my laptop.
Truth be told, the last time I visited the Kona Coast I was in my 20s. This kid hit the bar scene practically every night. Ah, youth.
But a couple decades later, the siren call of those midnight lounges had totally abandoned my adult radar. Whether I liked it or not, I was a solitary man. (Key the 1966 Neil Diamond woe-is-me hit song. First verse: "Melinda was mine till the time that I found her...")
With just a couple days left before I bid Kona adieu and depart for Kauai and chapter two of my great Hawaiian getaway, I want to make one final visit out to "my" special cove and beach.
When I arrive at the end of the road that day, there is one other car already there. A wee bit disappointed that I won't be having the beach all to myself, I quickly scold myself for being such a cry-baby wimp curmudgeon.
With my daypack full of snorkel gear, towel, camera, book, notepad and pen, sunscreen and what have you, I follow that same familiar trail up the little dune.
The other person is stretched out on their towel about midway down the beach. Exhibiting polite remote beach etiquette, I veer more toward the northern end of the cove.
Once I become situated, I realize that this other person, positioned about 200 feet away from me, is a woman. Make that a beautiful woman.
At first, looking back now, I don't think I had any foolish assumptions or forgone conclusions about me and her. We are simply two strangers in our swimsuits on a deserted beach. No biggee. Welcome to the Islands. Have a nice day.
But after the second or third time that — I swear — she smiles over at me, all that changes.
While I've never been one to really dive into astrology, I do know that those of us born when the sun was transiting the constellation of Virgo during the month of September have a propensity to be full-on romantics.
Absolutely count this September 18th baby in on that personality trait — or, perhaps, misfortune. Simply ask the many women to whom, over the ebb and flow of the years, I've sent sincere love poems.
But while I'm a born card-carrying romantic, I'm also shy, and I'm also a big skeptic.
So, after that third time we share a mutual — what seems to me extremely engaging — smile, my intense inner debate begins.
Is she just being polite?
Am I allowing my susceptible "lonely" mental state to impact any objective sense-making and better judgement?
After all, why would such a beautiful woman want anything to do with me?
Go ahead and snicker, but despite my considerable incredulity, by what I'm pretty sure is her fourth smile over in my direction, I've got an unmistakable crush on this person.
My romance engine
Full confession time. Next thing I know, my darned Virgo mind is celebrating everything that we have in common. (Dear Reader: Feel free to wince.)
She likes and seeks out this remote beach. Me too. She likes to read her book beside the sound of the waves. Me too. She obviously has an independent spirit. Me too.
Before I know it, my romance engine is fired-up and running on all cylinders. I even start imagining that she, too, is lonely. While I'm lying prone and staring at my open book, I'm not really reading any of the pages. I'm too busy fantasizing about the potential for what might be happening right here right now on this beach.
Right then, I look up to see that she is walking in my direction down along the shoreline. She is looking for seashells. She pauses to reach her hand down and examine one. Oh, my gosh. I've been an avid beachcomber my entire life.
My fickle Virgo mind is trying to convince me that this is all a stroke of destiny from the love gods above. This union is absolutely meant to be.
Next, as she reaches for another shell, she looks over my way, smiles, and nods hello.
I feel a fire light deep in my heart.
Sooner than you can say "humuhumunukunukaupua'a" (Hawaii's state trigger fish), I am in love.
Go ahead and snicker again, but I actually start imagining where we might be going for dinner that night.
That's when all my nerves and sensitivities start to go a bit bonkers. How do I break our silence barrier without ruining everything? How and what do I say to her?
While I intensely contemplate my course of action over the next several stressful minutes, she returns to her beach towel and her book.
It's now or never, buster.
I feel myself stand up.
It's my turn to walk down to embrace the touch of those tropical blue waves. I, too, will look for seashells. It is all part of my courageous plan.
Next, I will walk in her direction.
When I am even with her position on the beach, I will turn and walk toward her. That's when I will see her look up at me. I will hold her smile in my heart.
Smiling back at her, I will tell her that ...
A splash-like sound suddenly erupts from the surf about 10 yards away from me.
I turn to see someone in full SCUBA gear arise up from the depths of the sea.
He pulls off his mask.
He looks like James Bond.
She and him embrace.
I smile and wave to them as Neil Diamond's words emerge from the depths of my soul.
"I'll be what I am. Solitary Man."
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Outlook's editorial pages.