Discover more from FIELD NOTES
Special Edition: My Back to the Sea 🌊
Excerpt from Lights to Guide Me Home 📖
Today’s Field Notes is a special edition for this growing community.
Many people have joined this newsletter since I last sent out an excerpt from Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting. Today I wanted to send you a portion of one of my favourite chapters. It takes place on the remote island of Rapa Nui, otherwise known as Easter Island, which my husband and I visited back in 2019 with our 9-month-old and 5-year-old daughters. If you haven’t been, you still might be familiar with the island’s moai 🗿 — the enormous, monolithic, hand-carved statues scattered around the island.
Lights to Guide Me Home is a memoir that takes the reader on a trip around the world while I chronicle my personal journey through some of life’s major milestones, including motherhood. I hope you enjoy this reading. If so, please consider ordering a copy using the buttons below.
Excerpt from Chapter 11 of Lights to Guide Me Home
MY BACK TO THE SEA
By Meghan J. Ward (Rocky Mountain Books, 2022)
Easter Island/Rapa Nui, February 2019
The more time we spent on Rapa Nui, the more we saw evidence that this was a place where cultures and ideas have intermixed and conflicted for centuries, where various influences made their mark and complicated history, leaving behind a tangled web. It was difficult to separate one element from the others, or imagine the place as it once was. Thousand-year-old relics remained by the sea while cappuccinos were served in the island’s only town. One could walk the tourist trail and meet Spanish-speaking Polynesians selling tiny replica moai on keychains or, as Paul discovered, stumble upon an ancient spearhead, carved out of obsidian, while on a foray to photograph a seldom-visited coastline. The island possessed a striking blend of old and new, of layers piling one on top of the other and unsolved mysteries that suggested some things may be lost forever.
As a mother, I was once more beginning to feel like I was lost forever. Like I’d set off on a grand voyage and been caught in an unending storm. That feeling of separation I’d felt with Maya in New Zealand was one I had yet to feel with Léa. She was still so small; our life as a family of four was still a novelty. Maya had started kindergarten and didn’t need me to tie her shoes anymore, but her newfound emotions required a new level of support from her parents.
Rapa Nui had amplified my sense of disorientation. I suppose it was because travel offered me a comparison of my life at various stages, in various places. I thought back to the independence I had in Costa Rica, when I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, with no one but myself to be responsible for. Or the feelings of freedom in Nepal and the ability to take months off from “normal life” and go trekking. On Rapa Nui, I could feel the entanglement as much as I observed it in the island’s complex history. My six years of motherhood had woven me my own tangled web and my two beautiful children had wound themselves tightly around the outside. I never thought I’d be the kind of mother that would “lose herself.” But on this trip I realized I’d been buried under the accumulation of parenting demands, life’s logistics and the impulse that I would sacrifice anything for my kids. I had regained some sense of self before Léa was born. But now I felt like I, Meghan, was being buried again.
Occasionally, amidst the diaper changing and packing of snacks, Paul and I would crack an inside joke that took me back to pre-kid days. My emails from my publisher about a book project reminded me I had a professional career. But mostly I put my head down and just did what needed doing. I met others’ needs before I even considered meeting my own. I struggled to speak “adult” anymore, to put two coherent thoughts together. Sleep deprivation was the norm at home. And there on Rapa Nui I was on parenting hyperdrive. I’m generally a relaxed kind of mom and a firm believer that being dirty and curious are important parts of childhood. But I needed to be abnormally protective of my kids when we travelled to foreign countries, where cars don’t always follow the usual rules of the road, where stray dogs abound and where swallowing water while brushing teeth might mean days of tummy troubles. These kept me on high alert.
The only “time off” from parenting came at night. On Rapa Nui, when both kids were asleep, I’d sit on the couch and often end up staring off into space, too tired to go out. The sun would be setting over the sea, out of view. If I looked out the window, I could just barely see it – the cotton candy pinks in the air, the orange glow fading to blue.
Paul often went out to photograph or scout locations when the stars came out. I didn’t mind the quiet and solitude. Perhaps, too, I had forgotten how magical a sunset could be. In my motherly duties, I’d sacrificed my own yearning to stay out late, to watch that golden ball hit the horizon. I had two little kids to keep watch over, and seeing the sun descend had become a memory largely preserved from my childless past. Partly by necessity, partly by choice. Even if it was Paul’s turn to stay home at night and he insisted I go out, I often stayed back to spend time with him or catch up on work.
One rainy day he nudged me out the door.
“Go to a cafe, grab a coffee and write,” he said.
“I guess I could,” I said. “That would be really nice.”
Nice didn’t quite describe how I really felt inside: that the idea of sitting with a cup of coffee and writing was about as heavenly as things get for me. But Paul knew that. He also knew I needed some prompting.
“Take the opportunity, babe,” he said.
“But it’s raining. What are you going to do with the girls all day?”
“I’ll figure something out,” he said. “You go.”
“Okay!” I said, my voice sounding more convinced than I was.
I packed my laptop in a backpack and grabbed the umbrella to walk to a nearby cafe, Tiare Coffee.
“¿Un americano doble, por favor?” I asked.
While the shop owner made my coffee, I parked my belongings at a table outside under a straw-covered shelter. After I retrieved my order, I opened my laptop and knew exactly what I wanted to work on: my new book project. I poured 1,500 words into my keyboard as the rain poured down outside. I sipped my americano slowly as if my writing session would be over when I could see the bottom of my mug. I updated my social media. There in my happy place I felt tranquility.
While I wrote, it turned out that Paul drove the whole island with the girls to find items for a scavenger hunt that he’d concocted. They looked for volcanoes, horses, grey-coloured cars and moai. I admired him for his creativity and stamina with the kids.
I returned to my family feeling a bit more refreshed. Yet a single outing felt like trying to cut down a sequoia with a kitchen knife. It would take many more outings to feel truly separate from my kids. Where I ended and my children began had become impossible to distinguish – again.
I was somewhere in the centre of it all, the forgotten mass beneath the entanglement. I felt a bit like a moai, a relic of times past, standing watch over the next generation, my back to the sea.
Lights to Guide Me Home is available wherever you buy books! Ask at your local indie bookstore or find an online retailer using the buttons below.
👋 Not yet a subscriber? Field Notes is free to subscribe to and get right in your inbox. For those who are able to invest in my writing with their dollars, I also offer a paid subscription, with extra perks, at just $6/month or $65/year. 🙏