After the rain, going home with garlic…lots of garlic!
After Spanish class…
The Spanish language ladies have come to the coffee shop to continue their conversation after class. Graying hair, Baggallinis, and Birkenstocks. These sandals are made for walking – good for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Santiago Trail across Spain, the white powder beach below the Maya ruins in Tulum, or scaling Teotihuacan in Mexico. Waiting to go somewhere, they are here in a coffeehouse in the burbs with their textbooks and perfect pedicures — toenails painted pink. The Spanish language ladies with graying hair and Baggallinis and Birkenstocks never paint their toenails purple or green or black. They converse, confusing cepillo, cebolla, caballo. Words in English easily distinguished from each other — brush, onion, horse. I can’t help smiling when they “horse” their hair or ride their “onions” or eat “brushes” on burgers. The aging ladies are entertaining. But they’re trying. That’s important. I know what it’s like to say the wrong word and to provide this sort of entertainment for native speakers. I picture them hailing a taxi in Miraflores or Madrid or Mexico City…ah, to be a fly on the window.
The Words We Stress…
Three millennials sipping lattes –
I’m looking down at a fresh latte, hesitating to take a drink and mess up the perfect foam leaf floating on top. The artistic young man is barista today. I like to come here on his days. Coffee is not cheap and all baristas are not created equal. He makes hearts and frilly fern leaves and smiley faces to perfection. I don’t know if I can stand all this awesomeness!
Once Upon a Time…
The Middle Eastern man is always sitting alone with his laptop. Outside if it’s not too cold or too hot or raining. Maybe he’s a writer or a wanna-be writer. He is diligent. Or maybe he’s playing the stock market. Sometimes he looks intensely at the screen, does a lot of backspacing and deleting. Or maybe he’s emailing relatives back home. Sometimes he smiles to himself as if he’s had a moment of happy memory. At a half cup of espresso and half a lumpy scone (white and dark chocolate deliciousness), another man (blonde, blue shirt, jeans) joins him, asks if he’s making progress, wants to see his work. No, he says, he’s not comfortable showing his work to others before it’s “in good form.” So…just read me some, says Blondie.
He’ll read the first sentence he says, smiling, looking down at the screen. “Kan, ya ma kan.”
Blondie shrugs. “That’s it? What does it mean?”
“Once there was, and there was not.”
“That’s sorta odd,” says Blondie. “I mean…”
“It’s like you saying Once Upon a Time. But in Arabic it is more accurate to the story, since the story is fiction; it is not true. Once there was, and there was not.”
(I Google. Kan ya ma kan. The first sentence in many Arabic stories about the past…a popular song by a number of artists, the title of an album, a restaurant in Casablanca, a Facebook page that looks like a gallery, and possibly a breed of dog. And then there is this: Kan Ya Ma Kan was a three-weekend-long program in Los Angeles that featured the culinary traditions, music, and culture of the Arab-Jewish diaspora in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa. Politics may never bring people together, but music and food? Maybe.)
Once there was, and there was not…
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
“I was walking by. He was sitting there…
I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. The
pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup
we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the
heat of the sun between the shoulder blades…
I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the
blue sky all around my head. I said, I wondered how it seemed
to him, down there, intimate with the dust.”
~ “Toad” by Mary Oliver
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.”
~ “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches,” by Mary Oliver
“…what can she do?
Nothing but watch and watch
for she is too small
only a sand in the big desert
nothing at all.”
~ “My Life Story,” by Lan Nguyen
“There’s a deep murmur unravelled,
the air is a song of feather,
a soft babble of grass.”
~ “Cuernavaca,” by Aline Pettersson
“Happiness is absorption, being entirely yourself and entirely in one place.”
~ Pico Iyer
“The red threads
on the shoulders of our oarsman.”
~ “Mindoro” by Ramon C. Sunico
“My words are like flowers…
when pressed by the scorching summer…”
~ “The Gatherer,” by Ali al-Mak
“They come like the ghosts of horses, shyly…
And they all, awkwardly and hesitantly…
begin to run, and the field
is full of happy thunder. They toss their heads,
their manes fly, they are galloping in freedom.”
~ “The Pit Ponies” by Leslie Norris
“It is possible we will not meet again
on earth. To think this fills my throat
with dust. Then there is only the sky
tying the universe together…
Where we live in the world
is never one place. Our hearts,
those dogged mirrors, keep flashing us
moons before we are ready for them.”
~ “19 Varieties of Gazelle,” by Naomi Shihab Nye
On this hot, hot day I rummage through old pictures, think about rain, the hardest rain I can remember…
I thought the sky was falling our first night in Tortuguero. Awakened by the rain pounding on the tin roof, I slipped up and sat by the window to watch. We were staying in a casita with one room and a bathroom barely big enough to turn around in. The big windows had no glass, but they were covered with screens and heavy wooden shutters. I opened the shutters slowly so as not to wake the others and stared out into the night, hypnotized by the blurry outline of jungle and the flood of water falling through the trees. There was no wind, so the rain came straight down as if a giant spigot had been turned on in the sky. The ceiling fan that had whirred us to sleep now moved in silence, its sound easily drowned out by the storm.
Our casita was perched on a sand spit at the eastern edge of Costa Rica. A three-minute walk in either direction led to water – the Tortuguero River on one side, the Caribbean Sea on the other. I had read about the extraordinary drama of lightning and thunder and torrential downpour of a rain forest storm, but nothing could have prepared me for this awesome spectacle of nature.
Suddenly, sitting by that window looking out at the rain, I was overcome by a strange feeling of déjà vu. I had never been here before, but there was something familiar in the air. I’d felt it in other tropical places, too, but could never figure out why. This time I knew. The open window let in the rich scent of the jungle, and it smelled surprisingly like my childhood home — the Kentucky woods after a hard summer rain.
I realized that I had seen and smelled and felt this place long before coming here, but I had no idea how sharply it would connect me to home, to my own growing-up years in the Kentucky woods, lying awake at night after a summer storm with the window up and a cool breeze slipping through, bringing that same scent with it.
Many times over the years I have found myself in foreign places that were made familiar by the raw, natural scent of earth and rain. These times hold some of my best memories. There is a saying that has been attributed to various people over the years, including Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Roger Miller and others. It goes like this: “some people feel the rain; others just get wet.”
You know who you are…
Though I enjoy having photographs to slip back briefly to places I long to visit again, poetry works, too. I first read Ernesto Cardenal’s work back in the 80s, and I’ve never found another poet who expresses more intense, realistic images of the jungles of Central America with all those wet earth and good scents. “Green” scents, he calls them.
“Verdes tardes de la selva; tardes/tristes. Río verde/entre zacatales verdes;/pantanos verdes./Tardes olorosas a lodo, a Honjas mojadas, a/helechos húmedos y a hongos…”
(“Green afternoons in the jungle; sad/afternoons. A green river/going through green pastures;/green marshes./Afternoons that smell of mud, rain-soaked leaves, of/wet ferns and mushrooms.”)
Cardenal repeats the “green” images – the “moss covered sloth,” the shad leaping from the green river, the “din of monkeys” throwing green soursop peels at each other, the spiny iguanas like “dragones de jade,” the green palm trees and islands and volcano, the plantain groves and papayas, and the “dazzling verdure” of vegetation growing on the tiled roofs “like a fire burning green.”
With the temps in the 90s and the heat index soaring above 100, I’m green with envy of folks in cooler, wetter places. I’m ready to feel some rain!
Posted in Animals, Caribbean, Costa Rica, Ecotourism, Kentucky, Latin America, Nature, Photography, poetry, Rainforest, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: Animals, Central America, Costa Rica, howler monkeys, Mawamba Lodge, Nature, Photography, poetry, Rainforest, Tortuguero, Tortuguero National Park, travel
On the hottest days of summer in the Kentucky hills we got up early, dressed in pants and long sleeves, donned a hat, and snapped rubber bands around our ankles to keep pesky critters from crawling up our legs. Then we grabbed a bucket, called the dogs, and headed to the blackberry patch.
Blackberries grew wild so there were scattered patches all over the mountain. We wandered the hills from one picking season to the next because we never knew where we might find a new crop or whether the old berry patch would still exist. “Patch” is actually a nice, though not entirely accurate, description of these clusters of sweet, purple berries that grow on thorny briars all tangled up together.
There was a standard warning for berry pickers in those days: if the thorns don’t get you, the chiggers will. The bugs are so tiny they are hard to see with the naked eye unless there’s a meeting of like-minded chiggers, in which case the color of the crowd stands out, creating a moving red blotch on the skin. Invariably, a few always managed to migrate beneath the rubber band and head for more hospitable places. I recall painting my legs with nail polish to seal the bites and “smother” the critters. I can’t imagine that was a good thing, but it seemed to work.
We took the dogs to keep away the snakes. Black snakes, green snakes, and garter snakes were okay; copperheads and cottonmouths and rattlesnakes were not. But to me, a snake was a snake. I couldn’t tell one from the other and didn’t like any of them. And I didn’t trust the dogs to warn us. Half the time they found a place to curl up in the shade of a tall hickory or poplar while we sweated in the sun. It seemed I was always waking up the dogs.
My mom told us to wait and wash the berries before we ate them. “You may eat a spider.” She repeated this often. But I examined the berries closely and ate as I picked. We all did, Mom included. After awhile, the big plump berries were too tempting to resist.
Years later, when my mom was in her eighties, she came to visit one summer and we went berry picking outside the city. The berries had been planted at one of the local farms and were set out in neat rows with freshly mowed “aisles” in between. The new variety of berries were totally thorn-less! No finger pricks, and we didn’t have to worry about chiggers or snakes and could fill our buckets in record time. The berries tasted the same. It was a fun outing. But there was something different that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time.
It was the mystery, I think. These citified berry patches were predictable. We knew exactly where they were and how many berries we could find and when they would be perfect for the picking. No guessing. No surprises. No worries. The “wild” had been taken out of the berries and the picking. Sometimes a little bit of “wild” is needed in our day-to-day predictable lives.
Mom made blackberry cobbler, dumplings, and hot jam with biscuits. She canned berries in quart-sized jars for the winter and froze a few in plastic bags. One of my favorites was hot jam with biscuits for breakfast. I often make this for dessert. It’s easy and fast. All you need are fresh blackberries and sugar — lots of sugar. Heat in a sauce pan on low until the berries produce juice that thickens and becomes a heavy syrup. Add a few fresh berries to the jam, stir, and pour over buttered biscuits (homemade biscuits or Bisquick – no canned, refrigerated biscuits, please!)
10 Reasons to Love Blackberries:
1) The antioxidant content of blackberries is far above that of most other foods.
2) The blackberry is technically not just one fruit. Each whole berry consists of 80-100 small drupelets that are arranged in a circular fashion, like a bunch of tiny grapes. Each drupelet has a juicy pulp and a single seed.
3) Blackberries are easy to store – wash and vacuum seal in a Ziploc bag and store in the freezer. They keep for months!
4) They grow easily, even in poor soil, and spread rapidly in woods, hillsides, ditches, and vacant lots — mostly by birds and small mammals that eat the berries, digest, and disperse the seeds at will.
5) Blackberry leaves are food for certain caterpillars, deer, red foxes, badgers, and birds.
6) Blackberries are red before they are ripe, leading to an old expression that “blackberries are red when they’re green.”
7) According to forensic evidence, the Iron Age Haraldskaer Woman ate blackberries 2,500 years ago, so it is reasonable to assume that the berries have been eaten by humans for thousands of years.
8) Mexico is the leading producer of blackberries in the world. Nearly the entire crop is exported into the off-season markets in the US, Canada, and Europe.
9) Blackberries have multiple meanings across religious, ethnic, and mythological realms. They’ve been used in Christian art to symbolize spiritual neglect or ignorance. Mid-Mediterranean folklore claims that Christ’s Crown of Thorns was made of blackberry runners. In one Greek myth, Bellerophon, a mortal, tries to ride Pegasus to Olympus, but he falls and becomes blind and injured upon landing in a thorny berry bush. This is his punishment for trying to take the power of the gods.
10) They taste good!
Did you ever pick wild berries? Have a favorite recipe?
I spent a year reading Caramelo.
Why would anyone take that long to read a book? Was it a thick tome requiring a substantial investment of time? Was it a difficult read with challenging vocabulary and/or deep philosophical concepts? Was it required reading for a class or job or book club? No. None of these apply.
I spent a year reading Caramelo because I didn’t want to leave the party.
The book has been described as having “all the energy of a riotous family fiesta” (The Washington Post) and “a book to read slowly and savor and if you can find a listener to read out loud” (Santa Fe New Mexican) and “Cisneros writes along the borders where the novel and social history intersect”; she gives the “voiceless ones a voice” and finds “the border to the past” (LA Times).
One can easily point to geographic borders on a map. But in this story the concept of borders is expanded to include not only physical places but places of the heart. Emotional borders separate people. Time, too, as delineated by the links that hold together past, present, and future, has its own distinct borders.
The narrative is told by Celaya Reyes, a young girl who is a keen observer of family life. The story skips across generations as it leaps the boundaries of time and place. In telling her grandmother’s life story Celaya also tells her own. At one time home is Chicago; another it’s Texas. But the true home of her family is always Mexico City, at least for the older generations of aunts and uncles and grandparents. Every summer the extended family packs the cars and makes the long trek from Chicago to Mexico City. Their journey is an exploration of history and family, love and lies — stories of lives that straddle the border and never feel entirely at home anywhere.
Caramelo refers to a cherished rebozo, a pretty caramel-colored shawl that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women. For Celaya it is also reminiscent of those wonderful goat-milk candies called cajeta that every Mexican grandmother makes. And the red clay of Mexican pottery. And the color of an Acapulco tan.
Cisneros has the unique gift of being able to say a lot in a few words and she bestows this quality on the young narrator…
“Spanish was the language to speak to God and English the language to talk to dogs.”
New immigrants from south of the border often find English to be strange and rude and to the point. They are surprised that, in this country, people rarely precede a request with “please” or ask if the other would “do a favor” or “be so kind as to….” To the ears of those who would not ask for anything without first offering a polite greeting, requests in English often sound more like commands. Every time I visit Mexico I have to keep this in mind and remember to say “please” before making a request. It’s a small thing, a small difference in customs, but it matters. I’ve traveled other places where any request or statement is expected to be preceded by a simple “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Sometimes, in some places, if the pleasant exchange is skipped, the request is…well, not heard.
Caramelo is packed with other terrific one-liners. Here are a few favorites that could easily jumpstart a discussion about this book, any book, or life in general:
“Doubt begins like a thin crack in a porcelain plate.”
“I don’t know why people march into the disasters of the heart so joyously.”
“It’s no disgrace to be poor…but it’s very inconvenient.”
“Like the Mexican saying goes, he who is destined to be a tamale will find corn shucks falling from the sky.”
So, I spent a year reading Caramelo. No, this wasn’t the only book I read. I finished a whole bunch of others during that time. But I regularly returned to Celaya’s story, keeping connected to the characters and the daily goings-on, not wanting to let go – sort of like the same way I used to call home to catch up on Sundays before text messages and email made catching up quicker and easier and cheaper. Each reading session was a “visit” with characters so expertly drawn and so achingly authentic that days could pass with the book sitting idly on the shelf and I would not lose track of the plot. The plot here is secondary, in any case, to the rich development of character and family relations and the changing ways of looking at life over time.
The world changes us and we change our world for better or for worse.
A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros, a wonderful compilation of nonfiction stories and other pieces, was published in October 2015.
Eagles, hummingbirds, pelicans, and parrots. Flamingoes, anhingas, flycatchers, tanagers. Chachalacas and frigate birds, herons and egrets. The Yucatan Peninsula has more than 500 bird species.
One of my favorite moments on trips to Mexico is waking up that first morning to the exotic bird-song serenade outside my window. This is especially so in winter in the Yucatan. I have a zillion photos of birds in which I am the only person who knows there is a bird in the picture — somewhere. In other words, more often than not, I point and shoot and get lots of photos of tree tops. Sometimes there are interesting epiphytes or colorful blooms amongst the branches, but the bird has flown by the time I click or it’s too far away or too high up to get a clear picture without a more powerful lens.
So, I don’t have a photo of the painted bunting. Or the pygmy owl. Or the vermillion flycatcher. On an early morning hike, I was stopped in my tracks by the colorful bunting; it looked like a Christmas ornament — too pretty to be real. A Maya guide “talked” to the tiny owl in the trees until we were in range with the binoculars. The owl was still, except for its roving eyes. One morning we spotted the red flash of a vermillion flycatcher along a back road. Though the bird kept its distance, we let down the tailgate, opened the picnic basket, and enjoyed breakfast by a field of flowers.
The birds that didn’t get away:
Anhinga by the Ria Celestún enjoying a perch in the sun…
The beautiful white pelican is North America’s largest flying bird. It breeds in Canada and the northern U.S. and thousands come to Mexico to winter. In Yucatan white pelicans are found on the Celestún River and estuary. They are graceful swimmers and, rather than dive for fish like their brown cousins, they float on the surface and scoop them up. They’re pretty good boatmen, too…
A friend of a friend with a house by the sea has too many hummers to count. This is one of several feeders…
In the silence of the mangroves…
A boatload of pelicans at the salt flats…
Ah…the freedom of a bird. It needs no passport. A bird crosses borders wherever and whenever it pleases.
Posted in Animals, birdwatching, Ecotourism, Latin America, Mexico, Nature, Photography, Science trivia, travel, Uncategorized, Yucatan | Tags: Anhinga, birds, birdwatching, Celestun Nature Preserve, Flamingos, Herons, Hummingbirds, Mexico, Nature, Pelican, Photography, Ria Celestun, snowy egrets, travel, White Pelican, Yucatan birds
In the spring of 1976 my dad was diagnosed with heart failure. When he asked the doctor about the prognosis, he said this: “a year is a long time.” A year for Dad turned out to be only a few weeks.
When I talked with my dad that spring his one big sadness, other than the obvious illness, was that he couldn’t plant his garden. It was May, time to plant corn and potatoes and beans. He and Mom had planted a garden every spring since they were kids. It was hard work. He used a wooden push plow to do the final tilling of the soil by hand, but he was proud of the rewards — dozens of tomatoes, rows of potatoes, and a field of corn.
Twice my mom and dad came together to visit us in the city in the years prior and had ridden up to DC with friends. They filled the trunk of the car with tomatoes and onions and beans and squash. The vegetables were better than anything I could buy at the store.
The year he became ill I was relieved that he wasn’t going to be out in the sun doing such strenuous work. Everyone told him to take it easy. Rest. Don’t exert himself. He didn’t need a garden.
I didn’t realize at the time what a great loss this was for him. Of course, he didn’t need to plant a garden since he and mom could buy fresh vegetables from the neighbors. But he had a great emotional need to work the soil. Since that time I have heard other people speak often of some profound sadness they felt about no longer being able to do something they enjoyed. These very real losses, caused by age or illness, are hard to accept.
When I was growing up my dad liked to fish and hunt and play checkers. He enjoyed game shows and wrestling and westerns on television. He read the newspaper every day, poetry on occasion, and the encyclopedia in winter when there was not much business at the store where he and mom spent 10 to 12 hours a day. When fresh oysters were available, he made oyster stew. Occasionally, he made doughnuts. He’d once worked in a bakery. Every November, when the hogs were slaughtered, he supervised the sausage making, doing the seasoning himself. As a young man, he had also worked for a time in a butcher shop in the city.
I sometimes went with my dad to deliver groceries to people who didn’t live in walking distance and didn’t have a car. I remember an old woman named Phoebe who lived with her middle-aged “girl” and “boy” in a tiny house in a hollow. As a child, I was amazed by all the pictures she had tacked to her walls — clippings from glossy magazines of faraway places and advertisements. We always had to stay in the truck until her “boy” locked the dogs in the cellar. And on Christmas Eve every year, after closing the store, my dad delivered and gave away the last cakes and pies that had not sold to his customers. Sometimes he let me drive the truck. My legs were not long enough to reach the pedals, so I turned the steering wheel and he worked the gas and brakes.
He told me I could do anything I wanted to do. The only caveat was to stay in school! It never occurred to me then to ask if he was living his dream. Later, I learned that he had wanted to continue his education but had to drop out of high school to help support his family. I imagine there were many things he would liked to have done, but I don’t recall him ever complaining about missing anything.
Lately, on a number of occasions, I’ve heard people say that parents do their kids a disservice by telling them they can do anything they want to do or be anything they want to be. But I can only vouch for my own experience to rebut this sentiment. I am eternally grateful that my childhood, with its ups and downs, good moments and sad ones, challenges and opportunities was also marked by encouragement and continual boosts to my self esteem.
My dad believed that dreams really could come true.
So do I.
Happy Father’s Day!!!
An ancient Chinese proverb says “the finest teas come from high mountains.” Golden Monkey (also called Panyong Wang and Jin Hou) is grown in both the Fuijan and Yunnan provinces. Yunnan, an ancient province in southwestern China, borders Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. It’s a cloudy, misty, mountainous place where tea has been grown for almost 2,000 years. Some varieties are the size of large trees!
Golden Monkey tea is hand-processed every spring and only the bud and first leaf are picked. There are differing opinions about how the tea got its name. Some say it’s because when the leaves unfurl they resemble monkey claws, while others contend that it used to grow on steep, treacherous peaks that were difficult to reach, so monks trained monkeys to climb up and pluck the tea leaves. Another legend goes that monks threw rocks at monkeys in tea trees, which caused the animals to fall and the broken branches and leaves fell with them. Though most tea drinkers question the monkey myths, we are certain of this: when someone mentions a tea that is “monkey-picked,” they are referring to premium leaves, the finest grade available.
— It looks good. This black tea with golden leaf tips or threading makes for a lovely golden-brown brew.
— It tastes great! Tea connoseiurs have described the flavor in a variety of ways — as having “chocolate undertones” or a hint of roasted apples, walnuts, apricots, peaches, and/or honey. Depends on the palate. Or, perhaps, this tea is so exquisite that the tea drinker associates it with his/her favorite flavors.
— There is an old Irish saying that “a cup of tea should be strong enough for a mouse to trot on.” Although this brew is rich and full-bodied, it’s also smooth and leaves a pleasant aftertaste. It’s low in tannins and has no astringency or bitterness. Just about perfect.
— Though it is a complex black tea, it can be enjoyed with multiple infusions. I usually add an extra pinch of leaves to the second cup. However, I NEVER add sugar or honey. This is a wonderful tasting tea that can only be harmed by adding anything but hot water.
— Golden Monkey has won numerous awards at the annual World Tea Championship. I’d say that’s reason enough to try it one time. Though the leaves have been harvested for almost 2,000 years in China, it has only been developed for export in the last two decades.
I read somewhere that in ancient times rich landlords and Taipans claimed that this tea provided them with agility and sexual powers. I looked up “Taipans” and found multiple images of large, venomous snakes. This couldn’t be right! On Wiktionary, however, I found the answer. A taipan is a tycoon, a rich businessman in China. So, in the old days, the good stuff was reserved for the landlords and other big shots. Today, however, anyone can drink the monkey tea, but it’s not cheap and not always easy to find.
Here are some good sources — click and buy:
(Don’t be coaxed into buying the blends — Golden Monkey/Strawberry, etc! Chances are you’ll get lots of strawberry or rose petals or cinnamon and very few actual Golden Monkey tea leaves and won’t get the value for your money.)
I walk 100 miles a month. At least. Outside when the weather is good, inside when it’s not. If the temps drop to the 30s or go above 90, I walk through the house, up and down stairs, round and round. I hate the treadmill. It doesn’t go anywhere and I like to be going somewhere, even if it’s just in circles.
Every six months I need new running shoes. The last pair got holes in the toes after only four. Though walking is one of the cheapest exercises, it’s not entirely free.
Early morning, six days a week, I get up, drink eight ounces of water, and go. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. When I’m with friends we talk about politics, religion, kids, movies, books, food…everything. Nothing is off limits. We agree; we disagree. It’s all good. We walk.
I don’t get bored.
When I’m alone I take photos. The cherry blossoms and lilacs and forsythia in spring. The sky on days when it’s impossibly blue and filled with white clouds. Rose bushes and peonies and clematis. The colors of the fall foliage. Footprints in the snow.
I’ve seen many live critters on my walks – squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes. One morning I came face-to-face with three deer galloping down a hill in my direction. I got out of the way, didn’t have time to take a photo. I listen to the birdsong – robins, red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, mocking birds, cardinals. I don’t wear earbuds; I’m never “plugged-in” to music. I prefer the sound of nature, even if it is interspersed every now and then with noise — a siren or airplane or the hum of a helicopter.
Some days I plan meals and make lists in my head when I walk. I write stories and poems, practice conversations I want or need to have with someone, and muse over big stuff — try to figure out what I really think about something. I pray. I make phone calls, talk to people I don’t see often.
The great thing about walking is that I can do it almost anywhere. It’s one of my favorite activities when I travel. I’ve walked in a lot of places. The prettiest is St. John in the US Virgin Islands where every turn in a trail brings another stunning natural vista. I like early mornings on the Delaware shore, too. A walk on the beach or boardwalk followed by a stop at the coffee shop and bakery is one of the best times of day. And I love walking in Mexico – cities, little mountain towns, botanical gardens, jungle hikes. Merida, Yucatan’s lively historic center is so flat I can easily walk for miles without realizing the distance. Though hilly San Miguel can be challenging, the incredible colors and scents that mingle in the morning streets make it worth the effort. And there are surprises around every corner meandering through the alleys of Guanajuato.
When I recount memories of the places I’ve been, I almost always see myself walking – pigeons taking flight as I crossed St. Mark’s square in Venice, the rows of purple flowers in Hyde Park, London, the fairy-tale town of Dinklesbuhl, Germany where storks nest in the chimney tops. Walking on the Stroget in Copenhagen one day, I heard a woman talking to her little dog. She was speaking in Danish, of course, and a rather bizarre thought occurred to me — this pup knew something I didn’t know.
In Paris I learned that it’s easy to get lost, but sometimes getting lost can be…fulfilling. I stumbled onto a great candy store in the process. Ditto for walking in Lausanne, Switzerland. Otherwise, I would never have spotted the tiny chocolate shop with its marvelous treats.
I used to walk to eat when I worked in DC. Sometimes a favorite lunch spot was only a couple of blocks away; sometimes it was fifteen. I once got off the bus in New York City, dropped my backpack at a hotel, and walked fifty-two blocks because it was a beautiful day to be out and about and I wanted a real French macaron. Mine is a walk-eat-walk world; walking both whets the appetite and burns the calories.
I have a meniscus tear in my right knee and arthritis in my feet, but this doesn’t bother me much. I have to limit the steep hills, take it slowly if my knee hurts, and wear orthopedics in my shoes, but I try to keep walking. 100 miles a month. So far, so good.