Friday, August 30, 2013

GREEN – As If for the First Time

When I was a boy, I loved coloring with crayons. There was something about how they looked, those neat little cylinders with their tight paper wrappers and slick, lathe-turned tips. And the way they smelled—it still takes me back to those purer, simpler days.

Most of all, I loved the colors, those waxy, translucent hues that seemed to channel light through themselves rather than just reflecting it.

            I guess I knew, even then, that this 
            is a world of many greens.

I soon tired of the basic 8-color Crayola sets. Those, I figured, were for little kids who still scribbled across their coloring books. No, I coveted the big 64-color boxes, the ones with neatly stepped tiers of crayons in subtler colors, shades falling in between the basic, primary colors. These were colors worthy of staying within the lines.

What I remember most are the greens—not just plain old green, but the other, more complex, delicious ones: blue green, yellow green, pine green, spring green, olive green and sea green. I don’t know if the other kids cared, but I did. I guess I knew, even then, that this is a world of many greens.

It's awfully easy to take green for granted. After all, for many human beings—not just those who live in jungles, but us who live in places where grassy lawns and lush, deciduous trees are valued—the color is everywhere.

Just this morning, as I drove to my office, I conducted a little experiment. I took a series of virtual snapshots of my vistas from the car. Then I calculated the percentage of each image that was green. Incredibly, it ranged from about 30 to nearly 70 percent. There was nowhere I could look where green was not a significant part of the view. And that’s right in the middle of a big city.

With this much of it in sight, no wonder we fail to appreciate green. It's like how people eventually forget about the natural and cultural attractions closest to home, ones a tourist wouldn't think of missing.

...from the whispered pastel green of hydrangea blossom to the edgy chartreuse of spring willow.

In that drive to the office this morning, it struck me as never before how that abundance of green pleases my eye and feeds my spirit. It's not just how much there is, but how many delicious flavors it comes in—like my 64-color box of crayons and then some.

From the just-becoming green of leaves’ first unfurling, to the heavy, weary green of late summer. From the deep coolness of those shady recesses between blue spruce boughs to the dusty gray-green of Russian olive. From the whispered pastel green of lichen or hydrangea blossom to the edgy chartreuse of spring willow.

As more and more research is done on the effects of mankind’s increasing disconnect with Nature, studies are showing that proximity to green foliage—even if it’s only in the view out your window—has a measurable, positive effect on your level of stress, your state of well-being, even your productivity.

         Imagine how it would be to wake 
         up one morning and find it all gone.

So why does green affect us this way? Is it because it represents everything that grows and nourishes us? Might we associate it with the amazing symbiosis between animals and plants where each depends on what the other exhales? Does it remind us of the African landscape where our very humanity was born? 

I suspect very few folks stop to appreciate the incredible scope and range of greens that decorate their daily comings and goings. It’s a bit easier for those of us in northern climes, who lose most of our green for about five months of the year. We know what we’re missing. So do people who live in desert or semi-arid places where greens are scarce and short-lived.

So, even if you’re blessed with year-round green, take a moment to imagine how it would be to wake up one morning and find it all gone. Start right now, with what you can see from where you sit. Look around; look out the window. Make a point of noticing this verdant color of life in all its many tones and textures.

What are your favorite greens? How does green make you feel? Have you ever lived in a place where you felt starved of those feelings?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

WEAR YOUR WONDER! – Free T-Shirt Offer

To celebrate the last official month of summer, I thought about offering an all-expenses-paid trip around the world in search of wonder. Then I remembered my own mantra:  wonder's not something you have to go on a quest for; all you have to do is make room for it and it finds you—no matter where or who or what age you are.

So when it does, just to make sure it recognizes you as a genuine wonderer, here's something that will help – our own part-rebus I (eye) WONDER! t-shirt. Want one? It's absolutely free.


For your free I (eye)WONDER! t-shirt, all I ask is a moment's thought and 
an answer to this question: 

       How do you make room for wonder in your life 
       and the lives of your kids and/or grandkids? 
Send your answer(s):
  • By commenting here on this post
  • On my Facebook page (
  • On my Twitter feed (@OneMansWonder)
  • By email (
However you respond, please make sure I can get in touch with you to get your mailing address and your shirt size (kids' SM through adult XXL).

That's all there is to it. Can't wait to hear from you!
Please keep in mind that quantities/sizes are limited.  -  Sorry, but I have to limit the offer to folks with mailing addresses in the USA. -  One entry per person please.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

TIP #31
Close your eyes at night 
and describe the colors you see. 

Pull the shades and you are shut in a small, dark room—one sealed, you might expect, in sheer, flat blackness.
But no, dilute colors seep in through synapse cracks and pool in mind's eye, lighting your way, perhaps to sweet dreams.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

AMBOSELI – Seeing Beyond Sight

(This is the seventh and last in a series of posts about my recent Kenya safari.)

From the Maasai Mara, we head southeast toward the last of our safari’s major wild game parks and reserves, Amboseli National Park. 

Amboseli, like the Maasai Mara, is situated in the great Rift Valley, just before it spills into Tanzania. It, too, is governed by the local Maasai community. Though only 150 square miles, a fraction of the size of the Mara, it is Kenya’s second-most-popular wild game area.

The park is distinguished by its five major swamps, oases in an otherwise arid savannah landscape. While it claims to be home of the “big five” most-sought species of African wild game, it is best known for its large herds of free-ranging elephants.

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The park is also famous for its proximity to Mt. Kilimanjaro, just over the border in Tanzania. Here, the best—and luckiest—photographers capture those incredible shots of wildlife with the mountain as their backdrop.

Our base for this leg of the trip is the Sentrim Amboseli tented camp, just a few kilometers from the park entrance. As we step from our safari vans and stretch our legs, we're met by the entire staff singing us a cheery welcome song in Maa, the traditional language of the Maasai.

     Even in Eden, life cannot be taken 
     for granted. Here, awareness is a 
     matter of life and death.

During our three game drives in the park, it soon becomes evident that elephants do, indeed, thrive here. They’re everywhere, and not just in the twos and fours we’d been seeing in the other reserves, but in the scores.

Often, we see them wading, knee-deep, in the lush wetlands, where they enjoy the best of all worlds, drinking, cooling off, and grazing on the tall grasses. We smile at the dark “socks” and “pants” they wear after emerging from the water.

Amboseli’s swamps also attract other animals. We’re struck by the variety: zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, rhinoceros, hippopotamus—a glimpse, it seems, of a beautiful, serene, timeless Eden. And yet we’re reminded that, even in Eden, life cannot be taken for granted. Here, awareness is a matter of life and death.


And the birds. Spectacular birds of every size and shape and color. I wonder if they're jealous of the animals for all the attention they get.

Go-away Bird
Superb Starling
Hartlaub's Bustard
Crested Crane

Just before setting out on our last morning game drive, I walk by myself down our camp's long dirt path to a viewing platform. There you can take in a broad sweep of acacia-dotted savannah, and, if you’re lucky, Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. I am not; the storied mountain is hiding today behind distant clouds.

Still, I’m not about to waste the moment, so I turn to other senses to experience the great peak’s presence. I sit down on the weathered bench and let go my need to see.

     I feel close enough to the animals, 
     at times, to have been but barely 
     more predator than prey.

I close my eyes and bask in the delicious interplay of relentless equatorial sun, shreds of merciful shade from a big acacia tree, and a cool, dry breeze. I listen to the cheery banter of weaver sparrows on a branch just above.

Reaching out through that cocoon of visionless sensation, I will my mind’s eye across the miles, through the clouds, all the way to Kilimanjaro. Believing it’s there, imagining its countenance, I let the mountain into my vision even though I can’t see it.

PHOTO: Anna Langova

Here I am, half a world away from home. Not just in Africa, but in the Rift Valley, the very cradle of the human species. At some level, I know this savanna, perhaps somewhere deep in my DNA. I feel my oneness with this place, and with large, wild animals—close enough to them, at times, to have been but barely more predator than prey.

I realize there's not a single man-made sound to be heard. Not a vehicle, an airplane, an air conditioner...not even the subtle background hum and hiss anyone within earshot of a highway must endure. And in that silence, I can hear Kilimanjaro.

     The boy looks up, and, through the
     cloud of dust, meets my wistful gaze.

As if uneasy with the lull, the gentle breeze wafts a new sound over me. It’s a child’s voice, singing. Singing in the purest, sweetest notes I’ve ever heard, joyously, accompanied only by the crystalline cling—ting-ting of a small bell.

I turn my eyes’ vision back on. There, just across the camp’s perimeter fence, a young Maasai boy, not yet old enough to have earned the full, crimson-and-blue regalia of a warrior, tends—or should I say entertains—his flock of goats as they amble off to a spot of shade for the hottest hours of the day.

At the head of the flock trots a mottled orange-and-white nanny, not much different from the others, except that, under her neck, dangles that little bell.

The boy looks up, and, through the cloud of dust, meets my wistful gaze. He stops singing. I wave, and wish now I’d not seen him. He, like the great mountain, was more beautiful in just his simple song.

Friday, August 16, 2013


(This is the sixth in a series of posts about my just-completed Kenya safari.)

After last evening’s brief introduction to the Maasai Mara and its illustrious cast of characters, our expectations are high as we set out on this morning’s all-day game drive. If yesterday’s drive, with its sightings of zebra, buffalo and wildebeest, could be called the forager foray, today’s was to be more like the predator prowl.

     We stop and watch as they alternately 
     materialize and evaporate in the golden 
     mane of grass.

We’re crawling along, scanning the wind-tousled grassland all around us for color breaks, lumpy forms, hints of movement…anything that might give away a wary animal. Sally and I rely on our naked eyes; John and Maria, with binoculars, can identify the nose hairs of a dung beetle.

Nothing. At least not for those of us with unaccustomed eyes.

Leave it to our amazing driver and guide, Eric. Looking in all the same places we are, he points out the lion…no, make that two lions, gliding slowly through the grass not 50 yards away. We stop and watch as they alternately materialize and evaporate in the golden mane of grass. Eventually, they stop to play on a small hummock where we can see them better.

Eric knows every inch of the reserve. We’re amazed how, in this 580-square-mile maze of rough, winding dirt roads, he always knows where we are. Besides using his sharp, experienced eyes, he’s constantly monitoring the two-way radio for word of any animal sightings by other guides in the park.

On hearing one such report (knowing very little swahili, we can only guess who’s seen what) Eric puts the pedal to the metal. Hanging on for dear life, we hurtle across miles of roads we normally would have been crawling along—slowing only for the worst of the dips, bends and washouts.

Sightings that, just yesterday, we would have stopped and gaped at—zebras, wildebeest, even elephants and giraffes—we fly right by. Whatever it is we’re chasing down, it must be good.

     Cheetahs know how to pick their battles.

Then we spot a congregation of five or six other safari vans pulled over by a clump of foliage, and maneuver our way into a good vantage point. There, in that choice spot of shade, are two breathtaking cheetahs.

One lolls on the dusty ground, while the other sits up nobly, scanning the horizon for any sign of rival or prey. As her gaze reaches ours, it passes right through us,
as if we’re invisible. No sign of acknowledgement; not even a blink of curiosity.
I wonder if that’s a good thing–wouldn’t they be better served by unfamiliarity,
by fear?

We can’t tell if they’ve eaten today or not; cheetahs always look hungry. By late morning they prefer to stay out of the hot, equatorial, mid-day sun. We learn that they’re successful in their kills about half the time. Of those, half again are lost to stronger, more aggressive predators like lions, leopards and hyenas. Cheetahs know how to pick their battles.

     “Cubs!!” we all blurt, trying to hush our   
      awe-struck voices to a whisper-shout.

After a lovely picnic lunch in a shady thicket, we mount up for the afternoon game drive. We still haven’t spotted a leopard yet, so the search goes on; we pay special attention to the crotches of trees and any horizontal branches, even if they’re half a mile away.

We come across many more elephants, giraffes, hyenas and an ostrich or two.
This time, we stop.

Then Maria spots something. Whatever it is, it’s just moved behind some
scraggly bushes on the other side of a heavily eroded creek bed. She thinks it
was a big lioness.

We edge closer. For a good ten minutes we scan the bushes. Once we’re convinced she’s gone for good—probably lying down in shadiest, best-hidden place—Eric starts backing out toward the road.

Just then, Sally exclaims that she sees movement. "Just there, on the far bank of the creek. Isn’t that a…it’s not as big…it’s…" I train my lens on the area and zoom in. Maria and John are already there. “Cubs!!” we all blurt, trying to hush our awe-struck voices to a whisper-shout.

If you’ve ever watched Nature documentaries about predator and prey, chances are you’ve seen the chilling footage of nervous wildebeest warily approaching the edge of a river, waiting, it seems, for one animal to muster the nerve to jump in and start swimming across.

Suddenly, a mammoth crocodile explodes out from under the murky water, grabs a terror-stricken 400-pound animal and pulls it in.

We're going to that place, the main wildebeest crossing on the Mara River. As we approach, it’s obvious the river’s full of—one might say overflowing with—life.

     Tomorrow, perhaps the next day, the herd 
     will cross…or at least most will.

And there was no mistaking the danger lurking for wildebeest – crocodiles everywhere. Some congregated in the shallows; a few larger bulls—up to 18 feet long—basked by themselves.

Across the broad, dusty plane that leads up to the crossing, sure enough the wildebeest are gathering. Some edge toward the river, a few follow. But, like a swirling liquid, the flow curls back and settles. We’re told the animals do this every day, waiting to see if one animal will lead the way into the water.

We watch the ambivalent herd for half an hour, but today, they decide, is not the day. Today, there will be no terror at the crossing. But tomorrow, perhaps the next day, eventually, the herd will cross…or at least most will. For a wildebeest, there
is no other option.

PHOTO: Paolo Torchio

Monday, August 12, 2013


(This is the fifth in a series of posts about my just-completed Kenya safari.)
Heading southwest from Lake Naivasha, we drove for about five hours toward
the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the last hour-and-a-half on rough, dusty,
dangerous roads.

Besides Tanzania's immense Serengeti National Park, the Maasai Mara is the African wild game reserve the rest of the world has seen most represented in Nature writing, photography and film. The area comprises some 580 square miles, contiguous with the Serengeti.

Like the movie star you've seen only in pictures, 
the bigger-than-life reality of the great expanse 
left us speechless.

The Mara is home to all of wild game's "big five," the animals most sought after, originally by trophy hunters, and now by photographers: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and cape buffalo. It is also the setting for the awesome annual migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and other grazing animals to and from the Serengeti.

This is also Maasai country, where what is arguably the proudest, most colorful and, many say, most authentic of Kenya's 42 tribal peoples still practices its ancient herding lifestyle. Though the Maasai are—or once were—a presence in nearly all the areas we visited in Kenya, it is here that their traditions and lifestyle seemed most evident.

Our home for the next two days was the Siana Springs tent camp, set in a lush oasis originally placed in conservancy by the area's first game warden in the 1920s and bequeathed to the local community in the late 70s.

After a brief cultural orientation by our elegant, articulate host, JJ, I set off on my own to explore one of the compound's winding, wooded paths. Rounding a corner and ducking under a low doorway of vines, I found myself in a "room" of dense foliage surrounding a lovely lily pond. Birds' chatter echoed around the enclosure, sweetening the cool, moist air.

(In general, the climate we experienced in Kenya was one of our greatest surprises. Having barely researched the trip, we'd expected very hot weather. Instead, we were met everywhere with the normal conditions for what is, for Kenyans, their mid-winter: cool, dry and beautiful. In the higher elevations of the Aberdare region the temperature had dipped into the 40s at night.)

Later, we embarked on our afternoon/evening game drive in the reserve. This
was indeed the iconic, sweeping African landscape we've grown up knowing
through TV and film. And I wondered if the familiarity might run deeper, in
some latent layer of our genes, as this savanna, archeologists say, was the very
cradle of human life.

Like the movie star you've seen only in pictures, the bigger-than-life reality of the great expanse of amber grassland, dotted with graceful, umbrella-shaped acacia trees, left us speechless.

In that brief outing, curtailed by nightfall, the Mara just teased us with the sights it held in store for tomorrow's longer game drives: cape buffalo, topi, zebra and, perhaps most impressive, a broad panorama of wildebeest, scattered across the fields' golden undulations as far as the eye could see.

We were to learn more the following day about the hapless wildebeest and its perilous co-existence with the Mara's most fearsome apex predator. (It may not be the one you think.)


Thursday, August 8, 2013

LAKE NAKURU – An All-consuming Day for a Python

(This is the fourth in a series of posts about my just-completed Kenya safari.)

From Lake Naivasha, we headed out early for the next leg of our safari—with a dispassionate send-off from the resident troop of black-tie-attired colobus monkeys (the only primates, we're told, without thumbs).

It’s just an hour’s drive northwest to Kenya’s fourth largest city, Nakuru, and nearby Lake Nakuru National Park—one of the country's smallest and best game parks. Along the way, especially at higher elevations, we could clearly see the broad sweep of this stretch of the great, 3,700-mile-long Rift Valley, flanked here by the 10,000-foot Mau Escarpment on the west and the highlands and mountains of the Aberdare Range on the east.

       The number and range of animals we 
       were spotting continued to amaze us.

Lake Nakuru is a soda lake, one whose highly alkaline waters support a distinct range of organisms, among them, certain algae that just happen to be irresistible to flamingos. Depending on the season and a number of more immediate conditions, the lake’s shallows can be swathed in pink as anywhere from thousands to more than a million of the showy birds congregate, methodically straining the water.

Though we saw far fewer flamingos than we'd hoped for, what they lacked in numbers these flamboyant birds made up for in the splashes of color and elegance they threw against the backdrop of the lake's calm, gray-blue waters.

With the top of our safari van raised, and Eric, our knowledgeable guide and driver, at the wheel, we cruised the park for the rest of the day. Both the number and range of animals we were spotting continued to amaze us.

It started with our first lion sighting, a big male walking through tall grass nearly a hundred yards away. It was uphill all the way from there: rhinos—both white and the critically endangered black; water buffalo; hundreds of zebras, two varieties of gazelle; impala; waterbuck; giraffes; velvet monkeys…and more lions.

Besides the flamingos, we saw white pelicans and spoonbills, hovering black-and-white kingfishers, a variety of gorgeous songbirds, imposing, five-foot-tall marabou storks, a couple of ostriches and the showy, snake-eating secretary bird.

Around mid-day, we wound our way up to
the top of Baboon Cliff for a spectacular overview of the lake and parklands below. There we met some more amazing birds, some red-headed rock agama lizards and the engaging rock hyrax.

       The best place to spot a leopard is draped 
       over a lower, horizontal branch of a tree.

That afternoon, we’d stopped to admire one of those marabou storks standing by the water’s edge when we noticed something moving in the grass not ten feet away. A better look, through binoculars, revealed the sad truth; it looked like a dying flamingo.

At first, it appeared the poor bird lay on its side, writhing. But, on closer inspection, we could see that a rock python, and not a very big one at that—maybe seven or eight feet long—had caught the big bird unawares, squeezed the life out of it and started ingesting it head first.

With fascination slightly outweighing revulsion, we watched as the ambitious snake unhinged its jaws and began stretching its mouth around the feathery
pink carcass.

As we slowly cruised the park, besides looking for animals grazing in the open, we were constantly scanning the trees on either side for as far as we could see. It seems the best place to spot a leopard, especially mid-afternoon, is draped over a lower, horizontal branch.

Now and then, Eric would stop, pull out his binoculars and check out some dark mass on an acacia limb two hundred yards away. And, though we never did spot a leopard, this technique paid off in other ways, including being able to sneak up on a young lion resting languidly in the crotch of a tree.

When we got back to Lake Naivasha Resort that evening, the wildlife wonders continued. Sally and I were rounding a corner on our way to our second-floor cottage when we saw the giraffe leisurely trimming the hedge up there next to our door. We stopped and watched with renewed admiration for this majestic creature.

Just before going to bed, we decided to take one last look out our patio doors onto the dark lawn below. There, munching away on the grass just below our deck were no fewer than eight huge hippos! We watched a while, quietly closed the doors and drifted off to sleep, smiling.