Danger! Waterfall! Rainbow!

This is the bottom of Wailua waterfall in Kauai, Hawaii. It was huge and rushing and loud. There were at least four signs that said KEEP OUT and DANGER and suchlike. One sign said PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE. A local guy told us there was a trail and that we’d be A-OKAY, so naturally we hopped the fence. The hike was not too long, but it was very muddy and involved ropes attached to trees. At the bottom we discovered a beautiful rainbow, with a second shadow rainbow, and the entire population of Kauai’s mosquitos. The weather was pretty good on the way down. The last 20 feet on the way up it started raining cats and dogs. Hooray!

Vacations and happiness

I have spent a lot of time thinking about happiness. A few years ago I visited Kauai, Hawaii on a vacation with a boyfriend. I was pleased with life: happy to be in a relationship, happy to travel with someone, and happy to be away from the office. The photo below shows my vacation strategy.

  • Take photos of every rainbow
  • Smile like a goof
  • Wear tacky, comfortable Hawaiian shirts
  • Let my hair fly in every direction

Kristen on vacation in Hawaii.

Can happiness ever be a constant, or is it just one of those things that comes and goes? Can I be happy in the office, working, under a deadline? Can I be happy when I’m old and gray? Do I need a vacation, with rainbows and balmy weather, to be happy? Do I need the wind in my hair and the sun in my eyes?

I have more questions than answers, but I found this book on the subject by Alex Korb to be fascinating and insightful:
https://www.amazon.com/Upward-Spiral-Neuroscience-Reverse-Depression/dp/1626251207

This shorter (and free) article does a mostly good job of summarizing:
http://time.com/4042834/neuroscience-happy-rituals/

According to the Time article, there are four habits that will improve happiness: be thankful; label emotions; make decisions; and optimize touch.

Being thankful and expressing gratitude seems both the easiest, and the most surprising. I’m enthusiastic to do this; you may seem posts expressing what I’m grateful for in my blog.

Labelling emotions also seems easy. Hangry. Done! If I had a dollar for every time hunger ruined my mood, I’d be a millionaire. I recently started carrying around Clif bars. Oatmeal raisin walnut is my jam.

Decisions are a little harder. I have decided I want to publish a novel. I even have 46,000 words written. But getting it published is something else entirely. That task is not 100% within my control. I’m working on breaking it down into achievable steps that are within my control.

Touch also seems a bit out of one’s control, but okay sure, I’ll make sure to get it where I can. Firm handshakes, enthusiastic hugs, massages, the works.

The article seems to overlook two key ideas that were prominent in Alex Korb’s book: get good sleep, and exercise. Why didn’t the article highlight these two items? Is it because sleeping well and exercising are notoriously pesky habits to achieve? Speaking as an insomniac who avoids the gym, I think it’s harder to sell sleep and exercise. Regardless, I am going to try all the ideas from the book, including the hard ones.

Happiness takes work. Though we can’t be happy all the time, and circumstances are what they are, I think choices have a large influence. Happiness is not an island vacation. It’s a journey of an entirely different sort.

Chief Mountain

Chief Mountain is located on the eastern border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Part of its striking beauty is that it rises sharply 5000 feet above the surrounding plains. The vertical shape reminded me of Devils Tower, famous from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The landscape in July is gorgeous and lush. Thick clouds lazily dusted the top of the mountain and dark green forest skirted the foreground. Rare Trumpeter swans swam by in the nearby grassy lake. It was incredibly peaceful. I took a tour with a guide from Blackfeet Outfitters who described Chief Mountains sacred nature. The tour guide helped us look for the swan.

Chief Mountain, on the eastern border of Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain, on the eastern border of Glacier National Park

There are many reasons why taking a guided tour is a great idea. The first reason is purely practical. My guide brought a bear gun. As much as I love travel, going on solo road trips meant that when I wanted to hike, I had to fear the grizzlies. I love traveling by myself. I can eat when I want, pee when I want, sleep when I want, and take photos when I want. I can eat my chicken fried steak in peace. I can have a second cup of coffee and mull over my photographs without holding anyone up. When I see a patch of wildflowers that I feel like photographing for a few hours, I am not putting anyone out. I dilly-dally to my hearts content. I can spend three days waiting for a moose to come out of hiding, while the bugs slowly peck at my legs. I can’t imagine insisting that anyone endure the bug pecking with me.

Patch of wildflowers that I spent forever photographing.

Patch of wildflowers

I like to spend my time taking photos of random bugs. The photo below shows a yellow moth in Yellowstone National Park that I spent a cozy two hours with. Who’s got the patience to wait two hours while I fiddle with my camera over a bug? The moth was patient but I doubt a human would have that stamina.

A yellow moth from Yellowstone, chilling on a pile of dirt.

I may be underestimating the patience of the average Joe, but when I go by myself, nobody has to wait. I don’t like to keep people waiting while I futz with how to take the best bumblebee photo. Im a world-famous futzer. My technique is to take hundreds of shots of the same bug, waiting for the right light to hit. I learned this photo technique from a professor in college. Take a bajillion photos and toss out all the crap. In the end you’ll have something halfway decent. In the age of digital cameras, this works exceptionally well.

The only problem with this model is bear encounters. I am not afraid of black or brown bears. Grizzly bears are another story. I don’t trust whistles or other noisemakers to keep away the grizzlies. Grizzly territory includes Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Going on a guided tour solved my grizzly problem. I was more than happy to drop the pretense that I had a good defense if a giant grizzly came bearing down on me, pun intended. We didn’t mess around with a puny whistle. A guided tour is super handy for staying safe from bears. Also can you imagine how sad I would be trying to take photos while a group of people stood around tapping their feet? No, it would never work.

Secondly, a guided tour is handy because the guide had a story for everything. There were bear tracks, coyote tracks, scat of all kinds, and flowers of all kinds. He had stories for all of it. I love stories about nature. Bring on the bear poop stories! For instance, typical bear scats weigh a half-pound or more. Black bear droppings reveal their fondness for raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Coyote scat looks totally different. If you want to know if you’ll need to prepare for attacking bands of coyotes or bears, its good to know what they’re pooping.

Additionally, the guides have fun vehicles. At first I didn’t pay attention to why the wheels were so giant or high off the ground. I climbed in and buckled up. He took an immediate turn off the road. I thought he was going to find some dirty unpaved road. No. He just drove right off into the hillside. We sailed into the sunset, no road necessary. Then up came a creek. No, not a creek. A river! A giant roaring river with gigantic rocks! I am not exaggerating at all. This jeep didn’t stop. It drove right over moving water. Boom! We were in the river. Boom! We were out of the river. I couldn’t believe it.

If I hadn’t seen anything scenic at all, I would have done the tour just for the ride itself. The guide could probably make that drive backwards up a cliff in his sleep, but I found the trip exhilarating and action-packed. I endorse this trip for its high level of ridiculousness.

Finally, tour guides are great for taking you places you wouldn’t normally go. I left the crowded tourism of the Glacier Park for the serene seclusion of Blackfeet Reservation land. The landscape was magnificent and peaceful. I didn’t see anyone else while I was out on the tour. I love that kind of solitude.

The guide, right before some lightning struck.

While we were out on tour we encountered a brief but intense lightning storm. There are several wonderful things about lightning. Lightning makes light in the dark, which is an amazing thing to begin with. Lightning bolts are loud and crackly.

Here is the sky right before lightning struck. Ominous!

Sky right before lightning struck

Most importantly, when lightning hits during the day, rainbows usually follow. So not only did we have some cracklin’ good lightning, but we had a full-sky rainbow. The photo below shows the rainbow that followed the storm.

Double-rainbow after lightning struck.

This rainbow was both a double rainbow and full-sky, and lightning had just struck. I get a little verklempt when experiencing nature like this. I started thinking about the universe and my place in it. I’m pretty sure I exclaimed about that rainbow. Hella good! Wicked awesome!

Rainbow People

I saw this rainbow after a big rainstorm somewhere in the middle of the country, during my road trip. What’s amazing is that every time I saw a giant rainbow, people would pull over and exclaim about it. There’d be a tiny gathering of people in some parking lot, chatting up about the rainbow.

  • Look at that!
  • Amazing!
  • It’s a gift from heaven!

Then they would start talking about where they came from, what they were doing just before. It turns into a little party by the side of the road, focused around the colorful thing in the sky. I love that part of the trip. Makes you wonder how our cave people ancestors reacted to rainbows.