I have a few happy places, places I’ve visited that have become memories for me to return to again and again. I close my eyes, and, depending on my mood, if I need a break from the reality of the moment or just a mental health pick-me-up, I go back there in my mind.
Jeff and I traveled to and in Ireland, in 1997, for nine days. One of the stops we made was for lunch, in a small restaurant overlooking a small river. The restaurant stood by the side of the road, with a parking lot next to it. However, the back of it sat on stilts right next to the river. It had rustic dark brown wooden tables and chairs, uneven, rough-hewn wooden floors and large windows.
I had lamb, which was enjoyable, I think, because I didn’t have a single disappointing meal in Ireland, but honestly, I don’t remember. Jeff had salmon cooked inside phyllo dough — I had just one bite of it, and although I don’t care for fish, it was so delicious that I still vividly recollect the taste of that salmon. What I also remember, because it happened with almost every meal, was a waitress walking around with a basket of baked potatoes and offering them us, even though most of us already had a potato side dish on the plate in front of us. And the coleslaw on our plates, which also appeared whether we asked for it or not, was ridiculously great tasting.
After lunch, we had a few minutes to just relax and walk around. I went down to the bank of the river. It was a grey, overcast day. I looked down at the clear water running by, over the different shades of gray, round pebbles that made up the bed and the bank of the river. I took a deep breath of the cool spring air, listening to the gurgling of the river and made myself memorize the sight, the sounds, the way I felt — simply peaceful, surrounded by beauty and my beloved cool, cloudy weather.
There were other near-magical places in Ireland, many other places and experiences, like the smell and look of the blooming gorse bush (little yellow flowers, with the smell of honey and pear with a touch of peach, with large, wickedly sharp nettles). The gorse bush only blooms in May, the time we were there, and the countryside was awash in that bright, warm colors. Of course, every time I touched it, I thought of Winnie-the-Pooh, and how the poor bear would fall into the bush, only to emerge covered in its long needles like a pin cushion. And the green of the rolling hills, that famous green that was everywhere — in the moss that covered tree trunks, wooden fences, rocks, and, of course, the green of the grass and leaves. Plus, the people often wore shades of green. Being a proud writer, I had a tiny mental melt down on my third day because I ran out of words for green in my journal.
My other happy place gathered from my travels is New Zealand. It’s not a secret that I am in love with that country and its people. Like Ireland, it’s a place of incredible, unbelievable beauty; and like Ireland, its people were, for the most part, open and friendly.
We were there around late-December in 2017. We saved up, pooled our resources, and got a great deal on flights, so we were able to take the whole family. Jeff and I were joined by our children, Riva, 18 years old at the time, and Sam, 15 years old. Among the many wonderful places in New Zealand, one place and one experience stood out as simply magnificent. Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day we spent aboard a ship called The Fiordland Explorer, in Doubtful Sound (not technically a true sound, but more of a fiord from the ocean). It was already something special to wake up to a pod of dolphins racing by the side of the boat, but then, after breakfast, the captain asked everyone to go upstairs and outside of the cabins. There, he asked us not to take any photographs or use our smartphones (or any electronic device) for the next 10 minutes, then he turned off the ship’s engine and the generators. We were on clear, deep dark blue water, surrounded by mountains rising up from the water dotted by small waterfalls and covered by a primordial forests. At first, it seemed completely silent — no sound at all, but then the sounds emerged, first the sounds of water gently lapping against the sides of the ship and then bird songs. Ten minutes of this blessed, astounding, remarkable, ancient silence — a silence of nature of earth. And my heart was overflowing with … what? Every positive emotion, and awe — in the truest and purest form of that word.
Those are two of my happy places, where I go whenever I’m in need of a mental break or a bit of relaxation from the rush and chaos of life. What are yours? Where do you go, in your mind, when you want to escape the occasional bleakness of every day existence? Where is your happy place?